When I first met Susie Bell with HCL Ministries, I learned her educational background and passion are in the reconciliation of nations. I nodded in agreement, as if to say, “that’s a good thing.” But I didn’t know what she was talking about and I didn’t press in because I wasn’t sure I would understand her explanation. I did, however, do a little research to learn what HCL (Healing Community Life) was about. In their mission statement, they state reconciliation as one of their core values:
“Reconciliation: We are committed to learning and cultivating a culture of forgiveness and redemption from past and present wounds so that our future can birth in a reconciled context with God, our family, our community, our nation, our world, and one another.”
I am a visual learner. Sometimes it’s better to experience the explanation than to simply read the words. Because of the shutdown of 2020, I was feeling stagnant in my spiritual growth, wounded because of the condition of the world, and hungry to move higher and deeper with God. My prayer, “Lord, help me understand the depth of your heart in the unity of mankind. Open my eyes to see life and people through Your eyes and from Your perspective. Show me how I can be a part of the healing of this world!” God loves prayers like this. And He responds.
Culture, Heritage, History
In April 2021, I was invited by HCL Ministries to accompany them on mission to Colombia, South America. Upon arriving in Cartagena, Colombia, John and Susie walked me along the streets and ports of Cartagena to help me gain perspective of the culture, heritage, and history of the land. I learned how, between the 16th and 19th centuries, boats from West Africa came into these ports carrying African captives who were sold into slavery. We walked along the walls of the old city, stopping to pray for the reconciliation between the countries involved in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. We prayed for the generations of Africans who had been forcibly displaced from their homes as a result of the slave trade. Our evening ended as we watched the sunset fade into the horizon of the Caribbean coast.
The next day we visited the Spanish Inquisition Museum in Cartagena, which gives historical information about the slaves brought from various countries, including the brutal treatment and the selling of Africans to other nations. I could sense the hovering spiritual oppression. As we read about the evil things man does to man, the realization of how humankind needs reconciliation with one another and with God became clearer. Though slavery was abolished many years ago, there are still gaping wounds left to be healed. And there are so many wounds.
Facing the Truth
It’s easier to push aside the realization of what took place and how the world is ruled by power, greed, evil, and cruelty, and replace those thoughts with platitudes and clichés that push the pain down. But one cannot unsee what has been seen. When the Lord opens the eyes of the blind and gives understanding to the heart, an internal decision will be made – whether intentionally or unintentionally – in how and whether to respond. And when one desires to melt into the heart of God, He will apply that desire as a healing salve onto the wounds of the broken. Yes, even to the nations. (I will address this more in a future post. I’m still processing through the emotions and realities of what cannot be unseen and unknown.)
On day three, we traveled about three hours south from the city of Cartagena, nestled on the Caribbean coastline, to the village of Palenque, situated in the foothills of the Montes de Maria, a small mountain range. The lifestyle and culture of these two places contrast in every way. Cartagena is known as a vacation destination and experience, hosting tourists from around the world, offering fine lodging, dining, and night life. Palenque is known for being steeped in her rich heritage, culture, and history. The things that draw tourists to Cartagena are nowhere to be seen within the village life of Palenque.
To enter the village, one steps back in time to the days of front porch sitting, swimming in the creek banks, and fresh fish deliveries in a handmade pushcart. There are few automobiles in the village. The main mode of transportation in this town of 4,000 is by foot, with motorcycles being the second. The people are friendly, charming, and Spanish speaking. They are Africans, settled into the village because of the slave trade captivity of their ancestors. Their spiritual belief system is a combination of African traditions and Christianity, brought in by well-meaning missionaries, many from the evangelism camp of “save ’em and leave ’em.”
I guess that’s what has impacted me the most about the ministry of John and Susie. They have been in the village of Palenque for many years – not with the “project” mindset of achieving a goal and moving on to the next place, but with the heartbeat of knowing the people, loving them to Jesus, and discipling them to walk in the ways of Christ. The heart of their ministry is to live with Jesus among the people and see the culture changed person by person. It is in serving others in order to see the gospel of Jesus Christ set as the foundation for current and future generations. And they have no timeline for when or how these things take place; they walk in God’s timing and seasons.
After a few days in the village, I heard John say, “Palenque was the first free slave settlement in the Americas, founded by those who fled a life of slavery in Cartagena.” Having spent a few days within the old town walls and near the ports of Cartagena, I then understood the treasure of the village. It was the “first” free slave settlement in the Americas. Scripture tells us that the first things belong to God. Whether it’s our finances, children, talents, crops, etc., the first things belong to Him. And when we, through obedience, commit and give those first things to the Lord, He receives our offerings and sacrifices and returns them to us one hundred fold.
But here’s the question. Was God answering my prayer for a deeper understanding of reconciliation through this “first”? With John’s statement, the Lord opened my blind eyes to a fresh understanding of the firsts, and I understood the supernatural importance and heritage of this village. As the first free slave settlement in the Americas, Palenque carries the anointing and blessing of leading the way of reconciliation in the Americas. It is a prototype for bringing healing, forgiveness, and redemption to the African Diaspora in the Americas.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
God’s heart is to see the wounds from this first free village healed through the work of reconciliation so as to “cultivate a culture of forgiveness and redemption from past and present wounds so that their future can birth in a reconciled context with God, their family, their community, their nation, their world, and one another.”
Being the first, the village holds a spiritually powerful responsibility to embrace not only the blessing of their freedom, but to model the spiritual and natural roles of reconciliation through forgiveness and redemption from past and present wounds. This begins in the heart of each person as they receive salvation and reconcile with God! Then it moves to reconciling within their individual families – this takes place by honoring the sanctity of marriage, providing for the children, and teaching godly principles within the home. The change in the individual and family culture naturally bleeds into the community, where lives and families are transformed by the example set before them in the few who step into the foundation of Christ and lead their lives to honor and serve Him.
A Step-by-Step Process
Each of these steps takes time and commitment; each step needs mentoring, encouragement, and nurturing. These three– self, family, and community – can take a generation before change is evident. Endurance and perseverance are key to the missionaries who give their lives for the cause. It’s not a “save ’em and leave ’em” opportunity; it’s a “know ’em, love ’em, and feed ’em” with God’s love and His spiritual food mentality.
The next phase of reconciliation moves to impacting the nation of Colombia. How? In the same way Christianity has spread around the world since the resurrection of Christ. By being an example of life beyond the understanding and perception of humanity. This is the same way reconciliation will come to the world, and to people from every class, culture, and tongue.
Through human eyes, this is an impossible task. True. Reconciliation and redemption are something only God can do. But when we partner with Him, He works through us to do amazing things – in His way and in His timing. We lean into His leading and He does the work. We enjoy the dance of partnering with God to see Him do miraculous things.
My mind cannot fully comprehend the purpose of God’s call to John and Susie to serve in Palenque as His hands and feet. Yet, I am staid on what I know. They have given the Lord the first fruits of their heart. They have given their sacrifice, surrender, and obedience – answering the call to go and serve and love as He leads. In return, the Lord has given them a ministry to the “first” free African descendant village in the Americas with the mandate to “go” and allow Him to do the work of transformation through their lives. In return, He will give them the abundance of life as He promises in John 10:10.
God’s heart for reconciliation is for all people, all families, all communities, all nations! We can do our part by inviting Him into our everyday life and our relationships, and by being examples of loving, honoring, respecting, forgiving, and loving those He brings into our paths. Not treating people as projects but loving them as His children. Reconciliation requires a sacrifice – of our pride, our mindsets, our stubbornness. And it requires courage to look at things that are easier to ignore than to reconcile in our own minds and lives, and then step out to make a difference.
What have you sacrificed and surrendered to the Lord that He has or will multiply and return to you? If you have not yet seen the abundance promised in John 10:10, ask Him, “What am I missing? What have You called me to obey, sacrifice, or surrender so that You can shine through my life? Give me a heart of obedience, Lord. Teach me how to bring reconciliation into my world.”
If you would like to learn more about the ministry of HCL Ministries, visit their website, www.hclministries.com. To contribute toward their work and the ministry, you can make a donation by visiting their website, www.hclministries.com or www.paypal.com/paypalme/HealingCommunityLife/