Colombia Accompaniment FAQ
What sort of accompaniment do you practice?
Our program arose from a request for accompaniment by our partner church in Colombia. What we do is essentially community accompaniment, a ministry of presence with the church and with the displaced communities and human rights leaders with whom they work. Accompaniers are generally in the presence of our Colombian hosts, except when they are "at home" and sometimes going for meals, etc., but they may also be asked to spend some time accompanying (and being accompanied by!) displaced communities. Our presence has become well known and our accompaniers stand in solidarity and spiritual support for the church and the displaced communities, while providing "international eyes" to what is going on and any threats that are received by the church or those it serves. In Colombia, our church partners take the lead in determining activities, and they try to adapt to the gifts of each person who comes. The church partnership element is a special part of this program. We learn a great deal from each other, and many accompaniers come away with an invigorated sense of what it means to be church. Our primary goal is to be a supportive presence of solidarity, with the benefit of increasing awareness for our accompaniers and, through them, our U.S. churches and the broader society through education and advocacy efforts.
Where in Colombia do accompaniers go?
For the first five years, the program was centered in Barranquilla, where the North Coast presbytery and the Colombian church’s national synod office are located. We have now expanded our mutual ministry to the Presbytery of Urabá, in the NW of Colombia, near Panama. Accompaniers may occasionally also visit the capital, Bogotá (in the Central Presbytery), usually for purposes including accompanying our partners visiting Colombian government offices or the U.S. Embassy.
Where do accompaniers stay?
Accompaniers have housing provided by the Colombian church. In both North Coast and Urabá presbyteries, accompaniers may have a simple apartment as “home base”, but will also move between family homestays and sometimes displaced communities. Accommodation may be very simple.
How long would I stay?
The typical term of service is one month. Some folks have been able to stay for two or three months, and many have returned several times. We generally do not send anyone for less than a month, because it usually takes about two weeks to begin to get a mental grasp of the situation and dynamics, and we also do not want to drain our Colombian hosts’ energy with excessive turnover.
What do accompaniers do?
The primary element is a ministry of presence, so activities vary greatly depending on what is going on in the church and country. In Barranquilla, there may be days of "office assignment" presence at the presbytery office, following the news and occasionally helping with translation assignments, etc. Most accompaniers have some opportunities to visit the different communities that are supported by the church: for example, farms that groups of displaced families have begun to work, and to which they are seeking legal title, or displaced Afro-Colombian communities that the church is involved with through the Ecumenical Network, as well as a growing number of outreach projects of individual congregations. There are often various workshops that the accompaniers attend, as well as church services and activities. In Urabá, there is a great focus on worship life, pastoral visitation, and generally getting to know the church communities and their ministries. (In Urabá, many of the church members and ministers have themselves been displaced by violence.) In Bogotá there are opportunities for more interaction with the broader human rights community as well as for advocacy with the U.S. Embassy and the Colombia government. But the most important thing, no matter what the location, is presence.
Is it dangerous?
Our hosts in the Colombian church are very protective of us and would not ask us to be there if they thought we faced any great risk or danger. There certainly are still risks associated with Colombia’s conflict, probably greater than most other places you might travel; however, you will not be engaged in typical tourist activities, and our church partners will help ensure that all appropriate precautions are taken. It is also important to note that this program has been running since 2004, and so far no safety problems have arisen for our accompaniers, thanks be to God.
With whom would I serve?
Our model is to have two accompaniers present at a time. They are paired together by the accompaniment coordination team, with efforts made to ensure compatibility, mutual respect and cooperation, according to the schedule and availability of each. If one accompanier does not speak good Spanish, the other must be comfortable providing translation and help with interpretation. Requests to serve with a particular person are generally honored, gladly.
If I go to the training, am I committed to going to Colombia?
No, you will not be committed to going just because you join us for the event. It will be a time for training, education, and prayerful mutual discernment. At the end the leaders will sit down with each participant individually to talk about whether this is something that he or she feels called to pursue, and will share any feedback, questions, or concerns. If all agree that it would be a good fit, we will talk about scheduling, availability, and partnering.
Who can be an accompanier?
We have a wide range of participants, from some who don't speak Spanish and have never been involved in Latin America at all, to others who have extensive experience in Colombia and special training in trauma counseling, medicine, and other skills. Anyone over 21 years of age with a valid U.S. passport and a heart for this important ministry is welcome to apply. (Those with non-U.S. passports can also be considered.)
What if I’m not Presbyterian?
This is a program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in partnership with the Presbyterian Church of Colombia, and is a clearly Christian endeavor. However, it is very much open to ecumenical partners from other denominations who feel called to be part of this ministry. An important part of the application process includes receiving a pastoral reference as well as the endorsement of your worshiping community. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!
How is the trip to Colombia funded?
As a mission volunteer, it is the responsibility of the accompanier to cover the cost of his/her term in Colombia. We encourage each individual to use fundraising as a method of covering expenses. This not only relieves a financial burden, but raises awareness about the program itself. The total cost of airfare, food, local transportation, and miscellaneous expenses for the month varies, but is generally around $1,800-$2,100. Accompaniers are encouraged to budget $2,100 in order to allow flexibility for additional domestic airfare purchase, etc., but we (including our Colombian partners) understand that some accompaniers will have tight budgets.
What does it cost to attend the training?
There is no cost for the training/discernment event itself. Participants are responsible for their own travel to the event, but all meals, lodging, etc., will be provided by the program. If needed, in rare circumstances financial assistance from the accompaniment program may be available to help with travel expenses; please contact the coordinator if this is true for you, and give a brief description of the reason for your need and how much support you require.
What if I don’t have much money?
Fundraising is an integral part of preparing to serve as an accompanier; getting your church and community involved will not only help pay your costs, but also build awareness of the situation in Colombia. We do not want lack of funds to prevent any called and qualified individuals from serving as accompaniers. If you have special circumstances or financial needs, please feel free to share them and we will do our best to make it possible for you to participate.
Are there other ways to support this ministry besides becoming an accompanier?
There are many things you can do. Here are a few suggestions:
Educate yourself and others
- Follow the Colombia Accompaniment Program on Facebook.
- Read reports from accompaniers and from human rights organizations such as the Latin America Working Group
- Invite an accompanier to come and speak at your church, college, or organization (contact the Accompaniment Coordinator)
- Join a delegation to Colombia with either the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship or Witness for Peace
- Plan to observe the Days of Prayer and Action for Colombia every April or May.
Be an advocate
- Check your congressional delegation’s record on Colombia policy and urge them to support human rights and rule of law for Colombia’s people
- Sign up for our Advocacy Alerts.
Pray for the people of Colombia and our leaders
- Sample prayers and worship resources are available here.
Send a financial contribution
- The accompaniment program relies entirely on donations and welcomes your support, either online (with “Colombia Accompaniment” in the “Designation” line) or by check (Payable to PPF with “Colombia Accompaniment” in the memo line. Please send to: Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, 17 Cricketown Rd., Stony Point, NY 10980)
- Various PC(USA) accounts are set up to support projects of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia