Update on Changes in Our Assignment

Greetings in Christ from Guatemala!

I send this letter to update you about our work here. As most of you know, Bacilia and I end our assignment with Presbyterian World Mission of the PC(USA) at the end of July. We are grateful to PWM for opening this door four years ago and for all of their support.

The Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) has invited us to continue serving with them, and we have agreed to do so. As Partnership Coordinator for PRESGOV, much of my work will remain the same. Additionally, I will direct the emerging Presbyterian Complex in Cobán, and will work with the Presbyterian Seminary to coordinate the indigenous theological training program there. Our family already has moved to Cobán to be closer to this work.

I continue as a PC(USA) teaching elder, and my position with the IENPG has been validated by my home presbytery, the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee.

The focus of Bacilia’s mission service will be our family, help in hosting groups, and assisting with the new Presbyterian Church that is under development in Cobán.

The IENPG has offered to provide a salary that is in keeping with that of other IENPG pastors. We are so thankful for this! However, this will not cover all necessities, such as insurance, pension, education, social security, travel to the U.S., etc.

Some people expressed their interest, or the interest of their churches, in supporting our ongoing work with prayers and support in meeting uncovered expenses. The Outreach Foundation, a highly-respected Presbyterian mission organization with partners around the world, will administer support for our work in Guatemala. Any gifts should be designated “Beisswenger,” and sent to 381 Riverside Drive, Suite 110, Franklin, TN 37064.

Please contact me with any questions you might have about these developments.

For regular news about our mission assignment, subscribe to our blog: http://pbpres.wordpress.com.

This is an exciting time for Christ’s mission in Guatemala. We solicit your prayers that all things work together for good according to God’s call, and look forward to more opportunities to serve in partnership with you in the future.


Philip & Bacilia Beisswenger

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South Alabama & Chiséc Presbyteries—Kindred Spirits

Bonds keep building between the Presbytery of South Alabama and the Chiséc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery, with groups Worship Semuc Champeyrepresenting these partners converging in Cobán in recent weeks. Not only did they make amazing progress in construction at the Presbyterian Complex of the North. They drew from one another a kindred spirit of Christian love, joy and faith.

An 18-member presbytery-wide team, led by Samford Turner, visited on June 21-28. Most were “Teens for Christ”–from a two-year leadership program for Presbyterian youth. Their visit began with an adventuresome outing to the Semuc Champey National Park (See terrific photo of worship there by Judy Stout) For the rest of the week, they were joined by nine Chiséc youth leaders at the work site. After a ground-breaking ceremony for the complex’s administration building, buckets, hoes and shovels started to fly. During three days, most of the building’s concrete foundation was poured, and much of the surrounding terrain was leveled.

Next was a day-long gathering of Alabama and Guatemalan youth at the village of Limon Sur, where three Presbyterian churches thrive within a stone’s throw of each other. The day was packed with devotions and singing, soccer matches, a talent show, plenty of home-made food, and a dip at the local swimming hole. It concluded with a grand worship celebration featuring dance and musical presentations by each youth group. A pageant was held to choose Señorita Chiséc Presbytery Youth. So as to not exclude anybody, there were two señoritas—one representing the Chiséc area and the other for Alabama. (See photo of the winners—Ali Gosselin and Elvia Pop)DSC01876

The following week (June 28-July 5), a 20-member mission team from Trinity Presbyterian Church of Fairhope, Alabama kept the momentum going. Led by Stephen Davis, their motto was “Go Guatemala!” After a day-trip to the nearby Sachichaj waterfall for swimming and devotions (see photo), DSC01880they rolled up their sleeves, completing the concrete slab, assembling the building’s metal frame, and leveling dirt and rocks. Each day big crews of Chiséc volunteers came from outlying villages to work side-by-side in partnership. (See photo) DSC01881-1DSC01851Matthew, Manny and Stefi enjoyed participating as well. (See photo) A highlight was a visit to the La Patria Norte School, where students and teachers displayed their local dress and dance, along with special skits.

The Chiséc Presbytery received both Alabama teams enthusiastically, showering them with hugs, prayers, meals, gifts, and greetings to carry back home. Chiséc Presbytery Secretary Filipenses Flores provided masterful hosting coordination. For their part, the South Alabama teams showed how to combine generous hearts with willing hands. Alabamian Valerie Harden served on both teams and provided invaluable help as translator. Alfredo Cisneros, our charming bus driver, won over both teams with his road (and shoveling) skills. Like many others, I can’t wait for these partners to get together in Guatemala again.


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Becoming Cobaneros!

After four years in Guatemala City, our family has transplanted to lush, beautiful Cobán, DSC01891about a 4 ½ hour drive north through the mountains. It was a hectic, crazy move, in part because we also hosted visiting teams at the same time. Many thanks to Kingsport FPC and South Alabama teams for so graciously cutting us some extra slack!

Living In Cobán, we’re better positionedto offer direct, ongoing support to the different facets of the Presbyterian Complex—the new church development, the construction of the new campus, and the ongoing theological education program for indigenous leaders.

For the time being, we’re living in a simple 2-bedroom house right in the neighborhood near the Presbyterian Complex. (See photo) Work will begin soon on a manse on the complex property where we’ll reside long term. We’re grateful to Richard and Debbie Welch, mission co-workers in Cobán that have generously let us use a spacious shed for storing lots of furniture and boxes till the manse is ready.DSC01837

Our children are enrolling at the Colegio La Patria Norte in Cobán, a Presbyterian school that will be part of the Presbyterian Complex. This will mean some adjustments for them from the American School in Guatemala City, since instruction at La Patria Norte is only in Spanish, and it’s on the Guatemalan academic calendar—January thru October.

Some other news:

  • So long, Jesy! The final day of our move, we sadly bid farewell to Jesy Ordoñez, Bacilia’s niece who lived with us for the past three years. She came to be like a daughter to us. She’s returning to Honduras where her mother and siblings still live. Memorable moments included her baptism at Central Presbyterian Church, graduation from cosmetology school, terrific meals that she prepared so often, and her frequent help with homework. Many blessings to you in Honduras, Jesy! (See photo of good-bye hugs)
  • Visit by First PC, Kingsport, Tennessee. A team of Presbyterians from Kingsport spent a week in GuatemalaDSC01825 City with their friends at Iglesia Presbiteriana Bethel. Together they worked on remodeling Bethel’s Sunday school classrooms, and also enjoyed many fellowship activities. By common agreement, the focus of a future visit is to be a joint outreach project into the community surrounding Bethel. (See photo of work on Bethel classrooms)
  • Called Synod Meeting. The IENPG Synod met again on June 24-25 to finish leftover business from its ordinary session in May, such as setting a budget and electing officers. I couldn’t attend because of scheduling conflicts. A new IENPG moderator was chosen—Pastor Laurence Barrios. PRESGOV and the International Relations Committee—both on which I’ve served the past four years—were merged. I was elected onto the new PRESGOV committee.


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News from the 2014 Synod Meeting

This past week the IENPG Synod held its annual plenary at the campus of the Evangelical National Seminary in San Felipe, Retalhuleu. In attendance were over 400 delegates from 22 presbyteries. I along with other PC(USA) mission co-workers participated as corresponding members at the 5-day meeting. Pastor Ivan Paz moderated the meetings each day (see photo of him with his accordion).DSC01815 Here are some highlights:

  • Delegates gave their enthusiastic approval for the Presbyterian Complex of the North, the educational and mission center that’s under development in Cobán. The assembly also authorized the work of the Multi-Institutional Board that’s behind the complex, along with the administrative committee that’s overseeing the project’s ongoing work.
  • A highpoint was the decision to approve a new presbytery, the Reformed Achí Presbytery of Cubulco. (See photo of their representatives before the assembly)DSC01818 These five churches, along with a mission congregation, are the fruit of mission work begun in 1991 by the Reformed Church of Canada. Now there are 23 presbyteries in the IENPG.
  • As most of you know, Bacilia and I end our time of service with Presbyterian World Mission in July. The IENPG Synod officially called us to stay on, with me working half-time as Partnership Coordinator with PRESGOV, and half-time as Director of the Presbyterian Complex of the North. The Synod approved salary support comparable to what other Guatemalan pastors earn, but housing, health and pension benefits, visa, travel to the U.S. and other expenses aren’t included. Eventually we hope to find some sources that will help us cover these costs.
  • I gave a power-point report about the partnerships and projects we’ve worked on as mission co-workers during the past year. Unfortunately Bacilia couldn’t join me for the presentation, staying back home in Guatemala City where our kids are finishing the school year. The report was well received, and the Synod also asked me to preach at the Thursday night worship service on the theme of stewardship and God’s mission.
  • The Synod authorized a request to the PC(USA) that Walton Funds that have accumulated during the past seven years be designated for the construction of a theological center at the Presbyterian Complex in Cobán that will serve the indigenous presbyteries of that region—primarily Q’eqchi’. Concern was expressed repeatedly that, although projects have been approved and are underway, Walton funds to support them haven’t arrived yet.
  • A few lowlights: Time-consuming recitation of and discussion about previous minutes each morning; the need to repudiate death threats against two IENPG leaders and their families; the postponement of important matters like the election of officers, budget, and restructuring of committees because time ran out. A called Synod meeting will take place on June 24-25 to take up this left-over business.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend this assembly each year. Unfortunately, five of the eight Q’eqchi’ presbyteries weren‘t represented this time. Long distances, and the costs involved, are obstacles to their full participation. The Denver Presbytery generously provided funds to help delegates come from their partner, the Franja Transversal del Norte Presbytery. Also, women are always a small minority at these assemblies because so few of them hold leadership positions in their churches and presbyteries. Finding ways to address these limitations in the future will help the Synod to be more balanced and healthy as it moves forward.

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New IENPG-Living Waters Coordinator

Another important step forward has been taken in the new partnership between Living DSC01660Waters for the World (LWW) and the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG). Pablo Perez has been hired full-time to coordinate LWW projects within the IENPG. Pablo is a student in business administration at the Galileo University, fluent in English, and a member of the Presbyterian Church in Villa Canales, outside Guatemala City. Pablo’s job includes travel through Guatemala to facilitate new water systems in Presbyterian churches and institutions, and to maintain communication between LWW and IENPG entities. DSC01758This past weekend Rev. Wil Howie, LWW founder, visited Guatemala to meet with Pablo and IENPG officers for training about the ways to make the most of Pablo’s new role, so that more and more communities in Guatemala may benefit from clean water. (see photos of Pablo and of participants in one of the meetings with Wil)

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Denver Presbytery & Franja Transversal del Norte

The nascent partnership between the Presbytery of Denver and Guatemala’s Franja Transversal del Norte Presbytery continues to make headway, with impetus from a team from Denver this last week. The Denver team, comprised of a pastor and two elders, and I visited every congregation in this Q’eqchi’ presbytery, meeting with sessions and conducting water surveys for potential purification systems. The time we spent together was rich and productive.

On Monday we met in the village of Chaqui Pur with the presbytery’s Executive Committee. We focused on partnership priorities, which on the Franja Transversal end are water, building a Presbytery headquarters, funds for traveling to presbytery events, and construction of church buildings. Priorities on the Denver Presbytery end are water, health, education, and ministries with women. The meeting took place at the church of the Moderator, Jacobo Coc Pop. While there, we also prayed with Jacobo’s wife, Olivia, who was in the process of giving birth. A midwife was at the thatched-roof manse with Olivia, who was obviously suffering agonizing labor pains.

Our next visit was to a community called Bethany Presbyterian Hamlet (Caserío PDSC01722resbiteriano Betania). This place was founded 15 years ago by Q’eqchi’ refugees from Hurricane Mitch, on land purchased with PC(USA) funds. Land was provided for houses but, unfortunately, not for planting crops. The men and women scramble to find ways to make a living, often settling for low wages at the local African palm and petroleum enterprises. The pastor, Mateo Coc Coc, is the secretary of the Presbytery, and a true mover and shaker. We visited the school he organized with funds he squeezed from local businesses and government officials. (See photo of school teacher and some of his students with Pastor Mateo)

Most of the villages are in out-of-the-way places. One village was accessible only by outboard boat, and we reached another in the bed of a cattle truck. ( See photo on boat with me, Pastor Mateo, PastorLoy Troxler, Mike Kendig, and Duante Lyman) DSC01726Getting to the Nueva Esperanza church involved driving 2 hours on a hilly, gravel road, and a 45-minute sweaty hike. The members were formerly Baptist. They changed recently to Presbyterianism because, they said, the Baptists had abandoned them. Presbyterians, especially Pastor Mateo, have visited themDSC01734 faithfully for the past 2 years. Villagers, like elsewhere, are forced to carry contaminated water long distances for drinking, washing and cooking. (See photo of congregation)

On the way back from Nueva Esperanza, we met with a group of former charismatic Catholics who also are joining the Presbyterians. When asked why they preferred Presbyterianism, they said that the Catholic images, rites and incense weren’t meaningful to them. They added that they had no pastor, only an elder who coordinated the work of the other elders. We commended them for already being very Presbyterian in their leadership structure.

Two-days after praying for the safe delivery of Olivia and Jacobo’s baby, we received news that the baby was stillborn and Olivia was in the hospital in Chiséc. That afternoon we visited her in the hospital, and then we went to their home, where I was asked to lead a simple funeral service. We used the PRESGOV van as a hearse to carry the small casket to the cemetery for burial. It was a tearful occasion, but not uncommon in Guatemala where infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in Latin American, especially in indigenous communities where few births are overseen by skilled birth attendants. (See photo of burial service)DSC01729

The heat was scorching and our tongues panted when we arrived at the Presbyterian Church in Ya’licar. Before the meeting, a girl brought out slices of juicy watermelon. In my exuberance, I caused most of my watermelon to topple onto the ground. Then, to my relief, the girl soon produced more slices of watermelon. Later, the gathering heard about my frustration at blowing it with the watermelon, and my pleasure at receiving another chance. I then greeted the congregation in the name of our merciful God who’s known for giving us second opportunities.

The Denver team plans to report on its findings, with proposals about next steps. As always, both Guatemalan and U.S. partners expressed deep thanks to God for including this partnership is his divine plans, and excitement about how it will keep unfolding for years to come.


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The Aguán River Has Been Stolen!

Our family visited Honduras over Holy Week, mostly in Santa Rosa de Aguán, Bacilia’s birthplace and family home. All of us enjoyed the simple way of life in this beautiful town—swimming in the sea, horseback riding, and feasting on traditional Garifuna dishes. (See photos) DSC01689DSC01711

One afternoon we hiked down the beach to the point where the Aguán River empties into the Caribbean. To our surprise, the river has disappeared. The mighty Aguán is one of Honduras’ largest waterways, and a namesake for the town. Now it’s gone! A placid lake sits where it used to flow. All that’s left is a narrow stream that peters out before reaching the coast. (See photo with Bacilia’s brother Miguel) DSC01701Both sides of the mouth of the Aguán have joined together, so we could stroll along an unbroken stretch of sand. There’s not enough current to form an outlet. (See photo)DSC01705

The river used to provide an abundance of fish and shrimp for the local population. With the disruption of the eco-system, this source of food is all but extinguished. Crabs used to migrate down the river to lay eggs in the salt-water surf, but now they’re cutoff. The stream is a dead end, where crabs congregate, easily scooped up in the nets of opportunistic crab hunters.

It didn’t take many inquiries for me to identify the culprit in this environmental and human calamity. No, it’s not caused by global warming. Powerful producers of African palm trees have diverted massive quantities of water upstream to irrigate their plantations. Protests have been sent to the Honduran Government by community leaders, but so far it’s been to no avail.

As a result, Santa Rosa de Aguán is facing yet another crisis. Fifteen years ago, Hurricane Mitch make landfall here with a giant storm surge. Record rainfall inundated the river, which in turn swept through the town, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Large segments of the beleaguered population were resettled in surrounding areas. More and more young people headed for the U.S. or elsewhere looking for a better future. Since then, the local population has suffered, along with the rest of Honduras, the ramifications of the country’s tumultuous political scene.

The last thing Santa Rosa de Aguán needed was the loss of its river. Bacilia’s older brothers, Miguel and Joche, agree that if the river isn’t restored soon, the town (what’s left of it) might have to shorten its name to just Santa Rosa.

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