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In 2001 Lucy Roca Caballero and her family lived in the city of Barranquilla, Colombia, when an illegal armed group killed her brother. The tragedy led her mother and siblings to seek asylum in Canada, but Lucy and her husband did not see a need to leave their country. Instead they moved to the capital city of Bogotá for a time. When they perceived that the threat had lessened, they returned to Barranquilla.
It was during her time in Bogotá after the death of her brother that Lucy returned to the Mennonite Church of Colombia. She had come to know the Pastor Peter Stucky and the Teusaquillo Mennonite Church, along with pastors Gamaliel and Amanda de Falla in Barranquilla.
“When I met the Mennonite Church in Colombia, I had the opportunity to learn about the type of work they were carrying out,” said Lucy. “And I also felt that the themes of justice, peace, reconciliation, and non-violence were themes that interested me, just like the type of leadership they promoted. All of these led me to commit myself to the Mennonite Church at a personal level.”
In Barranquilla Lucy worked with an organization focused on protecting women’s rights and preventing domestic abuse. She had chosen social work as her career, because she saw it as a way to serve her community. In her role Lucy also represented her organization at a working group that reported human rights violations.
In these years the situation in Barranquilla continued to decline, and social institutions, unions, and human rights defenders experienced a growing number of threats.
“The illegal armed groups were ‘taking over’ the city,” remembered Lucy. “They were in charge and they killed many leaders of different social organizations.”
Under these conditions the working group became a target, because of the reports it filed.
The group’s new coordinator was put in prison, for alleged connections to illegal armed groups, but everyone knew that the young coordinator had no connection to those groups. In addition Lucy and the others had heard that there was a standing arrest warrant for the group’s remaining members and that they wanted to break up the working group.
Under such pressure Lucy left for Bogotá. There she returned to the Teusaquillo Mennonite church and worked with a church committee that accompanied displaced and threatened people in the church. There she felt cared for by her brothers and sisters in the community.
“It was a way of protecting myself,” she said.
Although she was afraid, Lucy hoped to someday return to Barranquilla. Then one day she received a personal threat. “Someone said to my husband, ‘Tell Lucy to keep still. We are watching her. We are going to wipe out this working group. And we know that she had traveled to Bogotá. We know all of her comings and goings.”
At the same time Lucy and her husband received the news that their friend, a university professor in Barranquilla, had been falsely accused of connections to illegal armed groups and assassinated.
Lucy realized it would not be possible to return to Barranquilla. “So I said: No, I have to leave,” recalled Lucy.
In 2004 Lucy applied for asylum in Canada. In the meantime she stayed in Bogotá with the Mennonite church.
Throughout this period, Lucy felt the presence of God, even though she was frightened. Especially important for her was a promise she received from a pastor friend. She said to Lucy, “I am going to pray for you and I want to tell you that the Lord has given me a promise for you. God will take you from here, do not be afraid. Most of the others will be put in prison, but they will not take you prisoner.”
During the two years it took to process her application, Lucy was not allowed to work.
“But I could work for the Lord,” said Lucy.
“Those two years were ones in which I worked hardest for the Lord. I left my secular work and dedicated myself to the church. [Other leaders] in the church told me they believed I was called to the ministry. And they wanted to propose that I come to Canada and work as a pastor.”
When she received the visa in 2006, Lucy and her family left for Canada. It was very difficult for them to leave their country and establish themselves in a new context—not to mention the trauma they had experienced. But Lucy carried with her the promises she had received from her brothers and sisters in the church.
Before leaving Colombia, for example, a brother from the church had said to her, “There is a promise [from God]. Do not weep. In the place where you are going, you will open a church. There is a marvelous plan for you in that place.”
Two weeks after Lucy and her family arrived in Canada, the first prayer group began in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
Today Lucy continues alongside the church that she and other leaders have planted in Sherbrooke, Quebec. In her ministry, Lucy carries a particular burden for Latino immigrants and she dreams of the church expanding into other cities in the province of Quebec.
“If you ask me what type of church I want to be in, I stand by the Mennonite Church with its Anabaptist principles of reconciliation, non-violence, and love for the poorest and neediest among us,” says Lucy.
For those who hear her story, Lucy has a special message:
“I want to encourage you, to say to you that no matter how difficult the situation you are in, it is worth the cost to follow Jesus Christ. It does not matter what price you have to pay. The Lord is with each one of you. We are brothers and sisters to help each other, to strengthen the church of Jesus Christ. And to love one another and to share words of encouragement with each other.
I hope this story gives hope and encouragement to those who are in difficult situations. The most important thing it to be sustained by God’s hand, even in moments of trial—great or small—and of discouragement or physical and spiritual opposition.”