We were quite blessed last night to be house guests at our partner Georgia’s home. Her husband collected us at the bus depot and we ventured into the hills around BaguÃo, by taxi and then climbing stairs to get to the family’s home. A delicious meal and a good night’s sleep before we headed into the mountains today.
A 3-hour ride in a hired van showed some truly gorgeous views. (That being said, the roads are terrible and some of the drops are terrifying- there was much prayer!)
Our meetings this afternoon highlighted some of the reality of the gorgeous mountains, however. They come with a rather ugly story of human rights atrocities, environmental devastation, and unjust resource abuses. Under the surface of the mountains, mining companies are drilling and tunneling and leaving a trail of destruction. Aboriginal people are fighting to maintain their lands and livelihoods, threatened by violence and intimidation and pollution. Our hosts today have shared stories of giant sinkholes appearing (in one case, the elementary school has literally disappeared as the ground beneath it collapsed), of threats made at gunpoint, of common people being disappeared or arrested under trumped up charges. They are ugly and difficult stories to hear; they would be horrific to live through.
Yet the people telling the stories have a different message as well- they are offering trainings and workshops on community development, they are struggling to find creative ways to preserve their ancestral lands and ways of life, they are incorporating new technology with old methods to do their best to preserve their communities.
These people have a beauty that comes from faith and strength. They have a beauty that goes deep within. They have a passion to keep their mountains equally beautiful- not just on the surface but in holistic and complete ways. They see the beauty in their environment and are fighting to keep the mining companies from destroying it. They recognize that true beauty does not need extra decoration, it needs depth.
So Elsa an I have been chatting this evening, as guests within this community, about how we can assist in these people’s struggle. We have heard their story, we will tell their story. And we will live our lives in such a way to respect their struggle- we will not buy the products manufactured from the ore that is being mined. In this case, the mining is for gold- something we use for our own beautification but which leaves nothing but ugliness here as it is mined . I know that I can not purchase gold again without remembering the sights ad stories from today, I cannot see gold without acknowledging how it is ruining the lives of so many people. So I will refuse to contribute to that structure. Admittedly I do not make many contributions to that industry- but all acts of solidarity are important.
And that is beautiful- much more so than shiny decorations.
We promised in our baptismal vows to seek Christ in every person and respect the dignity of every human being; I’ll be living out that vow now by intentionally being without adornment, without supporting the mining industries whose victims are sleeping in the next room.