Monthly Archives: May 2012

Wrap-Up of 2012 IENPG Synod

The annual Synod meeting of the Evangelical National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) was held this past week, May 21-25, on the campus of the Presbyterian Evangelical Seminary. About 400 pastors and elders gathered, with the theme being “For All Nations, One Lord, One Baptism, One Faith.” (See photo) It was a diverse group from all 22 presbyteries, except that women were vastly underrepresented as is usual here. As PC(USA) mission co-workers, Amanda Craft and I attended as corresponding members. As you’d expect, much of the agenda dealt with usual church business, committee and presbytery reports, budget, disciplinary cases, and legal actions.

The IENPG commemorated the 50th anniversary of its “integration” as a national church that’s not governed from abroad. From 1882-1962, the various missions boards of the PC(USA) held authority over major decisions, institutions, and the work of missionaries. On one evening there was a celebration concert and recognition of a select group of retired pastors for their long-time service. (See photos of the “Trio Elim” and one of the honored pastors) On a different night a Thanksgiving service was held. I delivered the sermon, titled “Integrated and Always Integrating,” which applied the biblical concept of jubilee to the Guatemalan Church. There also was a soccer tournament of teams from different presbyteries.  (See photo of winning team from Central Presbytery)

Following are some other actions that might be of interest to PC(USA) folks:

  • A new moderator was elected, Miguel Ortega, a young teacher from the Pacífico Presbytery.
  • The body gave enthusiastic recognition to “La Patria Sur,” a new K-12 school that opened this year on the seminary campus. The school’s orchestra performed, and its students served as volunteer staff throughout the meeting.
  • It was decided that the campus for the future Presbyterian University will be at the site of the current Maya Quiche’ Biblical Institute, which has struggled to be viable in recent years.
  • Plans were made for an organizational event for theological training for Q’eqchi’ pastors, with representatives from each Q’eqchi’ presbytery, the seminary and the national church.
  • There was a power-point presentation about the Walton funds, which have been suspended since 2006. There was optimism that dialogue with the PC(USA) will lead to the restoration of the funds, which are designated for theological education for pastors and church leaders from indigenous presbyteries.
  • Out of a concern over deforestation, the plenary agreed to issue a pronouncement to the Guatemalan government that sugar cane growers should be required to plant one hectare of trees for every 10 hectares of sugar cane.
  • The plenary approved the formation of a peace and justice department whose role will be to raise a prophetic voice about social concerns.
  • I was privileged to lead the Bible studies during the morning devotions on the topic of the mission of the Church.
  • It was reiterated that copies of covenants between PC(USA) and IENPG presbyteries and churches should be sent to the Synod as well as the International Relations Committee.
  • The International Relations Committee reported that it mailed 55 letters to PC(USA) presbyteries without international partnerships, but has received little response to their invitation.
  • There was a debate about whether a female pastor should administer Holy Communion at the annual meeting of Sinódica, the Presbyterian women’s organization, which was to take place in a presbytery that doesn’t allow female pastors. The body affirmed Sinódica, while agreeing that the position of the host presbytery should be respected.
  • As is normally the case in church meetings, time ran out and unfinished business was referred to the IENPG executive committee.
  • Next year’s meeting will take place in May 2013 at the Monte Sion Campground, beside Lake Amatitlán.

Here’s the IENPG’s latest vision statement: We want to be a united Christian Church, involved in Guatemalan society, that develops and participates equitably and holistically, and whose work is effective and transformative.

And, here’s the IENPG’s latest mission statement: To follow our vision, increasing discipleship among all current members, using the values of God’s Kingdom, and adding members to the IENPG in an effective and pro-active way.

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Changing Seasons

Guatemala is in transition from the dry season to the rainy season. Farmers are busy planting their fields. Work crews are still trying to repair damage to highways and bridges caused by storms during last year’s rainy season. Disaster readiness training is being offered in schools and communities across the country.

The annual Synod meeting of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church (IENPG) takes place next week. I’ve been asked to be this year’s speaker, giving three presentations about the mission of the Church. I’ve also been invited to preach at the service of celebration for the 50th anniversary of the IENPG’s full autonomy from the PC(USA), which occurred in 1962.

The months of June and July will be crowded with mission groups from the United States visiting different presbyteries. Philip will be accompanying teams from: Jacksonville, Florida; Savannah, Georgia; Kenosha, Wisconsin; Portland, Oregon; Middle Tennessee, and Cincinnati, Ohio.

We especially look forward to the August wedding of my son Daniel to his fiancé Holli Turner. The wedding will be in Denver, Colorado.  Currently Daniel is stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Our whole family will be at the ceremony.

Matthew, Manny and Stefi are in transition, as the end of the school year approaches. We took another four-day trip to Chiapas, Mexico this past week. The purpose was to renew our vsas, but it was also a great get-away before the hectic months to come. Chiapas shares Guatemala’s natural and cultural beauty, and is less chaotic and cluttered than Guatemala. For a short time in the early 1800’s, Chiapas was part of the Central American Federation. This time we stayed in Comitán, a picturesque town with colonial architecture, a children’s museum, and lots of fun places to visit nearby. Here are a few photos from our time there: climbing pyramids at the Tenam Puente ruins; Matthew zip-lining at the Velo de Novia (Bride’s Veil) waterfall; swimming and raft-riding at Lagunas de Montebello National Park, marimbas at Comitán’s Zocalo (central park).  

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Going Back to Chajul

This past weekend, April 27-29, I found myself racing from one side of Guatemala to the next. On Friday I joined a team of 14 men, women and youth from Guatemala City’s Central Presbyterian Church for the lengthy trip to Chajul, one of the church’s mission congregations. Chajul is an Ixil town in the Department of Quiché, where 75% of the population struggles with malnutrition and diseases that shouldn’t be difficult to prevent. The mission included a pediatric clinic, leadership training, 11 baptisms, Holy Communion, a wedding, and a visit to a new church development. My job was to perform the baptisms on Saturday morning. Afterward that, I had to hop on a series of busses and taxis back to Guatemala City where I was scheduled to preach on Sunday.  (Photos: Two of the baptisms, Dr. Suk Rosal with a young patient, Anay Ortega distributing vitamins. Thanks to Anay for these photos!)

I preached at the morning services at the Central church on the 23rd Psalm. The theme was about dwelling and following. As our shepherd, sometimes God calls upon us to dwell somewhere for a prolonged period.  God provides the needed conditions for us to stay put in that place—food, water, harmony with the rest of the flock, even security amidst adversaries.

Other times, God calls us to not to stay, but rather to follow him elsewhere. God guides us into to a new purpose or a different way of life. We might find ourselves in the valley of the shadow of death, and God seeks to lead us to a better set of circumstances.

During the gold rush to California in 1849, a train of 100 covered wagons tried to find a shortcut through a desert valley. It was a bad mistake, because they were stuck there for weeks, forced to slaughter their oxen for food, and burn some of their wagons for fuel. Eventually they abandoned everything, and together they found a way out on foot. As they escaped, one of the women turned around and exclaimed, “Goodbye, valley of death!” The name stuck, and the desert became known as Death Valley. It’s one of the lowest, driest, and hottest places on earth.

Like a good shepherd, God is constantly at work, showing us the way out of the predicaments into which we’ve stumbled. God will guide us out of life’s low places, if we’re willing to follow. And as the grace of God grace brings us to someplace better, we can say with a sigh of relief, “Goodbye, valley of death! So long, valley of heavy burdens! Adios, valley of chaos and frustrated dreams!”

Then we can say, with grateful hearts, “Hello, land of promise and peace! Hello, land of abundance and blessing!”

The good news is that, wherever we are in life, God dwells with us. Whether we’re in a valley or on a mountain top, God watches over us. As we learn to follow the Lord, we notice that the Lord’s goodness and mercy are following us. And as we move forward, our hearts are still with those who are behind. They’re not forgotten by God, and they shouldn’t be forgotten by us. Perhaps we’re called to go and look for them, to encourage them to follow God’s lead, so that they too may come to a better place.

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