Shadows and Light

I wrote this following a visit to the memorial for victims of femicide in Ciudad Juárez, México. I visited with a group of Presbyterians from three countries–the U.S., México, and Colombia–as part of a mission conference sponsored by Tres Ríos Presbytery across the border in the city of El Paso in late September 2015.

It caught me off guard. The wind whipped through my hair, dried the tears on my cheek. To know that eight women were once found in this very place, their bodies lifeless and disfigured, discarded in a weed-ridden vacant lot…

IMG_20150924_151206526 (1)

Thousands of women like these eight have been killed in the area around Juárez, this beleaguered city of migrants, exploited by drug traffickers and corporate greed, divided from its sister city across the river by an ugly fence and border patrol forces.

The days I spent in El Paso at the end of September opened my eyes to many threads in the story of our U.S. border and immigration policy, but the stop at this memorial in Juárez broke open my heart.


This painting mourns the depravity of femicide. It hangs in a conference room at Casa Amiga, a social service center for victims of domestic violence in Ciudad Juárez.

Juárez offers the world a new word: femicide, the gender-based killing of women. This year my sisters in Colombia won the inclusion of femicide in the nation’s legal code, and have done hard work to raise public awareness about this growing problem. Visiting the Juárez memorial alongside some of them helped me to experience the defiant hope which is also preserved in that place, that fierce commitment to life and justice.

IMG_20150924_151026552IMG_20150925_152237IMG_20150924_144917896IMG_20150924_150800945My friend Adelaida Jiménez–poet, theologian, joke teller, mother, and so much more–was moved to write this poem dedicated to the women of Juárez. I include her original here, followed by my English rendering. “Listen my brother, listen my sister… And do not keep silent, for silence is hard as indifference.”

Ciudad Juárez, septiembre 24 de 2015

A las mujeres de ciudad Juárez

En las penumbras de la noche,
Se paralizan los sentidos, se escuchan los lamentos,
De las mujeres desaparecidas de ciudad Juárez,
Dónde están las hijas? Dónde están, las hermanas?, dónde están las madres, dónde están?
A dónde las han llevado?

En las penumbras de la noche se escuchan los sollozos,
Han aparecido los cuerpos torturados, son los cuerpos
De las mujeres de Juárez, sus senos mutilados, sus vaginas
Violadas, sus cuerpos marcados por las violencias,
Dónde están sus victimarios, dónde están?

En la penumbra de la noche,
Se escuchan los estruendos de las maquilas de la muerte,
De los poderosos que comercian con la vida,
De los que invierten en la guerra,
Ya vienen por las mujeres de Juárez,
Dónde está la justicia, dónde está la justicia para las mujeres de Juárez?

En la penumbras de las noches,
Se escuchan pasos débiles, son las mujeres con sus vidas desgastadas,
En las penumbra de la noche, un rayo de luz aparece,
Una luz renace de las tumbas encontradas,
Son las mujeres de ciudad Juárez, que se levantan,
Que gritan justicia,

En las penumbras de la noche y entre el rayito de luz,
De la boca de las mujeres sale un grito de esperanza,
Y de sus cuerpos torturados flores, mariposas que simbolizan resistencia,

En la penumbras de la noche, las mujeres de Juárez caminan,
Caminan para clamar, ni una mas, ni una mas,

En las penumbras de la noche, escucha hermano mío, hermana mía,
A las mujeres de ciudad Juárez,
Y no calles que el silencio es duro como la indiferencia,
Ven al encuentro y camina junto a las que claman justicia.

Juárez, September 24, 2015

To the women of Juárez

In shadow of night
The senses falter, the lament is heard
Of the disappeared women of Juárez
Where are our daughters? Where are our sisters? Where are our mothers? Where?
Where have you taken them?

In shadow of night the sobbing is heard,
Tortured bodies appear, they are the bodies
Of the women of Juárez, breasts mutilated, vaginas
Violated, bodies marked by violence
Where are their tormenters? Where?

In shadow of night,
The maquilas of death make their racket,
The noise of the powerful who buy and sell life
Who invest in war
They are coming for the women of Juárez
Where is justice? Where is justice for the women of Juárez?

In shadow of night
Faint footsteps are heard, they are the women with their worn-out lives

In shadow of night, a ray of light appears,
A light reborn from the uncovered graves
They are the women of Juárez who arise,
Who cry out justice

In shadow of night, in that sliver of light,
From the mouth of the women comes a cry of hope,
From their tortured bodies come flowers, butterflies of resistance

In shadow of night, walk the women of Juárez,
They walk to cry out, Not one more, not one more

In shadow of night, listen my brother, listen my sister
To the women of Juárez
And do not keep silent for silence is hard as indifference
Come to the gathering and walk with those who clamor for justice

by Adelaida Jiménez, English translation by Sarah Henken


“Flor de Arena” (Sand Flower) bronze sculpture-fountain by Verónica Leiton

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Today, January 9, 2015, I am “fasting for the climate.”

This ongoing fast seeks to send a message to governments that people from all walks of life, from all corners of the globe, expect climate action. Already, millions of people have lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of climate change. Yet government action remains profoundly inadequate towards a safe and just future for people and the planet.

I dedicate this day to reflection, prayer, writing, and giving thanks for creation. I believe the Holy Spirit of God is working something new and transformative, and I hope to be one of the many who will listen and be changed.

Fasting is hard, strange, beautiful. Below are some of my thoughts, recorded in real time throughout the day.

10:33am– First real sense of hunger

1:47pm–   The habit of eating, the desire for food, fuel, consumption, is constantly present.  If I can abstain from eating today, what else can I go without in my daily life? Are there other hard choices I need to make, things to say “no” to in my regular routine?

1:57pm–  I didn’t go off to some remote location for this day of fasting. I’m here in my usual habitat, with a well-stocked kitchen right down the hall. Every impulse is to reach out and consume. It would be so easy, and there’s nothing stopping me but the power of my own will. But this exercise in self control is teaching me somehow, deeply, that “responsible consumerism” must often mean choosing not to consume. My kitchen calls to my grumbling stomach with its appealing items. Tomorrow I will eat again, but I pray the Spirit will guide me with wisdom to know when to refrain from other forms of consumption and consumerism.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this. —Galatians 5:22-23

2:42pm–  I set today aside to fast from eating. But what about energy consumption? I have air conditioning to make my apartment more comfortable. My work sends me out on buses and airplanes on a regular basis. What personal choices do I need to make to bring my own daily life into greater harmony with the world I inhabit?

3:10pm–  I found drinking tea all day more comforting when I lived in chilly La Paz than I do today in Barranquilla. Conscious of the privilege of having clean water to drink and a refrigerator to freeze it in–it’s time to switch to iced.

4:12pm– Hungry. Why am I doing this again? Discipline is valuable. Felt hunger increases my awareness of the urgency. As another faster puts it, “to bring climate change under control we need to exercise self-control, we need to act together, fasting enhances our focus and determination.”

5:31pm–  Headed out to enjoy the sunset.

6:15pm– There’s an element to this public act of fasting that gives me pause. “When you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. . . . And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward.” (Matthew 6:6, 16). Most of my day has been spent in solitude, prayer, and reflection. I accepted this call to fasting with joy and gratitude, and no desire to be praised for my piety nor pitied for the minor hunger pangs I have felt. Perhaps it would have been best to take this on quietly, and avoid drawing attention to it. But fasting–at least for spiritual purposes, as opposed to medical requirement or a health-seeker’s cleanse–is a foreign thing to the life of most members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and somehow it feels right to share publicly both a commitment to fasting and my personal experience of engaging in it. I hope that isn’t hubris talking. 

8:57pm– Now it is dark, and the day is nearly over. I wait for the time to be ripe, to break the fast. But what will I do to recommit myself to the fast of God’s choosing? What action shall I take, or encourage my government or church or family to take, that will show real love and solidarity with God’s good creation?

9:42pm–  Connecting with hunger today has heightened my awareness of my physical presence and needs in this world, and the impact my lifestyle makes. I am grateful, and weary, and eager to take up the dance again. As my friend Rebecca writes in a beautiful blog entry about our time in Peru last month:

We profess to believe in a material, physical love, a God who took on flesh. Climate justice work must do no less. . . .

Conscious of our kinship with all of life, let us claim our place in God’s earthy, material world.

Let us embrace all of our senses and all ways of knowing so that we might more deeply transform ourselves and in the end, hopefully, the world.

If you would like to join the fast, please visit

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Frustration and hope

Frustrazione, n.f. Frustration, defeat

frustrazione, n.f. Frustration, defeat.

My eyes fell on this entry, just above the line of gun fire dividing the Italian-English dictionary in half. It was on display at the Museum of the Martyrs at the Universidad Centroamericana in San Salvador, one of the books salvaged from the library of the six Jesuit priests murdered there in 1989.

In many ways the violent, pre-dawn invasion of dozens of U.S.-trained salvadoran soldiers was a defeat. The lives and efforts of the priests were cut short, frustrated. The purpose of those who ordered the operation was accomplished. The museum bears witness to lives extinguished, to brutality and violent repression. But it also bears witness to life renewed even in the midst of suffering and death. In a powerful way, the purpose of the death-dealers was–and is, still today–thwarted by the persistence of hope, and the rebellious act of remembrance.

IMG547The museum paints a vivid picture of who the priests were, right down to the clothes they were killed in 25 years ago last Monday. It also names and remembers many of the tens of thousands of other victims of El Salvador’s civil war (among them the four North American churchwomen who were killed in 1980. The New York Times ran a Retro Report piece earlier this month focused on the churchwomen and also mentioning the priests).

There’s something powerful in the act of naming. We name not only our heroes, the famous and the erudite, but also the schoolchildren and the farm women. We speak their names and announce, “¡Presente!” For they are still present, and the ways they lived and died cry out for justice. We must keep on remembering lest we forget. We must keep remembering until we are stirred to action. For, sadly, there are many places in the world today where justice and healing are sorely needed. Ayotzinapa. Ferguson. Gaza. Catatumbo. Just to name a few.

The hard thing isn’t only the paying attention. The hard thing is knowing what to do with what we see. And, honestly, I don’t have a ready-made answer. But I believe that Christ is present with us in the act of opening our eyes to one another’s pain. So maybe that act makes us ready to follow the One who guides our feet along the paths of peace.

"It means so much to me when a child trusts me enough to give me a hug!"

“It means so much to me when a child trusts me enough to give me a hug!”

Before arriving at the Museum of the Martyrs, our group of friends and colleagues from Presbyterian World Mission (in El Salvador for a week of training and inspiration for service in Latin America and the Caribbean) visited Archbishop Oscar Romero’s last earthly home and the chapel where he was killed while saying mass. In the chapel a devout religious woman welcomed us. She invited us to remove our shoes and gather around the altar, placing our hands upon it. She prayed for each of us and our families, and then encouraged us to take turns standing behind the table, where Monseñor Romero stood when he was killed.

Romero saw his assailants drive up outside the open doors to the chapel, take aim, and fire, but he did not cry out or run from his place. He stood his ground, in his role as Christ’s servant, and refused to be intimidated by hatred or dissuaded by fear. As my friend David later reflected, the invitation to put ourselves in Romero’s place is, in the literal sense, easy to accept. I can put my feet where he stood. But can I stand firm and confident in my sometimes daunting calling, and respond with such grace and conviction in the face of the death-dealers and the shadowy powers of this world?

IMG544In all honesty, the answer is often no, but sometimes I manage a yes. And I take courage  in knowing that I do not stand alone, and that I have not chosen my ground on a whim.  I feel a kinship with the work of Romero and the priests and the martyrs, part of the same tapestry of God’s mission of transformative love. And I am profoundly grateful to work day by day with many faithful, intelligent, and insightful people in the church universal.

That week in El Salvador was a time for me to lean on some of my colleagues in the Presbyterian Mission Agency, to laugh and cry and question and grow and pray and sing together. It was a time to witness and learn from the stories of contemporary martyrs. I left refreshed, with hope and energy to continue standing where I’ve been sent and doing the Kingdom work God sets before me.

I imagine there will continue to be times when it seems that wickedness prospers, when the innocent suffer, and efforts toward peace are frustrated. Still, as we approach the Sunday in the Christian calendar set apart to celebrate Christ’s Reign, I choose to trust that we are never outside the reach of Christ’s healing love, and that somehow “in all things God works for the good” (Romans 8:28). I choose to trust. And I join the multitudes in offering my all for God’s purpose in this world.


ImageNo storm can shake my inmost calm

While to that rock I’m clinging;

Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,

How can I keep from singing?



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Incertidumbre en El Tamarindo

To read in English: Uncertainty for El Tamarindo

Vimos los carros de la policía al llegar. Rodearon el Caterpillar, todo listo para la diligencia de desalojo de las humildes casas y campos sembrados del predio Natacha en El Tamarindo. Continue reading

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Uncertainty for El Tamarindo

Leer en español: Incertidumbre en El Tamarindo

We saw the police cars as we arrived. They were gathered around the bulldozer, preparing to enforce the eviction of humble farmers in the Natacha sector of El Tamarindo.

El Tamarindo is a collection of small farms just outside the city of Barranquilla. Members of this community have spent the past five to twelve years on the land, which was vacant and unclaimed when they began to cultivate it. A few years ago, however, owners appeared with title to the property. El Tamarindo is situated in a duty-free zone, established near the port city to facilitate the swift and steady increase in international commerce projected to accompany implementation of Colombia’s free trade agreements with the United States and Europe. Property values have increased enormously in the area, suddenly attractive and strategic for business use. Vast warehouses are cropping up to store commercial goods and construction materials, in some cases obliterating food production and the small farm lifestyle.

The ASOTRACAMPO community organization in El Tamarindo states that approximately 80% of its member farmers are victims of forced internal displacement. They have eked out a new life here after being forced to flee their homes in other parts of the country. Life in El Tamarindo has been simple yet livable—at least it was until the land was sold out from under them. They seek the security and confidence of land to call their own. The Colombian government’s rural development office is working with them on purchasing land in a more rural area, but the steps involved in that bureaucratic process involve significant delays, and the outcome is uncertain.

A community member shows us the land where she lived until she was evicted last year

A community member shows us the land where she lived until she was evicted last year

El Tamarindo’s 900 acres are divided into five separate lots, and residents find themselves slowly squeezed out, with evictions every few months razing crops and houses on one of the lots. Initially they resisted the evictions, confronting the demolition crew while police stood by to ensure that the action—perfectly legal on paper—could take place without incident. Resistance, however, has resulted in several severe injuries. Others report frequent nightmares and psychological trauma. All that pain and injury added to the homes and crops that were destroyed anyway.

On Wednesday, February 26, I arrived with three representatives of the North Coast Presbytery to accompany the community and witness the eviction. The community had decided not to resist and risk greater harm. One of the leaders told us, “I think we’re no longer in a position to keep putting people forward to be abused. If we were to resist, and three or four were injured, but we kept the land, I would be the first to leap and shout, ‘We’ve won! Victory!’ But if we are abused, our people are injured, and we lose the land, is that a victory? No, sir, that is not a victory. . . . We don’t want to shed any more of our blood along the way.”

This home will be bulldozed once the eviction is carried out.

This home will be bulldozed once the eviction is carried out.

On that bright, dusty Wednesday morning residents in the area subject to eviction proceedings were emptying their homes of anything of value they could remove, relocating them to neighbors’ houses. Shortly after our arrival, community leaders received word that the proceedings were suspended for the day, the result of a legal action by some of the victims. The tension in the air eased, but did not dissipate. Within a few weeks the order will be carried out, and humble homes and life-sustaining crops will once more be destroyed. The word I heard over and over again was uncertainty. The struggle is uncertain, the future is uncertain. The commitment to justice of those in power is uncertain.

For the farmers in El Tamarindo, hope lies in the promise of relocation to land they can legally call their own. They are organized and active in seeking support from allies in the senate and government ministries, and count on local encouragement from the Presbyterian Church and organizations that defend and promote victims’ rights. “We ask for solidarity,” said one ASOTRACAMPO member, “with the campesinos. Not only with El Tamarindo but all the campesinos of Colombia, who face the same chaos and the same sadness that we do.”

The wheels of progress roll on, driven by powerful people and interests willing to trample the life and livelihood of small farmers.  Standing with the members of ASOTRACAMPO, the costs of globalization have a very human face. One woman, a member of ASOTRACAMPO, put it this way: “We work the land because we’re children of the land. And the government, the Colombian authorities, don’t let us work, they don’t allow us to live. Because who can live without eating? Nobody. They have us cornered here, coming and going with weapons pointed at us—we aren’t the ones with guns in our hands. I don’t understand how we poor people are supposed to live here in Colombia.”

Promises of peace arising from negotiations between the government and guerrilla forces also ring hollow here. One community member asked, “What sort of peace is the government promising? We want a peace worth living, so we can sow and cultivate. But if they don’t let us, how will we raise our children?”

Let us pray and work for a peace worth living.IMG_0495 (1)

Updated 14 March, 2014


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Carta pastoral de Venezuela

This letter is available here in English translation. 

Esta carta me fue enviada por la secretaria ejecutiva del Presbiterio Central de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Venezuela, pidiendo el favor de hacerla circular entre mis contactos. Un resumen y reflexión personal (en inglés) sobre los hechos está disponible. 

Caracas, 20 de Febrero de 2014

Presbiterio Central

de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Venezuela

C A R T A   P A S T O R A L


Venezuela ha sido conocida, es conocida y aspiramos que siga siendo conocida como Tierra de Gracia. La mano del Creador bendijo esta porción del planeta con todo lo que una nación pudiera desear. Es por ello que sus mujeres, sus hombres y sus niñas y niños, como administradores de la patria, estamos en la obligación de velar por la integridad de sus suelos, de sus cielos, de sus aguas, de sus verdes, de sus animales y de cada uno de los seres humanos que conviven en ella, es decir, de nuestras hermanas y hermanos.

Por esta causa, el Presbiterio Central de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Venezuela, reunida en su XXXIV Consejo, los días 14,15 y 16 de febrero pasado, en los Valles del Tuy, y en consideración a los preocupantes hechos acaecidos desde el 12 de febrero, nos dirigimos a nuestras hermanas y hermanos de la patria de Bolívar. Lo que nos anima es hacer nuestro modesto aporte por la paz y el entendimiento entre los que vivimos en Venezuela, y lo primero que queremos decir con todas nuestras fuerzas es –citando las palabras de Jesús en el Evangelio- que “todo reino dividido contra sí mismo quedará asolado; y una casa dividida contra sí misma se derrumbará” (Lc.11:17b). Todos quienes habitamos en la Tierra de Gracia somos viajeros de la misma embarcación. Si el barco se hunde naufragaremos todos con ella.

¡Hasta cuándo tanto insulto e infamia! ¡Hasta cuándo tanta mezquindad! ¡Hasta cuándo tanto cálculo político! ¡Hasta cuándo tanta maniobra!

No se podrá construir una nación de hermanas y hermanos con la mentira, la descalificación, y mucho menos con la violencia y la muerte. La violencia y la muerte solo acarrea más violencia y más muerte. En ninguna manera debemos llegar a convencernos de que los muertos constituyen el mal necesario y el daño colateral irremediable para llegar al país que pensamos. Neguémonos rotundamente a claudicar ante la cuestionable lógica de que “el fin justifica los medios”, ya que, como muy bien lo expresara el profeta de los derechos civiles norteamericano Martin Luther King Jr. “Los medios destructivos no pueden conducir a un fin constructivo, porque los medios representan el ideal en acción y ya llevan el fin en embrión. Los medios inmorales no pueden conducir a fines morales, pues los fines preexisten en los medios”. Nunca se logrará paz verdadera partiendo de la aniquilación moral de quien adversa nuestra percepción del deber ser. Solo sería una especie de “pax romana”. Una paz de vencedores y vencidos. Una falsa paz, en cuyo interior se esconderá la podredumbre de una gangrena que no cesará de carcomer a la sociedad toda. Como Iglesia hacemos votos por una paz verdadera y duradera. La paz en la que todos ganamos. La paz que es fruto de la justicia, de la reflexión, del consenso honesto y sin armas ocultas. Por lo tanto, amonestamos a nuestros connacionales a que nos cuidemos de hundirnos en una absurda confrontación fratricida que a nadie beneficia.

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A pastoral letter from Venezuela

The following is my translation of an open letter to the people of Venezuela issued by Central Presbytery, Presbyterian Church of Venezuela. They asked me to share it with my contacts. My personal summary of current events in Venezuela is available here.  La carta está disponible en su idioma original.

Caracas, February 20, 2014

Central Presbytery

Presbyterian Church of Venezuela

Pastoral Letter


Venezuela has been known, is known, and we aspire that it continue to be known as the Land of Grace. The hand of the Creator blessed this portion of the planet with everything that a nation could want. Therefor its women, men, girls, and boys, as stewards of the homeland, find ourselves charged with ensuring the integrity of its soils, skies, waters, green spaces, animals, and of each one of the human beings who live in it, that is, our sisters and brothers.

For this reason, the Central Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Venezuela, gathered in its 34th assembly this past February 14-16, in Valles del Tuy, and in consideration of the troubling events that have taken place since February 12, addresses our sisters and brothers from the homeland of Bolívar. Our hope is to make a modest contribution toward peace and understanding among those who live in Venezuela, and the first thing we want to say with all our strength is – in the words of Jesus in the Gospel – that “every Kingdom divided against itself will be devastated; and a house divided against itself will collapse” (Luke 11:17b). All those who live in the Land of Grace are travelers on a single vessel. If the ship sinks we all will be lost with her.

How long will there be such insult and shame? How long such pettiness? How long such political calculus? How long such maneuvering?

We cannot build a nation of brothers and sisters with lies, with lawlessness, much less with violence and death. Violence and death only breed more violence and more death. In no way should we convince ourselves that deaths are a necessary evil and inevitable collateral damage on the road to the country we envision. Let us categorically refuse to give in to the questionable logic that “the ends justify the means,” since, as North American civil rights prophet Martin Luther King, Jr., put it: “Destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends, because the means represent the ideal in the making. Immoral means cannot lead to moral ends, because the ends preexist in the means.” True peace will never be achieved by the moral annihilation of anyone who defies our perception of what ought to be. This would only be a kind of “pax romana.” A peace of victors and vanquished. A false peace, within which will hide a rotting gangrene, eating away at society as a whole. As a church we seek a true and lasting peace. A peace in which we all win.  Peace which is the fruit of justice, of reflection, of honest consensus and without concealed weapons. Therefore, we call on our fellow citizens to avoid sinking into an absurd fratricidal confrontation that benefits no one.

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