Written by Kathy Gorman-Coombs, Co-pastor, Scotia-Trinity
The only other time I have been to a Guatemala Partnership Network Conference was in April of 2007, in Baltimore, before I had ever even been to Guatemala. I can remember feeling some combination of lost (in acronyms, names of places I could barely pronounce, and other “jargon”) and inspired (by Bible study, people I met, stories I heard). This time, thankfully, I felt a little less lost and a lot more inspired. It makes a lot of sense to have this gathering in Guatemala City; our Guatemalan partnership were well represented, translators were plentiful, and it just seems right to have this encounter take place in the midst of the context where we seek to share our faith journeys and know one another better. It is also, frankly, less expensive in terms of accommodations, etc., and possible for more US folks to travel there than for our Guatemalan friends, who often have very “day to day” livelihoods to take the time (and ex-pense) to come to us.
The days were highly structured, beginning with a time of worship and devotions, followed by various plenary and small group sessions. Worship included about 15 minutes of singing, and care had been taken to choose a number of songs that were familiar to Guatemalans and US folks alike—in our own languages. For example, “Open the Eyes of my Heart, Lord” is the same song as “Abre mis ojos, Oh Cristo”—and all would sing in their own language, or alternate, as seemed best. Each group also learned new songs.
Plenary’s included a presentation from the Sinodica (Women’s Association of the Guatemalan National Presbyterian Church) about the work they are doing to empower women through a variety of economic and health related programs; a time for members of the partnerships to ask questions of the leadership of the IENPG (Guatemalan Na-tional Presbyterian Church).
Small group discussions were made up of US Partners with their Guatemalan partners and included Bible studies and questions for us to reflect on, with a translator present. My group included myself, Jim Mosely, Executive Presbyter of New Castle Presbytery, which also has a partnership with the Mam Presbytery, and Pedro Daniel Cabrera and Is-rael Perez, the representatives from the Mam Presbytery, and a translator. One of our discussions was on the ques-tion “What is mission?” with reflection on Matthew 28:18-20 (the Great Commission) and Matthew 25:34-40 (the sheep and the goats). We found commonality in mission as including both doing for one another and sharing the Good News, as well as the importance of doing mission together as a breaking down of boundaries and barriers, sharing our commonality as human beings and Christians, “encouraging one another to greater faithfulness.” (a defi-nition of partnership I learned a few years ago from Karla Koll, long time PCUSA Mission Co-Worker in Central America).
An ad hoc group gathered during the conference to discuss and begin to word a clearer statement of purpose for the Network, as well as to plan ways for member partnerships to make use of the network, to share “best practices,” good experiences, tough les-sons learned, etc. Some of those who worked on this are working together via e-mail to refine and share it with the rest of us when ready.
After the conference, I stayed a few days to plan for Albany Presbytery’s next larger partnership trip to Guatemala, which is to be a Mutual Women’s Re-treat with the women of the Mam Presbyterial (Women’s Association). The dates for this will be July 23-25th, 2014 with a few days of travel and tour-ing before and after, to be facilitated by CEDEPCA. More information to follow on this! The meetings regarding this event gave me an opportunity to speak with Marina Monterosso, an “enabler” of sorts for the Presbyterial and Judith Castaneda, the Executive Director of CEDEPCA, about how we as partners with the women can help to em-power them in what is in general a more traditional and patriarchal culture and church than we have come to be. They were quite direct and helpful in sharing with me suggestions and the importance of us being clear about our valuing of equality and partnership between men and women, and helping the Mam women to challenge oppressive structures—while also being respectful of cultural differences and recognizing all the while that change, growth, working together for the realm of God—is a slow and meaningful process.
Each time I visit Guatemala (and this was my 7th visit) I am so filled with gratitude for the experience, the presence of God not just in that place, but truly in the partnership we share, the face of Christ in the people I meet and again, in our interactions together; the power of the Spirit in making it possible for us to find commonality at all. There is no doubt that being part of this has transformed and continues to transform me. I am convinced that this work is sig-nificant part of what God has called me to do, both for gifts I can share, and even more for the ways in which I am being formed by the work. I am grateful always to the Presbytery for the support that this work receives. Part of what I heard over and over during this time is that our presence there does make a difference, is seen and experi-enced as a loving sign of God’s presence with them; again and again I hear when in Guatemala some variation of the statement: “Thank you for just coming to be with us in our struggle and in our joy. “Que Dios le benediga” (May God Bless You).