Monthly Archives: October 2013

Our Latest Newsletter from Guatemala

Grace to you, and greetings in Christ from Guatemala!

The Apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:4, teaches, “There are different kinds of gifts.” How tragic it is when gifts are cast aside because they’re not understood.

In August, I accompanied a team from the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest on a visit to several Poqomchí congregations in the mountains of Baja Verapáz. After worship in the village of La Pinada, we were ushered to a table where members served us roast chicken, squash, and stacks of tortillas. As we ate, a woman kindly placed raw cacao pods in front of us and we commented on how attractive they were. Afterwards, we offered thanks for the delicious meal and exchanged farewells. During the bumpy, 4-hour ride to our hotel, I pondered the meaning of the cacao pods. To my chagrin, it dawned on me that they were gifts for us, gifts that we’d left on the table.

The cacao tree is native to the Americas, the words “cocoa” and “chocolate” being derived from the Mayan Ka’kau’ and Chocol’ha.  Cacao beans were once used as currency by the ancient Mayans, whose religion held that the gods made humans from corn, and then gave them the gift of cacao. Our group hadn’t recognized such a valuable gift, and left the cacao behind.

The Poqomchí are one of Guatemala’s smaller Mayan groups. They’re subsistence farmers that have suffered a long history of domination, first by the pre-colonial Quiché, then the Spanish, and more recently by large, politically-powerful landholders. The Poqomchí have historically belonged to the Catholic Church, which in their region typically features vivid public ceremonies, personal gestures of piety, with underlying pagan traditions. Many Poqomchí don’t find these religious practices meaningful, and they turn into nominal Christians.

For over a century Presbyterians have reached into communities where Catholicism has been the only religious option. This outreach now includes the Poqomchi, who are beginning to appreciate the simple, participatory ways that Presbyterians practice their faith. The emphasis on the role of elders resonates with them, as does the active leadership of women.  In Poqomchí churches, married couples customarily serve together as elders. Last year I was honored to install seven such couples, as well as baptize 28 adults in the remote village of Janauté (See photo of elder couples in La Pinada).DSC01278

Ministry with the Poqomchi hasn’t been risk-free. While the Inland Northwest team visited the village of Rivakó in August, local Presbyterian leaders told how their new temple was almost torn down by a mob of local Catholics. The mob was fueled by the false accusation that the temple was financed by a nearby unpopular, foreign-owned hydro-electric plant. Last year, when I visited a Poqomchí church in Januaté, local Catholics had been erecting wire barricades on the road to keep Presbyterians out.

Despite such obstacles, the Presbyterian ministry keeps moving forward. For example, three years ago the congregation in La Pinada was operating in a small board structure high up in the hills. The pastor, Carlos, had no training. Since then they’ve built a beautiful concrete temple right off the main road (see photo). DSC01276The pastor, along with four Poqomchí colleagues, is attending a Presbyterian theological education program in the city of Cobán. All five of them are set to graduate in December from this program, which receives help from the PC(USA). They requested communion sets for their churches, which I was able to round up with help from PC(USA) partners. In the near future, the Poqomchí hope to form a presbytery of their own.

It’s a gift for Bacilia and me to be involved in God’s mission in Guatemala. Thank you, whatever your different gifts of support might be—prayers, offerings, visits, or letters. If you’re just learning about God’s mission in Guatemala, will you consider coming alongside of us in your prayers, correspondence and financial gifts?  We’ve learned a lesson from the Cacao pods, and assure you that your gift isn’t being left on the table. On the contrary, your support makes possible the connection between U.S. and Poqomchí Presbyterians. May none of us ever cease to value and share the greatest gift of all, God’s Son who was sent because of God’s love for the world.

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“The Word of God Is not Bound!”

This past week I joined leaders from the IENPG in contacting three indigenous presbyteries that are great partnership prospects for US churches. It was a good trip; I didn’t have to drive this time. Also, no accidents happened along the way and the roads are excellent, many of them recently paved. Mostly, there’s lots of comaraderie in these trips, both with fellow travelers and with our hosts at each stop. We talked about 2 Timothy 1:9, which declares that “the word of God is not bound!” What a blessing it is to roaming around Guatemala together, sharing, learning, and witnessing the ways that the Gospel in on the move, despite many obstacles that could restrain it.

First. we traveled to the Iglesia Reformada de Guatemala, comprised of six small churches in and around the town of Cubulco, in the hills of Baja Verapáz. These churches, of the Achí indigenous culture, began several decades ago as a mission of the Reformed Church of Canada. Now they’re in the process of joining the IENPG. Officers of the IENPG were on hand to field questions about the Presbyterian constitution, discipline, rights and responsibilities, and next steps. (See photos of the group dialogue and the Cubulco church)Cubulco TempleCubulco Oct. 2013

The next day we stopped at the Presbiterio Franja Transversal del Norte (literally “Presbytery of the Northern Transversal Belt”). Their eight rural, Q’eqchi’ congregations are in the lowlands of Alta Verapáz. Faced with few resources and little training, show a passionate drive for opening new churches and building up existing ones. (See photos of women preparing the meal)DSC01358 The third day we reached Playa Grande, hub of the Presbiterio Q’eqchi’ Ixcán. This is a remote presbytery with 21 churches in rough, remote terrain in northern Quiché Department. (See new temple under construction in Playa Grande)DSC01362

Since all of these groups are eager to form links with US churches, we dialogued at each stop with pastors and church leaders about understandings of international partnership. There was general agreement about the need to steer clear of outmoded patterns of paternalism and dependency, choosing instead healthy sister relationships based on mutuality and interdependency.  We discussed expectations for receiving international visitors, in particular a group from the Presbytery of Denver (PCUSA) that will be arriving in early November to explore potential partnerships in Guatemala. A demonstration of how God’s word “is not bound” is the strong commitment of so many Christians in Guatemala and the U.S. to not be limited to small circles of faith  that are restricted by language and cultural differences.

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