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. At 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.” Among 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), and 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. That 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.”