A letter from Philip and Bacilia Beisswenger in Guatemala
Grace to you, and peace from Guatemala!
This year the Evangelical National Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) celebrates the jubilee anniversary of its integration as an autonomous denomination. In 1962 the IENPG ceased to be a mission of its “mother church” in the North. Since then its presbyteries and institutions have come under Guatemalan leadership, with the U.S. church as its “sister.” Fifty years ago the days of missionaries and paternalism officially ended and the era of mission co-workers and partnership began.
This milestone was observed at the IENPG’s May synod meeting. God was given thanks for the generations of men and women who have sowed the gospel in Guatemala, tended to its growth, and harvested a Presbyterian church that now has over 14,000 members. Deep appreciation was voiced for the special role of the PC(USA) and its ongoing relationship with the IENPG. There was a thanksgiving service, a concert and awards ceremony, and even a soccer tournament between presbyteries.
Presbyterians aren’t the only ones with an historic event this year in Guatemala. Worldwide attention has turned toward this country because, according to the Mayan calendar, 2012 marks the conclusion of a great cosmic cycle. While some people (in Hollywood, for example) herald this as an apocalypse, the Mayans themselves don’t take these predictions seriously. Instead of doomsday, they look for the publicity to attract more tourists to learn about their culture.
Like the Mayans of Guatemala, the ancient Hebrew people had a cyclical view of life. The Jubilee year was an expression of this view. According to Leviticus 25, seven years seven times was a sacred time span, a full circle, and an opportunity to return things to their God-intended order. Each 50th year was called a Jubilee, meaning a joyful noise. Slaves were to be freed, debts cancelled, and lands returned to their original owners.
The Jubilee of the IENPG’s integration has brought with it some circumspection. Has anything of the church been lost over the years? How can it be restored? Are there debts that should be forgiven? Are there restraints that limit the church’s freedom to fulfill its mission? How can these restraints be broken? The Presbyterian Church here includes eight ethnic and language groups and all economic and educational levels within a social context of violence and injustice. Integrating such a body is an ongoing struggle, with lots of ups and downs, that relies upon God’s grace.
The good news is that Jesus arrived and declared that he’s been anointed by the Holy Spirit to proclaim release from captivity, recovery of sight, freedom from oppression, and the year of the Lord’s favor, that is, the Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19). So let trumpets blast and the people celebrate! Viva the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala! Viva its partnership with the PC(USA)! Viva God’s people, reformed and ever reforming! Viva Jesus Christ, and the Body of Christ, integrated and ever integrating!
Blessings and grace to you!
The Beisswengers—Philip, Bacilia, Matthew, Manny and Stefi
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 6