A 10-member mission team just returned to their homes in the Denver Presbytery, after a 9-day visit with partners at the Q’eqchi’ community of Bethania, located in the rural lowlands of the department of Baja Verapaz. They worked with Pastor Mateo Coc Coc and members of Bethania Presbyterian Church (Iglesia Presbiteriana Bethania) for the whole community to have access to clean water. Together they installed a Living Waters for the World system that, using microfiltration and ozonation, produces 300 gallons of clean water in 75 minutes. (See photo of system with Bethania operating committee with team member Barry Mayhew.) While part of the group focused on assembling the system and training operators, another part provided health education. The week at Bethania was capped off with a celebration with representatives of nearby communities and the presbytery (see photo with leaders of Franja Transversal Presbytery). The joyful event included lots of singing, a skit and homily, certificates for trainees, a dedication plaque, and the ceremonial presentation of the first jug of clean water. Women from Denver Presbytery sponsored soap pouches as gifts for all attendees, and there were endless hugs, handshakes, and high-fives. Everyone eagerly lined up to sip water samples, and to wash it down with 27 chicken’s worth of soup.
While the installation dominated the team’s efforts, there was time in Cobán to worship with the new Presbyterian congregation, and to visit the La Patria Norte School and the Presbyterian Complex development. There also was an opportunity to hike through the cloud forests in the beautiful uplands, and to worship, shop and reflect in Guatemala City. It was a blessing to accompany this hard-working team, and I’m so appreciative of the leadership of servants like Rev. Loye Troxler and Rev. Amy Mendez.
The group’s stay in Guatemala was punctuated with signs of the country’s social ferment. On the Saturday night that the team arrived in Guatemala City, the streets around the National Palace near the hotel were blocked by hundreds of Q’eqchi’ protesters camping in tents, demanding land reforms. The following Saturday, we were glad to read they had reached an accord with government officials. When we arrived at our hotel in Guatemala City that afternoon, a massive demonstration was underway at the Central Plaza across the street (see photos). A peaceful crowd estimated at 15,000 was protesting high-level government corruption. Fueled by allegations that the vice-president was involved in a criminal enterprise that included the heads of the tax and customs departments, demonstrators demanded that she resign along with the president. Team members slowly weaved through the crowd, snapping some photos, reading placards with messages like “Fewer Political Prisoners, More Imprisoned Politicians,” and admiring the passionate, hopeful exercise of democratic rights.
On one day, half of the group travelled to the community of Caserio Presbiteriano La Bendición (known as Nueva Esperanza in its earlier location). Until recently these families had been squatters elsewhere, but with help from Denver Presbytery they obtained legal right to land that they’re now purchasing. Our trip was to offer support and thanksgiving for their new place, and to accompany the delivery of roofing materials and corn for the 19 families (see photo of worship service). In the early morning, while we ate breakfast at an open-air diner, a long convoy of police vehicles sped by. Three hours later, we happened upon them again. A face-off was underway between uniformed police in riot gear and a hundred landless Q’eqchi’ families that were occupying a tract of private property (see photos, with police and campesinos in opposite corners). We kept moving, only to cross paths with a throng of campesino men armed with machetes, marching towards the confrontation. Further down the road, we stopped the van to pray for the people we’d seen, and for a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Hours later, while passing the site on our way back, our hearts were broken by the sight of the campesino homes ablaze (see photo). Distraught Q’eqchi’ women and children stood on the roadside, and we heard the men had been chased into the surrounding hills. We prayed once again for these poor families, confessing our inability to address the situation otherwise. At the same time, we felt grateful that, by God’s grace, the families of Caserio Presbiteriano had been spared a similar fate.
Despite the careful thought that goes into partnership itineraries, the detailed project planning, and the logistics for safety and well-being, there’s always a degree of unpredictability in mission trips. Often it’s through the unpredictable that God’s Spirit intervenes. If we encounter challenging and disturbing situations, it’s worth remembering that our purpose isn’t really to feel good or to feel bad. Serving God, faithfully, in partnership with others, as best as we can—that’s our purpose. Within such service, God tends to show us glimpses of the heart-warming as well as the heart-wrenching, a mixture of our partners’ joys and struggles, to help us sense the “what” and “where” of God’s mission, and how we might participate in it. Sure, there are risks, but the biggest risk probably is that we ourselves might be transformed in ways that none of us can imagine.