In mid-June 1984 I was in Cleveland, Ohio, preparing to preach at a city-wide Peace Pentecost service. Just as I was about to meet with the Ohio Witness for Peace team, which had visited Nicaragua in April, I received some very bad news in a phone call from the Sojourners office in Washington, D.C.
The Maryknoll sisters in Ocotal, Nicaragua, had called to report that their border town was under attack. Six hundred U.S.-backed contras had invaded early that morning. The Maryknoll sisters told of many dead and wounded people lying in the streets and said that a U.S.-made mortar shell had exploded in their own backyard. The casualties were mounting and, as usual, most were civilians.
Some victims suffered torture and mutilation, a terrorist tactic frequently practiced by these CIA-supported mercenary soldiers. The contras also destroyed grain supplies, power station offices, the lumber mill and processing plant, and the small radio station.
I shared the sad news with the Ohio Witness for Peace volunteers. As I spoke, I could see tears in the eyes of many in the circle. Then I learned that the Ohio delegation had stayed in Ocotal during their visit to Nicaragua.
The people with whom I was sitting had lived with families in Ocotal. They had prayed with the people, played with their children, and shared hospitality, worship, and faith. Real bonds had begun to form. I could see that the concern and pain in their faces was deeply personal.
It wasn't hard for me to share their feelings. The first Witness for Peace short-term team, of which I was a member, had spent a night in Ocotal when the road ahead to Jalapa was closed due to heavy shelling and attacks from the contras. Church groups in Ocotal quickly organized a procession that culminated in an unforgettable prayer vigil with more than 500 people in the town's square.