We made it back to Guatemala City, our last full day of site visits. We had gotten in late following the overheating of our bus as it climbed the steep mountains surrounding Atitlán, only to be met as we arrived in Guatemala City with a three-hour traffic jam. We had heard that traffic could be bad, but never imagined we’d experience anything like this firsthand.
Up and out early, we embarked on our drive through the city toward our first stop of the day, a visit, tour and lunch at CEDEPCA. CEDEPCA is the third partner in the relationship with New Castle Presbytery and the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development.
Their full English name is the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America, and they are committed to educational work that transforms lives. They do this through education and programming, supporting programs such as Intercultural Encounters, Disaster Ministry, Women’s Ministry, and a Biblical and Theological Seminary.
One of the first things we heard reinforced the power of working together. It was that CEDEPCA connected with PC(USA) 37 years ago because of a brochure that said: “PC(USA) does mission in partnership.” We learned the power of their work: the water filters, disaster relief efforts, and most meaningful, the women’s empowerment effort that centers on raising self- esteem, dignity, and self-growth. It struck the both of us that we were hearing things we might take for granted living in our country, not seeing this kind of disparity in teaching and value in genders. We realized that what we had seen this week was the impact of this work…the women that were part of these programs were experiencing a whole new world, a world of hope. CEDEPCA is right in their belief that the best way to do mission is in partnership!
After a CEDEPCA lunch, we were off to visit Iglesia Jesus es el Camino (Jesus is the Way Church.) As we drove through Guatemala City, we couldn’t help but see the incredible sights of international businesses and opulent condos, contrasted with oppressive poverty and slums hanging over the ridge of a 400 foot ravine. As we crossed the ravine, we were told of an account in which an 11 year old boy was murdered, thrown off the bridge when he refused to join a gang because of his commitment to his Christian faith.
The journey took us into an area that was designated as “a red zone,” one of several identified for their corruption, crime, danger and poverty…all the makings of a nightmare and yet, behind the metal gates, here was a place of hope, a sanctuary!
Once inside, we discovered that people of God were working with few resources and tremendous faith to bring hope to the community. Pastor Emerson, who was also one of trip facilitators and translators, has a heart for their community, in all of its problems and struggles.
The church is home to a very industrious and entrepreneurial group of six teenagers and young adults who desire to make a difference by starting Utz-Pan (meaning “good bread”) in the kitchen of the church. This program was made possible by a PC(USA) Self Development of People Grant that enabled the youth to purchase the high-end equipment needed to start this initiative. So we saw our One Great Hour of Sharing offerings at work!
The young bakers shared their story, showing us their kitchen where they bake 6 different types of bread with each young person sharing their own skills as part of the team. They patiently taught and let us bake sweet bread with them. We were amazed how these young men and women could rise up in the midst of even their own life struggles to balance school, work, and responsibilities at home while they work toward a bright future in business!
We ended our evening worshiping together with the congregation…hundreds of God’s people gathered in the place of hope, love, and faith…clapping and singing, experiencing the power of God’s Spirit binding us, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, brothers and sisters in faith. There was even a moment when our own Missional Presbyter, Sister Tracy was moved by the Spirit to bring God’s blessing to the whole congregation. We listened, we prayed, we laughed and celebrated together, as the people of God, no boundaries, no walls, no barriers, together as the church.
We left that night worn out but filled. We had an amazing week in a country that impacted our hearts and souls. We were reminded of a saying that we heard earlier in the week: “One week is not enough time for you to change Guatemala, but one week is enough time for Guatemala to change you.”
Tim and Norma Bostick, Limestone Presbyterian Church