One of the great success stories here in Colombia has been a program to encourage the guerrilla fighters to desert and rejoin society. For the most part these are individuals who have spent most of their lives as militants within the guerrilla ranks, occupied with killing and kidnapping. A few years back, the government began a program where any guerrilla fighter who deserted and turned himself or herself in would be granted amnesty and aided in rejoining society.
When a fighter accepts this offer, he or she is first debriefed as the army attempts to learn as much as is possible about the guerrilla unit to which the fighter belonged. Then the government begins the process of aiding them to adapt by housing them in rented properties and providing them with room, board, and a stipend for a period of about six months while they try to train them for a job and help them adjust to a normal life in a modern city. At the end of this period, they return to their families or simply begin working and attempting to live on their own. This is not an easy task since most were forcibly recruited as very young teenagers and so most have known nothing but the brutality of war all of their lives.
In most cases, the effort by the government at the rehabilitation of the guerrilla fighters is successful. Sometimes it is not. But it takes an effort not only by the individual, but by society as a whole. Society must forgive them and accept them in order to facilitate this reintegration. As a Christian church, we are doing our part as well. One of the ladies in the church here is a social worker. Her job right now is working with a couple groups of these former guerrilla fighters. She is allowed to witness to them and invite them to church; which she does. Nearly every week, she has a group of ten or fifteen who come to church with her. We are glad to have them and help in this effort to improve things here in Colombia.
The only thing about this is that when things do not work out, some of the guerrillas return to their previous life. Since they have never held a job or dealt with the pressures of earning a living and paying bills, it is overwhelming for some of them. So with the opportunities comes a certain concern as well. The guerrilla movement has been very anti-American and has sustained itself through kidnapping and extortion. The other elders at the church warned me not to share too much information with them, just in case. They suggested that I not give out my phone number or address to any of them. They said that if one should ask me for such information, it would be better to simply inform them that the other elders will deal with any problems or concerns that they might have and then direct them to speak with one of them.
While I normally do not concern myself too much with the risks of working here, as I feel my life is in the Lordâ€™s hands. Given the circumstances, this is one case where I have taken the advice of the Colombian church leaders. I work with the deaf church members and the other people, but I leave the work with the former guerrillas to the Colombian leaders, as they do not face the same risk of kidnapping that I as a foreigner do. I greet the â€œreinserted onesâ€ and speak with them, but I leave the actual work of evangelizing and teaching them to the different Colombian brothers and sisters who have taken on this ministry. That is one of the great advantages of working with a maturing church, there are many people involved in ministry and each person can work where his or her skill sets are best used and where risk in minimized.