To renew our Guatemalan visas, we have to travel every six months to the state of Chiapas in Mexico. This time we took a bus to the capital, Tuxtla Gutierrez. While there we enjoyed their excellent zoo, spotting animals like tapirs, jaguars and quetzals (see photos). We journeyed to the town of Chiapa de Corzo, seeing things like La Pila, an architecturally-striking community fountain where laundry’s been washed for over 500 years (see photo). A boat carried us through the narrows of the Cañon del Sumidero National Park. The park, home to wildlife such as egrets, crocodiles, and spider monkeys, features cliffs that soar up to a kilometer high (see photos). During the Spanish conquest, local natives leapt to their death from these cliffs to avoid slavery. We’re grateful for these kinds of side-trips that grant us a change of scenery, fun, learning adventures and, of course, our new visas on our way back into Guatemala.
For over a year I’ve served on the IENPG’s Commission for the New Church Development (NCD) in Cobán. Much of our focus has been on the search for a pastor for the project. We’ve met with numerous candidates but, for reasons we don’t fully understand, we haven’t found the person with the right qualities. For several months other commission members have asked if Bacilia and I might consider filling the position ourselves. Each time we’ve declined out of a conviction that the pastor should be a Guatemalan, and not thinking that it would fit-in with our mission co-worker assignment. Nonetheless, while trusting that the new pastor will hear and heed God’s call in due time, Bacilia and I began to wonder if we might at least help get the NCD started.
With both reluctance and excitement, I’ve agreed with the Commission to serve as the initial pastor from January until July 2014, when our period with PC(USA) World Mission is over. This is a volunteer call. Our family will travel to Cobán two weekends each month to make visits, develop the first group of congregants, train leaders, and organize basic church activities such as worship and Bible study. Another responsibility will be to facilitate connections between the NCD and the La Patria Norte School, the Seminary’s theological training program in Cobán, the surrounding Q’eqchi’ presbyteries, and the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. I’ll work on many of these ministries from our home in Guatemala City, while the process continues for a permanent pastor to take my place in August. An inaugural service for the NCD is planned for Monday, January 20, 2014, at the La Patria Norte School in Cobán.
Please keep us and this important mission effort in your prayers!
It’s been a week of breakthroughs for indigenous education in Guatemala. On Wednesday afternoon, graduation exercises took place at the La Patria Norte School in Cobán to award diplomas to 45 indigenous pastors and elders. Many brought their families and friends, and travelled long distances to get to Coban. For example, Gonzalo Macs from the Petén had to exit his bus and walk for 2 ½ hours with his wife and infant daughter to overcome a roadblock by protesters over the expansion of African Palm farming. A delegation from the PC(USA) was on hand as well—Maria Arroyo, Area Coordinator for Latin American and the Caribbean, and Angela Duffy, Legal Counsel for the Presbyterian Foundation.
(A similar graduation event was held in the Q’anjob’al Presbytery on Nov. 9 with 15 graduates.)
On the morning prior to the ceremony, representatives of the IENPG Executive Committee and Mission Board, Presbyterian Seminary, Bi-national Walton Committee, La Patria School, and the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries met to finalize plans for next year. They agreed to increase the number of scholarships from 5 to 8 per presbytery, and that future classes should be equally divided among men and women. New students will study Presbyterian Practical Theology, while 2nd year students will study Bible and Mission.
On Friday, after discussions on two days between PC(USA) and IENPG representatives, an agreement was reached over a million dollar endowment called the Walton Fund for Indigenous Education. (See photo) The funds were frozen in 2006 over concerns about improper utilization. This added more difficulty to the IENPG’s struggle to meet needs for indigenous training, and became a source of friction between the IENPG and the PC(USA). The PC(USA) delegation accepted a Plan Integral (Comprehensive Plan) that was designed by the Bi-national Walton Funds Committee, and the funds will be available at the beginning of 2014. The resolution is a big stride forward for this international partnership, reflecting a strong desire for the historic ties between the IENPG and the PC(USA) to gain strength in mission for years to come. To God be the glory!