Monthly Archives: August 2015

Clamor for Change Continues in Guatemala

DSC02909-001 For months Guatemala has been rocked by government scandal. President Otto Perez is being impeached in the nation’s Congress for siphoning millions of dollars in graft through the nation’s customs authority. Other high officials have been implicated in this racket, like the former Vice-President, Roxana Baldetti, who’s now in prison awaiting trial. Much of the President’s cabinet has resigned. This criminal conduct was revealed by Guatemala’s courageous Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, and the United Nations’ Commission Against Impunity, headed by Ivan Velasquez. Nonetheless, powerful political alliances and business interests that benefit most from the corrupt status quo are maneuvering legally to protect Perez, and he insists that he’ll complete his term which ends in January 2006.

Most sectors of society, including the churches, have demanded Perez’ resignation, stronger anti-corruption laws, and major reforms in the electoral process. A nation-wide strike was held yesterday, Aug. 27, with highways blockaded across the country. A hundred thousand protesters marched in Guatemala City, plus many thousands more across the country in places like Cobán (see photo). Even transnational chains like Pollo Campero and McDonald’s closed their doors and encouraged their workers to participate. This demonstration, like others that preceded it since April, included a cross-section of social classes, and was led by student and campesino organizations. Despite the intense outrage of the population at unscrupulous officials, the clamor for change has stayed peaceful and positive so far. (I even took our kids to the protest in Cobán.) Amidst this turmoil, electoral campaigns are at full tilt, with vigorous competition for the presidency and other offices. Election Day is set for Sept. 6, but many are calling for it to be postponed, claiming that conditions are miserable for a fair election, and that the leading candidates on the ballot represent the old guard of self-serving, crooked politicians.

The depths of corruption in Guatemala, with its devastating effects on schools, healthcare, environmental protection and other public services, is outrageous. The non-violent push for change in Guatemala is inspiring and energizing, and I pray that it will persevere with God’s blessing until it prevails.

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The MV Anna Jackman

After my first year of college, I worked for a summer in Southeast Alaska as a Presbyterian Volunteer in Mission with a group of other college-age students from across the U.S. It was 1979, and my first ever mission experience. We were sent to a variety of settings and remote villages throughout the Alaska panhandle, mostly to lead Vacation Bible Schools at Presbyterian churches. My assignment was to the towns of Wrangell and Skagway, plus the Rainbow Glacier Camp near Haines as a summer camp counselor.

I wasn’t a likely candidate for this VIM program. In my application I’d written that I wasn’t a church member or church goer, and furthermore that I was skeptical about Christianity. The truth was that I’d come away from my freshman year full of incoherent thoughts, a distorted sense of self-importance, and an impulse for questioning authority. By accepting me that summer, the Presbyterian Church extended God’s grace to me in an amazing way, and I’ll always be grateful for that.MV Anna Jackman

The first part of our orientation was in Juneau, and the second part on a mission boat named the MV Anna Jackman. (MV stands for “motor vessel.”) What I remember most about our orientation was how I openly identified myself as an atheist. On the Anna Jackman, we slept in cramped bunks below deck, and I was overcome with seasickness. It was certainly worth it, however, because coastal Alaska was a paradise of sights and sounds. The friendly skipper steered up inlets alongside waterfalls, glaciers, and to areas where sea-life could be viewed up close.

The boat stopped near a stream where salmon were spawning. Throngs of fish were dying after having laid their eggs. Hiking along the stream’s edge with another volunteer, I shared with him my many doubts about the Christian religion. He patiently heard me out, seeming to get my points of view. Unfortunately I can’t recall his name. Back at the dock, prior to boarding, he turned to me and said, “Philip, I’d like to pray for you. Is that okay?”

Struck by the boldness of this gesture from one of my peers, I answered, “Sure, I guess so.” On that spot, he placed his hand on my shoulder, and thanked God for me. He prayed that somehow I’d come to know Christ through my travels and experiences, and that my life be filled with spiritual peace. At the time I didn’t realize how important that moment was for me. I didn’t become a believer in Christ right away, but I sensed that somehow God was embracing me. And my fellow volunteer’s action stayed with me, how he cut through my intellectualizing with something as simple as a heartfelt prayer. The rest of the summer in Alaska contained lots of meaningful events and encounters, but in the long run nothing made an impression like that prayer alongside the Anna Jackman.

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Stages in the Partnership Journey—Williamsburg and Northminster

Genesis tells about how Abram and Sarai journeyed from their home country in stages. According to Genesis 12:9, “Abram continued traveling south by stages.” Genesis 13:3 says, “From the Negev they continued traveling by stages toward Bethel.” So they progressed, from Mesopotamia to Haran, from Shechem to Hebron and lots of new places in between. At the end of each stage, Abram and Sarai paused to build an altar, to give thanks for God’s faithfulness along the way.

In their own way, mission partnerships also can be journeys with stages. Each stage has its peculiar challenges and accomplishments, disappointments and advances. Each stage offers opportunities to stop and worship our covenant God before we move forward. The story of Abram and Sarai reminds me of two recent mission teams that traveled south from the United States to continue their church partnership journeys in Guatemala. Their partnerships keep moving into new stages, and worshipping the Lord is a vital part of each stage.

Williamsburg (Virginia) Presbyterian Church: This six-member team, led by Bob Archibald and Rich Watkins, continued its partnership with the Presbyterians in Chajul, Quiché and Guatemala City’s Central Church. A special tone was set at the welcoming service on the 4th of July, when the Chajul congregation arranged for a U.S. flDSC02801ag to be displayed, the U.S. national anthem to be played, and for fireworks in front of the church. The early focus of this partnership was the building of a church building to replace the Chajul church’s first meeting place—a ramshackle addition to the pastor’s house. Having dedicated the new building last year, the partnership’s focus now has shifted to education. The group labored to move rocks and dirt from the site where a new Learning Center is being erected beside the church. They met with eight Ixil middle school students that have been beneficiaries of a scholarship program sponsored by Williamsburg (see photo). They brought four computers and a printer for the Learning Center, and another four computers and printer for Ixil secondary students in Cobán. As a partnership outreach, they joined with leaders of the Chajul and Central churches to visit sick and elderly members. At each home they delivered prayer shawls that were hand-knitted by women’s circles in Williamsburg (see photo).DSC02807 The week ended on a high note of fellowship with an outing to the Chichel waterfall with the Chajul congregation. The women’s society prepared a delicious beef soup (see photo) DSC02821-001and, of course, an exhausting soccer game took place (Somehow I even scored a goal!). To conclude their sojourn in Guatemala, the team traveled to Lake Atitlan and enjoyed fellowship and worship with the Central Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City.

Northminster Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio: This six-person team, led by Harry Stone, they came to further its bond with Cobán’s new Presbyterian church, a partnership that began two years ago when the congregation was just a dream. Together with youth volunteers from the Chiséc Presbytery, they pitched in at the Presbyterian Complex, mixing concrete, painting and plastering. The group faced a tough challenge when team member Mike Houston suffered a fall on the work site, fracturing his wrist and breaking some ribs. While trying to rally to support our hurting companion, the group carried on in the spirit of the song, “Through all its tests and struggles, the Church’s work carries forward.” By skipping some planned side trips, the group was able to spend more time engaging in partnership discussions with leaders on the local, presbytery and national levels. While the new church development was the focus, education has increasingly become a larger part of the partnership. The team met with teachers at the La Patria Norte School, presenting each of them with a set of instructional tools (see photo).DSC02853 They also visited the La Libertad public school, where Northminster had sponsored school supply kits for all 400 students. One night the team came over to the manse for pizza with our kids, and taught them a card game called Farkel (see photo).DSC02863-001 Their week featured times of devotion, worship, Holy Communion, and even a wedding! The partnership journey continues, by God’s grace, stage by stage!

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