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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