Monthly Archives: June 2012

Our June Newsletter

June 2012

Grace to you, and peace from Guatemala!

This year the Evangelical National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) celebrates the jubilee anniversary of its integration as an autonomous denomination. In 1962 the IENPG ceased to be a mission of its “mother church” in the North. Since then its presbyteries and institutions have come under Guatemalan leadership, with the U.S. church as its “sister.” Fifty years ago the days of missionaries and paternalism officially ended and the era of mission co-workers and partnership began.

This milestone was observed at the IENPG’s May synod meeting. God was given thanks for the generations of men and women who have sowed the gospel in Guatemala, tended to its growth, and harvested a Presbyterian church that now has over 14,000 members. Deep appreciation was voiced for the special role of the PC(USA) and its ongoing relationship with the IENPG. There was a thanksgiving service, a concert and awards ceremony, and even a soccer tournament between presbyteries.

Presbyterians aren’t the only ones with an historic event this year in Guatemala. Worldwide attention has turned toward this country because, according to the Mayan calendar, 2012 marks the conclusion of a great cosmic cycle. While some people (in Hollywood, for example) herald this as an apocalypse, the Mayans themselves don’t take these predictions seriously. Instead of doomsday, they look for the publicity to attract more tourists to learn about their culture.

Like the Mayans of Guatemala, the ancient Hebrew people had a cyclical view of life. The Jubilee year was an expression of this view. According to Leviticus 25, seven years seven times was a sacred time span, a full circle, and an opportunity to return things to their God-intended order. Each 50th year was called a Jubilee, meaning a joyful noise. Slaves were to be freed, debts cancelled, and lands returned to their original owners.

The Jubilee of the IENPG’s integration has brought with it some circumspection. Has anything of the church been lost over the years? How can it be restored? Are there debts that should be forgiven? Are there restraints that limit the church’s freedom to fulfill its mission? How can these restraints be broken? The Presbyterian Church here includes eight ethnic and language groups and all economic and educational levels within a social context of violence and injustice. Integrating such a body is an ongoing struggle, with lots of ups and downs, that relies upon God’s grace.

The good news is that Jesus arrived and declared that he’s been anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim release from captivity, recovery of sight, freedom from oppression, and the year of the Lord’s favor, that is, the Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19). So let trumpets blast and the people celebrate! Viva the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala! Viva its partnership with the PC(USA)! Viva God’s people, reformed and ever reforming! Viva Jesus Christ, and the Body of Christ, integrated and ever integrating!

Blessings and grace to you!

The Beisswengers—Philip, Bacilia, Matthew, Manny and Stefi

 

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U.S.-Guatemalan Youth—“Temples Not Made with Human Hands”

Three teams of PCUSA youth converged on the Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary near Retalhuleu during the past two weeks, each of them paired with a nearby Guatemalan Presbyterian Church. I wasn’t exactly sure how the logistics of three simultaneous groups was going to turn out, but God was good as always, people were cooperative and flexible, and somehow we managed to juggle everyone’s schedules and arrangements. The groups—from Jacksonville, FL, Savannah, GA, and Kenosha, WI—came prepared to work with their partner churches on service projects. The projects involved painting walls and building more Sunday school spaces at the churches, and were tackled with great enthusiasm. However, the mission went well beyond physical construction. The focus was more on the development of cross-cultural, spiritual connections—“temples made not with human hands.” It seemed that at every turn visitors and hosts were singing in each other’s languages, sharing in worship, visiting homes, touring local schools and cultural sites, cooking and eating together, and teaching each other new games. After farewell services at each church, everybody seemed to go crazy snapping photographs, swapping hugs, smiles and Facebook information, and wiping away tears.

Many thanks to the host churches—Monte Hermón in the village of Ocosito, Sol de Justicia in the town of El Xab, and Estrella de la Mañana in the town of Sibaná. Special thanks to the efforts of the PC(USA) groups and their team leaders—Matt Hartley from South Jacksonville PC, Lance Loveall from Kenosha First PC, and Will Shelburne from Savannah First PC. Thanks also to our hard-working interpreters, Valerie Harden and Nancy Gonzalez, and our ever-careful drivers, Alfredo Cisneros and Elías de León. The power of Christ’s Spirit was evident every day, and deserves all praise!

(Photos: Guatemala and U.S. youth at play, the Monte Hermón congregation as they welcomed their visitors from the PCUSA, gathering of U.S. teams and youth from Pacífico Presbytery)

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The Great Commission (for Disciples that Aren’t So Great)

(This is a synopsis of one of the devotions I offered at the IENPG Synod meeting on May 21-25 at Guatemala’s Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary)

Matthew 28:16-18 (Today’s New International Version):  Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted. Then Jesus came to them…

To really get the Great Commission, it helps to understand the hard situation the disciples faced when Jesus pronounced it. The opening verses point to at least four of these difficulties, and how they would’ve discouraged the disciples.

“Then they left for Galilee.” The Great Commission starts with the adverb “then,” which means “soon afterwards.” We might wonder, soon after what? The preceding verses tell how rapidly the opposition against the disciples had mobilized in Jerusalem. Specifically, some Jewish priests and Roman soldiers joined in a conspiracy to refute the resurrection. The environment for the disciples was hostile. Perhaps that’s one reason why Jesus arranged to meet them on a distant, undisclosed mountaintop in Galilee.

“Eleven disciples.” By mentioning the reduced number of disciples, the scripture alludes to several problems. Their team was incomplete. It would’ve been easy for the disciples to argue that more recruits were needed before the mission could get underway. Also, the disciples had few resources. And since Judas had been the treasurer, it was a sure bet that all their money was gone. They were broke! Yet, Jesus didn’t hold back on the Great Commission until these problems were resolved. Jesus commissioned the disciples as they were.

“Some doubted.” One more discouragement was the disciples’ ongoing struggle with uncertainties about Jesus.  As we know, the disciples were already notorious for showing little faith. Even after Jesus’ numerous resurrection appearances to them, their doubts never completely went away.

“Then Jesus came to them.” Once again the disciples experienced Jesus entering into their circmstances, coming to them amidst their limitations and obstacles. Even before Jesus proclaimed the Great Commission, he put it into action, empowering his disciples with his presence and inspiring them with his words.

As in the early Church, today’s disciples also contend with a full range of difficulties—external resistance, shortages of funds and workers. The conditions for the church’s mission are never ideal. And after almost 2,000 years, we still have doubts. Of course, it’s healthy for us to critique the effectiveness of our mission methods. Raising hard questions about the means and goals of our mission efforts is beneficial and needed if we’re to be faithful to changing situations.

However, doubts also can also draining and demoralizing. At times we might become paralyzed, for example, by fears that we’ll repeat the mission mistakes of previous generations. We might dismiss our legacy of mission accomplishments, burdened by guilt over cultural imperialism and paternalistic practices. We’re torn over how to promote our own faith while respecting the faiths of others. In some cases, we might wonder if the Christian gospel is really more godly or true than other beliefs.

Just as he did to the first disciples, Jesus comes to us. He enters our context, already familiar with its limitations, risks and pitfalls. He penetrates our lives, fully aware of the ambivalences within us. And then Jesus does the same thing that he did on the mountaintop in Galilee, sending us out to serve and make disciples. Remarkably, Jesus doesn’t reveal any doubts about us. He believes we can fulfill our mission to serve in the world, if we’ll trust that he’ll fulfill his mission to empower us as his servants. Apparently, it’s in the process of serving that our faith grows and our doubts disappear.

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