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

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