Monthly Archives: December 2015

Southern Hospitality in Kingsport, Tennessee

In early December, I enjoyed accompanying a delegation from Guatemala City’s Iglesia Presbiteriana Betel (Bethel Presbyterian Church) on a six-day visit to First Presbyterian Church of Kingsport, TN. DSC03288At the invitation of Kingsport FPC, six Bethel members and I traveled as a continuation of their mission partnership. Despite it being a hectic time of year, the Kingsport congregation went all out to host us, welcoming us in homes and everywhere we went. (See photo of my gracious host family, Tony and Gail Cole) We met with the session, shared morning devotionals, and made home visits to elderly members. Seeing many outreach ministries of Kingsport FPC and its members, we saw how seriously they take their motto: “Seeking to see the face of Christ; striving to be the hands of Christ.” DSC03291Among stops was a clothes closet, a community garden, a transition program for ex-prisoners, a local school partnership, a men’s carpentry ministry, and a women’s ministry called Oasis. Other highlights of our stay included a barbeque at the farm of several FPD members, a performance of Old Time bluegrass music and clogging at the Carter’s Fold  (see photo), DSC03275and a tour of Christmas lights at the Bristol Speedway, including supper in a skybox. (see photo)

On Sunday, we greeted Sunday school classes, and then joined in worship. Having combined services for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, the sanctuary was full. It was a privilege for me to deliver the message, and Pastor Luís Trigueros from Bethel extended greetings. DSC03286That afternoon delicious aromas and bursts of laughter filled the FPC kitchen, as people of both churches prepared traditional dishes from each culture—chicken pot pie and a spicy chicken dish called pepián. That evening, Bethel youth Saulo Davila and I gave power-point presentations to the congregation, his on Bethel’s youth ministry and mine on Presbyterian mission in Guatemala.

Pastor Sharon Amstutz spearheaded the planning and logistics, and all of us felt deep gratitude for her warmth and attentiveness, as well as that of so many others. Afterwards, she remarked, “I sense this was an important part of our partnership and really brought the rest of the congregation on board. It is hard to explain to them verbally or in writing what the partnership is all about – now that they have experienced it, I think they get it.”

An FPC Kingsport member, Don Thompson, wrote, “I had to write to say how touching the visit was from our Guatemala brothers and sisters. Sharon had told us previously how much our congregation had learned from Pastor Luis and his congregation. Their love and faith were truly moving and I felt so close to all of them, even though my Spanish was not up to par…. We were still able to communicate and the fellowship was phenomenal. I hope all members of the Bethel Church know how much love their sister church here in Kingsport has for them.”

Back home in Guatemala City, Bethel’s Pastor Luís Trigueros reflected: “The visit was excellent, learning about Kingsport’s ministries and our cultural differences. The hospitality was warm and impressive, and the unity in worship meant much to us, especially how we celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Theirs is a church that doesn’t just talk about God’s work, they enjoy doing it. I’m grateful for Kingsport and our partnership with them, and look forward to their return to Guatemala in July, so we can try to give back the hospitality we received.”

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Another Year of Q’eqchi’ Theological Training

God’s hand continues to move among Presbyterians in the northern region around Cobán, as evidenced by another graduating class of pastors and lay leaders from 8 Q’eqchi’ presbyteries. For the 3rd year, Guatemala’s Evangelical Presbyterian Seminary (SEP) awarded diplomas. The ceremony was heldDSC03223-001 on Nov. 30 at the Presbyterian La Patria Norte School in Cobán. Of the 69 graduates, 19 earned degrees in “Current Practical Pastoral Theology,” 18 in “Bible and Mission,” and 32 in “Church Administration.” Once again, representatives from across the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church (IENPG) were on hand to celebrate with the graduates and their families. Along with the Q’eqchi’, there were also Poqomchí and Ixil DSC03230graduates.

This educational program is a collaboration of the SEP, Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex, and the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church (IENPG), with funding support from Walton Funds (a PCUSA endowment).DSC03226

It remains to be seen what future study opportunities will be available to graduates that have finished the 3-year cycle of degrees called “diplomados.” These degree programs are tailored to the needs of Q’eqchi’ Presbyterians, many hindered by limited secular education, Spanish proficiency, and economic resources. Many would like to continue on towards a secondary-level theology degree called a “bachillerato” that SEP offers. However, most need to complete secular middle school (estudios básicos) to be eligible. Efforts are underway to find ways to help students to keep advancing in their studies.

It was a pleasure to spend time with the seminary’s dynamic, new Academic Dean, Eliseo Vilchez. He announced the slate of courses that SEP will offer in Cobán, starting in February 2016, which include offerings on youth and women’s ministries. Also, the Multi-Institutional Board of the Presbyterian Complex, met and decided that the next round of theological training sessions will be held at the complex, rather than other rented sites. Lots of work needs to be done to ready the facilities of the complex, which is far from finished, so please pray that we can make it.DSC03240

At the initiative of the Chiséc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery, the Cobán church hosted a meeting of representatives of the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries to consider a proposal to break the IENPG’s single Synod into four regional synods, including a Q’eqchi’ Synod to be based in Cobán. (See photo) Representatives of the SEP and the IENPG were on hand to answer questions. So far, the Q’eqchi’ presbyteries seem to view favorably the proposal to have their own synod, with plans for it to be based in Cobán.

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Partnership Updates: Sycamore PC and Denver Presbytery

My apologies for the lack of posts during the past month or so. Mission partnerships have been busily about the Father’s business. While these activities are uplifting, the downside is not finding enough time to write about them. Here are a couple updates:

Sycamore PC-Q’anjob’al Presbytery: On Nov. 8-13, I joined with Rev. Eliot Wink, Associate Pastor for Education, in a visit to the Q’anjob’al Presbytery. Up in the Cuchumatán Mountains, the weather was chilly, but we were received with warmth and enthusiasm. In the presbytery’s hub in San Juan Ixcoy, we dialogued with presbytery officers as well as women and DSC03180youth leaders about next steps in forming this new mission partnership. A highlight was witnessing the graduation of 20 Q’anjob’al theology students with degrees in church administration taught by the Presbyterian Seminary (see photo). Then we headed up to Santa Eulalia to visit several new church projects that are enlarging the presbytery’s ministry in that area. (See photo of NCD in the Ononá community.) DSC03184Plans are underway for a large Sycamore youth team to arrive in July to work alongside Q’anjob’al youth in this northern corner of the presbytery.

Denver Presbytery-Presbiterio Franja Transversal del Norte: On Nov. 14-22, an 8-member team from the Guatemala Mission Partnership (GMP) of the Denver Presbytery traveled to their Q’eqchi’ partners in the Franja Transversal del Norte Presbytery. Led by Kirk Yeager, they successfully installed a clean water system at the “God Is Love” Presbyterian Church in the Tres Rios community. Although the economic base of Tres Rios is farming, the Chixoy River adj20151119_134014oins their lands, often overflowing and destroying their corn crops. The GMP had to tackle several obstacles to help them get clean drinking water. One was the lack a reliable water source. The GMP funded the materials needed for a 100 foot well, while the local congregation provided volunteers to hand-dig and reinforce it. Another challenge was the lack of a suitable building for the system. Once again the GMP funded materials while the Tres Rios provided manual labor. A third challenge was travel to the community, which meant taking the PRESGOV bus each day from Chiséc to the town of Playitas, ride an outboard boat up the Chixoy River, and then IMG_3310climb into a pick-up truck for the last leg to the church. Once on site, part of the team wasted no time in assembling and testing the system, and training a local operating committee (see photo). Meanwhile, another part of the team trained local women to give hygiene education and organized activities with neighborhood kids. The week culminated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a lively celebration (see photo). At the dedication of the new system, team members presented the first bottle of water to the pastor, DSC03203-001Alberto Tiul (see photo). The GMP also arranged to give Spanish study Bibles to all 14 pastors of the presbytery. Plans are underway for another GMP team next April to install a water system at the Presbyterian Complex in Cobán.

Next posts coming soon: Q’eqchi’ theology graduates; visits to Chajul, Quiché and to Kingsport, TN; the latest on the Cobán NCD.

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