Friday, May 23, 2014

Of Men, Meetings, and Machetes

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

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

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


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

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

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