Saturday, December 6, 2014

Guatemala Christmas Greetings!

Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,
Decorating a tree in the Coban mall
“Is that you Mary? Is that you Joseph? Why, if we knew it was you, we would have opened the door long ago. Please come in and dine with us.” This is a paraphrase of the final verses of the “Posada de Navidad” in which we participated last Advent season. Originally an exclusively Catholic tradition, the Posada we experienced was more ecumenical. A procession starts at one point in town with a small ‘float’ of a Nativity scene (the one we saw was made by local kids) that is carried by two people while others carry improvised lanterns. They stop at designated homes and businesses, knocking on doors, imitating Mary and Joseph, asking for food and shelter. Each stop turns them away and then some or all of the occupants join the procession. The group arrives at their destination where another group waits inside. Then, from opposite sides of the closed door the two groups sing a dialog back and forth, the group on the outside asking for food and shelter, the inside group singing for them to go away; for all they know they could be robbers or bad people. This goes on for several choruses until the inside group finally realizes it’s Mary and Joseph, the tune changes, the doors open, and the group sings a final verse together. Then everyone comes in for food, drink, and celebration.

As fun and charming as the activity is, the pragmatist in me always questioned the logic in the dialog that is sung. Mary and Joseph were just two people among many who would have been searching for shelter and support that night. They didn’t become the “Holy Family” until later in history. So, why would these folks suddenly recognize them and offer them help? As we complete our first year in Guatemala, we look at this story and dialogue differently. Now we see the traveling group as people on a new and strange journey, completely dependent on the generosity and provision of others. And for us, that’s something which with we can identify.

The people inside the house on the other side of the door have little reason to open the door, and plenty of reasons not to. But, they listen to their hearts. They take a risk. They believe that this strange couple on this new journey needs their support. They open their hearts and they open the door. Suddenly the tone and the spirit of the story changes completely. The participants, as well as the observers, take notice. And the miracle of the season begins to make perfect sense. At the time, such faithful action on the part of those inside seemed too hard to believe. Over the course of our ministry here, we’ve been shown just how much we have to learn about faithfulness.

You, our friends, supporters, and partners, have demonstrated repeatedly how stepping out in faith, in taking a risk, and believing in the work of our church here in Guatemala has transformed lives here in Guatemala, as well as within our own denomination. We’ve been humbled, encouraged, and blessed by every email, card or letter (slipped surreptitiously under our door by our local mail carrier), prayer, and every financial gift that sustains our ministry here in Guatemala, and we know that each expression of support is a demonstration of the faith and hope this season brings to us.

The outpouring of support from you, both individuals and congregations of our church, from locations around the country, has been a loving and encouraging confirmation of our call to work together as connected people of faith. We believe God has blessed our corporate efforts to share that spirit of a community of faith with our sisters and brothers here in Guatemala. In this season of hope and promise, we’d like to highlight a few “God moments” from this past year. Each speaks to one of the critical global issues our church has identified as God’s call to World Mission for this season of ministry.
1)      Addressing root causes of poverty around the world: In the community of Sayaxche we celebrated the gift of education opportunities provided to the children of indigenous churches through the support of their US partner. “We know we can no longer live as subsistence farmers like our parents once did. Because we could continue our education, we have opportunities for the future.” One student told us.
2)      Spreading the message of God’s love by training church leaders for community transformation: In our home town of Cobán, a program to provide a seminary education to indigenous church leaders has shown such promise, the church hopes to expand the program to other indigenous communities served by the National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala. “I loved learning about the history of our church, and how I can participate more in the decision-making processes of my church”. We believe this 20-something church leader has much to offer his church and community.
3)      Reconciling cultures of violence, including our own: A young indigenous woman spoke with a group of visiting US Presbyterians about her group’s ministry of reaching out to the women of remote, isolated communities, many still recovering from the pain of Guatemala’s long civil war. She was encouraged by a member of the visiting delegation, an elder Native American woman, working in her church to connect young people with their heritage and culture.

Merry Christmas from Debbie and Richard
This is our second Christmas in Guatemala. We’ve been having fond remembrances of Christmas last year, and have been looking forward with anticipation of new opportunities for our ministry in Guatemala as 2015 approaches. We hope and pray that you have been blessed by your participation in our own little “Posada” of faith and hope, and that you will join us on the next part of our journey here in Guatemala.

We wish for you the peace, the joy, and the hope that this season brings us.

Richard and Debbie Welch

The 2014 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 39
Read more about Richard and Debbie Welch's ministry
Double your financial support for Richard and Debbie. Gifts made to our ministry before December 31, 2014 will be matched by an anonymous donor. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Guatemalan Presbytery Meeting

We’ve been blessed with invitations to travel to different parts of the country to experience and participate in the work God has been doing in Guatemala through the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. We recently wrote of my visit to the Pacific coast. Shortly after returning from that journey, I received an invitation to be a part of a meeting of the indigenous Polochic Presbytery in the small town of La Tinta, a short, bumpy, and crowded three and a half hour micro bus trip from Cobán. It would be a three-day meeting with meals and lodging provided at the presbytery center.

This presbytery meets as a full body (pastors and elders from each congregation) twice a year. A smaller executive committee, elected by the presbytery, meets more often and sees to the ongoing needs of the presbytery. So, when everyone gets together in April and November, it can be quite a gathering. I couldn’t help comparing what I experienced over these few days to gatherings and assemblies I’ve experienced in our own Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination. There were several similarities I noticed, each of course with its touch of cultural uniqueness. Maybe some of you veterans of your presbytery’s proceedings will see some similarities.
Calling the meeting to order

The Assembly Hall
The president (moderator) called the meeting to order once most the delegates were in the hall and appeared ready to begin. I was asked to sit at the front table with the officers so I could give a greeting and share a little about us and our work. From the national assembly, the theological education program, and our home presbytery’s partnership (Inland Northwest), I noticed many familiar faces in the crowd of 70+ delegates at the meeting. There was a scripture reading and devotional given, followed by prayers (in the Q’eqchí style of a leader who starts and closes and everyone prays simultaneously. The hall was filled with the prayers of the people. Then we got down to business.
Every report checked, confirmed, and stamped
The secretary (stated clerk) read reports, and read reports, and read reports. There were reports of the minutes of each meeting of the executive committee, correspondences received, and then there were those statistical reports for every congregation in the presbytery. Each one was read aloud, confirmed, and then approved. I asked one of the leaders why they don’t just make copies for everyone to read beforehand and then approve them together. He told me that not all pastors and elders of the presbytery have adequate reading skills to interpret the reports. So they read them aloud so everyone can participate. It adds a lot of time to the meeting, but in a largely oral culture, this is not seen as unusual.

Lunch is almost ready!
Hospitality was offered by people from the local Presbyterian congregation in La Tinta. Plenty of hot soup, and even hotter tortillas were served up by gracious volunteers. Fellowship and conversation around the grounds was warm, lively, and reminiscent of fellowship moments experienced in gatherings around our own PC(USA) denomination, except for the fact that the most everyone was speaking Q'eqchí. Back in the assembly, the coordinator for youth ministries gave a lively report, and then took advantage of the opportunity to do a quick fund raiser, raffling off a Q'eqchí Bible and a bottle of soda pop.
Youth Raffle Fund Raiser
A commission was established to meet with members of a community interested in forming a Presbyterian congregation. Prayers for a struggling congregation were offered, and then a special offering for them was taken. Elections were held; new pastors were ordained and installed in their congregations. And of course we had lots and lots of coffee. It’s hard to imagine a group of Presbyterians getting together without there being coffee to share together. In the cold wet Guatemala November weather, it was quite welcome. Soon it was time for me to say my farewells and head for the next micro bus leaving for Cobán. I left thankful for the experience, and blessed by the brothers and sisters of the Polochic Presbytery. What a great way to spend Thanksgiving!
Coffee, Coffee, Coffee

Blessings to you in this season of Advent!
Richard and Debbie Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers, Guatemala
Double your financial support for Richard and Debbie. Gifts made to our ministry before December 31, 2014 will be matched by an anonymous donor. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Celebrating 20 years in partnership

“Richard, if you were available over the next few days, we could sure use some help with some meetings and an upcoming workshop. We’d love to have you join us.” This was an invitation I didn’t expect. I wasn’t prepared, having only packed for a two-night stay. But the opportunity to travel to new places and work closely with people and programs new to me beaconed. Really, there was no way I could say “no”. I believe it was a divinely-inspired opportunity, and I was blessed to be a part of it.

It started with an invitation from the leader of the mission partnership between the Presbytery of
20 Years of Partnership
Western North Carolina and two Guatemalan presbyteries: Suchitepéquez, and Sur
Occidente. They were celebrating the 20th anniversary of their partnership, and graciously invited the mission workers in Guatemala to be part of it. Over the course of this long-term relationship, the partners had developed an efficient and sophisticated ministry, working together in areas of education, women’s issues, and health promotion. What a great way to observe their approach to mission partnership. The gathering took place at the Presbyterian seminary in the Western part of Guatemala. An intense summer travel schedule left Debbie a little under the weather, so she stayed home while I left the cool, rainy mountains of the Alta Verapaz for the warm, humid Pacific coast.

Doug and Mimi taking photos of scholarship recipients
Arriving Thursday afternoon, I would stay the night at the seminary, and then attend meetings and the celebration on Friday. Saturday I would make the journey back to Cobán. Then I met Dr. Doug Michael and his wife Mimi. Doug and Mimi have a long history of health promotion and education through their home congregation, 1st Presbyterian Church of Newton, N.C. The church is engaged in the partnership, and Doug and Mimi had returned to Guatemala as representatives of their congregation with a visit to their sister congregation in the Sur Occidente presbytery, El Redentor. Their visit to their partners was well-planned and prepared. Meetings with the church’s leaders were scheduled, and a workshop with the presbytery’s health promoters was to take place at another church building, starting shortly after the worship service. Another person was needed to provide some translation support and to just be a part of the visit. So Doug and Mimi invited me along.

We stayed with a leading family of the community. The extended family that included Doug and
Our 'Family' during our stay
Mimi was automatically extended to include me. The church leaders, members, and all the kids, most of whom were able to attend school because of the generosity of church members thousands of miles away, embraced me as if I’d been walking with them for years. During the health promotion workshop I was invited to step in for one of the facilitators so she could attend to other duties. It was a role-playing exercise of the workshop, so I even got the chance to ‘ham it up’ a little. It was both a fun, and effective exercise to demonstrate how initial investments in healthy options like water filtration, wood stoves vented outside of buildings, vegetable gardens, and overall health promotion have long-term paybacks on the investment.
Health Promotion Workshop
Trying to convince this health promoter to buy some 'fun' stuff.

Playing games with the kids
“The job of savior of the world is already taken. 80% of ministry is just showing up.” Those were the words of Pastor Jenny McDevitt, one of the speakers at a recent gathering of Presbyterian Mission Workers that took place in El Salvador. My recent visit to Sur Occidente proved these words to me once again. An accomplished medical professional playing “rock, paper, scissors” with a local boy. A PC(USA) mission worker joking around with health promoters in a workshop, people who pray for, correspond with, and financially support mission workers around the globe… These are examples of what God can do when we just ‘show up’.

Richard and Debbie Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers, Guatemala
Double your financial support for Richard and Debbie. Gifts made to our ministry before December 31, 2014 will be matched by an anonymous donor. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Forging A New Partnership – Fall update from Richard and Debbie Welch in Guatemala

‘Charu wankat’ Friends and Partners in Mission, (roughly that means ‘hello’ in the Q'eqchí Mayan language)

We have a story for you…

“When we first arrive in these villages, many of the women are frightened and suspicious of us. But after many times, over several visits, we get to know one another and they begin to see that they can have a place in the ministry of the church”These were the words of a young indigenous woman named Norma Ico. Norma is one of the leaders of the Presbiterial (woman’s association) of the Polochic Q’eqchí Presbytery in North Central Guatemala. She was sharing with a visiting delegation from their US partner presbytery, the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest.  

Norma told of young indigenous women, traveling two by two into remote and isolated villages with limited resources, and not much more than basic theological training.  This would be a daunting task for anyone, but for these women there are additional challenges for their safety as well as their ability to be accepted into close-knit and suspicious mountain communities. But still they go. They find their way to these places and do what they can to connect with women in situations of remoteness and poverty that make them marginalized among the most marginalized people in the country. And they’re making an impact.

The women of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest listened intently with joy and amazement, as Norma described this ministry of reconciliation and outreach.  As our visiting group listened, we were reminded that Norma is the daughter of Julian Ico, a long-time servant leader of the Polochic Presbytery. Norma seems to have benefited from watching and accompanying her father as he traveled around the region, starting and encouraging Presbyterian churches in many villages in the area.
Members of a delegation from Inland Northwest
 meet with the Women of the Polochic Presbytery

By the end of the visit, the women of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest felt led to come alongside these women in the most remote corners of the Polochic Presbytery in order to affirm them as valued and important components of the ministry of their presbytery.  They are in discernment now about how to move forward with an effective partnership.

Norma represents the histories and passions of many of the indigenous Guatemalans like those we’ve had the privilege of meeting during our visits with students of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church’s theological education programs for indigenous church leaders. Many of these students have been inspired and encouraged by close friends or family members who support and mentor them in growing as pastors and church leaders. They come to the training with a hunger for filling in the gaps in their initial introductions to ministry. The room is often filled with an electrifying excitement when students learn of biblical and reformed traditions that bring new meanings to many of the practices and methods they have been using in their ministries. We were encouraged once again by the empowering nature of the theological education the church is providing to the indigenous women and men who have sensed God’s call on their lives and have stepped into some form of spiritual leadership in their communities.

Hearing Norma’s account of outreach and visitation to the indigenous sisters of her presbytery was particularly poignant for this visiting delegation, especially for Margaret (Midge) Hayes, an 80+ year-old indigenous Presbyterian from the Nez Perce tribe of Northern Idaho. Midge has been active in her church, the oldest one in the Inland Northwest Presbytery, for “More years than I can remember” she says. All of us could not help but be captivated as we witnessed this connection between two indigenous women, separated by age, distance, culture, and language, and yet united by faith, common histories, and love for their people.

Norma Ico (left), Midge Hayes (Middle), and
Julian Ico (right) together at the Polochic Center
Our church’s mission agency has identified three critical global issues that our church can address through our mission efforts around the world. Among these is the ministry of reconciliation that boldly states, “We will engage in reconciliation amidst cultures of violence, including our own”. We are delighted to report that your faithful support is having an impact on efforts of reconciliation in both subtle and not so subtle ways. We were blessed to be able to witness a miracle of reconciliation reflected in the ministries of Norma and Midge, two indigenous women who chose to not let their histories of violence and oppression hold them back from impactful ministries among their people. Thank-you once again for believing in and supporting our church’s work among indigenous populations around the world!

For the fall of 2014, please pray for us in the following areas:

  1.          The nature of our work: We love all aspects of our work so far. Exciting things are happening in the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church. Many of these things will impact how we carry out our roles as educational consultants. Please pray that we can quickly adapt to the ever-growing and changing needs of our partners and that we are equipped to provide needed help where and when it is needed.
  2.       Safety and Blessings for transformative experiences for those visiting Guatemala: As the summer months come to a close, the flood of visiting groups from US presbyteries and churches begins to wind down. However, we’re excited to hear about several groups that will be traveling to Guatemala in order to interact with their partners. We’ve been so blessed by the opportunity to accompany some of these groups while they are here. Please pray for safe journeys, good health, and experiences that enhance the ministries of these faithful missioners in their homes, churches, communities, presbyteries and in our denomination.
  3.           Ongoing financial support: Sustaining mission workers continues to be an involved and costly challenge for our denomination. Please pray that those touched by a passion to serve our indigenous sisters and brothers of Guatemala with the enabling blessings of education will be moved to support this ministry. Also pray that we will be effective communicators of this imperative initiative.

‘E’mah-kits-us-aah’ (roughly that means “take care of yourself” in the Nez Perce language)

Richard and Debbie Welch

Richard and Debbie Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers, Guatemala

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Making Disciples – Summer update from Richard and Debbie

Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,

Summertime in Guatemala brings several changes to life and work in this “eternally spring” part of the world. We’re now in the rainy season. For us that means regular downpours usually in the mid to late afternoon. The summer months have also provided an opportunity to engage in our work more intentionally.

In order to serve the theological training needs of the church’s indigenous community, projects to take the training to the people are starting up around the country. The first of such projects is taking place here in Cobán, offering much needed and much asked for theological education to pastors and leaders of the surrounding indigenous presbyteries. The national seminary provides teachers and materials for the classes, the national church provides for food, lodging, and rented classrooms, and the participants (many with help from their US Presbyterian partners) provide for their travel expenses to attend the one week sessions.

Being able to sit in on these classes has been a great privilege for us. It has given us a glimpse into the lives of the participants, and an opportunity to understand their thirst for greater knowledge of our faith, our church, and those elements of pastoring that make them more effective servants of their congregations and their communities. A young man named Arturo personifies the profile of so many of these students. He first captured our attention when he took a turn translating the professor’s lecture into the Q’eqchí language for the benefit of those who needed translation from Spanish. He was the youngest translator to volunteer, and the only one to translate simultaneously during the lecture. He had a natural poise and confidence not often seen in the indigenous. We had the opportunity to get to know Arturo better when he volunteered to help with another project related to the new Presbyterian Complex in Cobán. Assuming he had benefitted from greater educational opportunities, we asked him about his schooling. We were surprised to learn that his formal education amounted to the third year of “Primaria”, or roughly a third grade education. He could tell we were surprised to hear this, so he went on to tell us that, being from a large family, there wasn’t enough money in the household to supply all the kids with everything they needed to attend school. So after the third year, the older kids stop so the brothers and sisters behind them get their chance at getting some education. Most of his literacy training is self-taught or learned from friends and other mentors.
Arturo and Debbie
Clearly, this 26 year old has a lot on the ball. His quiet nature, ready smile, and quick sense of humor cause him to find favor among his peers as well as those outside the indigenous community. He’s a natural leader which is why his pastor put his name in for participation in the training program. When asked if his dream is to be a pastor, he said “perhaps”. “Right now I want to learn more about our church and about God who has done so much for me”. When asked about which part of the training interested him the most, he said he was interested in the lecture on how the church makes decisions (polity) and that each elder and pastor in the church has the same voice and vote. He, like many indigenous, always thought the church was run by the powerful and sophisticated people who live in the capital city. “But now we’re learning that we have the same voice and vote that they have”. He says, “I think our church has a lot to say to the young people in my town.” (He is from the community of Chisec). There are so many among the indigenous who have lived without a voice or a vote in so many critical aspects of their lives. Who would have thought that educating young indigenous Presbyterians (about church polity of all things) would help them start finding their voices in their church, and in their communities?

One of the critical global issues identified by our church’s mission agency is focused on evangelism: “Together with other members of Christ’s body, we will share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ.” Educating leaders like Arturo empowers those ‘other members of Christ’s body’ to bring the church’s gospel message to those looking to find their voices. Your support for us and our ministry is truly bearing fruit that will improve the lives and ministries of this generation of leaders; and of leaders of generations yet to come. Thank you for believing in us and our work. Thank you for your prayers for us; we sense them regularly. Thank you for communicating with us and encouraging us. And thank you for the financial support that sustains our ministry here in Guatemala.

For the summer of 2014, please pray for us in the following areas:
1)      Our language study:  We found a language school here in Cobán! That story alone is quite interesting. We will probably always be students of Spanish. There is so much new to learn. Please pray that we will learn what we need to know in order to be effective ministers of the work God puts before us.
2)      The nature of our work: We love all aspects of our work so far. We’re excited about the current and potential plans the church is creating to build learning opportunities for the many indigenous members of this church. Please pray also for the many US Presbyterians who travel to Guatemala during this time of year to visit their partners.
3)      Ongoing financial support: Sustaining mission workers in the field continues to be an involved and costly challenge for our denomination. Please pray that those touched by a passion to serve our indigenous sisters and brothers of Guatemala with the enabling blessings of education will be moved to support this ministry. Also pray that we will be effective communicators of this imperative initiative.

Blessings for a wonderful summer!

Richard and Debbie Welch

Richard and Debbie Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers, Guatemala

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Following in the Footsteps - A Post from Debbie

Assembly of the
National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala
I have my ups and downs here. Just like normal no matter where we live. A few weeks ago I had one of the “downs”. We had to travel to the other side of the country to the Seminary in Retalhuleu (on the Pacific coast) for Guatemala’s version of General Assembly. It was the first time I had been to that part of the country. The weather was in the 90’s with about 80% humidity. We met for five days with about 400 mostly men crammed into an auditorium for nine hours each day with an hour break for lunch. Of course everyone was speaking Spanish which I couldn’t, for the most part, understand. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was also coming down with a nasty cold. Just trying to stay conscious became the big challenge. Needless to say, I wasn’t a happy camper. In fact, about halfway through the week I was having one of the times that my dear friend and former missionary to Kenya, Judy Palpant, warned me about. She told me there would be times when I would ask myself “what am I doing here and throw myself on my bed and cry” only since the hotel was several miles away, I didn’t have a bed to throw myself on. On this particular day I was waiting for Richard who was helping a friend make some last minute changes for his upcoming presentation. They were working on a computer in the seminary office. I was hoping they would finish so that we could go to lunch. Then I looked up at the walls covered with pictures. The photos were a long pictorial history of the Presbytery seminary throughout the years. And suddenly a pair of eyes caught my attention!

Jim & Gennet Emery were members of our home congregation, Knox Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA. I knew they had been missionaries, and I am sure at one time I knew that they had been in Guatemala, but at that time the place really didn’t mean anything to me. Consequently it didn’t stick in my head. Looking up, seeing his familiar face looking down at me from years gone by I suddenly realized that these beloved friends and mentors had walked here in this place before me. It brought me amazing indescribable peace. I felt once again, an incredible reassurance that I am in the right place. A number of years ago, Gennet encouraged me to do something that I felt called to do but at the same time felt very ill equipped to undertake. I felt called to lead a Ladies’ Bible Study at our church but I was sure there must be others who were more qualified for the task. But Gennet urged me to continue forward and was a faithful and supportive participant. She, and the entire experience, was a huge blessing in my life. It was very much like the situation in which I currently find myself feeling called but ill equipped; and here she is again, encouraging me to trust God’s wisdom.  I am always filled with wonder at the amazing tapestry God weaves with the people we encounter throughout our lives. We never know how we fit into each other’s lives but every once in a while we get a glimpse. What a blessing and encouragement!

Now that I’m back home and recovered from that nasty cold, I’ve been thinking about all of those footsteps I’ve been following that have led me to this exciting and stimulating period in my life and ministry. I honestly can’t say if I ever let Gennet know just how much her encouragement and support meant to me those many years ago. I want to be sure that you know that when you follow our ministry though our blog posts and our letters, when you correspond with us and let us know that you’re thinking of us and praying for us, and when you sacrificially support us financially, you are putting down fresh footsteps of strength and encouragement we’ve come to rely on in this ministry.

Thank-you and God bless you!


Richard and Debbie Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers, Guatemala

Friday, May 23, 2014

Of Men, Meetings, and Machetes

Getting together for work, fellowship, mutual support, or for planning something big and exciting is a vital component of getting things done. Whether it’s a digital ‘teleconference’, a formal meeting, an impromptu time around the water cooler, or a large conference or assembly, the need to gather a group to share ideas, strategize together, and plan for the future is a reality in so many human endeavors. So, if meetings are such a vital part of things we do, why do they always seem to be such a drag? Throughout my professional and church volunteer life, it seems as if most meetings I’ve attended or moderated in the course of accomplishing some great end brought the most joy and excitement to the participants when they were canceled. Debbie says I live for meetings. I don’t think that really is the case. But I have to admit I do get excited about those times when a team is gathered together to bring their various gifts and perspectives to a challenge at hand. And then, everything clicks and good things happen. But I have to admit that is not the outcome of every meeting in which I am involved.

The "Inter-Institutional Junta" gathers for a meeting
A large portion of our work involves attending meetings. Whether with our World Mission colleagues, with our Guatemalan partners, or conference calls with folks in the US planning a visit, there’s always a contagious excitement in these meetings because there’s so much that’s new for us and so much for us to learn. We’ve been invited to be a part of meetings taking place here in Cobán that are part of the planning for an aggressive church project here that includes the establishment of a new church school campus, a Presbyterian church, and an extension of the National Presbyterian Church Seminary. Many different institutions of the church are involved with this project, and representatives of each are a part of these meetings. Because the project involves and benefits several indigenous presbyteries in the area, representatives from these surrounding presbyteries participate in these meetings as well. It was our interactions with our indigenous friends that got me thinking about how we respond to being involved in meetings.
Representatives from indigenous presbyteries
The group had a very full agenda to work through. There were reports on the progress of the different components of the project, discussions on the budget, review of the timeline, reports of personnel, equipment, and utilities for the land that had been purchased for the center. Throughout these reports from time to time we’d lean over to our indigenous friends and ask them what they thought about all of this. There were general nods of agreement or shrugs of what could be perceived as apathy. This is something to which we pay particular attention because our indigenous friends often don’t fully engage in these kinds of meetings. The reasons are varied and complex, involving culture, language difficulty (something to which we can relate), lack of confidence, and other factors. Then we got to a new agenda item: getting bids and planning for the clearing of the underbrush from the land. These men were there as pastors, leaders, and representatives of their churches and communities. But they were also no strangers to the process of clearing and preparing land of this kind. Suddenly, the energy of the meeting shifted as everyone listened to these men as they explained and talked among themselves about how best to accomplish this task. Realizing that this was their project too, they said, “We can take this on. We’ll stay an extra day or two, and if the board can put us up for a couple nights and get us some tools, we’ll get the land cleared”.

The board treasurer made some quick calculations, and the board quickly approved the resources necessary to support the volunteer work party. For the remainder of the meeting, this previously disconnected group of men was now attentive and engaged. They found a sense of ownership in the project that was uniquely their own, and their gifts and skills were welcomed by the rest of the board. As the board members left for their respective homes (some had to travel great distances from other parts of the country to join the meeting) we were left with the task (should I say ‘privilege’) of settling this group of volunteers in for the night and then accompanying them to purchase the tools they would need, which turned out to be one machete per man and a couple of files to keep them sharp throughout the project.
The work party - Ready to start
At the property, the men wasted no time in getting down to the business of swinging their machetes and felling the underbrush. They had sharpened the machete I had bought for little projects in our backyard. They figured as long as I was there, I may as well make myself useful. I got a quick lesson in using the instrument (don’t swing if anyone’s body parts are in the way) and went to work alongside our partners. I’m proud to say I lasted a whole hour before telling them that I was sure Debbie was in great need of my assistance with something. Later that night we had them over to our home for some refreshment and fellowship. We learned a lot about these men and their callings to serve the church, both as leaders and members willing to grab a machete get some work done.
Arturo taking a swing

Taking a quick break
So often we speak of the individual gifts that people bring to the community of faith that makes ministry and projects happen. Scripture is full of examples and admonishments to recognize, embrace, and utilize one’s gifts in order to more fully serve the whole. The lesson for us in watching five men in a meeting suddenly transform from observers to co-owners, was the realization that those individual gifts need to be recognized, embraced, and utilized by the greater community as the contributions they are. To that end, we acknowledge your gift to us in reading these reports, in corresponding with us, in praying for us, and for supporting us financially. We can fully embrace those gifts even more now that it was made very clear to me that I’ll never be able to make a living swinging a machete!

Richard and Debbie Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-Workers, Guatemala