Friday, March 25, 2016

Forgive me; I know not what I do. A Good Friday reflection

It’s 3:30 in the morning and someone is outside chopping wood. Just one more abrupt sound in the night to jolt me once again from a restless sleep, and I find myself staring off once again through the mosquito netting into the darkness, wondering if I should just stop trying to sleep. My mind is buzzing from the stimulus of strange and unpleasant sounds and smells. Well, that and the huge mug of over-sweetened coffee I was served just prior to bed time. As I listen to the axe finding its way in and out of the wood, I run through the catalog of noises keeping me awake. There’s an immature rooster in the coop outside who’s just learning how to crow. A gecko in the rafters chirps from time to time. The dog outside, surprised by something unseen and unheard, launches into a tirade of barks. A poorly-muffled motorcycle makes its way down the rough and rocky drive outside the house. Shortly after midnight, someone’s audio system kicks on. I don’t think they’re home. So the neighborhood is being treated to a short playlist of Latin dance tunes, playing over and over. And now someone is out chopping wood.

What am I doing here? That question comes up from time to time in this type of work. On Sunday I left Cobán for El Estor, a community on the banks of Lake Izabal, close to the Gulf of Honduras. I’d gone to meet up with Brian, my coworker, as well as with two leaders from the Sinódica, the women’s organization of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church. Their plan was to travel to the remote indigenous presbyteries of Estoreño and Izabal, connect with the women there, build relationships, and talk about potential projects and programs to better the lives of the women in these areas. I was invited along to share some of the education projects going on in other indigenous presbyteries. Plans and schedules are generally goals and guidelines. They are subject to unpredictable bus schedules, weather, and other things that come up in the course of executing one’s trip plans. In El Estor we met briefly with the women and then attended an evening Palm Sunday service. Clearly everyone was too tired to have a productive meeting that night. We decided to gather the following morning.
Brian (left) and Richard (right)
Together with the women following the Palm Sunday Service

Meeting with the Estoreño Women

Observing meetings of the women leaders of indigenous presbyteries is often an enlightening and encouraging experience. Our time with the leaders of the Estoreño presbiterial was no exception. They arrive on foot or by public transportation, often with one or more child in tow. They are always ready to greet each other and their visitors from distant places. They work so hard in support of their families, and yet are willing and excited about gathering with us in order to hear about programs that could potentially improve their lives, and the lives of their children. Each has a story worth listening to. Each has dreams they are ready to articulate and share with both the women with whom they have worked and struggled alongside in their faith community, as well as with these women they’ve just met. We four travelers knew we were in sacred space and the time could not be rushed.

Guatemalan hospitality: 
Richard outside our host's home
So now we are behind schedule and we’re starting to realize that it will be impossible to make the long trek out and back to a very remote village in the presbytery of Izabal. We call the pastor with the responsibility of supporting the presbiterial to explain our dilemma. “No problem”. He assures us, “We’ll put you up in the village for the night”. Normally, when we know we’ll be staying in a village without a hotel, we bring along a few camping essentials to spend a somewhat comfortable night in a church building. A camping cot and a sleeping bag can make a big difference when ‘roughing it’ in a village. The pastor knew we were unprepared; and the tradition of hospitality among Guatemalan indigenous people made us realize we’d be displacing someone in order to make room for us in a house in the village.

Sinodica leader Betty (right) with Izabal
presbiterial leaders
Arriving late in the day we were welcomed by the women leaders who insisted we rest and eat prior to meeting together. This was a different meeting dynamic. Meeting late in the day it was clear the women were tired and frustrated. The children were restless, keeping the women occupied with them. Having traveled several hours from the main road by truck, we knew we were visiting a very isolated place where the contrast with the people from our previous meeting in levels of education, language ability, and interest in educational programs was obvious to us. I started to wonder if we were wasting our, as well as their time. As our meeting time finished, several women asked me about scholarships and one asked about the possibility of attending some of the seminary extension classes taking place in Cobán. I could see and hear her interest, but also could detect her low energy and a sense of futility over the possibility of her being able to fulfil that dream.
Meeting with Izabal women. It's late, it's dark, and
everyone is tired

I’m running through these conversations and events as the sugar and coffee continue to keep me awake with artificial stimulation and the need for regular treks to the pit latrine. I’m smiling as I remember the Estoreño women and the door falling off the mini bus on the way to our next rendezvous. Still, my heart sinks a bit thinking of the women in this village and their general lack of enthusiasm or hope. Something startles the dog again and he launches into another round of excited barks. The chopping stops and a voice chastises the dog. I recognize the voice of the woman I spoke with earlier. She’s up at 3:30 chopping wood for her fire in order to prepare breakfast for her husband as he prepares to head to the palm plantation for the day’s work. And here I am, lying on a lumpy mattress on a too-short bed, feeling sorry for myself for not being more effective in communicating our project plans to this woman. “Oh Father forgive me, I had no idea of what this woman’s life was like”. Exhaustion and overwork were mistaken for apathy and hopelessness. I had been blessed by a glimpse into one person’s life and have been restored and resurrected. Come Easter Sunday! I’ve a new perspective of a lifelong holiday.

The blessings of the resurrection to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

Brightest and Best, Lessons from an Old Christmas Hymn

“Brightest and best of the sons of the morning; Lord of our darkness and lend us thine aid. Star of the East the horizon aborning; Guide where our infant redeemer is laid…”

It’s an old hymn of Christmas that we learned via a more contemporary arrangement. Through the years the poignancy of the poetic verse has held special meaning for us in so many of our life’s adventures. This year was no exception. Strange as it may seem, this year’s “Brightest and Best” adventure started with the bright and warm sun of the Central American country of Belize.

Richard and Debbie in Belize City for a 'visa vacation'
They’re often referred to in the mission worker community as ‘visa vacations’. For those of us working in Guatemala on a tourist visa, after six months in the country (following a 90-day renewal) we are required to leave the country for at least three days, after which we get a stamp in our passport and the cycle starts over again. For our most recent visa vacation, we traveled to Belize City where we stayed by the ocean, took many long walks, and enjoyed the local cuisine. In researching our trip to Belize, we failed to discover that our Guatemalan phones would not work once we crossed the international border. Though many of our younger Guatemalan contacts are comfortable with email and social media as a means of communication, our older friends (read: from our generation) are more comfortable communicating via phone. So, it was via the hotel’s Wi-Fi connection we received a note from the son of one of our contemporaries informing us about his dad. “My father has been trying to call you but hasn’t been able to get through. He wants you to know that while he was doing some work at the church center he punctured his leg on a wire. Because of his diabetes, the wound has not been healing and now there’s an infection. He’s laid up at home now. The doctor at the clinic said that if they can’t get the infection under control, he could lose his foot. He’s hoping he can get in touch with you so that you can ask his partners in the US to pray for him.”

Julian Ico
His name is Julian Ico. He’s been a fixture in the indigenous communities of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church for longer than we can remember. His involvement in his local church as pastor, his involvement in his local Q'eqchí Polochic presbytery as secretary, and his work with several church-wide committees has earned him a reputation as a solid leader and faithful disciple among his indigenous counterparts and non-indigenous friends in Guatemala, the US, and Canada. It didn’t seem to appear to him that his network of North American contacts might represent available resources to get him access to medical care that otherwise would be outside of his financial reach. His message to me was to contact the people he knows in North America to ask for prayers for his healing. So, from our hotel by the sea, we sent a message out to Julian’s partners and friends.

“Say shall we offer some costly devotion; Odors of Edom and offerings divine? Gems from the mountain and pearls from the ocean; Myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?"

Crossing back into Guatemala, the bars on our phones lit up once again and we placed a call to Julian. He sounded pretty bad. We told him that we had gotten the word out and that his friends were praying for him. “Gracias hermano, muchas gracias”, he kept saying. We also told him that there were sure to be people amongst his friends who will feel led to provide him with some help in getting some medical attention. “What would the cost be for you to come to the city and visit the clinic here?” He had no idea. He didn’t see that as an option. He was asking for prayer, not for money. He told me he would check into it and get back to me. Several days later, after checking with the local health center, he gave me the list of tests he should have and the possible medications he might need.
Maria in our backyard garden
Julian in his new running shoes
Indeed his partners and friends did respond. And after several failed attempts to get Julian transported from his village to Cobán, he arrived with his wife Maria to stay with us while he visited the clinic. He had consultations and tests surrounding his diabetes, his infected foot and resulting leg pain, as well as consultation for stomach pain (later diagnosed as kidney stones). After the consultations, blood tests, ultrasounds, and more consultations, Julian was prescribed several different internal and topical medications. His doctor also suggested some different shoes that might offer some cushioning for his leg and would not interfere with the wound on his foot. So, after a visit to the local running shoe store, he had a flashy pair of running shoes to compliment his other treatments. Though thinner and weaker than we’ve ever seen him, he was in good spirits as they prepared to return home.

"Vainly we offer each ample oblation. Vainly with gifts would his favor secure. Richer by far is the heart’s adoration. Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor."

Julian and family around our breakfast table
The time in our home passed by all too quickly; and as we sat around the breakfast table before heading to the bus for home, Julian and Maria (through Julian’s translation as Maria speaks only her native Q'eqchí language) took turns thanking us for our hospitality and asking us to be sure and contact everyone in order to thank them for their generosity in support of his healing. Then we prayed together. Julian in Spanish, Maria in Q'eqchí; lifting their voices with a humility and gratitude that comes from people who know what it is to depend entirely on God for everything in their lives. The prayer brought a new and profound meaning to the last sentence of that old hymn.

In sharing this old hymn and this new story we share Julian’s, as well as our thanks to you for your part in this unfolding miracle. Many of you had the opportunity to pray for Julian and to support him in his healing process. Many of you pray for us, read our post, visit and communicate with us, and support us in our work here. Your faces and names were in our thoughts as Julian prayed for us and for you. Truly, “Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.”

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

Projects and Presence, Part 1: Lessons in Partnership from ‘Clem’ and ‘Tine’

“Well Clem, whatcha got for us this year? Are we gonna plow the back 40, put up some hay, slop the pigs, or dig a new well?”
“Golly Tine, I was hopin’ this year we’d replace that fence in the front pasture that’s fallin’ down. I’ve got everything ready to go. So change out of those city clothes, put on your overalls, and we’ll get to work…”

What sounds like an excerpt from a 1950’s era western was actually an annual conversation between me (Richard) and my brother-in-law (Rob). For most of our married life, Debbie and I would spend Thanksgiving with Debbie’s sister Korreen and her husband Rob. Every year we would trade visits. One year we would travel to their suburban Everett, WA home, and the following year they would visit our little farm outside of Spokane, WA.
New barn doors on an old barn. A Clem 'n Tine project

Rob truly loved doing projects on the farm, hence the corny greeting as soon as they would arrive. Over the years our projects became as much a part of our Thanksgivings together as the Thursday meal or Friday shopping trips. Over many Thanksgivings at our home we built fences, replaced barn doors, chopped firewood, and dug trenches. On our visits to Everett we made many trips to the city dump, landscaped, and worked in the garage. Not only did our project time help us build appetites for the meal (or work off the effects of over eating), it also gave the sisters time to themselves to catch up with one another, and in retrospect, I believe I got to know the most I know about my brother-in-law from the time we spent working together.

Besides the fact that we are now celebrating our third Thanksgiving in Guatemala, I’ve had additional reasons for reminiscing about past holiday traditions. Throughout our history with mission partnerships (even prior to our new careers as PCUSA mission coworkers), we’ve experienced a tension between different approaches to partnership. To some, partnership can only exist in the context of working together building or creating something that improves the lives of their partners. The economic disparity between the partners dictates that project resources generally flow from the US partner to the Guatemalan partner. We’ve observed many buildings built, repaired, or improved, and many gains in health, education, and financial independence that have resulted from projects carried out by partners working together in these work-focused visits.
U.S. and Guatemalan partners work together
Building a pastor's manse in the Peten Presbytery
Yet many have observed how project-focused partnerships can easily encounter unintended consequences such as dependency, misappropriation of resources, paternalism, loss of partners’ self-esteem, and visits that resemble a service provider’s call rather than a gathering of equal partners. Recent book titles such as “When Helping Hurts” and “Toxic Charity” do an excellent job of identifying the reality and impact of these consequences.

On the other side of the spectrum, we’ve observed partnerships focused on the building and maintaining of long-term and deeply personal relationships between partners. We’ve observed wonderful personal connections develop as people worshiped, shared music, had meals, and listened to one another’s stories together. Spending time in one another’s homes and communities creates a lasting understanding of each person’s context and faith journey.

Yet challenges exist in the ministry of presence as well as people who visited in the past no longer make the trip for whatever reason. Stories are retold as new and experienced travelers gather visit after visit and keeping the partnership fresh and relevant to both parties becomes more difficult. Eventually, the disparity in resources between partners can become more difficult to reconcile, and it’s not uncommon to see a relationship come to a place where people want to do something together.

Lately we’ve wondered… at what point did we decide that partnership has to be either project focused or relationship focused? Both aspects offer much to the vitality of our partnerships. And so we return to Clem and Tine. One year our project was to chop firewood for the winter. In anticipation of the family’s arrival I borrowed a neighbor’s hydraulic wood splitter. We split lots of firewood. But at the end of the day after we turned off the motor on the machine and took off our hearing protection my brother-in-law commented, “Boy, you sure can’t have much of a conversation with that thing going can you?” Unknowingly, I’d traded our opportunity to visit with each other while we worked for increased firewood production. I don’t think it was a good trade. From then on we stuck to more manual, but less intrusive methods of working together.
Team members from Alabama mix concrete by hand
with their Guatemalan partners.
Very manual and "non-intrusive".
“Just don’t let your project become your purpose” were the closing words to a conversation I had with a friend as we discussed a major renovation project in our aging church facility. No one denied the need to make the old building accessible for people with physical limitations, but my friend was aware of the ability projects have in taking on lives of their own, and we can sometimes lose sight of the purpose our projects have in the lives of our relationships with one another. We’ve had the privilege of working alongside so many of you who have partnered with us as well as with our indigenous sisters and brothers in Guatemala. Whether it’s in the execution of projects, the deepening of relationships, the financial support that keeps our ministry going, or the regular encouragement of your communications with us, your involvement is a joy to experience and witness.

Thanksgiving blessings to you all, in all of the different ways you may be celebrating the season!

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

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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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