Becoming Antioch Partners

Bacilia and I have some exciting news to share about our mission assignment in Guatemala. We, along with our children, are now be part of the Antioch Partners, a U.S. missionary-sending agency with close Presbyterian connections. We’re so grateful to God for this answer to prayer. The Antioch Partners (TAP) began in 2006 as a joint endeavor of the Outreach Foundation and the Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship to support long-term missionaries in cross-cultural settings around the globe. TAP collaborates with the Presbyterian Church, working with US churches and a wide range of mission partners around the world.

TAP logo 1.29.2013     TAP’s mission is to “send out followers of Jesus to participate in God’s mission in the world. We are committed to inviting people to follow Jesus, social justice and establishing worshipping communities among unreached peoples throughout the world.”

TAP’s vision: “Presbyterians effectively equipped, sent out and supported as they participate in God’s mission in the world, and every Presbyterian congregation extensively, strategically, and radically involved in this process.”

Here are some of the values and principles that have drawn us to TAP:

• A conviction that God calls us to join in Christ’s mission around the world.
• A recognition that the most vibrant church growth is now occurring in Africa, Latin America and Asia, not in the West.
• A passion for proclaiming the Gospel to unreached people groups, and for joining with emerging churches that strive to  more effectively reach their people groups.
• A commitment to servanthood and simple living in our international mission settings, acknowledging the challenges of Western missionary affluence.
• An awareness that our Presbyterian churches in the US desperately need renewal, and that partnering in God’s global mission is a means to that renewal.
• An appreciation for our Presbyterian roots and connections in the US, even as God calls us to serve primarily as disciples of Jesus and citizens of God’s kingdom.

TAP has an organizational structure that provides accountability for us as we continue to serve Christ with the Presbyterian Church in Guatemala (IENPG). An important part of TAP’s role is helping us build support relationships of every kind—prayers, moral, logistics, and economic. One of our critical goals through TAP is to form a network of giving towards our family’s living expenses, insurance, pension, travel, children’s education, and ministry costs. Our work in Guatemala depends on this, and Bacilia and I invite you to be part of that network.

Since our ties to Presbyterian World Mission of the PC(USA) ended last July, the IENPG has kindly provided our family with a stipend to cover basic needs. Some US churches and individuals have helped with uncovered expenses by sending contributions to the Outreach Foundation. From now on, contributions like these should be sent to TAP. One of our financial goals is to relieve the IENPG of the expense of our stipend, so they can devote those funds to other important ministries.

Bacilia and I hope you’ll consider supporting us in the future financially and prayerfully through The Antioch Partners. If you’d like to do so, please look at the website: http://www.theantiochpartners.org. There you’ll find our “Partner Bio” and information about how you can donate.

Praise be to the Lord who opens doors for every one of us to answer the call to follow Jesus and to participate in Christ’s amazing mission with our own gifts in different ways.

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New Members Received in Cobán

Sunday was a day of rejoicing as the Presbyterian New Church DevelopmenDSC02440t in Cobán received its first group of members. These membership candidates previously had taken a study course on the Christian faith and Presbyterianism—doctrine, history, worship, governance, and the meaning of church membership. The service began in our garage that converts into the sanctuary (see photo). The secretary of the Chiséc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery, Pastor Filipenses Flores, delivered a sermon on Acts 2:46-47: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Next, worshippers piled into several vehicles, transporting worship to a nearby park where a couple of new believers were baptized (see photos).DSC02450-001DSC02457-001 Then sixteen adults and youth formally professed their faith in Jesus Christ, took membership vows, and were presented with certificates (see photos).DSC02478 After the service, we ate tamales and drank coffee, in keeping with the day’s sermon text. To wrap things up in good Guatemalan fashion, the group held an impromptu soccer game late into the afternoon. Praise God for this milestone, which hopefully will be followed in the future by many similar events. We’re deeply grateful for all who have partnered, prayed and participated with us in God’s mission in Coban.

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School Starts; Q’eqchi’ Worship; Land for Nueva Esperanza

DSC02436Today schools opened for a new academic year in Guatemala, including at the La Patria Norte Christian School in Cobán. Since the new campus isn’t ready yet at the Presbyterian Complex, La Patria Norte will make do another year at its current leased facilities. Spirits were high as initial ceremonies and worship took place this morning (see photo). Enrollment is down slightly so far, with 220 students in kindergarten through secondary, but there’s still time for more registrations. Our kids are excited about getting back to class. Matthew enters 7th grade (primer básico), Manny’s now a 4th grader, and Stefi’s a 2nd grader (see photo).DSC02433

Among the secondary students at La Patria Norte are 3 from the Presbyterian Church in Chajul, Quiche. Mateo Caba, Elisabeth Mo, and Elena Caba (see photo) arrived in Cobán 2 days ago with their fathers, and will be studying to become legal professionals. This opportunity is made possible by scholarships from the school, with their room and board covered by contributions from Williamsburg (VA) Presbyterian Church. Through its partnership with Chajul Presbyterians, Williamsburg is also DSC02435providing scholarships and tutoring for 10 middle school students in the Ixil region.

To help needy children start school on the right foot, Northminster Presbyterian Church, of Cincinnati, OH, has sponsored a school supplies project for Cobán’s La Libertad Public School. Northminster provided resources for 400 supply kits, which were assembled last Saturday by the youth of the new Presbyterian congregation, down the street from the school (see photo)DSC02419. The supplies will be distributed at a special school assembly on January 21.

Some 80 Q’eqchi’ pastors and church leaders expected to begin theological studies next Monday in Cobán, but the program’s start  has been delayed due to uncertainty about funding. The Presbyterian Seminary hasn’t yet received approval of its 2015 proposal for Walton funds, and won’t be able to begin until the arrival of the funding, which is an endowment to support theological education for indigenous Presbyterians in Guatemala. Please pray that these resources will be available soon.

Q’eqchi’ Worship: Last Thursday, Cobán’s new Presbyterian Congregation held its first weekly Q’eqchi’-language service (see photo). DSC02414Thank God for Pastor Federico Saquí and other Q’eqchi’ Presbyterians from Canaan, Chiséc, who are taking a 3 hour bus ride each way to make possible this ministry.

Land Purchase for New Esperanza: Yesterday Presbyterian representatives signed a contract to buy 114 manzanas (almost 200 acres) of undeveloped farmland for 18 families of the Nueva Esperanza (New Hope) community, in a remote area north of Cobán. This is an event of miraculous proportions for this community, which belongs to the Franja Transversal del Norte Presbytery. For years they’ve been squatters, hoping to reach an agreement to buy the land where they raise cardamom and corn. As their mission partner, the Presbytery of Denver, especially Englewood Presbyterian Church, has prayed for this community and came up with funds for a down payment. DSC02426-001As it turned out, no deal could be reached with the landholder, but a better and larger piece of property became available nearby at a lower cost. This owner agreed to sell the land interest free! Prayers make a difference! The community will pay Q 60,000/year for 12 years from proceeds of future harvests. Please pray for these families as they now take apart their homes, church and school and move to their new place. (See photo of contract signing, with me; Fernando Martinez, Presbyterian Trustee; Flavio Poou Coc, Elder from Nueva Esperanza; Pastor Mateo Coc Coc of of Franja Transversal Presbytery; Julian Ixim Max, property seller; and Marco Antonio Chocooj, attorney)

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Evangelism and Education in Chajul

The Presbyterian church keeps broadening and deepening its outreach in the lofty municipality of Chajul, Quiché, as I saw this week with a team from Guatemala City’s Iglesia Presbiteriana Central (Central Presbyterian Church). Six from Central’s youth group conducted Bible school for 150 energetic kids, and two elders led a leadership workshop. Meanwhile, Pastor Jenner Miranda and I focused on visiting several surrounding Ixil villages where a number of isolated congregations are eager to unite with the wider connection and solid doctrines provided by Presbyterianism.  DSC02249

Our first stop was a congregation in Juil, a village about an hour from Chajul. They became Presbyterian last September, and subsequently were evicted from their building by the unhappy landowner. Quickly the Chajul church came to the rescue, dismantling their old facility at Pastor Miguel’s front yard and hauling the materials to Juil. We joined in a thanksgiving service for their new building, which is nicer now than before and on property they’re purchasing. (See photo)

Next we headed to the village of Visiquichum, another hour away, where a small, independent church applied to join the Presbyterian fold. We had a friendly discussion with its leadership, explaining steps in the admission process, distributing booklets about Presbyterian identity and governance, and breaking bread together. (See photo) DSC02251By then it was 9:00 PM, and we still had to go to the town of Chel, another two hours distance.

Travel on Guatemala’s back roads often turns into a madcap adventure, and that’s what happened in this case. The night was cold and wet, the gravel road rutted and slippery, and our van was likely to get stuck. Given these conditions, plans changed. A 4WD pickup was sent from Chel for Jenner and me, while Central’s elders returned to Chajul in the van. After a long delay with the pickup, news reached us that halfway to Chel an overturned road grader was blocking the highway. The Visiquichum church leaders fetched two motorcycles to transport Jenner and me. We sped through the rain to the accident scene, waited while two bulldozers maneuvered the grader onto a flatbed truck, and finally found our waiting pickup. By God’s grace, we finally arrived at about 11:30 PM.

Once in Chel, we discovered not one, but two churches seeking Presbyterian affiliation. The first was a Pentecostal church called Betania. We held a late-night talk with its pastor and elders, and offered middle scDSC02254hool scholarships to the Pastor Cipriano’s two daughters. (See photo) After midnight, Jenner and I were taken to the town’s only hotel (lamentably the kind with badly-stained walls and leaky bathroom down the hall). Neither of us were prepared with overnight bags, but we made do and were grateful for the rest. In the morning we went to the second church, called Puertas Abiertas (Open Doors). Pastor Pedro and his congregation had in mind a full day of meetings, worship and meals to celebrate becoming Presbyterian. Unfortunately, Chel’s only bus was scheduled to leave at 11:00 AM, so we only had time for the reception ceremony. Further festivities and training will have to wait till next year. (See photo of congregation)DSC02258-001

Back in Chajul that evening, we assembled a group of excited Presbyterian students and their parents to confirm educational opportunities for them. Due to the generosity of partner Williamsburg (VA) Presbyterian Church, eight students, plus the two from Chel, were awarded middle school scholarships. As part of WPC’s commitment to education, they’re also sponsoring a learning center and after-school tutoring program at the Chajul church. Another three students will enroll at the La Patria Norte School in Cobán to pursue secondary degrees, thanks to scholarships from the school as well as WPC for covering room and board expenses for these students. (See their photo)DSC02267

Throughout its history, Presbyterianism has been characterized by a passion for education and congregational development. Having witnessed this past week how God continues to use Presbyterians to make history in the Ixil indigenous area around Chajul, our mission team gives all praise and glory to God.

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Our 2014 Christmas Letter to You

Christmas 2014, Cobán, GuatemalaDSC02244-001

Dear Family & Friends,

Joyful greetings to you from Cobán!

In Guatemala, Presbyterians tend to be misfits at Christmastime. They feel uneasy about this holiday, which is dominated by Catholic processions & posadas, & dismissed by Pentecostals as unscriptural & pagan. Poverty disqualifies many Presbyterians, especially the indigenous, from the consumerism of the season. Christmas for them is austere, often without gifts, only tamales, firecrackers & a few familiar carols. The good news is that God sent us Jesus amidst people’s scarcity & doubts. A misfit at his own birth, he’s a Savior for all.

In Cobán’s new Presbyterian congregation, we discussed ways to celebrate Christ’s birth while steering clear of traditions that can be confusing in this context. Imported customs like Christmas trees & Santa Claus were spurned (too secularized), while nativity dramas & festive decorations won approval. There was resistance to nativity scenes (graven imagery) & the advent wreath (lighting colored candles can be associated with witchcraft). After thoughtful debate, the advent wreath was OK’d as long as its biblical meanings are explained for everyone.

The past year brought big changes for our family. In June we relocated from sprawling Guatemala City to Cobán. We’re in a friendly Q’eqchi’ neighborhood, adjusting to no cable or internet. Our kids transferred from the bilingual American School to a small Presbyterian school with a different academic calendar. Quickly they found new friends, & their sports passion shifted from soccer to karate. Before, we went to Guatemala’s oldest Presbyterian Church; now we’re at the newest, with Philip as pastor. As of July we ended ties to Presbyterian World Mission. Still belonging to the PC(USA), we now serve directly with the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala, grateful for the stipend they’re providing.

Of course, there’s continuity too. We’ve stayed involved in partnerships between U.S. & Guatemalan churches, coordinating mission teams & projects in different regions. Philip remains active in the expansion of indigenous theological training, & was proud that last month 60 more graduated with seminary degrees in Cobán. Our focus on developing Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex has grown—with the school campus, dorm, chapel, theological center, & guest house moving gradually from the drawing board to reality.

Much is in store for 2015. We’re eager to settle into the manse that’s nearing completion at the Complex. In January, Matthew, Manny & Stefi enter the 7th, 4th, and 2nd grades respectively. Bacilia starts a nursing program at the local campus of Landívar University, & Philip plans to enroll in Q’eqchi’ language classes. Hopefully we’ll travel to the U.S. at some point to see family & mission partners. We await a visit soon by son Daniel, his wife Holli, & 1-year-old Eliza. Daniel’s a staff sergeant at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

We rejoice in the enduring presence of God’s grace. Many people have been a means of grace to us through encouragement & prayers, & we’re so grateful. We thank the Guatemalan church for asking us to continue in mission with them. Since the salary they offer doesn’t cover every need, some of you & your churches are contributing towards our work, & this means a great deal to us. The Outreach Foundation handles this support, which should be marked “Beisswenger” & sent to 381 Riverside Drive, Suite 110, Franklin, TN 37064.

Our pray is that the remembrance of Jesus’ birth will bring rich blessings to you as you praise God & bless others. May God keep working things together for good, enabling us all to fit into his peaceful kingdom.

Philip, Bacilia, Matthew, Manuel & Estefana Beisswenger

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Sycamore PC, Outreach Foundation, & Seminary Graduation

During the past couple of weeks there’s been lots of cross-country travel, and plenty of forward movement for God’s mission. First was a visit by Sycamore Presbyterian Church, of Cincinnati, Ohio, to the northern mountains of Huehuetenango. This church is considering reviving a mission partnership that the Cincinnati Presbytery DSC02182previously had with the Q’anjob’al Presbytery. Getting to the Q’anjob’al region was more challenging than usual due to highway blockages by protesting indigenous organizations and government workers. Once we arrived, the seven Ohioans united with the Q’anjob’al executive committee, women’s society, and youth leadership to share ideas for combined service. (See one of many group photos) We visited several villages, exploring prospects for medical teams as well as water and agricultural projects. The week was filled with moments for worship, fun, and laughter. (See photo of me with children from the church in San Juan Ixcoy)DSC02180 Towards the end, moving recognitions were bestowed upon Ron Cowgill, long-time, faithful coordinator of the partnership. A Q’anjob’al-language Bible was presented to him signed by Q’anjob’al leaders and the team. The return trip from Huehuetenango was made much faster by a chartered plane that flew us to Guatemala City. (See photo)DSC02189

The same day that Sycamore left for the U.S., a delegation from The Outreach Foundation, based in Franklin, Tennessee, arrived to investigate theological training and church projects, especially in the Cobán area. The visitors were Rev. Rob Weingartner, Executive Director, and Elder Tom McDow, Trustee and President-elect of the board. A quick-paced itinerary included dialogue sessions with leaders of the Presbyterian Evangelical Seminary, the Chiséc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery, and Pastor Isaias Garcia, IENPG General Secretary. (See photo)DSC02225 They participated in the Wednesday night Bible study with Cobán´s new Presbyterian congregation, and attended a meeting of the Multi-Institutional Board that leads development of Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex.

They also joined with other well-wishers and excited family members to celebrate the graduation of 60 Q’eqchi’, Poqomchí and Ixil Presbyterians—26 with theology degrees in Practical Pastoral Theology and 34 in Bible and Mission. (See photos) Guatemala’s Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary awarded diplomas in either Practical Pastoral Theology or Bible and Mission at the auditorium of Cobán’s La Patria Norte School. Scholarships for DSC02201this program were provided by the seminary with support of Walton funds from the PC(USA). A number of PC(USA) partners also helped with student travel costs, including Middle Tennessee Presbytery and Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. Plans are for this training program to grow again next year with an additional degree in church administration along with workshops in strategic planning, organization and accounting.DSC02204

One can only marvel at the good things that come together in God’s mission in places like Guatemala through divine grace and collaborative efforts. Even more encouraging and wonderful are the signs that God has much more in store for the days and years to come. Praise be to God!

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Caps & Gowns in Cobán

This was a week of graduations in Cobán. Remember, the academic calendar in Guatemala runs from January to October. On Tuesday at the auditorium of the Colegio La Patria Norte, diplomas were awarded for students finishing preschool, primary and middle school. It was special for our family because Matthew was among the sixth grade graduates (see photo).DSC02138 I gave a speech about Peter’s final admonition in the Bible, that we “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3 18).

On Thursday, graduation was held for 50 sixth graders at the La Libertad Public School, near where we live. It was an exciting accomplishment for them and their families, since many of them won’t go further in their formal education. These are the students for whom Bacilia and I had been giving weekly Bible lessons, and the teachers asked me to deliver the address. (See photo) DSC02148Since the school and neighborhood are named “freedom,” my theme was: “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil.” (1 Peter 2:16) Thanks to La Patria Norte, five of these graduates will receive scholarships to continue their studies there next year on the middle school level.

Our last ceremony was on Friday for high school students from Colegio La Patria Norte. In the graduating class, fifty earned degrees in health science, four in legal studies, eight in agro-forestry, and four in computer science. Again I was invited to be the speaker, and I used the text from Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The event highlight for us was the graduation of Catalina Laynez and Cristina Pacheco, two bright Ixil teens who we’ve grown to love during the past several years. (See photo) DSC02158They received degrees in pre-medicine and pre-law, respectively. Coming from humble backgrounds, they benefited from scholarships from the school, room and board expenses from PC(USA) funds, and financial support from Williamsburg Presbyterian Church. Ciristina is enrolling in the law school at the national university, which has a campus in Coban. Catalina hopes to study medicine, but for the time being will be returning to Chajul to seek work there.

Children’s education has been a leading priority for Presbyterians in Guatemala since they first arrived 132 years ago. To somehow be involved in this tradition of preparing young minds for faithful, meaningful lives is an exciting part of our work.

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