Guillermo Velilla Guerra from Colombia

Dear Friends,

Happy New Year’s Eve! As we look ahead to the coming year, Guillermo Velilla Guerra from Colombia calls us to rejoice in Christ, in whom all of God’s promises are a resounding “Yes,” while remaining in steadfast prayer with all who suffer in our broken world.

Known for its tropical Amazon rainforests and majestic Andes mountains, Colombia is home to over 49 million people (70% Catholic, 17% Protestant, and 11% irreligious). In 2016, a peace accord ended 52 years of localized, asymmetric war in Colombia. Partly fueled by the United States and multinational corporations, the conflict involved the Colombian government, right-wing paramilitaries, left-wing guerrilla groups, and several drug cartels. Raging mostly in rural areas, the conflict killed 220 thousand people and displaced 5 million more. Over the last 15 years, Colombia has achieved increased political stability, economic growth, and healthcare development, yet violence, poverty, and other human rights concerns remain pressing. In recent years, economic and political tumult in neighboring Venezuela has driven nearly 3 million refugees to Colombia.

Guillermo is pursuing a PhD in Oriental Studies at Oxford University (UK). His research investigates how language influences the identity formation of God’s people in Exodus. Prior to his studies, Guillermo served as a theology teacher and program coordinator for Corporation Institute for Pastoral Education (CIPEP) in northern Colombia. He also led workshops on the Old Testament and Biblical interpretation at Biblical Seminary of Colombia (FUSBC). In addition to supporting Guillermo’s doctoral work through Leader Studies, Scholar Leaders collaborates with FUSBC through the Vital Sustainability Initiative. After graduation, Guillermo and his wife Sandy will return to Colombia as fulltime missionaries with United World Mission, working in theological education. 
Guillermo shares the following devotional and prayer requests:

I come from a country in South America where Christmas is full of celebration. In Colombia, our Christmas celebrations commence on the evening of December 7th with Día de las Velitas (Little Candles’ Day). On that day, houses and streets are decorated with small candles and paper lanterns while people gather to dance cheerfully under the glimmer of fireworks.

Navidad in Bogotá by Ricardo Velasquez (Unsplash)

Then, from mid-December to Christmas Eve, people take part in Novenas, a set of prayers recited over a period of nine days before Christmas. Young and old alike come together to eat, pray, and sing Christmas carols. These celebratory moments often take place around a pesebre, or nativity scene, with various art objects representing the birth of Jesus. Then, on Christmas Eve night, families gather in one place to enjoy a Cena de Navidad (Christmas meal), indulging their palates with typical dishes and yummy snacks. 

Joy amid Agony

Every year, Colombians count the days until Christmas, as the season brings opportunities to share great joy in community. At the same time, it also reminds us to show gratitude for life in the face of our country’s unending agony over internal conflict and forced displacement. 

Our nation has endured the Western Hemisphere’s longest civil war for over five decades, during which an inestimable number of people have been killed, wounded, tortured, or internally displaced. So, Christmas brings about times of refreshing to a nation journeying along a path that often winds through a great deal of uncertainty. 

Like many Colombians, Jesus suffered the ravages of violent persecution and forced migration. He was still an infant when he was forced to leave his homeland and find refuge in a foreign country (Matt. 2:13-14). This happened after Herod, a powerful and ungodly king, issued a decree that sought to put an end to his nascent life.

Medellín, Colombia by Rizvi Rahman (Unsplash)

Surprisingly, we do not know much about Jesus’ experience in exile or how long he stayed in Egypt, but we may assume that he and his family encountered various hardships as they journeyed into a far-off country. Notwithstanding these circumstances, God safeguarded his life and, in due time, brought him back to the place where he belonged.

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” – Matthew 2:19-20 (NIV)

This is a story in which life overcomes death – a story that overflows with hope and allows us to keep dreaming of a more promising future. As a I write these lines, I can’t help but think about the countless innocent people whose lives are being torn apart by the conflicts in Ukraine and in Israel-Gaza. How can the story of Jesus become a source of encouragement and invigorating renewal for thousands of people suffering at the present time? 

Now, more than ever, we need to find meaning in the words and deeds of the One we worship as Lord. May we celebrate Christmas with a cheerful heart, as well as in contemplative prayer, in order to identify with those who suffer under the afflictions of our broken world.

Peace Candles by Sebbi Strauch (Unsplash)

Let me share an excerpt from Pope Francis’s “Prayer for Peace and Protection from Violence and from Terrorism”:

“O Almighty and merciful God…We come to You today to ask You to keep in peace the world and its people, to keep far away from it the devastating wave of terrorism, to restore friendship and instill in the hearts of Your creatures the gift of trust and of readiness to forgive.”

Prayer Requests

1) Please pray for peace in the world, especially in Colombia, as the promise of “total peace” made by the government of President Gustavo Petro, and rooted in the peace agreement of 2016, is collapsing. 

2) Pray for my studies as I look to advance steadily in my dissertation writing and achieve new academic goals over the ongoing academic year.

3) Pray for my family as we continue to adjust to a new house and neighborhood, that the Lord may give us the opportunity to serve with commitment and faithfulness our church community in Oxford.   

Guillermo Velilla Guerra

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