Monthly Archives: April 2013

From the Polochic Valley to the Ixil Triangle

The past 3 weeks have included trips to Retalhuleu, Quetzaltenango, and Coban for visits to schools and churches.  Last week I had a 2-day visit with the Polochic Q’eqchi’ Presbytery in the Alta Verapáz Department. It’s the largest of eight Q’eqchi’ presbyteries, with 42 churches and congregations. It was good to see that crews are paving the road to La Tinta, where the presbytery’s plenary took place. Part of my job was to discuss plans for their partnership with the Inland Northwest Presbytery in the U.S. I preached at the evening and morning services, and also administered Holy Communion.  They were thrilled to receive communion sets for five Poqomchí congregations (see photo of presentation.)DSC01127

Back in Guatemala City, our 3 kids attended a 3-day children’s church camp on the outskirts of Guatemala City. They had a ball swimming, learning songs, skits, and games about how Jesus is our “lifeguard.” I got back in time to watch Manuel win a dance contest during the closing ceremony (see photo).DSC01119

Soon after returning from La Tinta, I joined a 3–day mission team to the Ixil triangle in northern Quiché Department. Guatemala City’s Central Presbyterian Church, the organizer of the trip, invited me to serve as the team pastor. Part of our team held a worship service along the Poyocá River outside Chajul on Saturday morning in Chajul that included twelve baptisms and the Lord’s Supper (see photos). DSC01140DSC01152In the afternoon we joined the rest of the team in San Juan Cotzal to help with a pediatric clinic and children’s ministry (see photo). I was asked to pray with patients after they saw the doctor and before they received medications. That evening several of us met with church elders to discuss plans to build a temple and an upcoming visit by a youth group from their partner church in Williamsburg, Virginia.

On Sunday morning at the church in Chajul, I preached again and officiated at a wedding. After the service, we joined the newlyweds, their families, and a host of well-wishers for a wedding procession to the bride’s home for a celebration (see photo). It’s a gift to be invited to the special moments in the lives of God’s people, and it’s a joy to imagine that in some way these simple visits around Guatemala might serve to enlarge Christ’s kingdom. DSC01161

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Thoughts on Guns and Cigarettes in Guatemala and the U.S.

In response to several tragic mass shooting, a push is underway in the U.S. to limit access to firearms and ammunition. For whatever they’re worth, here are some reflections on gun violence in the U.S. and Guatemala.

Guatemala is trying to come to terms with a gruesome past. The trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity is moving forward, with gripping testimony from victims of atrocities by Guatemala’s army in the Ixil region during the early 1980’s.

At the same time, Guatemala struggles to deal with a gruesome present. Each day’s newspapers reflect widespread violence, though crime statistics are improving slightly. It might be assumed that narcotrafficking is behind much of the killing, but crimes of passion, assaults, and assassinations by extortion rings seem to be the primary culprits. In any case, Guatemala suffers from deeply-seated culture of violence.

So, how does gun violence in the U.S. compare to Guatemala? First of all, the U.S. has the highest gun ownership rate in the world—an average of 88 per 100 people. Guatemala ranks #49.

Despite its high gun ownership rate, the U.S. doesn’t have the world’s highest firearm murder rate. That award goes to Honduras, Guatemala’s neighbor, with 68.43 shooting fatalities per 100,000 habitants. The U.S. has 2.97 gun-related homicides per 100,000, ranking it #28. Guatemala ranks #5 in the world, with 34.8. In the U.S., 60 % of homicides involve a firearm. In Guatemala, it’s a startling 84%.

According to GunPolicy.org, gun regulation overall in the U.S. is considered “permissive,” compared to Guatemala where it’s considered “restrictive.”

When I first came to Central America as a student in 1981, cigarettes were a dominant part of the culture.  Smoking was commonplace in movie theaters, busses, lines, and most businesses. People were expected to tolerate second-hand smoke virtually everywhere. Today, habits are much different. In Guatemala, a law went into effect in 2009 that bans smoking in workplaces, just like in the U.S.  At the same time, the glamor attached to cigarettes waned. This was achieved through campaigns to encourage quitting, as well as curbs on advertising by cigarette vendors. Sure, there are still smokers in Guatemala, but their numbers seem to have dropped sharply, and they’re much less noticeable.

So, what does this have to do with gun violence?  While gun rights and restrictions are being debated in the U.S., why not also address the glamorization of guns in U.S. culture? The entertainment industry makes large profits from TV shows, films, and video games that attach sex appeal to murder and mayhem. Yet this industry downplays, or even denies, a relationship between their product and the high popularity of guns in society. Hollywood downplays these ties, just like the tobacco industry once downplayed ties between smoking and cancer. Sure, graphic violence is a cash cow for Hollywood, but is it really that much of a sacred cow? Are we in the U.S. so spell-bound by celebrities that we won’t second-guess their industry’s reliance on gratuitous killing to make money?

My hope is for a movement to gain strength across the U.S. to de-glamorize violence, to make non-violence more fashionable, and to improve gun laws so that it’s harder for firearms to end up in the wrong hands.

I think Guatemala, like the rest of Central America, was influenced by the example of the U.S. in its steps to change its culture of smoking. How great it would be if the U.S. also set an example regarding gun deaths by changing its culture of violence.

 

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