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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1 comment:

  1. It is very encouraging to read about the hope these young scholars have for the future. Education coupled with faith is clearly making a BIG difference in lives there in Guatemala!