Friday, October 2, 2015

Preparation and Passion - Life Lessons from the Classroom

Richard and Debbie’s Fall, 2015 ‘Mission Connections’ letter.

Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,

“The former leadership is gone now. You have been called to lead the people of your communities in matters of life and faith. As you prepare for leadership, ask yourselves, ‘What is the mission?’ ‘What is the charge?’ ‘What is the promise?’ ‘What is the method or the process that will lead to success? ‘How are we to prepare for this call to leadership?’ The answers to these questions are in the verses we just read. Look them over again and work together to discover these answers.” We were visiting the class, “The Bible in Mission”. And because we’d developed relationships with some of the professors and students over our time here, we quickly learned we weren’t going to get by with just observing the class. Shortly after dropping in, we were each assigned to participate in one of the small groups into which the class had been divided.

Bird's eye view from the balcony. Looking down
on the third year theological training class
For the backdrop of this particular exercise, the professor had selected the opening verses of the Old Testament book of Joshua. Moses, the ‘bigger than life’, charismatic, gifted, and clearly called leader of the entire Hebrew community was gone. Joshua was now being called to fill some very big shoes. Professor Jorge, either by providence, accident, or through his understanding of the context from which this group of men and women from the indigenous communities arrived, presented this text in a way that resonated with almost everyone there. We listened to several powerful stories of several modern-day ‘Joshuas’ striving to live out their calls to leadership in their communities under often very difficult circumstances.

Observation, Interpretation, Application

What is the mission? Lead this entire community across the river and possess a new land. What is the charge? Do this with faith and courage. What is the promise? God will be with you. The land is already yours. What is the process and how do we prepare? Sustain and build your faith and courage through God’s Word and observances of community worship. “These are good ‘textbook’ answers,” explained Professor Jorge. “Now, how does this apply to your ministries?” In taking these students through the process of reading, understanding, and finally applying the words of scripture into their daily lives, these students were being invited out of their comfort zones to relate Joshua’s experience to their own. Patrona, a young female leader of her community’s ‘presbyterial’ or woman’s organization, shared about the calling the members of her group felt to travel the often dangerous roads in their presbytery to build community among women in other villages. “That’s kind of like crossing a big river” she said. Gonzalo, a pastor and family man, talked about being called to serve in a new community that had recently lost their long-time and well-loved pastor to cancer. “Everything was about how he used to do things. He might not have been Moses, but it was really hard to continue after him.” An older pastor, shared memories from his youth about their pastor and community leader who had to flee the village during the country’s civil war as he had been rumored to be collaborating with the rebels. “Others had to take his place, though they didn’t feel ready and it was dangerous”.
Participating in the group discussion
Often when we are privileged to witness and be a part of the stories and experiences of our sisters and brothers attending training classes, or we visit with the young people attending secondary school on scholarships faithfully provided by their brothers and sisters in congregations in the US, or we experience vocational training projects that improve the lives of church family members, we think of how we wish you all could be here to be encouraged by these accounts of growth and transformation on so many levels. As we’ve said before, these are your stories. Your support and encouragement of ministries so far away from your places of work, life, and worship, brings these stories closer to you, just as your participation in what is happening here, brings you closer to us. Still, we wish you could experience each touched life firsthand.

Preparation without Passion - Passion without Preparation.
Sharing our connections at the end of the class:
Some have the preparation, some have the passion,
Together we can walk in mission.
At the conclusion of the class session, the professor shared three possibilities for ministry. One is to have good preparation for ministry, but not the courage to carry it out effectively. The second possibility is to have the courage to step out in ministry, but be lacking in the preparation necessary to effectively lead and minister to the community of faith. Joshua’s story shows both his preparation for his new and difficult role, as well as the courage he had to step into that role and lead the people into new and unknown places. Before dismissing the class, Jorge invited us to share anything we might want to share with the class. Looking at the last slide describing these three possibilities, Richard couldn’t help but make a comparison. The first one ‘preparation without passion’ could describe his and many North American’s experiences. We’ve had the privilege of experiencing excellent preparation for our faith journeys from youth through our university years. Often times however, we lack the passion necessary to step out in that faith journey. On the other hand, ‘passion without preparation’ could describe the experiences of many in these classes. They sacrifice so much to be able to participate in ministry, and in order to take advantage of this training, they travel long distances away from work and family. Perhaps in our experience of partnership, as we’ve helped provide for their preparation, maybe we can gain from their passion and courage for ministry.

Hermana Rosa preaching at the final gathering.
Truly passion and preparation coming together!

Our stories are truly connected. We consider ourselves blessed and thankful for our connection with you who read our updates, correspond with us, pray for us, and support us financially. It is such a joy for us to benefit from your preparation and passion. We invite your continued involvement as we keep these connections alive serving together in Guatemala!
Thank-you and blessings to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Election Day in Guatemala

Outside one of Coban's polling places
Last Sunday (September 5th), Guatemalans went to polling places all over the country to select their next leaders. Every branch of government from the President/Vice President, to departmental representatives, congressional representatives, mayors and municipal leaders is up for grabs throughout Guatemala. We started our day by attending a prayer vigil for Guatemala that was organized by our little Presbyterian church in Cobán. Walking around town we observed a festive atmosphere around the polling places as people gathered, reconnected, and exercised their right to vote.

Observing this election process as outside observers made us realize that we haven’t been keeping our friends and supporters up to date on the incredible events that have rocked and shaped Guatemalan politics since April. With all the coverage we’ve been exposed to here, it slipped our minds that maybe not everyone has the same access to news surrounding all these happenings.

Many of you might remember our post of June 14 in which we asked for your prayers for Guatemala as outrage over exposed government corruption scandals intensified. (If not, you can read it here). The intensity of the outrage grew into what many are calling a “Guatemala Spring”. Following the resignations and incarcerations of many in the current cabinet that were linked to the scandal that robbed millions of dollars in tax revenue while critical public services struggled from lack of resources, thousands of Guatemalans from many different walks of life, gathered in different locations around the country to peacefully call for the resignation of the president. Just prior to Sunday’s elections, the congress voted unanimously to strip the president of his immunity from prosecution. Shortly thereafter, the president did step down and immediately was charged and incarcerated and is now awaiting trial. These are only the highlights. We’ve seen several good English-language articles related to all these happenings. We’ll refer you to a couple. Here’s a link to an article that does a good job of telling the story from the perspective of the Guatemalans protesting in the streets:
Protesters in the street

This New Yorker article gives a very good account of the events leading up to the actions against the president, and some background on the president himself:

Congestion at the Coban intersection near the polling place
It is against this political backdrop that Guatemalans went to the polls on Sunday. There was a popular cry to delay the elections, primarily because the populace does not believe the current field of candidates, each with his or her history of corruption, offers any improvement over the past administration; and that is no longer acceptable to a fed-up and empowered populace. Guatemala’s electoral commission decided that it would be too impractical to delay the national elections so close to the planned date. In what will probably ring with familiarity with many of our US readers, the majority of Guatemalans voted for a former business man and TV comedian with no previous experience in public office. As no candidate captured the required 50% majority, there will be a runoff election in October between him and a former first lady. Even though the field of candidates failed to reflect the spirit of intolerance to corruption so manifest among many Guatemalans, many cautiously believe that Guatemala is on a road to change, and that indifference, fear, or apathy are no longer the dominant attitudes towards corruption in this country.
In the local grocery store. The liquor section is covered.
No alcohol sales the day before or the day of elections.
This is truly an exciting time to be living and ministering in Guatemala. As a precaution, mission coworkers in Guatemala have been asked to review their contingency and emergency procedure plans should things take an ugly turn. And we remain thankful to be part of an organization that looks out for our safety and well-being. For several reasons, we hope and pray we can stay right here as this new dynamic in Guatemala unfolds before us. In the past we’ve shared the stories of students of different ages and backgrounds with whom we’ve had the privilege of working alongside. We share them because their stories are your stories too. All that we’ve been able to witness and accomplish has happened as a result of your faithful prayer, accompaniment, and financial support. Clearly the sense of hope and optimism among these folks is more prevalent among the younger students, but even older students that we’ve met through the theological training exhibit new energy and enthusiasm as they acquire a growing knowledge of their reformed faith and the roles they can play in praying for, working toward, and participating in positive change in the world around them.

Thank-you and blessings to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Guatemalan Church Assembly – One Year Later

Indigenous Leaders at the National Assembly
A couple of weeks ago, we were invited to attend the National Assembly of our partner church, the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala. This was our second assembly since starting our work in Guatemala. Many of you might recall Debbie’s account of our first experience at the assembly (you can read her post here). In our first experience, the meeting was held at the church’s seminary during a particularly hot and humid week. Though everyone was welcoming and supportive, our fledgling language skills and general unfamiliarity with the proceedings left us pretty lost for most of the week. This year, the meeting was held at the church’s camp, Monte Sion, on scenic Lake Amatitlan. The weather was warm, but there was often a cooling breeze off the lake. And though we’d just returned from two months of visits in the US (stand by for a post on that adventure), our language abilities had improved to the point where it was much easier to follow the discussions. The national assembly has become an opportunity to strengthen existing and create new relationships with our sisters and brothers in this church. We even had opportunities to meet separately with some of our indigenous partners to plan visits and projects for the months ahead.
Impromptu planning meeting with Presbytery Leaders

As was the case last year (and we’ve learned that this is a pretty common occurrence) there was just too much business before the assembly to complete in the week allotted. A special session is being called for June 25th and 26th to complete the outstanding items on the docket. In the regular session, some significant business was completed. The church agreed to change from the current single Synod model of church government and divide into four geographic synods. A proposal to break off ties with the Presbyterian Church USA, in response to its recent redefinition of marriage, did not win approval. The Guatemalan church disapproves of the redefinition, but continues to believe our churches can continue working together. Reports were presented from many of the church’s institutions, special ministries, and individuals, including us. Last year we simply gave an introduction of ourselves and our work. This year we were expected to report on our activities of the past year and our goals for the coming year.
Introducing... Richard and Debbie

Seeing as we’ve shared our activities and goals with our partners in Guatemala, we felt it only makes sense that we share them with our partners up north who have been reading our updates and following our ministry. So, here they are (as presented to the assembly):

Monthly Highlights from May 2014 to May 2015. In addition to meetings and activities related to our role as educational consultants:

·        May, 2014: Attended assembly of Presbyterian Church of Guatemala.
·        June, 2014: Helped with visiting groups from Tennessee and Alabama.
·        July, 2014: Helped with visiting group from Washington.
·        August – September, 2014: Visits to US churches in Washington, Tennessee, and Colorado.
·        October, 2014: Gathering and CHE (Community Health Evangelism) training in El Salvador.
·        November, 2014: Support to the 20th anniversary celebration of partnership between the Presbytery of Western North Carolina and Suchitepéquez and Sur Occidente presbyteries.
·        November, 2014: Support to the 2nd anniversary celebration of the Q'eqchí Chisec youth ministry.
·        December, 2014: Visit to the community and church in Chijolom.
·        January, 2015: Celebration of pastora ordination in Maya-Quiche presbytery.
·        February, 2015: Helped with visiting group from Tennessee.
·        March – May, 2015: Visits to US churches in Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin, California, Colorado, and Oregon.
·        May, 2015: Attended assembly of Presbyterian Church of Guatemala

Sharing accomplishments and goals
Our prayer requests for the coming year, May 2015 – May 2016 include:

·        Our continued work on language and communication.
·        For the committees on which we serve, specifically for:
a.     Improved communications between the various committees and applicable entities within the PCUSA.
b.     Our hope to standardize the process for proposing, requesting, approving, and reporting on the use of funds provided through the PCUSA.
c.      Our goal to establish a timeline for education projects, from project proposal, approval, release of applicable funds, and reporting on the use of said funds.
d.     Wisdom and discernment as we begin discussions within our committees regarding future and long-term education projects within the church.
·        Our vision to work more closely with the (PCUSA) Guatemala Network.
·        Guidance as we work with applicable groups and institutions to improve access and quality of education, particularly among indigenous communities served by the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church.
·        The decision to create four new synods from the single synod will hopefully create better access to synod-wide activities for those for whom travel is difficult and expensive. However, the costs of creating the infrastructure and leadership in these new synods will be daunting. Please pray for creative and efficient ways for the church to govern itself without needing to divert scarce resources from the church’s ministry.
·        The church is seeking discernment in how to best engage in the current political currents of Guatemala. The discovery of recent government scandals has sparked an unprecedented reaction of public outcry against government corruption. For a number of historical reasons, public reaction to government corruption in Guatemala was generally apathy, or resignation to the fact that change was impossible. This time, the population is saying “Bastante!” (enough!). Many within the church are joining the protests demanding change. Pray that the church will seek and find its role in working for positive and peaceful change in Guatemala.
·        As always, we ask that you pray regarding our financial support. Many of you already know our church is facing an unprecedented shortfall in general mission funding, and as a result, there is a need to depend more upon the direct support to mission workers in order for them to remain in their countries of service. We’re so thankful for the support we’ve received from so many of you. Please pray for more partners willing to financially support our work in Guatemala.

Reflecting on our past year’s activities, we are somewhat overcome with thanksgiving for how far God has taken us on this new journey. As we give thanks to God for his faithful provision, we can’t help but recognize the fingerprints of those of you who have so faithfully supported us with your prayers, your encouragement through communications with us, and your financial support for us. The accomplishments of the last year and the dreams for the coming year are as much yours as they are ours. And we’re so blessed to be sharing this journey with all of you.

Thank-you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

Friday, June 5, 2015

Summer Letter: Stories from the Road

This article is slightly out of sequence.These events happened prior to our previous post. This is a version of our Mission Connections Summer letter. We didn't want to post this update until the letter we submitted was approved for publication. We hope you enjoy it anyway!

“Richard and Debbie... Do you have to raise your own support in order to do your work? Just what does the process for financing of your mission look like?”

The daily view: A lonely California highway
Since the middle of March until the middle of May, we were in the US, traveling to different places, visiting friends, family, congregations, presbyteries, and supporters, sharing firsthand the stories of transformation, hope, and faith that have touched our lives as we’ve lived out our calling in Guatemala. As we traveled, the question above would regularly come up. Talking about one’s personal work-related finances is not something we were brought up to do. Many of us were taught that talking about money was rude, insensitive, and something that makes others uncomfortable.

There are several reasons beyond initial curiosity that led to our regularly being asked questions about the financing of our work. Many have heard about the recent announcement of a shortfall in funding that could result in the recalling of many mission co-workers from around the world. (Read about this situation in the Presbyterian News Service article here). Others, familiar with other mission sending agencies, were wondering how the Presbyterian World Mission funding process compares.

So, from the ‘Since you asked’ department, we were sent to Guatemala as an act of faith on the part of Presbyterian World Mission. Technically, we didn’t have to raise our own support before embarking on this new mission. We have always been expected to share about our work, invite participation with us, and never weary of thanking every person and congregation for partnering with us. Of course, there is the reality that mission work cannot continue without the continued support of our partners around the church. And so, as it should be, the work can only go forward in a shared connection of faithful sacrifice between those serving directly ‘on the ground’ in mission, and those supporting the ministries of mission co-workers.

The very process of sharing about our work while in the US made us much more aware of the connection we share between us, our supporters, and our brothers and sisters in Guatemala. Now that we are back in Guatemala, we’d like to share some of these connections we experienced as we traveled to Texas, Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin, Colorado, California, and Oregon. Time and available space does not allow us to share every transformative encounter we experienced. But here are some examples. If we didn't get out your way this year, don't worry. We hope to visit again in the September - October time frame of 2016. Drop us a line if you would like to have a visit from us.

Writing exercise at
Irene K. Mendez Elementary
School, San Marcos, TX
“If I had $100 I would buy a house and a car for my family”. This work was displayed proudly on the bulletin board outside a classroom at the Irene K. Mendez Elementary School in San Marcos, TX. It caught our eyes because it was written in Spanish and reflected the hopes and dreams of so many we encounter through our work. At this school, 90% of the students qualify for free meal assistance. But the potential and promise of so many of them is displayed on boards throughout the school. First Presbyterian Church of San Marcos is partnering with this school, providing volunteer mentors, special programs, and help with school supplies. We instantly related to our connection through the realization of the impact of education on lives of young people and adults everywhere.

Debbie with volunteers from 1st Presbyterian Church
San Marcos and School Councilor at Irene K. Mendez School
Go to the people. Live among them. Love them. Learn from them. Serve them. Plan with them. Start with what they know. Build on what they have..." – From an old Chinese poem, shared by the moderator of the Guatemala task force of the Inland Northwest Presbytery. In this meeting were people with whom we traveled on our very first trips to Guatemala. How refreshing it is to center ourselves repeatedly in some of the principles of partnership. How we practice the two-way street of partnership is always challenging. As we shared and made plans together, we were reminded of some of our denomination's statements on partnership learned during our orientation. One states, "Partnership calls for interdependence in which mutual aid comes to all, where mutual accountability resides, and no partner dominates another because of affluence or 'expertise'."

Debbie and Richard working the Mission Auction at First
Presbyterian Church, Lake Forest, Illinois
“…So if we ask for money from people who have money, we have to love them deeply. We do not need to worry about the money. Rather, we need to worry about whether, through the invitation we offer them and the relationship we develop with them, they will come closer to God.” – Henri Nouwen. 
Richard grew up in an affluent suburb of Chicago and received the foundation of his spiritual formation at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest. The principles of the joys of generosity, service, commitment, and mission were instilled through the Christian education programs of 50 years ago, and had much to do with preparing a young spirit for a call to mission service many years later. We were delighted to discover how these principles are still celebrated. During our time in Chicago, it was our privilege to volunteer at the church’s annual auction, raising funds for local mission partners. It was a joyous event, and though guests, we were welcomed into relationship in a way that was heartfelt and real. The same Spirit that we’ve experienced in some of the most remote villages in Guatemala was alive and present at this gathering. .

“This has got to be the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted!” – Debbie Welch, at an ice cream social at Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Denver. This was a gathering of missioners from the church who were preparing to leave the following morning to visit their partners in Guatemala. When we gathered for worship the following Sunday, we brought greetings from our new Presbyterian church in Cobán at exactly the same time the delegation from this church was delivering their greetings in Cobán. Talk about a connectional moment!

Our stories are truly connected. We consider ourselves blessed and thankful for our connection with you who read our updates, correspond with us, pray for us, and support us financially. We invite your continued involvement as we keep that connection alive serving together in Guatemala!

Thank-you all!

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

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Monday, April 20, 2015

'No' Can Mean New Opportunities

Meeting with scholarship students
Of the Sayaxche Presbytyery
“What we need to tell you is that this is the end of our church’s support for your education. We are so proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish as you all have worked hard and excelled beyond what many, maybe even yourselves, could imagine what was possible. By earning your ‘bachillerato’, you now have a chance to attend university. But this next part of your journey you must accomplish on your own. Our church can only support the younger students in their schooling. We are challenging you to consider the options available to you, and to be an example to the young people in your community who are looking to you to see the benefits and possibilities of an education.”

Boys and girls meeting at the church
We’ve had opportunities to accompany several groups from our PC(USA) denomination, but this was the first time we were called upon to translate and deliver what we might want to call a ‘difficult message’. We have a friend and colleague who has been teaching us much about the art of translating beyond simply changing words from one language to another. One important aspect of the trade is to try, to the best of one’s ability, to communicate the emotion and intent of the message being conveyed. In this situation, we needed to communicate to this PC(USA) delegation the appreciation the students felt for the help they’ve received, and also communicate their humble requests for increased support in order to pursue further education. At the same time, we needed to communicate the pride and encouragement the PC(USA) partners wished to communicate to these students, while also informing them that they had essentially ‘aged out’ of the scholarship program.

Long-time followers of our ministry might remember one of the first stories we shared was about the two young men, Jorge and Carlos, who were examples of two young indigenous students whose life trajectories changed from all too familiar path of illiteracy and poverty to new possibilities through education. By providing small scholarships that permit students living in remote villages to travel to the town of Sayaxche to continue their education past the sixth grade, Hillsboro Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN was making it possible for students to imagine a life different from the poverty-ridden life of an agricultural day laborer. Jorge and Carlos, and many of their colleagues from villages in the Sayaxche presbytery, have now completed the equivalent of high school, and are now qualified to pursue university level classes.

At first, we wondered how these students might react. Would they be angry? Would they begin to
Don and Kim, from Hillsboro Church,
with a university student
question the benefit of their hard work if they couldn’t continue the path they expected to take? Would they just give up? That day we learned much about the universal impact of education in a person’s life. Once it became clear that a private university would not be an option, we began to explore other possibilities together. Such a reaction was a departure from the common response of resignation and defeat we’ve seen in the past. These students approached the challenge with optimism and confidence that is rarely seen in their parent’s generation. The difference in impact of these extra years of formal education was so evident in the outlook of each of these young people.

Following discussion and research, we learned that the national university, San Carlos, has several programs for encouraging indigenous students to attend the university. Special mentoring and tutoring is available to help them prepare for the school’s entrance exam. Students can attend school on the weekends in order to accommodate jobs and other responsibilities. One young woman, interested in pursuing certification as a nurse, found an alternative source of funding when she made it clear that her intent was to remain in her small village and provide some health services there.

The message we came to communicate was not one we were particularly excited to deliver, nor was it one these students wanted to hear. However, through long-term relationship and an ongoing commitment to education, we were privileged to witness a greater measure of transformation in the lives of young people, who, in a spirit of repeatedly expressed gratitude to God, to their church, and to their supporting partners in the US, were taking new steps toward independence and service to their churches and their communities.

Richard and Debbie at a School in Sayaxche
Thanks to your support for programs like this and other education initiatives, your support for our ministry as education consultants, your prayers, your visits, and all the ways you encourage this work, our partners in Guatemala are finding new opportunities in their roles as members of the community of faith. They are beginning to move with excitement and enthusiasm from recipients of support to contributors to ministry. For many of these young people, hearing ‘no’ means seeking and stepping into new adventures on the journey of faith.

Thank-you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

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Friday, February 6, 2015

A Very Special Ordination Celebration

Debbie visiting with members of the delegation from Heartland Presbytery
We’ve said it before, and no doubt we’ll say it again, one of the highlights of our job as mission co-workers is joining and accompanying groups of Presbyterians from around our denomination on visits to Guatemala. They come in response to their call to serve alongside their partners in this part of the world. Earlier this year, the Mission Co-Workers in Guatemala were privileged to accept a gracious invitation extended by the delegates of Heartland Presbytery. They were traveling to Guatemala to visit their partners in the Maya-Quiche Presbytery, and to celebrate the ordination of Filomena Mejía, the first woman to be ordained in that presbytery, and the seventh woman to be ordained in the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church.

Filomena’s journey is closely tied to Heartland’s mission partnership with the Maya-Quiche. When she began receiving a Heartland Presbytery scholarship three years ago, she had only a 2nd-grade education (the national average for girls growing up in Guatemala is 3rd grade). Since then she has completed two secular grades per year and is currently finishing up the equivalent of 8th grade. While working to improve her secular education, an additional scholarship made it possible for her -- and other emerging leaders in the Maya Quiché Presbytery -- to take basic Bible and theology courses each year. Next year, when she hopes to complete 9th grade, she will be able to enroll in regular seminary classes.

Guatemala Mission Co-Workers (from left to right):
Brian and Sandi Thompson-Royer, Debbie and Richard Welch
Leslie Vogel
The Maya-Quiche Presbytery Christian Education Committee examined her prior to the Oct Maya Quiché Presbytery meeting and subsequently voted to ordain her as pastor of Iglesia El Buen Pastor on Sat, Jan 10, 2015. We were blessed to be a part of this celebration for so many reasons. First of all, we got to travel with and get to know more US Presbyterians committed to providing education opportunities to sisters and brothers in Guatemala who would otherwise have none. And, we got to share this special time with our colleagues in mission service here in Guatemala. One of the most powerful moments for us was an expression of our “connected church”. During the time of laying on of hands and praying for this new pastor, PC(USA) pastors Rev Ellen Marquardt (Heartland Presbytery) and Rev Leslie Vogel (PC(USA) Mission Co-worker) joined in to offer prayers for Filomina’s ministry
’Pastoras’ Rev. Ellen Marquardt of Heartland Presbytery,
and Rev. Leslie Vogel, PC(USA) mission co-worker,
join Maya-Quiche Presbytery pastors in praying for Filomena
Paperwork is an important and necessary component of most, if not all, effective ministry efforts; but it rarely is the most exciting. In our role as educational consultants to indigenous people of the Guatemalan Presbyterian church, we review the year-end reports of the theological education programs submitted by the church. So many names; 25 from this presbytery, 14 from that, 12 from another, and a whopping 60 from another; we scan the list of names, often recognizing people we’ve gotten to know and their individual stories of faith and sacrifice that led them to pursue a deeper calling as pastors and church leaders. As we scan the list of names from the Maya-Quiche presbytery, we pause at the name “Filomena Mejía Jeronimo”. We see there not only Filomena’s story, but the story of the faithful Presbyterians of Heartland Presbytery who supported Filomena and many others. We see the stories of all of you, who for reasons that are uniquely yours have responded to the call to support us, and other mission co-workers here in Guatemala and around the world. Our stories are truly connected. We consider ourselves blessed and thankful for our connection with you who read our correspondences, who correspond with us, who pray for us, and who support us financially. Thank-you for keeping that connection alive as we serve in Guatemala!

Special thanks to former mission co-worker Rachel Lausch of Heartland Presbytery for providing the details of Filomena’s journey.
Women of the Maya-Quiche 'Presbiterial' (Presbyterian Women)
Share their joy for Filomena's ordination

Every year seems to have its motto. Last year, as we found ourselves giving up our old way of life for a totally new one, our motto was a quote by Dieterich Bonhoffer, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.” The motto for this year we first heard during an advent worship service in our little garage church in which the message was about Mary’s encounter with God when the angel tells her, though a virgin, she is going to bear a child. The angel explains it to her ending with the wonderful words, “Porque para Dios no hay nada imposible” or “for nothing is impossible with God” Luke 1:37 (NIV).  Surprisingly this message keeps coming up in other sermons, daily devotions, and conversations with others. It’s an excellent reminder to us in this country with so many needs and seemingly impossible situations. Para Dios no hay nada imposible. Whether it is these two older folks still attempting to learn a new language and culture while doing a new job and raising support from back home, or a Mayan woman with a family, a second grade education, and a meager income desiring to pastor a small congregation on a finca… Gracias a Dios, para ti, no hay nada imposible!

Blessings to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Return to Chijolom

Caber and Sineala visiting the church in Chijolom
The closing out of one year and the welcoming of another year is often taken as a time to reflect on the journeys that bring us to each confluence of years. Our recent visit to the remote village of Chijolom in the final days of 2014 was for us a wonderful reflection of our Guatemala journey. Our son Caber, and his wife Sineala, came to Cobán to visit us and spend the holidays with us. In addition to quality family time, we discussed taking an excursion to explore some of the fascinating natural, cultural, or archeological sites in Guatemala. With so much to choose from, we were a bit surprised (and also proud) to hear them say, “Our church in Spokane has been praying regularly for the church in Chijolom (and they for us) for over six years now. We would love to be able to meet some of the people and see the church and the community”.

It would not be an easy excursion. First we would have to travel by ‘chicken bus’ for four hours over rough dirt roads to the town of Senahú. There we would spend the night, and after coordinating with Pastor Santiago in Chijolom, we would arrange for a four-wheel drive pickup truck to take us, and any other people heading that way, for another four-hour journey over treacherous mountain roads to reach the village. Even so, this was where they wanted to go. After the ride to Senahu and a night in the local hotel, we awoke to chilly and rainy New Year’s Eve day. Our ride met us in the morning and we climbed into the back of the truck, holding on tightly to the metal rack as we bounced over rocks and across small streams on what passes for a ‘pretty good road’ here in Guatemala. From the vantage point of the truck bed, the vegetation, waterfalls, and steep cliffs of the scenery of the Alta Verapaz is vivid and breathtaking, even when viewed through rain-splattered glasses.
The church building project in Chijolom, 2008
(Pastor Santiago is far left in yellow shirt)
Chijolom was one of the first communities Debbie visited in 2008 as a first-time delegate from the Inland Northwest Presbytery, the US partner to the Guatemalan Polochic Presbytery. On that visit, she recalled how moved the people of the community were when they received a visit from their partners from so far away. The group was shown the project underway to construct a church building, and a group photo was taken of the congregation and the visitors inside the four-foot walls of the building in progress. That photo hangs outside the sanctuary of Knox Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA. It’s the reason the two churches became liked as ‘prayer partners’ years ago. Looking back over our journey, we can see how that first visit to Chijolom planted the seeds for what would grow into a life-changing call to full-time ministry in Guatemala. And here we were again, at the request of our son, seeing where it all started for us.
Inside the completed church building
Some of the leaders of the Chijolom church
The church building is complete, and the church community of 36 families is growing with plans and dreams for its future. We enjoyed meeting with the church leaders and hearing about their ministry. We sat in the church sanctuary, sipping hot horchata, trying to dry out, hearing each leader’s testimony and plans for ministry. We walked around the community a bit, looking at, and talking about community projects the church (primarily through their youth ministry) hopes to do. For us, we saw what can happen in a church a community after six years of prayerful ministry. We saw how seeds sown in a Guatemalan mountain village grew into a new ministry. And we saw how a simple ministry of two churches committing to pray for each other can affect individual lives in both congregations.
Outside the church - In the rain
After a meal together we knew the hour was getting late. Our driver would need to take us back to Senahú and then return to Chijolom. We exchanged contact information and said our good byes. What a wonderful way to finish out our second year end in Guatemala!

Happy New Year!

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