A year in

It has been a year. One year ago today, Amy and I landed in Quibdó and hauled our suitcases into a van for the curvy hour and a half ride to Istmina. I remember remarking on our arrival how much I loved that particular ride. Reflecting now, I guess, those were poorly spoken words (for those that don’t know, I never get car sick, I still don’t, with the exception of this particular route in between Quibdó and Istmina). It was raining that evening, the first time in 15 days, which for Chocoanos feels like an endless summer. It was a fairly cool night, very sticky, and I remember that I had no idea what I was getting into.

Looking back now, I have many thoughts, memories, and feelings. I don’t have space to share them all nor do I think it would be wise, but here a few…

Riding in a boat never gets old (especially in the early morning). Best way to travel in Chocó, no doubt.

Driving in Chocó is a rush, in car or motorcycle. Easing though a police checkpoint hoping not to get stopped because you are not sure your VA license is valid in Colombia is an even bigger rush.

I still don’t understand why people throw so much trash in the river.

An ‘aguacero’ doesn’t describe at all what happens. There is not ‘zero rain’, there is a lot. You haven’t experienced Chocó until you experience an aguacero.

The hope that the cacao farmers have amidst an unstable climate of fumigations and armed strikes is amazing.

The dedication to work, that many people of the MB church have, especially women, is inspiring.

During this past year I have been struggling with how to live as a member of this community, knowing full well the privileges I have; for example my ability to leave if violence arises. Why am I given privilege as a white, north American, male? I shouldn’t in Chocó. I know little about the context, the history; not fluent in Spanish and I am not Mennonite Brethren. I know little about agriculture and mixing cement, and am really poor soccer player. I certainly haven’t done anything noteworthy to deserve this privilege. (Okay, I did score a goal in soccer once). I have seen more of Chocó than most Chocoanos I have met, and they have lived here their whole lives. That’s not right.

Most Chocoanos only know North Americans through two historical contexts; those that came to exploit natural resources, and those that came to evangelize. I am neither, but treated like I am the latter. I am given respect usually saved for a pastor or missionary, respect I certainly haven’t earned. So what do we do with this?

I suppose my answer to this challenge is to accept with grace and serve with sincerity. Challenge gender roles. Question status quos. Don’t be in a hurry; sit and talk, especially with those who aren’t always heard. Continue asking.


Since arriving in Chocó 365 days ago here are a few facts and figures…


Number of days this past year where…

  • I have been sick: 1 night
  • I said, nah, I don’t need a shower: 2
  • transport has stopped down for an armed strike: 4
  • I have been stopped and asked for documents: an incredibly shocking only 5
  • I have not seen Amy: 7
  • Amy has told me she felt cold: a surprising 20, and that’s conservative
  • someone has stopped me in the street to ask for English classes: 25, again conservative
  • the electricity has gone out: 40
  • there has been a parade of some sort: 45, they love them here, love ‘em
  • I have traveled by boat: 50
  • I have had rice for at least one meal: 310 they say in Chocó that a meal isn’t a meal without rice
  • it has rained: 315
  • I thought… it’s probably going to rain today: 365


This past year has been difficult, trying, exhausting, and frustrating, but so rewarding. I haven’t been so far from home, but at the same time, felt like I am at home. I am excited for another year, a new year.

3 thoughts on “A year in

  1. rweanes3 says:

    My dear one, I read this post out loud with Dad and savored every word. I stand amazed at your deep questions and reflections, laugh uproariously at your annual stats, love to read about all you are learning, and am ever grateful for all of your experiences there together with Amy. You two will never view life quite the same again. The rest of us are enriched by the writings from both of you. My love, mom

  2. Keaton Shenk says:

    Thanks for sharing your reflections. With prayers for you, for those with whom you live and work, and for Colombia in the new year ahead.

  3. rweanes3 says:

    Nice post. Hard to believe it is now a whole year!

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