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 Presbiteriano 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) Getting 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 them 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)
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.