Our August 2018 Newsletter

Greetings Guatemala Mission Partners & Friends!

“We have come from a far country,” said the Gibeonites to the Israelites. “Now therefore, make a covenant with us.” (Joshua 9:6) Thus we note the enduring biblical interest in making international connections. The practice continues today in “far countries” like Guatemala, with covenant partners witnessing personally to one another, enabling Christ’s mission to grow deeper & wider.Centro Teo & Cancha Ago 2018

     Presbyterian Complex: Five amazing groups traveled to Cobán recently, getting involved personally in all areas of ministry.

♦ In March,13 people came from St. Giles Kingsway PC, Toronto, Canada to initiate digging for the multi-purpose ballcourt, also squeezing in a visit to Chajul.

♦ In June, 11 from John Knox PC, Greenville, SC, labored with Guatemalan partners to level & fill the ballcourt area. Then, 26 from Trinity PC, Fairhope, AL endured 5 AM start-times to pour the ballcourt’s concrete slab & erect goals on each end.Westminster Groundbreaking 2018

♦ In July, a youth team of 14 from Westminster PC, Charleston, SC, grouted & painted at the theological center, signed a covenant with the La Patria Norte Protestant School, & broke ground for a new school building. A team of 12 from Cincinnati’s Northminster PC continued the grouting & painting, helped build an outdoor kitchen area & led a children’s Bible school.

     Partnerships Elsewhere: Three more wonderful teams came recently to partner in God’s work in other parts of Guatemala.

♦ In March, 6 from Middle TN Presbytery visited the Petén in support of ongoing scholarship & animal husbandry projects, & to help with church construction in the village of San Juan Acul.Williamsburg Chajul Covenant 2018

♦ In June, 7 from Williamsburg PC traveled to Chajul & Guatemala City to renew their 3-way covenant, to meet with scholarship students & initiate development of a Presbyterian middle school.

♦ In July, 15 from Evergreen PC, Dothan, AL, helped tile the floor of a church in the Canaan community, led Bible school, & renewed the covenant between the South AL & Chiséc presbyteries.

     “Fire Volcano”: In June, a major volcanic eruption near Guatemala City destroyed several villages, with a death toll of 159. Cobán wasn’t directly affected. Thanks for your prayers for victims.Beisswenger Family 2018

     Family: Matthew is now in Bentonville, AR for a year, studying 10th grade & staying with Philip’s brother & his wife. Manny plays bass in the praise band & still competes in soccer locally. Stefi continues with her inline skate team & was crowned Niña La Patria Norte. Bacilia finished her nursing degree requirements & graduates in Oct. Daniel’s scheduled to deploy again in Oct. to Qatar for 6 months. Please pray for him, his wife & girls. Last May, missionary families with Antioch Partners (us included) gathered from around the globe for a partners’ retreat in Siófok, Hungary, a nice opportunity to recharge and reconnect.

Our family is deeply grateful for the covenant that we share with so many of you, & for your bonds with people like us in “far countries.” We send our blessings your way!

 

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February 2018 Newsletter

Dear Guatemala Mission Partners:

Greetings in the name of Jesus, with our deep appreciation for your commitment to God’s work with Presbyterians in Guatemala. Our family thanks you for the ways that you partner with indigenous churches, as well as your generous missionary support for our family through the Antioch Partners. Here’s some news from this corner of God’s vineyard: 

   Chajul Presbyterians: The school year got underway in January, with 28 Presbyterian scholarship recipients enrolled in middle/high school at Chajul’s Methodist school. All of Chajul Theo Students 2018them receive after-school support at the Williamsburg Enrichment Center. The Chajul church & the Central Church are striving together to organize a Presbyterian school for 2019. Meanwhile, six students, representing four Presbyterian congregations from the Chajul area, have begun theological education courses in Cobán (see photo). Excitement is growing about the June visit of their partners from Williamsburg PC.

   Petén Partnership: Excitement is building around the upcoming visit in March by a delegation of partners from Middle Tennessee Presbytery. This time the focus will be in the San Juan Acul village. 24 middle & high school students from across the Petén are receiving scholarships this year (see photo of several of them). The women’s animal husbandry projects continue, as does the growing Presbyterian church in Sayaxché. 

   La Patria Norte School: Classes started in early January with over 200 students. Two new classrooms & restrooms were dedicated. The search continues for the site for the new campus, & we hope for a final decision very soon. Twelve young people from Antioch Church are on full scholarship. Antioch meCentro Teo Feb 2018mber Candy Hoenes graduated last October as valedictorian & now’s in her 1st year of medical school. 

   Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex: The 2nd level of the Mayan Theological Center is nearing completion (see photo). Next week we begin the 7th year of theological training for students from across the region. Last October the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) restructured into 4 synods, with the complex serving as headquarters of new Mayan Emanuel Synod, linking 10 presbyteries. The complex has been greatly blessed by our partners in places like Fairhope, AL, Cincinnati, OH, Charleston, SC, Kingsport, TN, & Greenville, SC.

   Antioch Presbyterian Church: Started 3 ½ years ago, the church Philip pastors now has 55 active members, with an average of 75 in worship. Miglesia-antioquia-feb-2018.jpgost are ethnically Q’eqchi’ & new to the Reformed tradition. In 2017, 24 new members joined, 12 by profession of faith. The congregation continues its ministry of hospitality, receiving international groups & nearby theological students. In November 2017, the church hosted 300 Presbyterian women from across Guatemala for their annual convention.

   Our Family: Last month, Bacilia’s in her final semester of nursing school. Matthew began high school at La Patria Norte, focusing on agroforestry. He’s still the drummer for worship, & placed 3rd in hurdles in the 2017 national track meet. Manny began middle school, competes on the local soccer team & plays bass. Stefi’s in 5th grade, runs track,Family Israel 2018 roller-blades, & plays keyboard. It was an incredible joy for our family to participate in a journey thru the Holy Land this past month (see photo).

Again, we’re most grateful that you’re part of the Presbyterian mission in Guatemala. May Christ’s grace fill your cup to overflowing. We can’t wait to see many of you in upcoming months. You’re always in our prayers!

Philip, Bacilia, Matthew, Manuel & Estefana Beisswenger

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Newsletter August 2017

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Greetings to you from Cobán in Jesus’ precious name!

Psalm 133 declares, “How good & pleasant it is when God’s people live together in harmony!” Such harmony, explains the psalm, is like the dew of Mt. Hermon falling on Mt. Zion. As it turns out, snow-capped Mt. Hermon stands at Israel’s northern limits, whereas Mt. Zion is down south, near the desert. The message seems clear. Harmonious living isn’t just a local affair. Its blessings extend from north to south, & vice versa.

Lots of “dew” has fallen upon Cobán in recent months. In April, a mission team from Toronto, Canada helped break ground for the theological training center at the Presbyterian Complex. Since then, one Presbyterian partner after another has descended, coming from Nashville, TN; Fairhope, AL; Charleston, SC; & Cincinnati, OH. They each brought a harmonious spirit, injecting enthusiasm & energy, reaching out to the needy, to children & the community as a whole. Now the training center’s 1st level is nearly finished (see photo). We’re boldly praying it can be dedicated by year’s end.centro-teologico-ago-2017.jpg

Other fantastic teams came too—from churches in Middle TN; Williamsburg, VA; & Dothan, AL—serving in partnership with churches in remote places like Sayaxché, Petén; Chajul, Quiché; & Limón Sur, Alta Verapaz. We give God thanks & glory for their passionate commitment to educational & evangelistic ministries in these places.

Hosting duties have kept everyone busy at Antioch Presbyterian Church. In addition to the mission teams, we’ve welcomed pastors & church leaders from nearby presbyteries that receive theology courses here. Among this year’s 41 students are 7 Antioch members. Philip remains as the church’s pastor, Bacilia as deaconess, & each of our children is an ambassador for Christ in his or her own way.img_20170725_144605389.jpg

Big changes are underway for Cobán’s La Patria Norte School. In its 1st decade, this excellent Presbyterian school has struggled to meet enrollment & financial goals. A new board of directors is being formed and, with generous help form several US churches, we’re ready to build classrooms at the complex. If you’re looking for a worthwhile project to support, I recommend this one whole-heartedly.

Life’s been quiet on the home front. Bacilia has a year to go for her nursing degree. Matthew, Manny & Stefi are in 9th, 6th, & 4th grades respectively at La Patria Norte. We went to Belize in July to renew visas, & took in some snorkeling while there (see photo). snorkeling-2017.jpgWe’re richly blessed to have the Antioch Partners overseeing support for our work in Guatemala. And we’re deeply grateful to you, for each of the churches and individuals that pray for us & offer the financial gifts that make it possible for us to live & serve here.

In a land torn apart by discord, Christ provides the gift of harmony. At the end of Psalm 133, we find out that through harmony “the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” May this blessing be upon you!

 

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The Outreach Foundation—“Connecting God’s People with God’s Work in the World.”

Yep, I’ve fallen behind in blog posts. But it’s not for lack of activity. On the contrary, it’s been a struggle to keep up with all that’s going on, let alone write about it. Cobán’s Antioch Presbyterian Church stays on the move, while the theological studies program is well into its 6th year. Another building project is underway at the Presbyterian Complex, and preparations are underway for numerous mission teams. Meanwhile, mission partnerships in other parts of Guatemala continue to address tremendous needs and witness to God’s grace.

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As I try to catch up, let me give a loud shout out to the Outreach Foundation. Based in Franklin, Tennessee, this mission organization has been a key supporter of mission in Cobán for several years, raising missionary support for our family’s needs as well as funds for new training facilities in Cobán. The Outreach Foundation purpose is “connecting Presbyterians to build the church’s capacity to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.”

Now, thanks to nurturing efforts of “Outreach,” mission partnerships are taking shape with two South Carolina congregations—Westminster PC of Charleston and John Knox PC of Greenville. “Outreach” organized a trip to Cobán to let pastors from these churches—Rev. Daniel Smoak and Rev. Gordon Turnbull respectively—see and hear God’s work here. They were accompanied by Outreach leaders—Rev. Rob Weingartner, Executive Director, and Rev Juan Sarmiento, Associate Director for Mission. During the visit, the delegation worshipped at Antioch Presbyterian Church, met with church leaders, toured the Presbyterian Complex, and dialogued with indigenous theology students at a nearby village (see photo).DSC04313

As a follow-up to their experiences in Cobán, the pastors invited me to their churches. On back-to-back weekends in February, I traveled to Greeneville and Charleston to meet, preach, make presentations, and strategize with leaders about what an international partnership would mean for them. (See photo from Charleston) IMG_20170227_072819Boy, were these churches wonderful hosts! One dear woman from John Knox, LaRue Wait, even lent me her car for the week. Plans are underway with them for upcoming mission teams to join with local Guatemalans in constructing the training center, as well as financial support for our mission assignment.

Church-to-church mission partnerships are a growing phenomenon, making possible long-term relationships and personal involvement in ongoing faith-based projects. Organizations like the Outreach Foundation help churches find potential international partners, while addressing concerns about reasonable risks, manageable costs, and fears about “getting in over our heads.” To learn more about the Outreach Foundation, check-out their website: www.theoutreachfoundation.org.

 

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Eastminster’s Easter Ministry

eastminster-fireThe awful news spread quickly last week. The building of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Tennessee was destroyed by a fire. (See photo by Pastor Gilbert Varela) It’s such a painful blow for this faithful congregation! Lord, please, have mercy upon them, encourage them, revive them!

I’ll forever be grateful for my ties to Eastminster, which began in the fall of 2001 while I was Hispanic Ministries Coordinator of the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee. I asked the Eastminster session for permission to use their facilities to reach out to Hispanic residents in the area. They voiced some concerns, since their Anglo membership was small, aging and declining. Earlier that year, the sanctuary ceiling had caved-in. Pews and aisles were buried under mounds of debris. Without the means to clean things up, electrical power had been cut, doors padlocked, and worship relocated to the fellowship hall. Hearing my proposal, the session questioned the church’s ability to be in ministry with Latinos, and they wondered what risks might be entailed. Nonetheless, on faith the session agreed to grant use of several rooms.

In early 2002, my wife, Bacilia, and I started offering English classes and Spanish-language Bible study at Eastminster on Thursday nights. Within a month or so, a group of 25 undocumented immigrants were participating. Most of them were from Mexico and Honduras, working low-paying jobs and wiring funds back home. Although none had Presbyterian backgrounds, they already were beginning to sense a connection.

One Thursday night, they asked if they could go into the sanctuary. Hearing that it was in shambles, they still wanted to take a look. I found a key and a flashlight, and we ventured in. Aghast at the condition of the once-elegant worship space, they turned to me and asked, “How soon can we return to clean up this mess?” I referred their question to the session, and soon a Saturday work day was scheduled.  All day long, the Latinos labored alongside the Anglos, carrying out rubble and moving pews. The church women prepared lunch. At day’s end, an unlikely bonding had taken place. A host of barriers had been discarded with the rest of the trash. Any qualms by church members about the Hispanic ministry were gone. More work days followed, and within a few months the sanctuary was restored.

eastminster-photo-jpegOn the heels of this experience, a Sunday-afternoon Spanish service got underway, while the Anglo members continued to worship on Sunday mornings. I was called to serve as pastor of both groups, and eventually they blended into one growing, multi-lingual congregation. The fusion triggered a seemingly endless string of innovative ministries—some successful, some not, but each filled with life, love, and laughter. One long-term goal was that the session become half-Hispanic/half-Anglo, and gradually, by God’s grace, the goal was reached. (See photo of congregation in 2010) After eight amazing years, my family and I left to serve the Presbyterian Church in Guatemala, where we still are.

Now the sanctuary has been reduced to ashes, along with the fellowship hall, the classrooms, and most everything else. Though it might appear that another Presbyterian church has bit the dust, I wouldn’t write-off Eastminster yet. This church has a history of coming back from the dead. It’s their resilient character, their godly nature, an essence that’s built into their very name—Easter. I praise God for this church, with humble people who respond in unexpected ways to adversity, saying things like, “How soon can we return to clean up this mess?”

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Dedication of Centro de Ministerio Norte “La Trinidad”

Last Friday, representatives traveled to Cobán from across Guatemala to join in the dedication of the newly-completed multi-purpose building at the Presbyterian Complex. (see photos)  dsc04209dsc04203The previous day, the Complex’s Multi-Institutional Board agreed to name it the Centro de Ministerio Norte “La Trinidad,” in honor of two PC(USA) churches that have been instrumental since the beginning in developing this multi-purpose facility. These churches—Northminster Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio and Trinity Presbyterian Church, Fairhope, Alabama—were of enormous help with donations and work teams. Other generous PC(USA) supporters were also acknowledged: South Alabama Presbytery; First Presbyterian Church of Kenosha, Wisconsin; First Presbyterian Church of Kingsport, Tennessee; The Outreach Foundation of Franklin, Tennessee; the Inland Northwest Presbytery, and Denver Presbytery.

At the dedication service, many greetings and well-wishes were expressed, and numerous gifts were presented (see photo).dsc04227 Flowers were provided by Northminster Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. After a sermon by Pastor Ivan Paz, Secretary of the Multi-Institutional Board, a beautiful rite of anointing took place. Pastors and elders came forward, dabbing their fingers in olive oil and scattering throughout the building to pray for God’s continued blessing (see photo).inauguracion-centro-coban-2016 David’s words in 1 Chronicles 29:16 were remembered: “Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” Following the service, the celebration continued with a traditional chicken dish called “tiú.”

The center currently serves as home for the new Antioch Presbyterian Church, a regional campus for Guatemala’s Presbyterian Seminary, and hub for the eight surrounding Q’eqchi’ presbyteries. It offers a meeting/worship space, five rooms for either classes or lodging, an office, a kitchen, restrooms and showers, and room for our water purification system. There’s still a lot more to do to fulfill the long-range vision for Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex. The Multi-Institutional Board has authorized the next stage of construction—a guest house and training center. We welcome any presbyteries, churches or individuals that would like to be involved in this next urgent project!

 

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The Chartering of “Antioch Presbyterian Church”

Barely two years ago, a Presbyterian worshiping community started to gather in the carport of the house we were renting in Cobán. Now, that community has been officially chartered as a church. The membership chose the name “Antioch” in honor of the multi-cultural mother church of mission to the Gentiles, where disciples were first called “Christians.” (See Acts 11:19-26)

With 96 men, women and children, the church averages 80 worshipers each Sunday. Youth and women’s societies meet each week, as well as prayer meetings and Bible study. Four ruling elders serve on the session—two men and two women—along with four deaconesses and me as pastor. Members are a mixture of Mayan and Ladino, with both the Spanish and Q’eqchi’ languages used in worship. On November 3, the plenary of the Chiséc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery voted unanimously to approve the chartering of the church. The next evening a service of dedication was held at Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex. See photo of the session being recognized, minus Bacilia who was taking a nursing exam, and some of the members. dsc04193dsc04194

The church is excited and thankful for all in Guatemala and beyond who have been involved in progress of this new church development. as it continues to grow in membership and offer God’s grace in more ways to the surrounding community. Among well-wishers was our PC(USA) partner Northminster Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. On behalf of the church, Jane Whalen sent this message:

“Greetings from Northminster Presbyterian Church! Today we rejoice with you for what God has done for you and through you! The dedication of The Antioch Church is an important milestone in the development of this new church. Your faithfulness and commitment to God’s people shows in your worship and your witness to the people of Cobán. We are honored to be in partnership with you, and doubly honored that you would name the multipurpose building ‘Centro de Ministerio Norte’ in recognition of our partnership. We will continue to pray for you and your ministry, and we look forward to being with you again next summer. To God be the glory!”

Indeed, all glory is given to God! Please keep Antioch Presbyterian Church in prayer as we strive to grow ever more vibrant in our faith and fellowship, more gracious in our witness to the surrounding community, and more fruitful as people draw closer to Christ through God’s ministry at this church.

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