Field research among displaced persons in Colombia's "red zones", respite in the mountains of California, and a student profile double-header.

Dear Friends and Family,

It's been a month of extreme contrasts. December took me, on the one hand, to some of Colombia's most marginalized communities (in very hot and humid climates), and on the other hand, back to California (including the delicious cold of the Sierra Nevada mountains).

The month began with field research for the seminary's research project on forced internal displacement. Along with a handful of my colleagues, I visited some of the displaced communities in "Red Zones" in Bogotá, as well as an impoverished rural community of IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the region of Cordoba. In these communities, we sought--through interviews, surveys, focus groups, and even community Bible studies--to learn about people's experiences of displacement, and how they have fought to overcome their suffering. We are discovering an enormous amount, and have been so grateful for the openness of the community and especially for the support of the local pastors who facilitate and are partnering with our research. But it has also been an experience of sorrow, as we have been given insight into the atrocious suffering these people have lived (and continue to live). We are praying that God will help us to work hard and provide us the wisdom to honor the stories shared with us, for the benefit of the many people who continue to be displaced by the violence in Colombia.

Halfway through December, I boarded a plane and had a head-spinning transition to California, where I reconnected with Michelle and the kids (who flew out a week before me) and stayed with my parents. It was lovely to visit Valley Church, our California home church, and to enjoy time with family. Since this past term was so heavy (too heavy, to be candid), I have blocked out this time in California for vacation and recuperation. It's been a relief to sleep, play games with Michelle and the kids, and simply not work. I am tapping out this update from our family's cabin in the Sierra Nevada, whither Michelle and I have slipped away for a couple of nights to celebrate our anniversary without the kids. 

Next weekend we fly back to Colombia, and my research team will immediately resume our field study of forced internal displacement...and of course the new academic year will begin. But for now, I am grateful for peace and silence.

Peace be with you all,

Christopher, Michelle, Judah, Asher, and Zoe Hays

Student Profile Double-Header

This month I'm doubling down on student profiles and introducing you to the Villadiego Ramos twins, whose names are (wait for it) Steban Andrés and Andrés Steban. (Yeah, the first week of class was pretty confusing for me!). These 26 year-old brothers hail from a small town in the region Bajo Cauca. They are the sons of pastors who have dedicated two decades to leading the only Protestant church a place battered by guerrilla groups, the AUC paramilitary organization, and criminal gangs. 

Steban (pictured above with his wife Estela, and his new baby Mariángel) reflects that growing up with such parents meant that "from my childhood I was raised under Christian principles, ethics, and morality. As I grew, I watched how my parents served the Lord with fervor and passion, and in various ways they involved me in the study of the Bible and in service of the Lord, such that I came to fall in love with God and the service of the Church."

Andrés (pictured below with his wife Soady, and their soon-to-be-born daughter, Valeria [Colombians name their babies before they are born]) explains, "I decided to come to FUSBC because, after beginning to work in the ministries of teaching and discipleship, I recognized the need to be better trained in order to continue exercising this ministry. I also came to see the need that rural pastors have for theological study. This has been one of the biggest motivations to come to FUSBC: to prepare myself to train pastors and leaders in rural regions who do not have the opportunity to undertake biblical and theological study."

Student Profiles (continued)

Andrés goes to say, "At present I serve in discipleship ministry in my local church in Medellín, meeting weekly with a group of 16 people; I am also a leader in the church's youth ministry." Steban and his brother work together in their ministries, and Steban adds that during their vacation this month they are returning to their hometown "to meet with pastors and local leaders from the region and to offer them biblical and theological training."

In these ways, the twins--who are tremendously intelligent, diligent, and kind--already anticipate the sort of ministry to which they feel called in the future: pastoral ministry and theological education for rural pastors. Steban says that, upon completing his undergraduate degree, "I would like to keep studying and at the same time continue serving pastors of my region and other regions, offering them support and accompaniment. I hope to extend them personal, pastoral, biblical, and theological aid by creating theological study centers that contribute to the holistic formation of pastors working in difficult regions, where academic and theological training is scarce." These talented young men exemplify the strategic impact that FUSBC has in Colombia, training the best and brightest evangelical leaders who will in turn multiply what they have received in small villages throughout the most war-torn parts of this country.

Praise God!

  • For safe travels to displaced communities for our December field research.
  • For harmonious relations between team members as we work in difficult and sometimes stressful contexts.
  • For the generous efforts and time of the pastors and community leaders who have made possible our research among displaced people.
  • For a couple of long-time partners with our ministry who have increased their support to help us get closer to our 2017 budget.
  • For a much needed rest for our whole family.
  • For a couple nights away in a beautiful log cabin in the mountains.

Please Pray

  • For a few new supporters. We still need a couple hundred dollars a month in new commitments to reach our 2017 budget goal (which is higher than 2016, since Zoe begins school). Please pray that God brings us these new partners soon, so that we can enter the new academic year with tranquility, knowing that our costs will be covered. 
  • For wisdom to build a more manageable work schedule in 2017. The second term of 2016 was simply too much, and I felt downright toxic by the end. I need to not continue trying to work at that rate, because being so overextended--even with really good projects--robs me of my joy.
  • For productive and safe visits to three more displaced communities in January: that we would learn a great deal, that we would find secure, private spaces and many participants for research, that we would build strong relationships with our co-researchers among the IDPs, and that our team would continue to work together smoothly.
  • For energy and creativity as a revise my classes for the next academic term.
  • That our children would transition back to Colombia and a new school year smoothly without too much sorrow for having to leave their extended family.

From Michelle

This December I am thankful for the gift of rest. All of our family was worn down at the end of last semester and we are all enjoying a much-needed break. We have been especially thankful for the silence in the countryside of California and the ability our kids have to run and play outside in nature with no worries of danger. They have been delighting in spending time with their grandparents (e.g. spending time in Grandpa's workshop, as in the picture above), aunts, uncles and other extended family. We have felt very loved and cared for not only by our family but also from friends, supporters and the community of Valley Church here in California. The level of energy we normally expend in our day-to-day life to work in Spanish and to live in another culture can take a serious toll after a while, so this chance to fully rest and recuperate has been a true gift for all of us.
Copyright © 2016 Christopher and Michelle Hays, United World Mission, All rights reserved.
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