In Colombia, she’ll guide her feet into the way of peace

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By Jeri Rowe
Staff Columnist of News Record.com
Saturday, Mar. 1, 2008 3:00 am
Barbara Clawson will fly south to Colombia to become a human security blanket .

Credit: Nelson Kepley/News & Record

Barbara Clawson will fly south to Colombia to become a human security blanket .

BURLINGTON — Barbara Clawson will take a big trip Monday.

She’ll fly south to Colombia to become a human security blanket and protect people worried about facing a pistol, losing their land or being kidnapped for nothing more than to prove a point.

And they worry about getting killed, too. It’s what Colombians call “a culture of death.”

Clawson had her doubts about the trip. She’s 72 , a retired UNCG educator, a kind-faced farmer’s daughter who lives in a comfortable Lutheran retirement community in Burlington and asked herself: “Why am I leaving the comfort of my home? This is crazy!”

She’s read a manual with chapters named “risk assessment” and “guidelines in dealing with security personnel,” and she’s heard harrowing stories about Colombia’s civil war.

She knows the conflict, four decades long, has been fueled by a lust for land, money and revenge. Meanwhile, 3 million people have lost their homes, and thousands of people have lost their lives.

All in a country of 41 million , a country of haves and have-nots that’s four times the size of Arizona.

So, Clawson is going to go.

Ask her about this, and she’ll talk about her 30 years of mission work around the globe and how her mother, Hazel, who died nearly two years ago at the age of 101 , was right there by her side.

Pore through her notes, and on the back of a particular page, you’ll see written in her right-hand scrawl this question: “What kind of life am I trying to preserve if I can’t take time to do this?”

Here’s her answer.

“What am I trying to preserve if I don’t do things that are the expression of my Christian faith?” Clawson said the other day from her Burlington duplex.

“For me, the last 30 years have led to this point, and I believe the church needs to stand up for truth and justice. This is not about me, but about supporting people who are being faithful to God’s call.”

We live in a country that feels relatively insulated from such bullet-riddled violence.

We have so much, compared with a place like Colombia. There, where lawlessness reigns, cocaine is a crash crop and poverty is a way of life for nearly two-thirds of the country’s population.

It’s easy to believe in change. But to act is hard.

Not for Clawson. Her journey started in 1957 . She left her small-town life on her family’s Iowa farm and lived with Japanese families for five months as part of a program created by

4-H and the Cooperative Extension Service .

Twelve years after World War II, 12 years after our country dropped two atomic bombs on Japan to end the war and killed hundreds of thousands of people, she learned lessons about forgiveness, hope and the need to dream.

She’ll take all that with her to Colombia on Monday.

She’ll fly into Barranquilla , Colombia’s third-largest city. She’ll walk unarmed, surrounded by the God she loves, the Colombian Presbyterians she respects and the faith she keeps in her heart.

She will become a witness for the accompaniment program created by Presbyterian Peace Fellowship four years ago.

She’s the 40th American to go, the first from North Carolina. She’ll join another witness, a 26-year-old man from Oklahoma. According to the Presbyterian Church USA, its witness work has paid off. Violence has waned.

She’ll help members of the Presbyterian Church of Colombia repair their own country, even as its government sees them as terrorists working under the banner of human rights.

But Clawson is not someone who kow-tows to fear.

She’s helped develop a sister church relationship in Nicaragua, taught Christian education in Mexico and served on a board for a project that helped malnourished children in the Congo.

You see her determination on the back bumper of her car. There’s this sticker, taken from a Bible verse from the Book of Luke: “Guide Our Feet Into The Way of Peace.”

Clawson will do just that once again. Starting Monday.

Contact Jeri Rowe at 373-7374 or jeri.rowe@news-record.com

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