Monthly Archives: November 2011

Being a Mission Worker is a Tremendous Blessing

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.

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Q’anjobal and Cincinnati

Kach ka mi’ (Good day) This cheerful greeting was heard over and over during last week’s visit by a team from the Presbytery of Cincinnati to the Q’anjobal Presbytery. The team of 11—4 pastors, 7 elders, including 3 women—crossed over the Cuchumatán mountains to the little town of San Juan Ixcoy. Once there, the Q’anjobal and Cincinnati folks pounded rocks together, digging the foundation for a new presbytery office (see photo). The Cincinnati team generously left funds for materials to finish the project.

Other days were filled with discussions about partnership. The Q’anjobal Presbytery, begun in 1982, has 10 churches plus 2 mission congregations. Their elders shared a vision for new churches and growth. The vision of the Q’anjobal women included training midwives and preserving the Q’anjobal culture. Young people shared their vision for a revived seminary and for more leadership opportunities in the presbytery.  Members of the Cincinnati team, in turn, offered their hopes for renewal of the covenant between the two presbyteries, the participation of more churches from their presbytery, and possibilities for future trips.

On the team’s first Sunday, a national presidential run-off was held in Guatemala. The election was between an opportunistic business tycoon and a former general with a questionable human rights record. The general, Otto Perez, won by promising to combat crime with an “iron fist” (mano dura) That morning we watched voters line up in San Juan Ixcoy on our way to church. (See photo) Later that evening, we realized that our hotel in the town of Soloma was next to Perez campaign headquarters. The night skies were filled with celebratory fireworks. The next day marimba bands performed all day while Perez supporters danced in the parking lot.

Bilingual worship was held at four churches. One day the team bus climbed over 11,000 feet to visit a church on a mountain top. The church is fittingly named Puerta del Cielo (Gate of Heaven). On the last day with the Q’anjobal, we bid farewell with worship at the Iglesia Presbiteriana Getsemani. We celebrated an upbeat Holy Communion to the sound of trumpets, drums nd electric guitar. Communion sets were presented as gifts from Cincinnati, along with school supplies. The Q’anjobal gave each woman a colorful huipil (traditional shawl) (see photo) and woven shoulder bags for the men. As the team departed, numerous Q’anjobal phrases were exchanged repeatedly, such as Ko Mam Dios Ch’ok etoq (God bless you!) and Yujual Dios (Thank you).

Final photo: a Qanjobal girl shepherds sheep near the San Ixcoy church:

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Kites and Covenants

The International Relations Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) met today to discuss the renewal of the covenant relationship between the IENPG and the PC(USA). The meeting was held at the Maya Quiché Biblical Institute in San Cristobal Totonicapán.

The covenant between our two sister denominations was actually up for renewal in 2009, but attention wasn’t given to it until this year. At today’s meeting, numerous concerns were raised about how well our denominations respect cultural and theological differences, accountability for presbytery-to-presbytery partnerships, and procedures for sending and accounting for donated funds. There was also considerable discussion about whether the new covenant should make reference to the PC(USA)’s controversial changes in ordination standards. The International Relations Committee next will send its suggestions to the IENPG Executive Committee, which meets in several weeks.

Please keep in your prayers the evaluation and renewal of this covenant agreement, that  God will utilize this process as a means of celebrating and strengthening the historic connection that we share as Presbyterians from very different contexts.

Yesterday, November 1, was All Saints’ Day, alternately known in Guatemala as the Day of the Dead. Across the country throngs of people crowded into cemeteries to honor deceased loved ones by washing and repairing tombs, adorning them with flowers
and incense, and listening to mariachi music while eating a traditional cold dish called fiambre.

Our family went to Sumpango, a Kaqchikel town that’s famous for its annual Giant Kite Festival. These kites are symbolic of the longing to communicate with ancestors in the hereafter.  They reached as tall as 60 feet, and portrayed themes such as protection of the creation and the ceasing of violence in Guatemala. Below are photos of some of the kites that we saw:

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