Monthly Archives: November 2012

News from Chajul

The three days after Thanksgiving were spent up in the Ixil Triangle of northern Quiche Department with a small team from Central Presbyterian Church that included Pastor Jenner Miranda, Elder Moisés Lopez, and five others. The weather there was drizzly and cold, and we could see our breath through each day. As it turned out, most of us slept in our clothes at night to keep warm.

We left Friday morning, arriving in time for an evening session with the elders at the congregation in Chajul. The agenda featured a proposed covenant agreement that would formalize their partnership with Williamsburg (Virginia) Presbyterian Church. A group from Williamsburg plans to come in January to ratify the agreement and discuss joint projects for the future. Also, the elders were excited about having signed a deal on some local property for the construction of their permanent church building. The land, which we went to look at on Saturday, is a steep, rocky slope that the men have been excavating by hand to make suitable for construction (see photo).  

On Saturday morning we drove over to the town of San Juan Cotzal for a baptism service by a lovely, gushing stream, and we handed out to children Christmas cards made at last weeks’ Vacation Bible School at Central Church (See photo). Then we walked to the congregation’s little temple for worship, and they served us little tamales called “chuchitos.” That afternoon we visited an independent church in Chajul that has asked to become Presbyterian. The congregation numbers 250 members, and 60 others at a preaching point about 2 ½ hours distance further north. We were greeted by a large, enthusiastic crowd that listened intently to presentations by Jenner and me about Presbyterianism and the steps that they’d need to follow. They served us big bowls of hot turkey soup, and overall made a very positive impression on us. (See photos of their building and the meeting)

We worshiped with the Chajul congregation early Sunday morning. I was asked to preach, and Jenner administered Communion.  These mission trips generally include plenty of unplanned ministries like praying for the homebound sick, encouraging young people worried about unemployment, joining impromptu games with kids, and fielding requests for favors. When we arrived back in Guatemala City late Sunday night, all of us seemed to be quite weary, and also eager to return to Chajul at the next opportunity.


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Covenant Signed between South Alabama and Chiséc Presbyteries

A covenant agreement was ratified on Nov. 16 by the Presbytery of South Alabama and the Qéqchi’ Chiséc Presbytery (Presbiterio Q’eqchi’ Chisec, or PQC). The five-year covenant includes commitments to pray for, learn about, and respect each other; to collaborate in church and community development, to exchange visits; and to worship and fellowship together. The event took place at the Canaan Presbyterian Church during the plenary session of the PQC on Nov. 16. An afternoon of dialogue preceded the service, with sharing of ideas about addressing needs such as more pastoral training, better access to clean water, and ministries with youth and children.

The service already had featured eleven baptisms, the wedding of two couples, and the installation of youth officers (see photo). A small team from PSA came for the event—Executive Presbyter Samford Turner, Partnership Moderator Dan McLeave, and Partnership Committee Member Valerie Harden. Excitement surged through the sanctuary when they and PQC counterparts stepped forward to sign the agreement (see lead photo). During the ceremony the South Alabama representatives were each presented with hand-made shoulder bags (see photo). Afterwards, Samford Turner preached about how “we are one body.”

The visit by the South Alabama team also included a meeting at the La Patria Norte school in Cobán, a gathering at another PQC church in the Nueve Cerros community (see photo), and attendance at the 130th anniversary celebration at the Central Presbyterian Church in Guatemala. As they departed for Alabama, there was a strong sense that they already had begun to fulfill the main stated objective of the partnership— “to glorify Jesus Christ and to further Christ’s Kingdom in our different parts of the world.”


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(Updated Saturday) On Wednesday morning, an earthquake hit near Guatemala’s Pacific Coast, measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale. Considering the magnitude, it’s amazing that destruction and casualties weren’t more extensive. Praise God! The last time Guatemala suffered a big earthquake in 1976, the death toll was 23,000. So far this time, 42 deaths have been reported in the western mountainous areas of San Marcos, Quetzaltenango, and Sololá. At least another 22 people are missing, and over a 1.2 million people have been affected somehow. Businesses collapsed, and over 8,000 houses were damaged to varying degrees. Rockslides closed some major highways, and electricity and water went out in large areas. For the most part these services have been restored. Although the coastal region of Retalhuleu was nearer to the epicenter, damage there was allayed because the land is denser than in the volcanic highlands. (See photos of San Marcos, from La Prensa Libre)

There have been no reports of Presbyterian churches that were harmed, but the national church is surveying the different presbyteries to make sure.  No PCUSA mission personnel were hurt. According to Pastor Aurelio Cárcamo, moderator of the Occidente Presbytery that includes San Marcos and Quezaltenango, none of their churches were affected. He added, however, that his home in Champerico, on the coast, suffered structural damage and cracks in the walls.

Strong tremors were felt throughout most of the country. I was preaching at a women’s meeting at Guatemala City’s Central Church, when the floor started shaking and chandeliers swinging. Worshippers headed for the doors, but then waited to see if it got worse, which it didn’t. The women sang choruses until nerves settled down, and we resumed the service. At school, our kids hid under their desks and then were evacuated momentarily before going back to class.

The Guatemalan government and other organizations have responded with shelters and assistance. President Otto Perez declared a red alert, three days of national mourning, and a 30-day state of calamity for eight western departments. Prayers for victims and the country as a whole are most appreciated.

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Preaching at Presbiterio del Occidente about Church Administration

After over three weeks of waiting for internet service to be installed in our new home, my laptop went on the blink and spent a week in the repair shop. In other words, I’m behind in updates about what’s happening in Guatemala. The past several weeks have carried me from one side of Guatemala to the next for meetings and preaching opportunities. The highlight was the last week of October, when I served as guest preacher at the plenary of the Presbiterio de Occidente, one of the country’s oldest and largest presbyteries. With 49 churches stretching across four departments in western Guatemala, it has a long-standing partnership with the PCUSA’s Minnesota Valley Presbytery. They were very friendly people and kind hosts.

My assignment was to deliver four sermons about church administration, which isn’t a subject for which I’ve felt a strong passion. Nonetheless, I assembled some thoughts based on the Bible and my pastoral experiences across the years. Here’s some of what I shared on the first night:

Mission and administration need each other, just like wine needs a wineskin and the heart needs a ribcage. Mission has a tendency towards change and advancement, whereas administration has a tendency towards order and preservation. The nature of mission is movement; for administration it’s management.

Adminisration literally means to be geared towards (ad) serving a cause larger than oneself (minister). It could be said that God’s creation was an act of both mission and, in a way, administration. God’s Spirit hovered over the chaos and emptiness, and then began to serve in the fulfillment of the divine cause. God started to create order, arranging lights, organizing spaces, and implementing a system of time. Then God gave structure to the heavens and the earth, distributing materials for sowing the land and providing food for the animals. At each step God upheld his plan, and then submitted an official report—“it was good.”

Our divine calling as human beings involves both mission and administration. This has been so ever since the creation, when God blessed the first humans with the mission to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” as well as the administrative task to “subdue and have dominion over it.” (Genesis 1:28) Then in Genesis 2:15, we find God putting human in the Garden of Eden to “till it” (mission) and to “keep it” (administration). In short, God placed us on the earth to serve by overseeing and expanding upon God’s plans for the earth.

All of us are created with natural gifts and abilities that we bring together to fulfill God’s purposes. As church pastors and elders, an important part of our administration is to help people identify and develop their gifts and abilities to that they can be useful instruments of grace in God’s mission. When someone is bored or discouraged in church, it might be that they haven’t found a meaningful way to use their gifts and abilities.

One of the best expressions of our leadership role was given by the Apostle Peter: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of god, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10) As administrators of the body of Christ, we have a responsibility to help others find the place of service where they can use their gifts. As it’s been said, talent is God’s gift to us, and what we do with our talent is our gift to God.

I recall meeting a teenager while on a mission trip to Panama over twenty years ago. His name was Marcos Morales. The mission team was comprised of Methodists from Middle Tennessee. (I was a Methodist pastor then.) Our project was the building of an orphanage in a small village in the far west part of the country. Marcos was a youth leader from the local church, and he came across immediately as bright, energetic, and committed to his community. He also spoke some English, which was an added endearment for our team members. Every day Marcos showed up to volunteer at the work site, always seeming to find a place where he was needed, digging, mixing concrete, or tying rebar. He never seemed to expect anything in return.

On the last day of work, I happened to sit down for lunch with Marcos. I asked Marcos about his future plans. He’d tried studying psychology at the university in Panama City, but after a year grew frustrated and dropped out. He returned home, unsure what to do next. As we ate our sandwiches, I mentioned that the ministry might be worth considering. His reaction was a strong negative. When I wondered why not, he answered that he didn’t think he had what it took to be a pastor. My response was that he seemed to have lots of gifts that would be useful in the ministry. Marcos’ answer was that he just didn’t feel that God had called him. Next out of my mouth was: “Marcos, do you think it’s possible that God is calling you today, right here, through me?”

It wasn’t out of pushiness or presumption that I blurted out such words. Though the question caught both of us by surprise, it flowed naturally out of the conversation. Marcos remained quiet for several moments before I asked him again if God might be using our conversation as a way of calling him. At last he replied that it was possible. We prayed together, and the next morning bid farewell.

Several months later, back in the church I pastored in Cowan, Tennessee, I received a letter from Marcos. He wrote that he had given much thought and prayer to our talk, and that he’d discerned that God was calling him into the ministry. He’d begun the process of enrolling in a seminary. Over the years I’ve kept up with Marcos, and he’s still serving God as a pastor in western Panama.

It’s quite common for us to claim that we don’t have a gift or a calling. Sometimes we’re not aware of our gifts, and it’s helpful for others to point them out to us. Other times we deny our gifts for the sake of convenience, because we’re looking for an easy path instead of the right path. As administrators of manifold grace of God, one of our great responsibilities is to guide others as they come to grips with the gifts that God has granted them, and to remove the barriers that might prevent them from using them to God’s glory and to their own fulfillment.

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