Monthly Archives: August 2013

Update on Initiatives in Cobán

Efforts to establish a strong, holistic Presbyterian presence in the city of Cobán continue to gain strength. As of this week, the Presbyterian Seminary’s theological education program is into the 4th of 5 week-long sessions, with 51 students in attendance (see photo of some of them). DSC01329The commitment of the students hasn’t waned a bit, and none have dropped out. Feedback from students is that the program is “magnificent” and “very relevant to the needs of our churches and presbyteries.” Despite economic hardship, students keep scraping together their bus fares for travel to Cobán. All of them are on track to graduate, and a cap and gown ceremony will be help for them on December 4.

On Monday afternoon,  high spirits were evident at a planning meeting with representatives from the seminary, the La Patria schools from Quetzaltenango and Guatemala City, the Bi-national Walton Committee, and all eight Q’eqchi’ presbyteries (see photo). DSC01327-001The purpose was to evaluate the current training program and to prepare for next year. All agreed that the program in Cobán should be repeated for another 50 indigenous students, with emphasis on enrolling more women this time. Plans are also underway for a simultaneous adult literacy program for pastors and church leaders that would need to improve the Spanish reading and writing skills before moving onto a higher level of seminary study.

Work continues on the “Presbyterian Complex” on the outskirts of Cobán, which will include a school, theological training center, church and manse. Over the summer, three PC(USA) groups helped on the initial construction project—a storage building (see photo). DSC01331They came from Kenosha, WI, Washington State, and Cincinnati, OH. Many thanks to these teams and their PC(USA) supporters. More teams are slated to come in the early months of 2014 and next summer.  Volunteers from several of the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries came to work alongsid these teams, and the presbyteries have offered to help raise money and provide workers to build the guest house that will provide lodging for the theological students in years to come.

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Trying to Keep up with Summer Teams

The past month I’ve accompanied four overlapping teams of U.S. Presbyterians visiting in different regions of Guatemala. With no spare days, I fell way behind in my blog posting. Yes, each team deserves a separate write-up. However, in the interest of not putting off reporting any longer, I’ll briefly summarize what happened, along with some photos.

Sycamore PC (Presbytery of Cincinnati), July 12-21: This group of 23 youth and adult sponsors travelled to the Q’anjob’al Presbytery high into the Cuchumatan mountains. They came on behalf of the partnership that the Q’anjob’al have with the Presbytery of Cincinnati.  Together with Q’anjob’al 30 youth, the Sycamore team labored and sweated through the week at the presbytery’s center—digging trenches, moving rocks, and pouring concrete (see photo). DSC01246Lots of sharing of games and testimonies helped the youth to bond despite cultural and language barriers. They also held an afternoon Bible school for younger children, with skits, crafts and music. Special moments were a soccer match between the Americans and Guatemalans, and a day-long hike to a gorgeous waterfall called Pepajau. The team presented a laptop and projector, as well as a suitcase of soccer balls, to the Q’anjob’al Presbytery’s youth organization. Many hugs, gifts, and other gestures of affection were exchanged at the farewell service, including a gift to me of a ceramic Mayan statue that a local farmer discovered in a field (see photo). DSC01309The Presbytery of Cincinnati plans to send another team at the beginning of the next year to flesh out the terms of a renewed covenant.

South Jacksonville (Florida) PC, July 20-27: Comprised of 12 members of South Jacksonville PC, this team stopped by our house for lunch shortly after arrival. Then they moved on to the farming community of Ocosito, near Retalhuleu, where their hosts greeted them with high enthusiasm at the Monte Hermón Presbyterian Church. An initial ceremony included the presentation of both nation’s flags and the singing of national anthems (see photo). DSC01254The welcome service featured a marimba ensemble and a gospel guitar trio. The focus of the visit was on the needs of the wider area. One day a busload of folks from Monte Hermón joined us for outreach to an island called El Chico. We climbed aboard long outboards (see photo) that carried us through mangroves to this remote beach settlement where we worshipped with the small Presbyterian congregaDSC01262tion and distributed school supplies and food staples. The next day was filled with visits to four local schools plus a nursing home, singing and praying at each stop. The team passed out school supply kits to all the students, and monetary gifts at the nursing home. On another day the two churches painted the dining room at the Presbyterian Seminary. The last day took place on the grounds of Monte Hermón, where we participated in a ground-breaking ceremony for a new manse. The local women shared some of their favorite traditional dishes, while we Americans grilled sliders for everybody.

Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, July 25-August 5: This team began with a 3-day journey to the awesome Mayan ruins of Tikal, in the northern Petén region. They then ventured into the Alta Verapáz Department to be with their presbytery partner, the Polochíc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery. A team priority was to connect with remote congregations of the Poqomchí culture (see photos)DSC01280 DSC01276that are reachable by 4-wheel-drive vehicles.   Presbyterianism is growing quickly, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic Church. We participated in worship at each village, with sermons being translated from English to Spanish to Q’eqchi’ to Poqomchí. The next stage of the trip was at the Presbytery’s headquarters in La Tinta, consulting with their executive committee about future project plans and the renewal of the covenant between the two presbyteries. We also enjoyed a warm, insightful meeting with Polochíc women leaders during which they shared some of the difficulties women face in a society known for machismo. The team then moved into Cobán for several days of work on the new Presbyterian complex that will include a school, theological center, and church. The trip ended in Guatemala City with worship at the Central Presbyterian Church, a get-together with the Permanent Secretary of the IENPG, Pastor Isaías Garcia, and supper at our house.

Northminster Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, August 1-8: Five leaders from Northminster visited Cobán to explore the creation of a partnership with a new church development (NCD) in the city of Cobán. They were met at the airport by Isaías Garcia and me. On the first day, the Northminster and Inland Northwest teDSC01303am united to watch a parade of schools in the Cobán area, part of annual festivities of the city’s patron saint, Santo Domingo (see photo). We then held a productive session with the Cobán NCD commission, dialoguing about partnership principles and potential goals. The dialogue will continue. To get a sense of the natural beauty of the region, the team traveled to Semuc Champey, a chain of turquoise pools that descend along a limestone bridge.  We worshipped together alongside one of the pools while minnows nibbled our feet. For several days, we worked with volunteers from the Chisec Presbytery, raising block walls for a storage building at the Presbyterian complex. (see photo) DSC01306The final day in Coban featured a farewell presentation at the local Presbyterian school, displaying Christian music, traditional dress, and national symbols. After the return drive to Guatemala City, the team joined our family for supper at our house. A spirit of gratitude filled the table around which we gathered. Thanks to God for watching over this team, and each of these great summer teams and their Guatemalan partners. God blessed us with wonderful (usually) weather, good (mostly) health, rich, new relationships, and unforgettable experiences as participants in Christ’s global mission.

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