Last Friday, representatives traveled to Cobán from across Guatemala to join in the dedication of the newly-completed multi-purpose building at the Presbyterian Complex. (see photos) The previous day, the Complex’s Multi-Institutional Board agreed to name it the Centro de Ministerio Norte “La Trinidad,” in honor of two PC(USA) churches that have been instrumental since the beginning in developing this multi-purpose facility. These churches—Northminster Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio and Trinity Presbyterian Church, Fairhope, Alabama—were of enormous help with donations and work teams. Other generous PC(USA) supporters were also acknowledged: South Alabama Presbytery; First Presbyterian Church of Kenosha, Wisconsin; First Presbyterian Church of Kingsport, Tennessee; The Outreach Foundation of Franklin, Tennessee; the Inland Northwest Presbytery, and Denver Presbytery.
At the dedication service, many greetings and well-wishes were expressed, and numerous gifts were presented (see photo). Flowers were provided by Northminster Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. After a sermon by Pastor Ivan Paz, Secretary of the Multi-Institutional Board, a beautiful rite of anointing took place. Pastors and elders came forward, dabbing their fingers in olive oil and scattering throughout the building to pray for God’s continued blessing (see photo). David’s words in 1 Chronicles 29:16 were remembered: “Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” Following the service, the celebration continued with a traditional chicken dish called “tiú.”
The center currently serves as home for the new Antioch Presbyterian Church, a regional campus for Guatemala’s Presbyterian Seminary, and hub for the eight surrounding Q’eqchi’ presbyteries. It offers a meeting/worship space, five rooms for either classes or lodging, an office, a kitchen, restrooms and showers, and room for our water purification system. There’s still a lot more to do to fulfill the long-range vision for Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex. The Multi-Institutional Board has authorized the next stage of construction—a guest house and training center. We welcome any presbyteries, churches or individuals that would like to be involved in this next urgent project!
Barely two years ago, a Presbyterian worshiping community started to gather in the carport of the house we were renting in Cobán. Now, that community has been officially chartered as a church. The membership chose the name “Antioch” in honor of the multi-cultural mother church of mission to the Gentiles, where disciples were first called “Christians.” (See Acts 11:19-26)
With 96 men, women and children, the church averages 80 worshipers each Sunday. Youth and women’s societies meet each week, as well as prayer meetings and Bible study. Four ruling elders serve on the session—two men and two women—along with four deaconesses and me as pastor. Members are a mixture of Mayan and Ladino, with both the Spanish and Q’eqchi’ languages used in worship. On November 3, the plenary of the Chiséc Q’eqchi’ Presbytery voted unanimously to approve the chartering of the church. The next evening a service of dedication was held at Cobán’s Presbyterian Complex. See photo of the session being recognized, minus Bacilia who was taking a nursing exam, and some of the members.
The church is excited and thankful for all in Guatemala and beyond who have been involved in progress of this new church development. as it continues to grow in membership and offer God’s grace in more ways to the surrounding community. Among well-wishers was our PC(USA) partner Northminster Presbyterian Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. On behalf of the church, Jane Whalen sent this message:
“Greetings from Northminster Presbyterian Church! Today we rejoice with you for what God has done for you and through you! The dedication of The Antioch Church is an important milestone in the development of this new church. Your faithfulness and commitment to God’s people shows in your worship and your witness to the people of Cobán. We are honored to be in partnership with you, and doubly honored that you would name the multipurpose building ‘Centro de Ministerio Norte’ in recognition of our partnership. We will continue to pray for you and your ministry, and we look forward to being with you again next summer. To God be the glory!”
Indeed, all glory is given to God! Please keep Antioch Presbyterian Church in prayer as we strive to grow ever more vibrant in our faith and fellowship, more gracious in our witness to the surrounding community, and more fruitful as people draw closer to Christ through God’s ministry at this church.
The year 2016 has seen more growth in theological education in the region around Cobán. Last Thursday a graduation ceremony was held for the 4th consecutive year, with 42 students receiving diplomas from the Presbyterian Evangelical Seminary (see photo). Most were Q’eqchi’, with some Poqomchí, Ixil and Ladino graduates. As we praise God for this blessing, we continue to pray for the future of this crucial program.
Every year, financing poses a high hurdle to surmount, as you might expect. Most students face impoverished economic conditions, and they rely on scholarships, which include room and board in Cobán. While Walton funds from the PC(USA) provide considerable help, it’s been difficult at times to harmonize this endowment’s 25-year-old stipulations with current needs. Guatemala’s Presbyterian Seminary underwrites some expenses, though it suffers financial hardships of its own that threaten the program’s future viability. Plans are underway to invite supporters from abroad to help cover some unmet expenses so we can avoid charging students.
Another ongoing barrier is the limited formal education among Q’eqchi’ pastors. Since many have only an elementary education, their ineligible for the next seminary degree program. They’re stuck until they complete middle school, an expense beyond their means. Next year we hope to be able to offer some new scholarships to help pastors and church leaders advance in secular education. We also plan to start offering workshops in Cobán next year for Q’eqchi’ ruling elders that have little access to leadership training.
Being able to house the program at our own facilities is a huge breakthrough. In September, all aspects of theological training in Cobán moved to the Presbyterian Complex—classes, housing and meals. However, the facilities are small, with students sleeping on mattresses on the floors of Sunday school rooms. Some classes are taught outdoors until a more spacious training center and guest house can be built (see photo).
In addition to coordinating theological education in Cobán, this year the seminary asked me to be an adjunct professor. In Cobán I taught about church history and pastoral administration (see photo), while in the Q’anjob’al Presbytery I taught Bible courses on Acts, Paul’s epistles, and Revelation (see photo). It’s most gratifying to participate in God’s work of equipping the saints for ministry, and I’m deeply thankful for all who support these efforts in so many ways.