the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Photo of John HorstIn the way: bearing
witness against violence

by Johathan Horst, Sr. diary excerpts, with Ryan Miller
Jonathan Horst (Sr., Mount Joy, Pa.), at far left corner with activist and author Rigoberta Menchu to his immediate left, is in the middle of a six-month term in Colombia with Christian Peacemaker Teams. He and fellow Goshen student Ben Horst (Sr., Evanston, Ill.) are two of the youngest volunteers in CPT history, working in a region plagued by violence between military, paramilitary and guerrilla groups and suffering from forced fumigation of fields due to the U.S. and Colombian governments' war on cocaine. The following are excerpts from e-mail journals written by Horst this summer. He closed some of his missives with this quote: "I don't like playing this game where the stakes are people's lives."

June 19
Though I know that the sun's energy sustains all life, I sometimes wish it would just go away! For the first time in some years my cheeks are peeling, and it's all the sun's fault. Some people here have commented and I just say that the sun and I are enemies now.

Warfare has touched everyone it seems. (On) June 10, I was talking with our neighbor directly across the street. His son was murdered in a massacre just down the block, nine years ago to the day, by a Navy intelligence group that no longer exists - it was proved guilty of too many atrocities. They're nice people, the neighbors. We still don't know the garbage schedule, but just a bit ago she ran over and said "Mi amor, la basura!" Kinda funny, the first time I'd ever talked with her specifically and she says, "My love, the trash!" So I took the trash out. Such a great culture.

July 14
I just got back Thursday evening from five days out in the countryside. The town of Los „eques, where we have been working, has been the thankfully unbloody theater of a massive military operation. I only saw about half the soldiers and none of the Navy personnel, but there were reportedly about 400 soldiers there for four to six days and five heavily armed navy speedboats for a day. The soldiers were fairly courteous to most civilian families, although they'd drink all the family's water and make them bring more from the river. At one house where they spent the night, the family discovered "AUC" etched in a styrofoam box - the initials of the country's largest paramilitary group which many believe works quite closely with the state military.
I never felt at risk, although it was quite interesting to wake up to a cool, cloudy day with the flowers blooming and a nice cup of coffee and a Wendell Berry book of poems (it seemed an almost perfect morning) and five minutes later, to have 60 armed soldiers on the property with another 100 or so still to come. Kind of a downer. Some also had rifle-launched grenades, others heavy machine guns and one guy had a rocket launcher.
They asked us if we'd seen any guerrillas and we said that "if so, they don't have guns so we don't think we've seen any." And then we asked them the same. The typical response was, "No, if we did, they'd be dead." The rural people told us that within a week of when the army leaves, paramilitaries will come in.

Last weekend, people with whom we work closely had to identify the trunk of a corpse of a lawyer who worked with them. She disappeared and a couple days later they found her trunk. She reportedly had been kidnapped by a paramilitary group, raped, and then had her legs, arms and head cut off. If it's the normal scenario, they used a chainsaw. And the people can talk about it without getting a feeling like they're going to throw up (unlike me). The other week we were sitting around talking at one of the houses with all the kids around and one man was talking about times when body parts come floating down the river . . . and it was fairly normal conversation.

When asking other groups about human rights organizations here in the city they warned us that we should count the risks before making the information too public. "If you use this in a denouncement, you may be looking for a new city to work from . . . or need accompaniment yourselves." Hmmm. That's enough to make one really think about what's happening and the seriousness of citing any kind of link between the state military and the (finally) internationally recognized terrorist organization.