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

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
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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