This past week included a 5-day, multi-purpose trip to four indigenous presbyteries. One of the goals was to deliver food relief to areas that were hard hit by flooding last month. This effort was coordinated by the social assistance arm of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church (IENPG), called Diaconía, which has distributed 1,400 sacks of food already. Joining me on the trip were Guatemalan pastors Álvaro Ruíz and Isaías García, and elder Santiago Choc.
On Wednesday morning, we loaded a PRESGOV bus with food supplies and traveled to the town of La Tinta, where we dropped off 85 sacks for churches in the Polochíc valley. The Polochíc Presbytery, comprised of 40 Q’eqchi’ churches, was holding its biennial plenary session. We extended greetings, and they expressed deep gratitude for the visit and the food relief.
On Thursday, we restocked the bus with more supplies at La Patria Norte, a Presbyterian school in Cobán, and made two deliveries of 50 sacks at the church in Chiséc. (See Photo) Next we drove to the village of Limón Norte, where a new Q’eqchi’ ’ presbytery, Franja Transversal del Norte, was holding its plenary session. We joined them for supper and fellowship, and dropped off 86 sacks of food. Our next stop was in the Playa Grande Presbytery at a village named Limón Sur. At that night’s worship service, Isaías and Álvaro offered their greetings before leaving for an all-night drive back to Guatemala City. I remained as the guest preacher.
Franja Transversal del Norte and Playa Grande are small presbyteries, with 8 and 10 churches respectively. They were once united, but divided earlier this year because of a scandal over church properties that were purchased with funds from the PCUSA some years ago. I was told the funds, rather than being sent to the IENPG, were given to a Q’eqchi’ pastor who put the land titles in his own name. Later on, he sold the properties and pocketed the proceeds. The legal mess is in court, and the pastor has been ousted. Tensions, however, caused the presbytery to split in two.
Since there’s no running water in Limón Sur, my host Edgar offered to lead me to a nearby river where I could wash up. I inquired about using a bucket of water instead, and Edgar gladly brought me one. He directed me to a secluded area behind the house that was “seguro” and “tranquilo” where I could take a bath . As it turned out, the area wasn’t quite secluded enough. After undressing and pouring water over myself, I glanced up to see a couple of village women casually pass in front of me. At least they refrained from giggling. (Sorry, no photo available)
I spent Friday shuttling back and forth between the two presbyteries on someone’s motorcycle. Each group welcomed me warmly and invited me to share with them about my work as a mission worker. Both groups also made an appeal for help in the theological training of new pastors. (See photo from Playa Grande plenary) That night I preached again at the closing service for Playa Grande, and then caught a ride to Chisec.
On Saturday I got up at 3:30 AM, and boarded the first of five crowded minibuses that took me through the mountains from Chisec to the Ixil town of Chajul. From Uspantán to Cunén, the van I was in was beyond capacity when it pulled over beside a group of eight women and several children. I figured the driver’s helper would explain there was no more room, but I was wrong. Somehow they all squeezed in, climbing over other passengers and assuming contorted positions. Nobody mumbled any complaints.
In the town of Nebaj, I met up with folks from Guatemala City’s Iglesia Presbiteriana Central, with whom I rode to the town of Chajul. We met with elders from the congregation in Chajul to discuss plans for them to host a team from Williamsburg (VA) Presbyterian Church that will visit them next March. We talked at length about the search for a suitable plot of land for a new church building. On Sunday morning we shared in worship. (See photo of women from both churches) That night we arrived in Guatemala City.
Hopefully this account isn’t way too tedious. These kinds of trips are demanding and sometimes uncomfortable, but they’re also exhilarating and remind me that it’s a tremendous blessing to be involved in God’s mission.