Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Aguán River Has Been Stolen!

Our family visited Honduras over Holy Week, mostly in Santa Rosa de Aguán, Bacilia’s birthplace and family home. All of us enjoyed the simple way of life in this beautiful town—swimming in the sea, horseback riding, and feasting on traditional Garifuna dishes. (See photos) DSC01689DSC01711

One afternoon we hiked down the beach to the point where the Aguán River empties into the Caribbean. To our surprise, the river has disappeared. The mighty Aguán is one of Honduras’ largest waterways, and a namesake for the town. Now it’s gone! A placid lake sits where it used to flow. All that’s left is a narrow stream that peters out before reaching the coast. (See photo with Bacilia’s brother Miguel) DSC01701Both sides of the mouth of the Aguán have joined together, so we could stroll along an unbroken stretch of sand. There’s not enough current to form an outlet. (See photo)DSC01705

The river used to provide an abundance of fish and shrimp for the local population. With the disruption of the eco-system, this source of food is all but extinguished. Crabs used to migrate down the river to lay eggs in the salt-water surf, but now they’re cutoff. The stream is a dead end, where crabs congregate, easily scooped up in the nets of opportunistic crab hunters.

It didn’t take many inquiries for me to identify the culprit in this environmental and human calamity. No, it’s not caused by global warming. Powerful producers of African palm trees have diverted massive quantities of water upstream to irrigate their plantations. Protests have been sent to the Honduran Government by community leaders, but so far it’s been to no avail.

As a result, Santa Rosa de Aguán is facing yet another crisis. Fifteen years ago, Hurricane Mitch make landfall here with a giant storm surge. Record rainfall inundated the river, which in turn swept through the town, leaving death and destruction in its wake. Large segments of the beleaguered population were resettled in surrounding areas. More and more young people headed for the U.S. or elsewhere looking for a better future. Since then, the local population has suffered, along with the rest of Honduras, the ramifications of the country’s tumultuous political scene.

The last thing Santa Rosa de Aguán needed was the loss of its river. Bacilia’s older brothers, Miguel and Joche, agree that if the river isn’t restored soon, the town (what’s left of it) might have to shorten its name to just Santa Rosa.

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Two Years of Advances by the Bi-national Walton Funds Committee

During the last 2½  years, I served as the PC(USA) representative on the Bi-national Walton Funds Committee. This wasn’t a role that was originally a part of our assignment in Guatemala. Nonetheless, at the time the committee was facing a crisis of purpose, and was struggling to find ways to respond to cries for Presbyterian theological training in indigenous presbyteries. Now I’ve stepped down from the committee to make room for Richard and Debbie Welch, new PC(USA) mission co-workers who’ve come to Guatemala to work specifically with this committee. I wish them the very best as they begin their assignment in this important area of God’s mission. My involvement on the Bi-national Committee has been both a difficult and rewarding experience, but in the end I’m glad that I had the opportunity to contribute what I could. Most of all, I’m thankful for the ways that diverse groups within the IENPG have successfully joined together to extend educational opportunities to the most marginalized segments of the Presbyterian Church.

Bi-national Committee members recently reported to IENPG leaders on the work that’s been done during the last two years, as well as unfinished business. Here’s the summary that they offered.

Accomplishments of the Committee:

  1. Obtained clarifification that there are no proposed changes in the legal status of the Walton Funds.
  2. Reorganized the Bi-national Committee with more representation from educational institutions, indigenous groups, and other sectors of the IENPG. The membership increased from five to thirteen.
  3. Facilitated the formation of a new Presbyterian theological education program in Cobán for Q’eqchi’, Poqomchí, and Ixil students, with participation by IENPG committees and the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries.
  4. Restored the scholarship program for indigenous secondary students at the La Patria Norte School.
  5. Spearheaded the writing of a new job description for PC(USA) mission co-workers that work with the Walton Funds.
  6. Crafted the Comprehensive Plan for the Walton Funds, with guidelines and strategies for achieving the unfreezing of the funds.
  7. Reached agreement with World Mission and the Presbyterian Foundation of the PC(USA) to begin releasing Walton Funds according to the Comprehensive Plan.
  8. Reached agreement with the PC(USA) for four theological education projects for the Q’eqchi’, Q’anjob’al, Maya Quiché, and Mam presbyteries.

Pending Matters:

  1. Up-date the Comprehensive Plan to include all theological education projects, to revise the secondary scholarship program, and to make adjustments to the plan’s timeline.
  2. Develop and initiate the middle school studies project for pastors and leaders of the indigenous presbyteries.
  3. Delineate fair and collaborative procedures by which the IENPG and the PC(USA) will monitor projects that use Walton Funds, authorize changes in projects, and approve new projects.
  4. Propose a plan to gain legal approval for accumulated Walton funds to be used in building the Theological Center at the Presbyterian Complex in Cobán.

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