For me, leaving my office and driving to the coffeelands is usually cause for great joy and reverence. I recently returned from a visit to the coffeelands in Colombia that was short on joy and long on reverence: I met with families seeking shelter in the coffeelands after being displaced by acts of terrible violence. Hearing the wrenching stories of displacement in the days before Christmas, I couldn’t help but turn them over in my mind with two rich theological reflections. One was Mother Teresa’s reminder that the hungry, naked and homeless among us are “Christ in distressing disguise.” The other was the idea that the stories I heard represent a cruel contemporary twist on the search for shelter in Luke’s Christmas Gospel.
The stories themselves, often told through tears, were wrenching. But the details that stay with me had to do with the children I met. Some witnessed acts of violence. Some were subjected to violence. All of them were forced to uproot in the days before Christmas, and to see their parents — the people who provide a sense of security and stability in their lives — dealing with upheaval, uncertainty and fear.
Our Church partners in the coffeelands in Colombia are working heroically, if anonymously, to provide food, clothing and shelter to families displaced by violence. They are also beginning to work in conflict-affected communities to help families affected by violence improve their access to specialty coffee markets. In Ecuador, where I live, our Church partners are providing critical support to Colombian coffee farming families who have come to Ecuador to start a new life for themselves.
This Christmas, I will keep the people I met in Colombia — and countless others affected by violence in the coffeelands — in my thoughts and prayers, and give special thanks for the opportunity to work with our Church partners to serve them.