Monthly Archives: February 2013

Strides in Indigenous Education (Part Two)

DSC00994     On Monday night a dedication service marked the start of a new theological training program for indigenous pastors and elders in the city of Cobán. Participants in the simple service described the program as a “historic” and “thrilling” response to the clamor for high-quality educational opportunities for indigenous leaders. Enrollment capacity was supposed to be 40, but 46 students were allowed to sign-up. There’s already a waiting list for others who hope to join the next time. Another 16 students of the Q’anjob’al Presbytery have enrolled in the same program and are receiving classes concurrently in the town of San Juan Ixcoy in Huehuetenango.

Students come from Q’eqchi’, Poqomchí and Ixil congregations, SAM_2707from eight presbyteries in Guatemala’s northern region. During this first of five week-long sessions, courses are on biblical theology and Reformed doctrine. Future sessions will be about Presbyterian history, polity and liturgy, as well as pastoral functions and responsibilities. Graduates from the program will receive a diploma in pastoral proficiency.DSC00997

This program is a collaboration of the Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary, the La Patria School in Quetzaltenango, the Bi-national Walton Committee, of which I’m a part, and the eight indigenous presbyteries.  All have worked closely together in the process of planning and implementation. Registration and materials, as well as housing and meals, are being provided at no cost to students, who are mostly bi-vocational pastors that make a living in the corn, coffee and sugarcane fields. The commitment of the students is to pay for their own transportation to Cobán, to take time off from their jobs and, of course, to complete course requirements.

(Photos: Inaugural service in Cobán, students in San Juan Ixcoy, and students in Cobán)


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Strides in Indigenous Education (Part One)

In 1990, a million-dollar endowment was established by Sam and Helen Walton, of Walmart fame, to advance education in Guatemala’s indigenous presbyteries. She had made a personal trip to Guatemala and was moved by the cultures and struggles of the indigenous people. Earnings from the Walton endowment helped support the training of indigenous pastors until 2006, when the funds were suspended by the Presbyterian Foundation over concerns about some of the ways that the money was handled. For the funding to be restored, a new accord has been needed between the IENPG and the PCUSA about the management of these funds.

Today an all-day meeting was held to reorganize the Bi-national Walton Funds Committee with representatives of the different indigenous presbyteries, the Presbyterian Seminary, the national church, and me as a representative of the PCUSA.  Over the course of 6-hours, the group discussed a “holistic plan” with proposals for future use and administration of the funds once they’re restored. A strong, positive spirit of determination and cooperation was evident throughout the discussions.

The Bi-national Committee already has revived a scholarship program for indigenous secondary students at the La Patria school in Cobán, and has facilitated with the seminary the creation of a pastoral training extension school for eight Q’eqchi’ presbyteries. The inauguration of courses will be in Cobán next Monday, so afterwards I’ll publish “part two” of this post with news about what happened.

DSC00990     A new mission statement that the Bi-national Committee adopted reads: “With gratitude to God for inspiring the Walton family’s commitment to advancing the wellbeing of the Presbyterian mission in Guatemala, with emphasis on the needs of the indigenous, through the PC(USA}, we seek to utilize this resource according to the purposes defined in the original agreement, according to the PC(USA)’s  rules of financial accountability of the PCUSA, to help in the development of indigenous pastors and leaders of the IENPG so that they may serve more effectively in their churches and communities and be more fully integrated into the IENPG’s mission.”

Photo of Bi-national Walton Fund Committee: Pascual Vargas of the Q’anjob’al Presbytery; Philip Beisswenger of the PC(USA); Laurence Barrios of the Maya Quiche Biblical Institute; Israel Pérez of the Mam Center; Ranferí Marcos of the IENPG Executive Committee; Saul Pérez of the Kaqchiquel Seminary; Mateo Coc Coc for the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries; and German Gomez, Secretary. (Doesn’t appear: Jenner Miranda of the Presbyterian Evangelical Seminary)

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New Temple Dedicated in Sayaxché

“Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”  —John 7:38

Tuesday, February 12, was Mardi Gras in Sayaxché, Petén, and costumed kids paraded through the town. DSC00962These festivities seemed tame, however, compared to the excitement on the same day at the new Presbyterian Church. Hundreds of well-wishers rode in trucks from across the Petén Q’eqchi’ Presbytery (PQP) to attend the church’s dedication that afternoon.  A 13-member team from the Presbytery of Middle Tennessee (PMT) was on hand, representing the partnership that provided most of the funding for the land and construction materials.  The team included members from nine different churches, and three pastors.DSC00983

The event started with a symbolic ribbon cutting. Once the doors opened up, the temple filled quickly for the four-hour worship service. Each of the presbytery’s eight churches, including Sayaxché’s new congregation (see photo), came forward to contribute songs and greetings. A band from one of the churches kept the service rocking. The moderator and permanent secretary of the IENPG drove from Guatemala City to offer their greetings and support. DSC00975There were other musical performances, a wedding, several more songs by the PMT team (see photo of Rev. Andy Gay, Sally Slayden-Berry, and Barb Hall), and a sermon by Rev. Warner Durnell, Executive Presbyter for the PMT.  The IENPG Permanent Secretary, Pastor Isaías García, presented a certificate of appreciation to the PMT for its long-standing commitment to this partnership. After an announcement that the church was to be named “Rivers of Living Water Presbyterian Church,” the moderator, Miguel Ortega, pronounced a prayer of dedication. Following the service, a meal was served. A small steer was butchered for the occasion, and each of the churches contributed sacks of corn for tortillas.DSC00977

During the week that the PMT team visited in the Petén, we met with the PQP’s executive committee to discuss the renewal of the partnership covenant. We also paid visits to every church, driving to remote villages that aren’t easy to get to, where the team was warmly welcomed and fed. Simple services were held with the local congregations, along with children’s crafts and games. Dialogues took place with pastors and church leaders to share about their church’s activities, goals and needs. (See photo of Pastor Miguel Putul and church women in the village of Zapotal II)

DSC00986The image of living water is fitting for this presbytery-to-presbytery relationship. Just as Christ’s living water springs forth from a limitless source of grace in the hearts of believers, marvelous things keep flowing from this partnership of faith, offering new life to all who are part of it.


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A Momentous Boost for the Guatemala Mission Network

DSC00917The gathering of the Guatemala Mission Network in Guatemala City is now over, and it’s amazing how much energy and activity got crammed into 2 ½ days. A total of 56 registrants attended, including 19 representatives from 12 U.S. presbyteries and churches, 4 Central American mission co-workers, 27 registrants from 12 IENPG partner presbyteries, plus 11 national church officers.

I haven’t been able to look over evaluations yet, but my impression is the meeting was valuable in lots of ways. Contacts and relationships were formed and crucial information was shared. DSC00902There was frank dialogue with denominational leaders about working better in covenant, and steps were made toward clarifying the network’s purpose and organization. I didn’t notice major glitches, except for one unfortunate U.S. participant whose suitcase arrived three days late. Meals were diverse and delicious. The Hotel Centenario provided a safe, convenient place to rest. DSC00894Our hosts at Central Presbyterian Church showed tremendous hospitality. Not only did they open their doors for meetings, worship and meals, but they arranged for translators, musicians, sound technician, equipment, refreshments and nursery. In addition, the church prepared the closing service, which included a choir and Holy Communion.  (See photos from gathering)DSC00898

Lot of others pitched in towards the gathering’s success. PRESGOV kindly shuttled folks from the airport and back, and took in stride the theft of the hubcaps from one of its vans in front of the church.  The IENPG International Relations Committee took charge of registration. Tracey King-Ortega facilitated discussions about mission and partnership, overcoming a sudden illness that sent her to the hospital. A host of presenters came from all over Guatemala to share about Presbyterian women and youth, plans for the nation’s first Presbyterian university, new theological training, and responses to natural disasters along with chronic social needs. Living Waters for the World gave resources about meeting needs for clean water in communities. Partners also spent time together to develop their own projects and relationships.

     Mil gracias (many thanks!) for the devotion of the planners, promoters, participants, presenters and patrons of this effort to strengthen and expand our partnerships on all levels. Special thanks to the PC(USA) partners that made special contributions to underwrite the costs of Guatemalan participants.

An ad hoc collection of PCUSA participants held talks apart from the schedule to start creating a network mission statement that will be refined during bi-monthly Skype conference calls that will be open for anyone in the network. Stay tuned for an announcement. Here’s the first draft of the statement:

We assume that our activities complement the Great Ends of the Church as defined by our denominational theology and described in our constitutions. We agree that we will “do mission in partnership” with our mission partner(s) in Guatemala.

The purpose of our network is to articulate, advocate and educate presbyteries, congregations and mission groups for effective and faithful partnerships, so that we clearly proclaim why we do it and that we can:

  • Be a source of mutual support for one another,
  • Be a witness to the unity of our faith shared across our multiple cultures,
  • Be an instrument for more effective and meaningful mission in Guatemala,
  • Be a medium for sharing acquired knowledge and best practices for successful partnerships, while allowing for self-correction,
  • Share experiences we have with other mission agencies.

In order to accomplish our purpose, we will

  • Organize biennial meetings between the IENPG and PC(USA),
  • Organize gatherings for education among the English-speaking partners initially, and as we develop,
  • Expand these to include our Spanish-speaking partners…

It was a full week for me, sandwiched between trips to the Mam Presbytery near Quetzaltenango and the Q’anjob’al Presbytery in northern Huehuetenango.  (See photos of Mam women with Jim Mosely of New Castle Presbytery and Q’anjobal leaders with Ron Cowgill of Cincinnati Presbytery.)  DSC00891DSC00911Now some financial issues have to be sorted out regarding PC(USA) costs and contributions which PRESGOV has been handling diligently. In all things, God’s Spirit is on the move in this network, and there’s no question but that God will provide what’s needed for our network to fulfill its mission.

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