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. flag 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). 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) and, 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). 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). Their week featured times of devotion, worship, Holy Communion, and even a wedding! The partnership journey continues, by God’s grace, stage by stage!