Naming the Unspeakable, a Witness to Hope

The Unspeakable. What is this? Surely, an eschatological image. It is the void we encounter, you and I, underlying the announced programs, the good intentions, the unexampled and universal aspirations for the best of all possible worlds… It is the emptiness of “the end.” Not necessarily the end of the world, but a theological point of no return, a climax of absolute finality in refusal, in equivocation, in disorder, in absurdity, which can be broken open again to truth only by miracle, by the coming of God. Yet nowhere do you despair of this miracle. You seem to say that, for you, this is precisely what it means to be a Christian; for Christian hope begins where every other hope stands frozen stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.
-Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable

Idia, William, Narciso, Manuela, Yuby, Rosendo, Fanni, Jorge, Orlina. These are some of the names that have been on my mind a lot over the past year. They are some of the victims of the ongoing war in Colombia; the ones I’ve been privileged to get to know the best. But victim is such an incomplete description of who they are; they name the Unspeakable in Colombia, and through their courage, they are witnesses to Christian hope.

On September 15th of last year I was told of a community and church leader named Narciso Diaz who had been shot and was in the hospital in Montería a few hours from where I lived. Here is what I wrote to a friend that night:

Today I went to visit with Narciso Diaz and his wife Manuela. Narciso, a church and community leader from a rural part of Tierralta, Córdoba was shot in the face on Thursday night and somehow survived. Around seven p.m. Thursday night Narciso noticed that the door leading from his kitchen to his back yard was open. When he walked outside a man with a hood covering his face stepped forward and pointed a gun at him. He shot Narciso in the face (the bullet traveled diagonally through his mouth and came out of his neck below his ear), and said, “Maybe the Organization of American States will save you,” and fled, leaving Narciso for dead.

Narciso’s wife Manuela came running to his aid and found him lying in the living room (where he had made it on his own). She summoned the help that eventually saved his life. Due to the remoteness of where they live as well as Colombia’s precarious infrastructure and medical facilities, it was three a.m. before Narciso made it to the hospital. “We know that God was with Narciso. It’s a miracle he is alive,” Manuela told me today at the hospital.

We believe a paramilitary group that operates in the area targeted Narciso for murder. The reference to the Organization of American States is in reference to leadership workshops that Narciso had taken that were funded and organized by the OAS. The paramilitaries likely thought he was an informant.

Narciso and Manuela are members of Emmaus Church of the Association of Evangelical Churches of the Caribbean. They will now be forced into displacement, as it is too dangerous for them to return home. Needless to say, they are very scared. When I was introduced as a missionary who represented churches in the United States, Narciso said to me, “I am a servant of God. I know there are many people all over praying for me… that is why I am alive. Thank you.”

Here is a man, who narrowly escaped death, who has trouble speaking due to the bullet fragment still lodged in his tongue, who has never before met me, but who is grateful for my presence, because he is grateful for your prayers.

Narciso has since recovered his health, and along with Manuela has displaced to a new community. They are now farming new land due to the support structure they found in the Peace Commission of the Evangelical Council of Colombia. Narciso is once again establishing himself as a community leader, helping organize the rural community in their struggle for running water. He and Manuela also lead worship services in their new neighbors’ homes.

In the quote at the top of this letter, Thomas Merton says that the Unspeakable can be broken open to truth only by miracle, by the coming of God. And that living that reality is what it means to be a Christian; for Christian hope begins where every other hope stands frozen stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.

Narciso is now eager to share his story. Having stared death in the face and having been sustained by faith he embodies the miracle that can break open the Unspeakable. He hopes that his story and his courage can help turn the tide of violence in Colombia.

And as for me, I’m doing well… continually grateful for the opportunity to accompany folks like Narciso and Manuela and be a witness to their Christian hope.

Grateful for your sustaining prayers,


One thought on “Naming the Unspeakable, a Witness to Hope

  1. Michael: Good to hear from you. Your account of Narciso Diaz's story is tragic. I will be in prayer for him and his family, adding his name to my list containing Rev. Wm. Reyes and family. And, my brother, I continue to pray for you and yours as well. May god continue to bless you.

    Phil Gates, – PCUSA Accompanier


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