Mission partnerships sometimes come to an end. They might fizzle out from lack of interest, or a clash might take place that they can’t overcome. It might simply be that their covenant expired, and one or both were ready to move to something different. In whatever case, break-ups leave partners wondering what’s next.
This past week a 4-member exploratory team from South Alabama Presbytery visited for five days with Guatemala’s Q’eqchi’ Chisec Presbytery. Both presbyteries had been partners before. South Alabama had a healthy partnership for over 20 years with the Mayab Presbytery in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The partnership’s end was caused by the rupture between the PC(USA) and the Presbyterian Church of Mexico over changes in ordination standards in the PC(USA). Because of its passion about God’s global mission, South Alabama Presbytery soon began searching for another partner and decided to take a look at Guatemala.
Guatemala’s Q’eqchi’ Chisec Presbytery had a previous PC(USA) partnership that went array several years ago because its then-moderator misused funds that were sent by its U.S. partner. Among other things, he deeded church property to himself that was purchased with those funds. In the wake of these improprieties, the partnership collapsed, the moderator was expelled, and the presbytery suffered a schism (previously it was known as the Playa Grande Presbytery). Ever since this disaster, the presbytery has hoped and prayed that another partnership might be possible.
The South Alabama team, led by Exective Presbyter Samford Turner, began its visit at the La Patria Norte School in Cobán. This Presbyterian school opened three years ago as a project of the La Patria School in Quetzaltenango. The school’s directors shared their vision, which is 1) to offer a top-notch education to young people in the Cobán area, 2) to start the first Presbyterian church in Cobán in collaboration with the Q’eqchi’ Chisec Presbytery, and 3) to develop a theological center for Q’eqchi’ pastors in cooperation with by Guatemala’s Presbyterian Seminary. The school is currently located on leased property, and everyone got to check out some prospective land sites for the future facilities. (See photo of members from each group at La Patria Norte)
The team then traveled to the mostly-Q’eqchi’ town of Chisec, where there are two Presbyterian churches. In the early 1980’s, during Guatemala’s armed conflict, Chisec was razed, and its inhabitants fled the region for safer ground. In an attempt to repopulate the town, the Guatemalan government offered property lots for 50 quetzales, and handed out building materials. New residents arrived from different areas of the country to make Chisec their home.
A meeting was held with the Chisec Presbytery’s executive committee in one church, and the team joined for worship at another. The stated clerk, Pastor Filipenses Flores, told about how the presbytery has moved forward with new leadership. For example, the presbytery is sponsoring monthly pastoral training and youth leadership workshops. According to Pastor Flores, the presbytery has only four quetzales in its bank account, and the volunteer pastors pay all their own expenses. “Before when we received money, no work was getting done,” he explained. “Now the presbytery has no money, but work is getting done.”
The South Alabama team then visited the village of Limón Sur, about 45 minutes north. Here the population is an ethnic mixture of Q’eqchi’ and Ladino, which is reflected in its three Presbyterian congregations. Each of these churches is in the process of building a beautiful new church building, and has active women’s and youth ministries. The top concern for all of them is the lack of clean water in the community. They led the team to the nearby Limón River, from which jugs of water are carried to homes. The river is also where the populace bathes and washes its clothes. Making safe water available to the community looked exactly like the kind of project that could be worked on jointly, since South Alabama Presbytery has experience from installing numerous water purification systems in Mexico with the organization Living Waters for the World. (See photos of new church building at Limón Sur, and the Limón River, the village’s source of water)
Leaders from both the South Alabama and the Q’eqchi’ Chisec presbyteries voiced their desire for a new mission partnership in which they can help one another with their distinct needs, offering their different gifts. Everyone agreed that in a vibrant partnership, each has much that it can teach the other. Although a visit like this one is the first stage in forming such a partnership, representatives from both sides were deeply grateful for the opportunity to cross paths, and very hopeful that this won’t be the last time that they do.