Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Gathering notes

Almost a dozen Crescent Hill folks interested in Guatemala mission gathered Sunday to talk about the recent Guatemala mission trip and follow-up. The half a dozen 2012 Guatemala mission team members there took turns sharing memories and reflections. A dominant theme among the mostly adult Guatemala repeat visitors was that it was like a family reunion, as they reconnected with people from previous trips and connected the dots about relationships among Guatemalans. Visualizing, implementing, and cementing relationship-building was a general theme also. Some team members raved about going to Tikal, while others said that more time spent in El Estor and environs might have been worthwhile. Folks there brainstormed about possible next steps: Jane underlined the possibility of additional support for the theological education institute for pastors and other church leaders, perhaps with leftover funds or through the rarely celebrated at Crescent Hill Theological Education Sunday, the Sunday before World Communion Sunday, when the local part of Crescent Hill’s Peacemaking Offering might go towards the training institute. Jane also talked about the possibility of asking if some of the women who shared with team members craft gifts, or even their PW circle colleagues, could be induced to make some more and send them to us and we could sell them, perhaps at an alternative Christmas fair, perhaps along with some Appalachian crafts, with the money being returned to them. This might result in something ongoing, Jane said, perhaps even involving those mystery sewing machines there (or the Guatemalans might in turn show Crescent Hill folks how to use the Guatemalans’ miniature looms). Jane also mentioned the possibility on the next trip of visiting other outlying churches: Monte Sinai, Hijo del Dios Viviente, and Buen Samaritano, and nearby towns like Puerto Barrios and Livingston.

Perry raised the possibility of joint mission projects such as bringing some Guatemalans to go on an Appalachian mission trip to Hazard and possibly joint fund-raising, for example, for Fletcher and Sarah’s children’s mission in Malawi and then having several Crescent Hill and Guatemalan folks travel there together. He also asked whether Crescent Hill was interested in reviving parallel Bible study or prayer vigils. Soni mentioned the possibility of a scrap-booking project in which some team members and others in the congregation might make scrapbooks about each successive trip/visit, using available photos and possibly other artifacts. Those gathered extended this to talk about the possibility of a Food for Thought Sunday lunch when Crescent Hill folks shared about the recent trip and perhaps other visits, using the scrapbooks or slides of the scrapbook materials. Assuming the August 12 Guatemala Sunday goes as planned, with the mission team-led worship service and the talk by Amanda Craft at lunch after worship, another team this might take place would be in November, perhaps in conjunction with a Guatemalan and Appalachian crafts fair.

Jane reported on her and Ellen’s participation in a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Guatemala mission network gathering planning meeting, after the other team members have returned to the United States, when these folks brainstormed about a networking gathering in Guatemala in January 2013, during the dry season, which Jane had mixed feelings about and wasn’t sure Crescent Hill would be able to participate in.

Jane also mentioned a few things she’s include in future trips, including: everyone bringing a water bottle in advance, not staying at Bruno’s in Rio Dulce, giving people a couple of menu options only for dinner, and pre-ordering breakfast with all of the same menu. She also mentioned that she ran into Marisabela, the El Estor hotel proprietress, at the Hotel Spring in Guatemala City.

The group also talked about thank-you gifts and notes going to the many Crescent Hill folks who helped out, and the details/process of trying to replace the damaged Hotel Marisabela window air-conditioning unit. Perry expressed an interest in gathering more of the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of partners that mission team members gathered while in Izabal. Perry said he’d help draft a possible new partnership plan/covenant, while Jane said she’d set a date for a smaller group to finalize plans for the Sunday, August 12 worship service. Jane urged any who had not to read the reflection statements by Appalachian mission team participants, and hoped that all team members in town would participate in the service in some way, with a handful presenting reflections.

The group also brainstormed a little about the second part of August's Guatemala Sunday: mission co-worker Amanda Craft's Food for Thought talk after worship. Jane suggested that Amanda focus on her work with women in Guatemala and Stephanie volunteered to make beans and rice. Another topic Amanda might address in connection with her work with Guatemalan church women: her own process of family change. More food preparation volunteers will be needed. Perry also indicated he would take a stab at a draft partnership plan, in consultation with others. There was also a general discussion about engaging the congregation more in the partnership. A few participants said the phrase "Guatemala mission task force" might turn some people, and the possibility of a name group name was raised.

There was no discussion about future gathering, although a 9:30 a.m. Saturday, August 11 date had been set tentatively.


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mid-July gathering

Members of Crescent Hill’s 2012 Guatemala mission team, Guatemala mission task force participants, and other Crescent Hill folks interested in Guatemala mission will gather at 6:00 p.m. today (Sunday) at the home of Anne Del Prince, at 640 Country Club Road, to talk about the trip earlier this month and August partnership activities.  Anne's home is located between Pastor Jane's home and the VA hospital  Everyone is welcome.

July prayers

This month Crescent Hill church will pray with and for our Guatemalan partners:

-On Sunday, July 1, and during the week thereafter: Estoreño Presbytery Presbyterian Women organization, President Maria Coc Tial, and other officers.

-On Sunday, July 8, and during the week thereafter: Estoreño Presbytery youth and young adult organization, President Roderico Sacul Tiul, and other officers.

-On Sunday, July 15, and during the week thereafter: Peniel church in Boqueron, Pastor Pablo Sacul, and members, deacons, and elders.

-On Sunday, July 22, and during the week thereafter: Familia de Noe church in El Estor’s Sinai neighborhood, Pastor Benjamin Sacul and family, and members, deacons, and elders.

- On Sunday, July 29, and the week thereafter: Lirio de los Valles church in El Estor’s San Jorge neighborhood, Pastor Mario Xo Ical and family, and members, deacons, and elders.

- On Sunday, August 5, and the week thereafter: Puerto del Cielo church in the El Estor suburb of La Union.


Half a dozen times team members gathered for evening devotions, frequently with breath-taking vistas (including lakefront rooftop terraces in El Estor and Flores). Devotions gave team members an opportunity to reflect on the day or days, to connect scripture and their experiences, to sing and pray, and discern their future and the partnership’s future. One of the most memorable – and longest – devotion was Tuesday in El Estor, when a driving rainstorm forced team members from the rooftop terrace to the old restaurant in Hotel Marisabela.



Another change from five years in Guatemala was the mode of transportation. “Chicken buses” – converted U.S. school buses packed with hot passengers (including chickens) and painted bright colors – were less numerous now, with some luxury buses apparently partially taking their place. Now making the scene was the tuk tuk – also dubbed the “auto rickshaw” - an overgrown golf cart that seemed to provide taxi-like service (and sometimes private transportation) in the Flores area, in some rural areas, and – to a lesser extent – in Rio Dulce and Guatemala City. The spread of the tuk-tuk seemed to erode Guatemalan families’ geographic isolations. Minivans, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and walking (sometimes long distances) still abounded.


Bad service

When all the mission team members ate together as a whole service was generally very slow and mediocre at best. Probably the best service the team got when all 14 ate together was at the Yuyo restaurant in El Estor (pictured above). Only in Flores did team members split up into small groups for meals, and in these cases service was generally better. Food was somewhat hit and miss, but some restaurants with bad service still had great food. Vegetarians faced special challenges at restaurants, as did people experiencing stomach/intestinal issues. On occasions team members skipped restaurant meals altogether.


Fun with Philip

Philip Beisswenger, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker who has helped PRESGOV and partnerships between PC(USA) and Guatemalan Presbyterian groups, spoke with the older mission team members in the courtyard of the Hotel Spring in Guatemala City. A few team members had met Phillip at an Amigos de K’ekchi’ gathering in Nashville, when he was working with the partnership between the Middle Tennessee presbytery and a Q’eqchi’ presbytery. Crescent Hill folks updated Philip about the Crescent Hill-Estoreño partnership. Philip introduced himself to newer Crescent Hill folks, emphasized Presbyterian partnership principles, and answered questions about PRESGOV, theological education, and congregation-to-presbytery partnerships. For more on the ministries of Beisswinger and spouse Bacilia, see the blog at:


Guatemala City

A few spare hours in Guatemala City brought mission team members into town for dinner and shopping in a downtown market but also a chance to experience a quinceñera at the Roman Catholic cathedral and a telethon in the large square in front of the presidential palace.



Temples, monkeys, and a breath-taking aerial view awaited mission team members on Thursday during a visit from Flores to Tikal, the area Peter dubbed the one-time “New York City” of the Mayan civilization. The night before the trip Peter described how Tikal was one of dozens of Mayan sites around Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, but was the leading site, with some 100,000 people living there at its height around 900 C.E. Apparently the city outgrew its resources and a drought may have helped wipe it out, with survivors spreading out to other Mayan communities.

During the Tikal visit, the guide who worked with the mission team, Jesus, showed the team members how many of the sites both symbolized and analyzed the calendar year and described the theory that it was the WINNERS of the Mayan ball game who were honored by being sacrificed/beheaded. He also showed team members the ramon, the super-nutritious nut that Mayans cooked with.  Peter also explained that the Mayans and other Amerindians were the first group to domesticate what became one of the world’s most important grains, corn/maize, which was one of the most difficult to domesticate and the only one domesticated outside of the Tigris/Euphrates valley. Jane reminded the team that the Tikal visit was part of educational activity that Crescent Hill folks had promised to do – to learn more about Guatemala and the Q’eqchi’ – and a reminder of the noble origins of the church’s Q’eqchi’ partners.

No visit to this world cultural site would be complete without contemporary cultural references. A scene from the tail end of the “Star Wars” 4 movie is what Doug (pictured above) saw from a Tikal high point, and Tavi pointed out that the screams of the zombies/vampires in “I Am Legend” sounded just like those of the howler monkeys at Tikal. And the ceiba, the sprawling Mayan tree of life (pictured below), harkens back to a similar tree of life – and civilization – in the movie “Avatar.”


Other church visit views

Roadside stop

At various points Crescent Hill team members had hoped they could visit two outlying churches that have been part of the presbytery for several years: the Monte Sinai church in San Carlos El Porvenir, near Puerto Barrios, and the Hijo del Viviente Dios church in La Guitarra, which I thought was near Livingston. Long before the trip started, I realized that La Guitarra wasn’t really accessible from Livingston. And soon after we arrived, others confirmed that San Carlos was PAST Puerto Barrios and so at least four hours away. We soon nixed both trips, when it turned out that, although the road from Rio Dulce to Flores would take us a few miles from La Guitarra, the rain would clearly have made the muddy, rutted narrow dirt road from the highway to the hamlet accessible for our large van. Still, Pastor Fidel, who travels to La Guitarra to preach once a month, schemed that the team might visit with other Hijo church leaders. And so as the team prepared to leave El Estor Wednesday morning, Fidel gave team members a cell phone number for a church leader, and said that – hours before the team would near La Guitarra – a small group of church leaders was already waiting by the side of the road. After two hours, the van pulled into Semox, the tiny crossroads where the road to La Guitarra swung left, where four men were indeed waiting along the road for the team. A short conversation, presentation, and prayer – sped up by team members who were nervous about a van full of Yankees and disembarking along a highway that had once been branded too dangerous for tourists – and the team was off.


School visit vistas

Children's activities images

Friday, July 20, 2012

The lake environment

In the five years since Crescent Hill folks first visited El Estor, the nickel mine has resumed operations (as well as essentially shutting down an Estoreño Presbytery congregation when it took over the land it and some of its worshipers were on) and a sugar cane plant has begun operating west of Panzos. Both of these have likely polluted Lake Izabal and the local water supply. Algae was very visible in the lake which probably has helped deplete the fish supply. The ratio between land using as plantation agriculture and ranching land, as well between plantation agriculture and subsistence farming, has apparently shifted in plantation agriculture’s favor. More and more land along the roadsides is now devoted to the growing and harvesting of coffee, fruit, timber, sugar cane, and palm oil, among others. All of this has reduced the amount of available land for people in the area to live on and farm on (and even to plant churches on).



In addition to the women’s workshop, mission team members encountered other women church leaders along the way. Visiting from the Monte Sinai church in San Carlos El Porvenir/Puerto Barrios were a female elder and a female deacon, the first such people we had met from the presbytery. These were all from a church the team had talked about visiting, but finally decided such a visit would have to wait until the next trip. When a group visited the Espiritu Santo church when its pastor, José Domingo, was at the theological training institute, his son encouraged the women to speak up, and Peter encouraged the group to permit silence to go on, which might leave space for others to pipe in. And so the group heard from several female leaders of the church, including from the leaders of the church’s women’s organization. And, in terms of women leaders, let’s not forgot the woman in Panzos who voiced concerned about the possible Catholicism of the Bibles and the women who prepared food for mission team members and others three days in a row at the Arca de Noe church (pictured in the “lunch” post).

Keep in mind that most Estoreño Presbytery congregations appear to have female majorities, some of them by wide margins.


La congregacion Esfuerza

Having abandoned the El Chupon mission congregation after a violent conflict with the nickel mining company over the land, the Arca de Noe church opted to sponsor a mission congregation on the northeast side of town in the Esfuerza neighborhood. A group of Crescent Hill mission team members visited this congregation on Tuesday afternoon and talked with Pastor Antonio and his family. Antonio is an old friend of Ellen and Roger and Gloria Marriott who is relatively new to the area. Antonio was serving the El Chupon visit when the 2009 Crescent Hill mission team visited El Estor, and he was the first Guatemalan to arrive (separately) for the Coban retreat in summer 2010.

Antonio is paid a very small stipend by Arca de Noe and he and Pastor Gerardo had a long conversation in Q’eqchi’ only in the midst of the mission team visit that surprised some team members. And Antonio hinted that he might not be doing this forever.

This and the La Union congregation were the smallest that team members visited, and it and the Panzos congregation had the most primitive quarters. Antonio and his family live next door.


Doug (Sr.) and Pastor Raul's jam session

Click here and then on the right arrow to listen to beautiful music by Doug (Sr.) and Pastor Raul Sunday night at the Altar de Noe church in the Cerritos neighborhood of El Estor:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Partnership dialogue

Tuesday afternoon, first the whole team, then a subgroup, sat down with the members of the presbytery’s partnership committee: the three December Kentuckiana visitors plus the two would-be visitors who were not able to obtain visas: Raul Contreras and Maria. Maria was one of women who participated in the 2010 Coban retreat. The two sides agreed to continue the partnership for at least another three years, until 2015. Crescent Hill mission team members agreed that a couple of hundred dollars leftover from the Q’eqchi’ Bible purchases could go towards for transportation of pastors and other church leaders of faraway Estoreño churches to and from El Estor for the theological training institute and for food and refreshments for the visitors (and other participants) while they were in El Estor. There was also some discussion about the $50 a month communication budget, which Crescent Hill folks had thought might go towards Internet access. Instead, the Estoreño folks said they preferred to talk with Crescent Hill by phone and use the money for cell phone minutes. They also said they had office space and could use money to pay an administrative assistant. Eventually, Crescent Hill folks said the presbytery leaders could choose how to spend the money, but they wanted the presbytery to report to the church twice a year how it was being spent (partly since CHPC had started sending six months’ worth of money every six months). (Other Crescent Hill folks wondered if Rene got money to pay for more bandwidth, which Rene has confirmed he could use, if Skype between El Estor and Kentuckiana might work.) Ramiro asked about the Guatemalans’ request that a fraternal worker, even a youth or young adult, be sent to Izabal, and Crescent Hill folks said they had tried (through the PC(USA)) to have a Young Adult Volunteer sent there. The Estoreño folks also agreed that the visits were worthwhile (although a woman at the La Union church had asked about their cost.) (Separately, Crescent Hill folks talked about trying on the next trip to visit the Monte Sinai church in San Carlos El Porvenir near Puerto Barrios and the Hijo del Dios Viviente church in La Guitarra.) The two sides each agreed to write up some plans for the future (as well as the Crescent Hill folks confirming the partnership extension with the church session). Seven people – members of the Estoreño partnership committee and Doug (Sr.) and Peter – exchanged telephone numbers.

Before the formal partnership dialogue, a small group huddled over expense reimbursement for the visit. Crescent Hill had offered to cover the cost of transportation for up to five visitors from each of the outlying churches (Panzos, Monte Sinai, Buen Samaritano, and Hijo del Dios Viviente) who would travel to and from El Estor for the Crescent Hill-led workshops and for groceries for the group lunches Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday and for the host families for Sunday supper and Monday breakfast. It was a little ambiguous as to whether Crescent Hill was to pay for the cost of groceries for lunch for the outlying visitors. In the relatively detailed bill that Roberto, the presbytery treasurer, presented Crescent Hill representatives, no grocery money for the host families was included, but the cost of the three lunches for the Crescent Hill mission team members, the visitors, and – in the case of Tuesday – all of the theological training institute students was included. Crescent Hill reps balked at paying all of this. When Crescent Hill added in the money to the family, the difference between what Roberto asked for and what the presbytery received in cash was about 400 quetzales, or about $50. Next time Crescent Hill and the presbytery may want to be more clear about the food costs.


Theological training institute

In the wake of efforts by two different Presbyterian mission co-workers to upgrade theological education for Q’eqhchi’ pastors and other Q’eqchi’ church leaders, the Estoreño presbytery itself undertook such training initially for Estoreño church leaders only (although other Q’eqchi’ presbyteries apparently inquired about it as Estoreño got started). Estoreño leaders have been asking Crescent Hill church for assistance with this project for a while, and Crescent Hill promised to send (or beam) an instructor. But, without that, the presbytery managed to land a grant from the national Guatemalan church and partner with the Presbyterian seminary in Guatemala to bring a seminary professor to El Estor for three days (maybe once a month?).

Tuesday, the mission team’s third day in El Estor, was the first day of the first week of this training institute. Tuesday morning the mission team got to hear some of the professor’s opening and lecture and then team members were introduced. The next morning, when the mission team was about to leave El Estor, the team and the institute participants took a break to sing and pray the team on its way. In the interstices, the team saw that the curriculum for the institute, which the grant had helped pay for, included copies for all of the Spanish translation of "The Presbyterian Sense of Life," by John MacKay, a former Princeton seminary president.

One residue of the mission team’s visit, besides authorizing the leftover funds after the purchase of 120 Q’eqchi’ Bibles, was this: The seminary professor lectured very effectively in Spanish. After participating in the Peter-led church history workshop, which included Ramiro translating into Q’eqhchi’, the professor apparently opted to ask for Spanish-to-Q’eqchi’ translation of the rest of his lectures.



At one time or another, all of the young people on the mission team spent time playing at two parks in El Estor and one in Flores. In El Estor, they went numerous times to a park on the main street between Arca de Noe and the bakery. A couple of times they also went to a larger, albeit flooded, soccer field. In both places local kids accompanied them, and they played soccer and frisbee. In Flores the young people – and, for a while, Alfredo – went several times to a basketball court at the top of the hill in the center of the island that Flores sits on. Some of them met Brian, and played basketball against Guatemala, until all of them arrived and they threw frisbee and shot baskets. Back in Rio Dulce, the Bruno’s swimming pool emerged as a similar venue, where the young men and – for a time – Alfredo, Doug, and Perry – played monkey in the middle.