A Brief History of Mission in Cobán: Cobán was founded in 1543 by Dominican monks, led by “Protector of the Indians,” Father Bartolomé de las Casas. The missionary efforts of Las Casas were based on principles, unusual back then, like equal rights for the indigenous, and voluntary conversions based on sincere Christian beliefs. He convinced Spanish authorities to cease their attempts at military conquest to subdue the Q’eqchi’, so he and the Dominicans could reach them through non-violent means. The region around Cobán, known as the “Land of War,” came to be renamed Verapáz—“True Peace.”
Centuries later, other churches appeared in Cobán. The Church of the Nazarene arrived in 1904, and spread as an early Protestant force across the North-Central Highlands. Others followed them to the Cobán area, mostly Pentecostals and Baptists. Presbyterians began working in the Q’eqchi region 40 years ago, and eight Q’eqchi’ presbyteries have since been created.
Six years ago a Presbyterian school—Colegio Evangélico La Patria Norte—was founded in Cobán. Despite the small, leased facilities, the student body has grown steadily with 240 students in pre-school through high school. In 2012, land was purchased in Cobán for a “Presbyterian complex” to include a permanent school campus, church building, seminary, dormitories and guest house. A theological studies program began in 2013 for church leaders from the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries, with 47 graduating last December. PC(USA) work teams began to come to help initiate construction at the Presbyterian complex. This January, ministry began for Cobán’s 1st Presbyterian Church, and I was installed as organizational pastor, on a volunteer, part-time basis.
Now, here’s the latest update:
New Church Development: During the past two months, I and others have been cultivating a Presbyterian group at the La Patria School, with lunch, worship and Bible study, teachings on Presbyterianism, and intercessory prayer (see photo at top of the 1st gathering). Now there are about 20-25 students and teachers that participate consistently. Plans include an excursion to Limon Sur to share with a Q’eqchi’ Church, and a Bible school for children in the La Libertad neighborhood near the site of the Presbyterian Complex. A Presbyterian mission house has been established close by to serve as a meeting place and office (see photo), and now we’re working on furnishing it. Our hope is that a water purification system will be installed there in the near future to help meet needs in the community for clean, affordable water. Northminster Presbyterian Church, of Cincinnati, Ohio, has officially agreed to partner with this new church.
Theological Training: This week marked the second of five week-long sessions of theological education for students from indigenous presbyteries. There are 29 students in the 1st year program and 35 enrolled in their 2nd year. Classes are taught by professors from the national seminary, with translation into Q’eqchi’. The quantity of women students has increased to six (see photo), with the expectation that each year will see a larger female contingent. Other good news is that two new PC(USA) mission co-workers—Richard and Debbie Welch—have moved recently to Cobán to help in the administration of Walton funds for theological education (see photo). They’re taking my place as PC(USA) representatives on the Bi-national Walton Funds Committee.
Presbyterian Complex: The different pieces of this ambitious undertaking keep falling into place. Early this week, a Multi-Institutional Board was formed for the Presbyterian Complex, which includes representatives of the national church, the Presbyterian Seminary, La Patria schools from the rest of the country, other committees of the IENPG, and the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries (see photo of Lizardo Lopez, board treasurer, drawing diagram). At the latest meeting, I was asked to serve as Moderator of the board. Projects underway include the completion of environmental and topographical studies, and grading for a gravel access road. Funding from the IENPG and several PC(USA) partners is helping keep the work going. Approval was granted for the construction of a multi-purpose building that will serve as chapel, auditorium, and conference center (see photo of drawing). More PC(USA) work teams will be arriving this summer to help raise this building and to participate in other ways.
Please continue to pray for and support this comprehensive mission effort in Cobán. The Q’eqchi’ presbyteries see this as holding historic significace for them, and they’re raising money and pitching-in as they’re able. Diverse sectors of the IENPG are coming together with an energy that’s been un-heard-of. We keep seeing the impact that these ministry projects have on all who are involved.