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Couple 'spiritually hopeful' after recent peace and human rights trip to Colombia

August 12, 2002|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Unwilling to let the huge problems of a South American country discourage them, the Rev. David Schlicher and his wife, Anne Jenny, are still reeling from their recent experiences in Colombia.

But the Hagerstown couple remains undaunted despite seemingly overwhelming odds that two people can make a difference.

"I came back physically exhausted but spiritually hopeful," Schlicher said. The pastor of the Hagerstown Church of the Holy Trinity accepted the challenge eagerly and doesn't regret one minute of his 12-day trip.

"We met a lot of people who are trying to think out of the box and that's where the hope lies," he said.

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Schlicher's wife, a conflict mediator by profession, said she was inspired by the spirit of the people in Colombia.

"There were people living in cardboard shacks ... growing flowers in old tires that they had shaped into beautiful birds," Jenny said. "These people were so excited to show us what they had done."

The tour to promote peace and human rights was spawned following a wave of massacres, including the assassination of a prominent archbishop in Colombia. Schlicher and Jenny joined 35 U.S. religious leaders representing six denominations on the tour.

Also on this tour were the Rev. Jerrold Foltz, a Hagerstown native and now associate UCC conference minister, and the Rev. John Deckenback, a UCC conference minister from Frederick, Md.

The delegation investigated the increase in violence and displacement in the remote areas of the large South American country. "This ecumenical pilgrimage was a way to come and see for ourselves just what was happening there," Jenny said.

Schlicher explained that the Colombian government controls only a very small area of the huge country. "Along the Amazon River and the Pacific coast, there is not much infrastructure or government influence," he said.

The lack of roads makes normal commerce nearly impossible for the farmers in the back country to get their regular crops to market. Ironically, Schlicher said, the farmers are often left with no choice but to grow illegal drug crops because the drug dealers will pay top dollar and they will even deliver the crops to market.

"The governmental eradication programs only make the situation worse," Jenny said. "All the crops are burned - legal and illegal - and that forces the farmers to replant only the illegal crops because of their higher cash value."

Jenny said her main thrust was to help the natives learn the techniques necessary to build a civil society.

"The people were so pleased that we were there and willing to listen to their views," Jenny said.

Schlicher said he'd been on a mission to Honduras before but this was so much more rewarding than just swinging a hammer.

Jenny's most remarkable revelation was the similarity of basic human needs, no matter what the country.

"People the world over want food, shelter, safety and education for their children," she said.

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