Monthly Archives: May 2014

News from the 2014 Synod Meeting

This past week the IENPG Synod held its annual plenary at the campus of the Evangelical National Seminary in San Felipe, Retalhuleu. In attendance were over 400 delegates from 22 presbyteries. I along with other PC(USA) mission co-workers participated as corresponding members at the 5-day meeting. Pastor Ivan Paz moderated the meetings each day (see photo of him with his accordion).DSC01815 Here are some highlights:

  • Delegates gave their enthusiastic approval for the Presbyterian Complex of the North, the educational and mission center that’s under development in Cobán. The assembly also authorized the work of the Multi-Institutional Board that’s behind the complex, along with the administrative committee that’s overseeing the project’s ongoing work.
  • A highpoint was the decision to approve a new presbytery, the Reformed Achí Presbytery of Cubulco. (See photo of their representatives before the assembly)DSC01818 These five churches, along with a mission congregation, are the fruit of mission work begun in 1991 by the Reformed Church of Canada. Now there are 23 presbyteries in the IENPG.
  • As most of you know, Bacilia and I end our time of service with Presbyterian World Mission in July. The IENPG Synod officially called us to stay on, with me working half-time as Partnership Coordinator with PRESGOV, and half-time as Director of the Presbyterian Complex of the North. The Synod approved salary support comparable to what other Guatemalan pastors earn, but housing, health and pension benefits, visa, travel to the U.S. and other expenses aren’t included. Eventually we hope to find some sources that will help us cover these costs.
  • I gave a power-point report about the partnerships and projects we’ve worked on as mission co-workers during the past year. Unfortunately Bacilia couldn’t join me for the presentation, staying back home in Guatemala City where our kids are finishing the school year. The report was well received, and the Synod also asked me to preach at the Thursday night worship service on the theme of stewardship and God’s mission.
  • The Synod authorized a request to the PC(USA) that Walton Funds that have accumulated during the past seven years be designated for the construction of a theological center at the Presbyterian Complex in Cobán that will serve the indigenous presbyteries of that region—primarily Q’eqchi’. Concern was expressed repeatedly that, although projects have been approved and are underway, Walton funds to support them haven’t arrived yet.
  • A few lowlights: Time-consuming recitation of and discussion about previous minutes each morning; the need to repudiate death threats against two IENPG leaders and their families; the postponement of important matters like the election of officers, budget, and restructuring of committees because time ran out. A called Synod meeting will take place on June 24-25 to take up this left-over business.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend this assembly each year. Unfortunately, five of the eight Q’eqchi’ presbyteries weren‘t represented this time. Long distances, and the costs involved, are obstacles to their full participation. The Denver Presbytery generously provided funds to help delegates come from their partner, the Franja Transversal del Norte Presbytery. Also, women are always a small minority at these assemblies because so few of them hold leadership positions in their churches and presbyteries. Finding ways to address these limitations in the future will help the Synod to be more balanced and healthy as it moves forward.

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New IENPG-Living Waters Coordinator

Another important step forward has been taken in the new partnership between Living DSC01660Waters for the World (LWW) and the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG). Pablo Perez has been hired full-time to coordinate LWW projects within the IENPG. Pablo is a student in business administration at the Galileo University, fluent in English, and a member of the Presbyterian Church in Villa Canales, outside Guatemala City. Pablo’s job includes travel through Guatemala to facilitate new water systems in Presbyterian churches and institutions, and to maintain communication between LWW and IENPG entities. DSC01758This past weekend Rev. Wil Howie, LWW founder, visited Guatemala to meet with Pablo and IENPG officers for training about the ways to make the most of Pablo’s new role, so that more and more communities in Guatemala may benefit from clean water. (see photos of Pablo and of participants in one of the meetings with Wil)

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Denver Presbytery & Franja Transversal del Norte

The nascent partnership between the Presbytery of Denver and Guatemala’s Franja Transversal del Norte Presbytery continues to make headway, with impetus from a team from Denver this last week. The Denver team, comprised of a pastor and two elders, and I visited every congregation in this Q’eqchi’ presbytery, meeting with sessions and conducting water surveys for potential purification systems. The time we spent together was rich and productive.

On Monday we met in the village of Chaqui Pur with the presbytery’s Executive Committee. We focused on partnership priorities, which on the Franja Transversal end are water, building a Presbytery headquarters, funds for traveling to presbytery events, and construction of church buildings. Priorities on the Denver Presbytery end are water, health, education, and ministries with women. The meeting took place at the church of the Moderator, Jacobo Coc Pop. While there, we also prayed with Jacobo’s wife, Olivia, who was in the process of giving birth. A midwife was at the thatched-roof manse with Olivia, who was obviously suffering agonizing labor pains.

Our next visit was to a community called Bethany Presbyterian Hamlet (Caserío PDSC01722resbiteriano Betania). This place was founded 15 years ago by Q’eqchi’ refugees from Hurricane Mitch, on land purchased with PC(USA) funds. Land was provided for houses but, unfortunately, not for planting crops. The men and women scramble to find ways to make a living, often settling for low wages at the local African palm and petroleum enterprises. The pastor, Mateo Coc Coc, is the secretary of the Presbytery, and a true mover and shaker. We visited the school he organized with funds he squeezed from local businesses and government officials. (See photo of school teacher and some of his students with Pastor Mateo)

Most of the villages are in out-of-the-way places. One village was accessible only by outboard boat, and we reached another in the bed of a cattle truck. ( See photo on boat with me, Pastor Mateo, PastorLoy Troxler, Mike Kendig, and Duante Lyman) DSC01726Getting to the Nueva Esperanza church involved driving 2 hours on a hilly, gravel road, and a 45-minute sweaty hike. The members were formerly Baptist. They changed recently to Presbyterianism because, they said, the Baptists had abandoned them. Presbyterians, especially Pastor Mateo, have visited themDSC01734 faithfully for the past 2 years. Villagers, like elsewhere, are forced to carry contaminated water long distances for drinking, washing and cooking. (See photo of congregation)

On the way back from Nueva Esperanza, we met with a group of former charismatic Catholics who also are joining the Presbyterians. When asked why they preferred Presbyterianism, they said that the Catholic images, rites and incense weren’t meaningful to them. They added that they had no pastor, only an elder who coordinated the work of the other elders. We commended them for already being very Presbyterian in their leadership structure.

Two-days after praying for the safe delivery of Olivia and Jacobo’s baby, we received news that the baby was stillborn and Olivia was in the hospital in Chiséc. That afternoon we visited her in the hospital, and then we went to their home, where I was asked to lead a simple funeral service. We used the PRESGOV van as a hearse to carry the small casket to the cemetery for burial. It was a tearful occasion, but not uncommon in Guatemala where infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in Latin American, especially in indigenous communities where few births are overseen by skilled birth attendants. (See photo of burial service)DSC01729

The heat was scorching and our tongues panted when we arrived at the Presbyterian Church in Ya’licar. Before the meeting, a girl brought out slices of juicy watermelon. In my exuberance, I caused most of my watermelon to topple onto the ground. Then, to my relief, the girl soon produced more slices of watermelon. Later, the gathering heard about my frustration at blowing it with the watermelon, and my pleasure at receiving another chance. I then greeted the congregation in the name of our merciful God who’s known for giving us second opportunities.

The Denver team plans to report on its findings, with proposals about next steps. As always, both Guatemalan and U.S. partners expressed deep thanks to God for including this partnership is his divine plans, and excitement about how it will keep unfolding for years to come.

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