Monthly Archives: December 2012

The “Mayan Apocalypse” of Baktún 13

The news is reporting panic in some parts of the world caused by predictions of the “Mayan apocalypse” on December 21. Baktún 13 falls on this date, the end of the 5,125-year “Long Count” Mayan calendar of 394-year periods called baktúns. In far-flung places like Russia, China, France and the U.S., Baktún 13 has provoked increased sales of surv450px-Tikal_Temple1_2006_08_11[1]ival shelters, food provisions, and emergency gear. Doomsday theories have surged too, along with monetary scams. Authorities as diverse as NASA and the Vatican have appealed for calm, concerned that frightened children might lose sleep, or that depressed teenagers might turn suicidal. Scholars have been busy debunking rumors about planetary collisions, giant solar storms, or a flipping of the Earth’s magnetic poles. Meanwhile, mystics and occult experts relish the focus on cosmic mysteries and a new era of enlightenment. One New Age campaign is Birth 2012, which has organized 40 events around the globe in the hope that Baktún 13 will launch a spiritual reset of international kindness and hope.

In Guatemala, the cradle of Mayan civilization, this occasion, which also coincides with the winter solstice, hasn’t generated much fear about the world’s end. Pracitioners of Mayan spirituality view Baktún 13 as a cycle of renewal and positive change, and have been igniting sacred flames on altars at well-known ruins. Neither Catholic nor Protestant churches seem to sense a need to challenge the religious basis of this event, which is widely regarded as a celebration of Mayan roots, a way to attract tourists and, perhaps, raise consciousnes about climate issues. Hotels have long been sold out for the later parts of December, and tourism reportedly has increased 12% over last year. However, the influx of foreign visitors hasn’t met expectations, and Guatemala is seen as having been out-maneuvered by Mexico. Guatemala’s Tourism Institute has organized concerts, astronomy conferences, and cultural and religious acts at archeological sites around the country. The most prominent events will take place at Tikal (seen in photo). On the evening of December 20, Tikal’s central plaza will be illuminated by hundreds of flood lights, and activities will be broadcast live by satellite around the globe. On December 21, when the dawn ushers in the new baktún, over 100 spiritual guides and ethnic leaders will participate in what’s billed as the “largest and most significant Mayan ceremony of the contemporary era.” Government officials in the Petén, where Tikal and other major Mayan temples are located, have declared a “yellow alert” to ensure public safety.

Some indigenous groups complain that the event has been too commercialized, and that they’ve been sidelined in the planning by the government and tourism industry. Mayan political organizations have pointed out that, despite the renewed attention given to their culture and ancient religious worldviews, the government has refused this year to enact legislation that would protect their rights and develop their communities. Instead, 2012 has been marked by a massacre of indigenous protesters, evictions of peasants, and land grabs in indigenous areas by foreign mining companies.

Post-Apocalypse Update: The Baktún 13 celebration/apocalypse came and went. Special events took place at archeological sites around the country. Our family looked for some meaningful way to participate in this cultural event in the Guatemala City area, but we didn’t find one.  Although government employees got the day off, life carried on as normal for most of Guatemala. No one appears surprised or disappointed that the earth wasn’t destroyed. At dawn on Friday, over 7,000 people gathered at Tikal to watch Mayan priests mark the beginning of new cosmic era with ancestral dances and light ceremonies. Months ago it was hoped that movie stars like Mel Gibson and big-name musical acts, like Bono, Bruce Springsteen, and Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona, would made appearances. However, they were no-shows. Meanwhile, criticism was unabated about how events catered primarily to tourists caught up in the frenzy about “the end of the world.” Most of the indigenous, who are Catholic or Protestant, seemed disconnected. Finally, one of Tikal’s most famous structures, Temple 2, was irreparably damaged by crowds of tourists that ignored signs forbidding them to climb the ancient stairs, causing the stones to crumble under their feet.


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2012 Christmas Newsletter

Grace to you, and Advent greetings from Guatemala!

For many in Guatemala, the holidays start with DSC00710“La Quema del Diablo” (the burning of the devil). On Dec. 7, prior to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, people comb their homes looking for unwanted stuff they can pile into big bonfires. It’s burned along with effigies of Satan as a symbolic ridding of evil powers. The smoke and soot in the air, along with noise from firecrackers, is supposed to scare off wicked spirits. As a finale, men dress up in devil costumes and children gleefully chase them around.

As you’d expect, most Protestants tend to abstain from this Catholic-oriented tradition. For the past two years our family has done our own version. We’ve bought a red devil piñata in the market, having it signify the ungodly “stuff” that can interfere with our appreciation for Jesus’ birth. We’ve stuffed it with firecrackers and lit a match to it (to our kids’ delight) as a vivid and loud prelude to the tranquil Advent practices that point to the approaching “Light of the world.”

This year the Evangelical National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) celebrated 50 years of autonomy from U.S. Presbyterians. While the IENPG and the PCUSA enjoy historic ties, they strive to better fulfill partnership ideals. Two chronic challenges are paternalism and passivity. Paternalism occurs when we overpower the relationship with our resources and expectations, and passivity can appear when we allow our partnerships to be dysfunctional for fear of appearing paternalistic.

Philip has been busy with visits to presbyteries, accompanying groups, checking on projects, and also preaching and teaching around Guatemala. In mid-November, the South Alabama Presbytery signed a covenant with the Presbiterio Q’ eqchi ’ Chiséc. Several other new partnerships are in formation. Antigua’s first Presbyterian church was just chartered, and congregations are under development in Cobán and Sayaxché. An exciting new training program for Q’eqchi’ pastors is slated to start in January.

In Guatemala’s social arena, 2012 began with the inauguration of retired general Otto Perez as president. Concerns about a return of repression were heightened in early October when soldiers opened fire on indigenous protesters near Totonicapán, killing eight. This action was roundly condemned and led to a prohibition against soldiers at political demonstrations. As for weather, there were fears that the rainy season would bring destructive floods like in previous years. Instead of floods, however, we got a giant eruption at Volcán de Fuego in September that forced 17 villages to evacuate, and then a 7.2 magnitude earthquake in November that caused calamity in eight western departments.

DSC00718-001As for our family, the past year has gone well. Matthew and Manny entered the 5th and 2nd grades, and Stefi began kindergarten. We moved to a new house that’s within walking distance of the school. Niece Jesy was baptized, and Bacilia is in deaconess training at our church. We’re especially thankful for two memorable family trips—one to Bacilia’s hometown in Honduras during Holy Week, and another to Denver, Colorado in August for the wedding of Philip’s son Daniel to his new wife Holli.

We send our deep gratitude for supporters like you that enable us to participate in God’s mission in Guatemala. May your Christmas be filled with joyful moments and godly gifts, and through the next year may you keep chasing away “the devil” and putting out the welcome mat for Christ.

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

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Ice Skating in Parque Central

DSC00776-1DSC00789-1DSC00775Guatemala City is holding it’s first-ever Christmas Festival in the Central Plaza. The park has been converted into a make-shift Christmas Bazaar, with craft and food booths, a children’s train and climbing wall by the fountain, a snow toboggan slide by the flag pole, Christmas tree near the band shell, and Santa Claus wandering through the crowds. Best of all there’s no charge for any of the activities, making them accessible to the lower class, largely indigenous Guatemalans that tend to frequent the park.

An ice rink, constructed across from the Cathedral, is the biggest hit of the festival. Adults and children wait in line either for free admission bracelets, or else to get a seat in the grandstand and watch. The bracelet entitles anyone to a pair of skates and 45 minutes skating time. It’s all nicely setup, although almost half the rink is covered by a puddle of melted ice. Police officers help lace up skates, while warning about the dangers of the metal blades. Red Cross and EMT personnel stand by in case of injury. Most skaters inch along the wall, clinging for dear life. Some wobble towards the middle. A handful tries to gain speed, often making spectacular spills to the cheers and laughter of spectators in the grandstand.

After church today, Matthew and Manny were eager to hit the ice. When our turn came they caught on quickly. Stefi, more reluctant, was a wall hugger the whole time. I glided around, encouraging them, snapping some photos, rather surprised to find ourselves ice skating in Guatemala City.

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Guatemala Network to Meet in Guatemala City

¡Ya viene pronto! (coming soon!) DSC00328

The meeting of the PC(USA) Guatemala Mission Network.

Theme: “God’s People in Partnership: A Community of Mission Practice.”

Dates: Tuesday, January 29—Friday, February 1, 2013

Place: Historic Central Presbyterian Church (Iglesia Presbiteriana Central)

Accommodations: Hotel Centenario, Guatemala City, Guatemala DSC00311

Some Questions & Answers:

Who’s in the Guatemala Mission Network? PC(USA) presbyteries & churches that have partners within the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG)

What will happen at the meeting? We’ll cover lots of ground, such as our role as a “community of mission practice,” the status of the PC(USA) / IENPG covenant, workshops on disaster relief, water projects, advances in education, & protecting the environment, plus worshipping, sharing, encouraging & connecting.
What about costs? Registration for PC(USA) participants is $125, including accommodations & meals. Each PC(USA) partner is also asked to contribute $200 for Guatemalan partner attendance.

Will there be rides from the airport & back? Yes, PRESGOV will available to pick-up on Jan. 29 & drop off on Feb. 1, no charge!

How do I register? Send registration fee to Marissa Bustamante, Presbyterian Church (USA), 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY 40202-1396. Make checks payable to: Presbyterian Church (USA). Write “MT4581” in the memo space.

Who should I contact with questions? About registration, contact Marissa at 1-888-728-7228, ext. 5315. Her e-mail is: Also, contact Philip Beisswenger,, or Tracey King-Oretga,

Is there a deadline? Yes, funds need to be in by Jan. 7, 2013.

¡Hasta pronto, primero Dios!

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