(This text is from our September newsletter. Here a few more photos are added.)
Sayaxché lies along the Passion River in the vast northern department of Petén. A mix of westernized Ladinos and indigenous Q’eqchí, the town has a frontier atmosphere. Stores tend to showcase lots of boots, machetes, and saddles. A rugged ferry hauls vehicles across the river at all hours. I’d been to Sayaxché before on work teams, but this was my first solo trip as a mission worker. After a 10-hour bus ride from Guatemala City on Thursday, I arrived on time to watch festivities for Independence Day, which is September 15th in Guatemala. A colorful parade winded through the streets, followed by speeches and music at the central park. (See photos)
I came to visit 2 Q’eqchí presbyteries. On Friday morning I met with leaders of the Q’eqchí Presbytery of Sayaxche (QPS). This presbytery has 7 churches, and runs a radio station. It has a long-standing partnership with Hillsboro Presbyterian Church of Nashville, Tennessee. Together they built a 2-story dorm was built for Q’eqchi students from outlying communities, and administer scholarships for 34 students. Roger Marriott, a PC(USA) mission worker who helped begin the partnership, recently concluded his assignment in Guatemala. QPS leaders expressed sorrow over Roger’s departure, and anxiety about the partnership’s future without him. Before adjourning, we prayed for God to continue to provide the right leadership for this partnership to prosper for years to come. (Photo of QPS Executive Committee)
Having a free afternoon, I ventured down the river by boat to explore some ancient ruins. Like most of Guatemala, this area was inhabited a millenium ago by Mayans, forebears to the Qe’qchí. The boat pilot, Walter, steered us past cattle ranches, villages, jungle, and then to a Mayan archeological site called “El Ceibal.” Unfortunately, a storm moved in, forcing us to slosh through water while looking at temples and stelae monuments. (See Photo) Once the rain stopped, wildlife seemed to wake up, including noisy howler monkeys, flocks of parakeets and, again unfortunately, swarms of mosquitoes. Before long Walter and I high-tailed it back to the boat.
Saturday was spent with leaders of the Q’eqchí Presbytery of the Peten (QPP), which also has 7 churches. We inspected a tract of land that was acquired with funds from their partner, the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee (PMT). Then we gathered in at a local restaurant. After catching up on news about families and communities, we hammered out a proposal for the development of the new land. The proposal, which includes plans for a church, manse and training center, will be shared with PMT for feedback. We discussed arrangements for 2 mission teams that are expected from PMT in February to help with the construction. Finally, we prayed for the partnership, and also for one of the pastors whose wife passed away this year. (Photo of QPP Executive Committee)
On the bus ride home, I reflected on how the Q’eqchí often feel disconnected from the rest of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church, not to mention the global Church. It’s daunting for their pastors to face ministry challenges with few resources and little education. International partners help them know that they’re not alone. Partnerships with small, remote presbyteries like the Q’eqchí require a generous heart and perseverance. Nonetheless, they’re a fulfilling way for U.S. Presbytrians to participate in Christ’s world-wide mission, and to keep from becoming too insulated from the important struggles and aspirations of God’s people in places like Sayaxché.