One of the exciting projects of Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex of the North is the first-ever Presbyterian Hymnal in the Q’eqchi’ language. This undertaking was initiated last year at the request of the Q’eqchi’ participants on the complex’s oversight council. Their concern is that the official hymnal of Guatemalan Presbyterians hasn’t been updated for 52 years, is hard to find in the Q’eqchi’ region, and is unintelligible to many Q’eqchi’ Presbyterians. A commission was formed of representatives from each of the eight Q’eqchi’ presbyteries, and me in the role of facilitator. (See photo of recent meeting in Cobán) The hymnal will have a mixture of well-known traditional hymns, contemporary worship songs, and popular choruses. Commission members are striving to select music that resonates with Q’eqchi’ styles of worship, reflects the Guatemalan cultural context, and upholds Reformed theology. A scriptural reference point has been the Apostle Paul, who said, “I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.” (1 Corinthians 14:15) So far about 300 songs have made the cut, some of them already available in Q’eqchi’ and others that will need translation. In order for the hymnal to connect with younger church-goers, the commission has opted to use the updated form of Q’eqchi’, rather than the antiquated version that’s more familiar to older generations. We’re grateful to the First Presbyterian Church of Kingsport, Tennessee for a generous gift in support of this new hymnal. God willing, the new hymnal will be dedicated later this year.
During the 2nd week of May, the Guatemala Mission Partnership of the Denver Presbytery put in its 3rd Living Waters for the World purification system in the Q’eqchi’ region. This time it was in Cobán, at the Presbyterian Complex of the North. Cobán’s new Presbyterian Congregation hosted the 10-member team, and the week began with Sunday worship at the unfinished Mission Center at the complex. (See photo) Then, for 3 days the Denver team partnered in the project with a committee of local church representatives and teachers from the Presbyterian La Patria Norte School. While some assembled the system (see photo of installation/operation team), others provided health and hygiene training for students at the nearby La Libertad Public School. (See photo of the education team with the hand-print banner the children made.) The Presbyterian Complex has agreed to provide free clean water for every class in the school. The installation effort culminated with a parade led by the La Patria Norte marching band (see photo), plus a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony (see photos). Afterwards, the Denver team returned to the communities of Bethania and Tres Rios to check on previously-installed systems, and visited 4 other communities from the Franja Transversal of the North Presbytery that are prospective project sites. (See photo of villagers from Limon Norte carrying water from the local well.) While God receives all the glory, many thanks and blessings go to team leader Loye Troxler, all the team members, and everyone from the Denver Presbytery that has supported this terrific mission endeavor.
April 2016, Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala
Greetings in Christ from Guatemala!
The tradition of missionary home assignments (“furloughs” years ago) started with the Apostles. In Acts, we find Paul returning to his sending church in Antioch after his 1st missionary journey. Ever since, missionaries have periodically headed home, interpreting their work, bolstering support networks, renewing ties to loved ones, & seeking spiritual & vocational rejuvenation.
At times people wonder when we’ll have a home assignment. For several reasons, we haven’t planned one. First, we have 2 countries of origin—the U.S. & Honduras—& we try to visit both. Second, long U.S. stays are harder to justify for us than for earlier missionaries. Technology (Skype, email, Facebook, blogs, etc.) helps keep us connected. Lengthy absences from Guatemala seriously disrupt mission work & school in Cobán, & pose big logistical & financial challenges. Our alternative is short partnership visits, which aren’t difficult thanks to easy flights between Guatemala & the U.S.This year has been stellar so fare, with a brief Jan. trip to Bacilia’s home in Honduras, & then 2 visits to the States.
In Feb. the whole family went to the Presbytery of South AL, where Philip keynoted their plenary meeting. It was exciting to be at Trinity PC, Spanish Fort PC, & Foley PC, sharing about God’s work in Guatemala. Their hospitality was overwhelming, plus we couldn’t get enough of the awesome scenery around Mobile Bay. We enjoyed a family reunion in Nashville, TN and also got to see mission partners in Middle TN Presbytery, the Outreach Foundation, & Hendersonville FPC.
In April, Philip took a 10-day trip to Virginia & Ohio, first to Williamsburg PC, then to Northminster & Sycamore PCs in Cincinnati. These dedicated congregations have long-term partnerships with Guatemalan Presbyterians, & it was inspiring to be with them. Yes, we’d love to visit your church someday. Check with Philip about possibilities at email@example.com. Back here, we’re eagerly preparing for groups from Colorado, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, Ohio, & Washington. Stay updated about upcoming activities on Philip’s blog: https://pbpres.wordpress.com.
President Jimmy Morales has held office for 3 months, & Guatemalans still wonder what kind of changes, if any, he represents. There’s been a dramatic reshuffling of political blocs in the legislature since last year’s “Guatemalan Spring,” when the 2 most powerful parties collapsed amidst massive protests & charges of high-level corruption. Please keep praying for this struggling country to keep moving toward a more just & prosperous future.
When Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, he promised, “I’ll be with you until the end of the age.” That’s a long-term partnership covenant! We’re grateful for the many ways that the Body of Christ empowers us to do his will. Your prayerful support is indispensable to our work. Financially, we’ve raised about ⅓ of what’s needed for the year’s living & ministry expenses. Please send gifts toward our work to The Antioch Partners. Write “Beisswenger Support” on the memo line & mail to: 7132 Portland Ave. S., Suite 136, Richfield, MN, 55432. To donate online, you can go to our webpage at www.theantiochpartners.org.
May every blessing come your way, including the joy of participating in Christ’s mission around the world.
Philip & Bacilia Beisswenger
During the 1st part of 2016, we made our periodic jaunt to Honduras, Bacilia’s country of origin. We spent a couple days in La Ceiba, glad to see that the dilapidated pier has been restored and the seedy waterfront has a new boardwalk. (See photo) We found a restaurant called Super’s Chicken we liked so much we ate there 3 times. On Sunday we enjoyed worshipping at Zion Methodist Church, where I was pastor for 4 years in the nineties. It was an honor to help serve Holy Communion. (See photos)
Our next stop was Santa Rosa de Aguán, the seaside village where Bacilia grew up. Days were filled dropping in on her extended family, also swimming, hiking, and playing games with neighbor kids. (See photo) A dancing and singing troupe called a fedu roamed around the village. (See photo) Once while crabbing, our boat docked next to a huge, poisonous viper called a Tamarás Negro, which was promptly whacked to death. (See photo)
After our stay came the 3-day series of boats, busses and vehicles leading back to Cobán. Yes, we picked up some souvenirs—countless mosquito, tick and sand fly bites. We also brought back our gratitude for another opportunity to reconnect with a land and people that we love.
In early December, I enjoyed accompanying a delegation from Guatemala City’s Iglesia Presbiteriana Betel (Bethel Presbyterian Church) on a six-day visit to First Presbyterian Church of Kingsport, TN. At the invitation of Kingsport FPC, six Bethel members and I traveled as a continuation of their mission partnership. Despite it being a hectic time of year, the Kingsport congregation went all out to host us, welcoming us in homes and everywhere we went. (See photo of my gracious host family, Tony and Gail Cole) We met with the session, shared morning devotionals, and made home visits to elderly members. Seeing many outreach ministries of Kingsport FPC and its members, we saw how seriously they take their motto: “Seeking to see the face of Christ; striving to be the hands of Christ.” Among stops was a clothes closet, a community garden, a transition program for ex-prisoners, a local school partnership, a men’s carpentry ministry, and a women’s ministry called Oasis. Other highlights of our stay included a barbeque at the farm of several FPD members, a performance of Old Time bluegrass music and clogging at the Carter’s Fold (see photo), and a tour of Christmas lights at the Bristol Speedway, including supper in a skybox. (see photo)
On Sunday, we greeted Sunday school classes, and then joined in worship. Having combined services for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, the sanctuary was full. It was a privilege for me to deliver the message, and Pastor Luís Trigueros from Bethel extended greetings. That afternoon delicious aromas and bursts of laughter filled the FPC kitchen, as people of both churches prepared traditional dishes from each culture—chicken pot pie and a spicy chicken dish called pepián. That evening, Bethel youth Saulo Davila and I gave power-point presentations to the congregation, his on Bethel’s youth ministry and mine on Presbyterian mission in Guatemala.
Pastor Sharon Amstutz spearheaded the planning and logistics, and all of us felt deep gratitude for her warmth and attentiveness, as well as that of so many others. Afterwards, she remarked, “I sense this was an important part of our partnership and really brought the rest of the congregation on board. It is hard to explain to them verbally or in writing what the partnership is all about – now that they have experienced it, I think they get it.”
An FPC Kingsport member, Don Thompson, wrote, “I had to write to say how touching the visit was from our Guatemala brothers and sisters. Sharon had told us previously how much our congregation had learned from Pastor Luis and his congregation. Their love and faith were truly moving and I felt so close to all of them, even though my Spanish was not up to par…. We were still able to communicate and the fellowship was phenomenal. I hope all members of the Bethel Church know how much love their sister church here in Kingsport has for them.”
Back home in Guatemala City, Bethel’s Pastor Luís Trigueros reflected: “The visit was excellent, learning about Kingsport’s ministries and our cultural differences. The hospitality was warm and impressive, and the unity in worship meant much to us, especially how we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Theirs is a church that doesn’t just talk about God’s work, they enjoy doing it. I’m grateful for Kingsport and our partnership with them, and look forward to their return to Guatemala in July, so we can try to give back the hospitality we received.”
God’s hand continues to move among Presbyterians in the northern region around Cobán, as evidenced by another graduating class of pastors and lay leaders from 8 Q’eqchi’ presbyteries. For the 3rd year, Guatemala’s Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary (SEP) awarded diplomas. The ceremony was held on Nov. 30 at the Presbyterian La Patria Norte School in Cobán. Of the 69 graduates, 19 earned degrees in “Current Practical Pastoral Theology,” 18 in “Bible and Mission,” and 32 in “Church Administration.” Once again, representatives from across the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church (IENPG) were on hand to celebrate with the graduates and their families. Along with the Q’eqchi’, there were also Poqomchí and Ixil graduates.
This educational program is a collaboration of the SEP, Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex, and the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church (IENPG), with funding support from Walton Funds (a PCUSA endowment).
It remains to be seen what future study opportunities will be available to graduates that have finished the 3-year cycle of degrees called “diplomados.” These degree programs are tailored to the needs of Q’eqchi’ Presbyterians, many hindered by limited secular education, Spanish proficiency, and economic resources. Many would like to continue on towards a secondary-level theology degree called a “bachillerato” that SEP offers. However, most need to complete secular middle school (estudios básicos) to be eligible. Efforts are underway to find ways to help students to keep advancing in their studies.
It was a pleasure to spend time with the seminary’s dynamic, new Academic Dean, Eliseo Vilchez. He announced the slate of courses that SEP will offer in Cobán, starting in February 2016, which include offerings on youth and women’s ministries. Also, the Multi-Institutional Board of the Presbyterian Complex, met and decided that the next round of theological training sessions will be held at the complex, rather than other rented sites. Lots of work needs to be done to ready the facilities of the complex, which is far from finished, so please pray that we can make it.
At the initiative of the Chiséc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery, the Cobán church hosted a meeting of representatives of the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries to consider a proposal to break the IENPG’s single Synod into four regional synods, including a Q’eqchi’ Synod to be based in Cobán. (See photo) Representatives of the SEP and the IENPG were on hand to answer questions. So far, the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries seem to view favorably the proposal to have their own synod, with plans for it to be based in Cobán.
My apologies for the lack of posts during the past month or so. Mission partnerships have been busily about the Father’s business. While these activities are uplifting, the downside is not finding enough time to write about them. Here are a couple updates:
Sycamore PC-Q’anjob’al Presbytery: On Nov. 8-13, I joined with Rev. Eliot Wink, Associate Pastor for Education, in a visit to the Q’anjob’al Presbytery. Up in the Cuchumatán Mountains, the weather was chilly, but we were received with warmth and enthusiasm. In the presbytery’s hub in San Juan Ixcoy, we dialogued with presbytery officers as well as women and youth leaders about next steps in forming this new mission partnership. A highlight was witnessing the graduation of 20 Q’anjob’al theology students with degrees in church administration taught by the Presbyterian Seminary (see photo). Then we headed up to Santa Eulalia to visit several new church projects that are enlarging the presbytery’s ministry in that area. (See photo of NCD in the Ononá community.) Plans are underway for a large Sycamore youth team to arrive in July to work alongside Q’anjob’al youth in this northern corner of the presbytery.
Denver Presbytery-Presbiterio Franja Transversal del Norte: On Nov. 14-22, an 8-member team from the Guatemala Mission Partnership (GMP) of the Denver Presbytery traveled to their Q’eqchi’ partners in the Franja Transversal del Norte Presbytery. Led by Kirk Yeager, they successfully installed a clean water system at the “God Is Love” Presbyterian Church in the Tres Rios community. Although the economic base of Tres Rios is farming, the Chixoy River adjoins their lands, often overflowing and destroying their corn crops. The GMP had to tackle several obstacles to help them get clean drinking water. One was the lack a reliable water source. The GMP funded the materials needed for a 100 foot well, while the local congregation provided volunteers to hand-dig and reinforce it. Another challenge was the lack of a suitable building for the system. Once again the GMP funded materials while the Tres Rios provided manual labor. A third challenge was travel to the community, which meant taking the PRESGOV bus each day from Chiséc to the town of Playitas, ride an outboard boat up the Chixoy River, and then climb into a pick-up truck for the last leg to the church. Once on site, part of the team wasted no time in assembling and testing the system, and training a local operating committee (see photo). Meanwhile, another part of the team trained local women to give hygiene education and organized activities with neighborhood kids. The week culminated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a lively celebration (see photo). At the dedication of the new system, team members presented the first bottle of water to the pastor, Alberto Tiul (see photo). The GMP also arranged to give Spanish study Bibles to all 14 pastors of the presbytery. Plans are underway for another GMP team next April to install a water system at the Presbyterian Complex in Cobán.
Next posts coming soon: Q’eqchi’ theology graduates; visits to Chajul, Quiché and to Kingsport, TN; the latest on the Cobán NCD.