Landing in the Latin Land of Colombia
by: Jose Chavez
Our time in Bogota, Colombia has been phenomenal. We arrived close to midnight on Wednesday May 13th, almost 24 hours after leaving Fresno. After our layovers in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Mexico City, the entire team was exhausted and ready to arrive. All the extensive logistical work put into this trip was worth it because the people, food, and culture of Colombia is more than amazing. Esta chevere! As a kid, I never imagined leaving my small village in Oaxaca, Mexico, and that was just ten years ago. After an amazing journey, from migrating into the states, to working in the agriculture fields of California and being able to access higher education, without fully realizing God has always been there by my side. Why? Because God has a plan for me, because God is a good God; he took care of me in every dangerous situation I faced…and throughout my educational career he has blessed me with amazing people. These people have prepared me in unimaginable ways for a country such as Colombia. The setting for the preparation began at Fresno Pacific University. There I was introduced to a whole new perspective of service. Not just me wanting to succeed to serve my community but God working through me to succeed. Although I entered FPU with a foundation for my future, the University staff and faculty established, challenged, and formed my passion towards my future. That includes every single one of them: from professors I took classes to the staff that I interact with on a daily basis. I became familiar with the study abroad programs my freshman year in college. It was an impossible reality for me to do due to my immigration status in the states; therefore I chose to disregard it. Towards the end of 2013 I became a recipient of a two year work permit from an executive order that President Obama had signed in 2012 for certain Undocumented Immigrant students who qualify under strict criteria. This permit is called DACA. Under my work permit, I was able to apply for Advanced Parole—a document granted by the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for certain people without permanent residence. I followed the steps of close friends, one traveling to Mexico and another to India, both with the same situation as mine. It was certainly a difficult process in planning my travel abroad and for most of those planning the same trip. It’s actually more complicated than what I’ve written here. It was stressful. We left Fresno at Midnight, and arrived in Guadalajara, Mexico, at around 6:00AM. We then flew to Mexico City and landed at 8:50AM. It was fascinating to converse with some of my countrymen, and it became more interesting while passing through the Mexican Immigration and Customs (later Colombians’). When we reached Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, tears invaded my eyes and I could not believe what was happening. Mexico is so close to the U.S yet it is impossible for many of U.S to visit. It was a very memorable occasion. We were able to travel through the streets of Mexico City and integrate ourselves within the culture. It was something symbolic, something magical, something special. Our last flight departed at 6:00PM and landed close to midnight. The culture changed drastically from the moment we got in line to board the plane in Mexico City; the same language is spoken but different dialect, yet still as amazing. When we stepped out of the airport, it was cold and windy, fortunately there were people awaiting our arrival. The next morning we got introduced to our professors and syllabus for the next four weeks, it’s a full package. It will be an intensive course. We’ve been treated so well, with great hospitality. My host family in particular are wonderful people, full of joy, happiness and love. I ask myself, who in Colombia isn’t happy? Friday May 15, 2015 was our first day of class. Our classroom was inside an organization call CEPALC—a popular and thriving education-based organization. Our goal for the first day of class was to enter into context of the political, cultural and economic crisis of Colombia. The realities that Colombians face are from years of unjust politics that in fact started the now longest war in Latin America history. The participation and influence of the United States is also reflected in Colombian history and also in current policies. The political, economic and cultural study of Colombia is unique in various aspects, yet at the same time very similar to many Latin American states. Like CEPALC, there are dozens of organizations in Colombia who work as a coalition in pressuring the federal government to reform their policies. Incredible work that these organizations are doing, the most fascinating aspect of this is the participation of the Mennonite church in these processes. My wife Marlene and I are not only learning during our school hours, but also throughout our day as it happens that our host father is a government professor and our host mother is the director of JustaPaz, the organization that is hosting our team. With their help, we are integrating right into the nucleus of the Colombian culture. We are excited to be here and are ready to be used by God in the community here.