Monthly Archives: September 2011

Visit to Sayaxché

(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.

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September 11, in Guatemala and the U.S.

Guatemala will hold national elections on Sunday, September 11. Across the country, voters will go to their polling places to select their next president and vice-president, as well as legislators and mayors. Although there’s been some campaign-related violence and chaos, it fortunately hasn’t reached the high levels that some people predicted. Political parties have ignored official campaign rules and spending limits, and observers have worried about how much narco-money might have infiltrated the electoral process. Ex-General Otto Pérez is the favored presidential candidate, despite his unsavory links to the military’s brutal counter-insurgency tactics of the 1980’s. While he vows to fight rampant crime with a mano dura (iron-fist), he also promises to continue popular social programs and to strengthen Guatemala’s economy. Though recent surveys show Perez enjoying a 30% lead of his closest rival, it’s considered doubtful that he’ll receive the majority of votes that he needs to avoid a run-off. I pray for a peaceful, fraud-free election day that will bring more hope for the future of Guatemala.

September 11, of course, is also the 10th anniversary of the devastating attacks on the United States by Islamic extremists. Apart from the common date, I’ve wondered about how to relate Guatemala’s elections with this anniversary. Perhaps it might be simplistic to say so, but terrorism and elections seem to come from diametrically-opposed views of the world. Terrorists might list grievances as a way of justifying their deeds, but they’re fueled primarily by pessimism and hate. Terrorism rejects the principle that people should be free to make decisions. Elections allow for broad participation in decision-making, while terrorism tries to force rigid views on everyone. One offers choices, the other demands conformity. One tries to win support, the other tries to force submission. Although most elections are far from perfect, they’re an important way to repudiate totalitarian world-views and violence as a means of advancing ideological agendas.

Meanwhile, the anniversary of 9/11 would be a tempting occasion for terrorist groups to assert themselves and crdate more fear. I sure pray that none succeed. On weekends like this one, I’m inspired by the words of the Paul to the Roman Christians: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-18, 21, Today’s New International Version)

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