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A Letter from Amanda Craft in Guatemala

August 2011

Three Quiche women in traditional clothing.

Maya Quiche women.

Dignity Lost                                         

  • All those living on the finca work for and rent land and house from the landowner.  Accommodations are very basic wood-paneled, one-room homes. 
  • Many families have lived on the finca for generations without hope of owning land themselves.
  • With a decrease in the market value of coffee, many workers have lost jobs because owners decide to grow less of the product.
  • The decrease in value has also meant a decrease in pay.
  • Many families live separately as men travel to other cities or fincas looking for work.
  • Women are left working the fields and caring for their families trying to meet daily needs through backbreaking work.

Dignity Won

  • With a new finca owner, the workers were able to negotiate the installation of running water, alleviating the need to walk to the river to bring back water.
  • Presbyterians living on the finca also negotiated land to construct a simple church building on the premises. It is the only church present besides the Catholic church.
  • Women enjoy a bit of freedom since their husbands are not always present. They become the head of the household, making decisions about how to best care for their families and being able to spend more time in the public sphere working in the church and community.
  • It is the women who maintain the church and make up the most active and involved members.
  • The Maya Quiché named their first female lay pastor to care for the church in early 2011.

The women of the Maya Quiché Presbytery decided to host their convention on a small finca located in the mountains south of Quetzaltenango.  Finca San José de la Viña was not an easy place to get to, especially for those traveling by public transportation.  The scenery was picturesque but the cobble-stoned/gravel road leading into the finca was at times questionable.  But after being there a few minutes, watching the local women taking care of things, I understood the decision. 

The women decided to come to this remote location not because of its ease or nearness but because they wanted to support the women in this church.  In early 2011 the Maya Quiché Presbytery nominated its first-ever female lay pastor.  Most of those participating in the daily life of the church were women, and this particular woman continued to fulfill the tasks of any pastor.  With controversial support, the presbytery saw no other option and appointed her to this position.  The men in the local church were angered by the decision and have made it difficult for her to do her ministry effectively.  So the women chose this site as a sign of solidarity.  We ate with these women, we slept on their floors, and we worshiped in their church.  The women of the presbytery conducted their business in the church, electing new members and bringing greetings to all of those present. 

The women of the Maya Quiché Presbytery are stretched in their ministry by a particular number of leaders in their midst.  These women have had extraordinary opportunities in their churches and communities to see the world and their faith differently.  Much of what has changed their perspective is interaction with Presbyterian women from the United States.  They have met women elders and pastors.  They have met women lay leaders who take on distinct leadership roles to engage the church in justice ministries.  Several of the women have also had extended interaction with PC(USA) mission personnel, who have encouraged them to work in areas and ministries that relate specifically to women and the issues that affect women.  Each time I visit these women I am surprised by their willingness to learn new skills and new ways of doing ministry.  Their faith leads them to new places and new perspectives.  It is refreshing and inspiring, especially in the midst of presbytery leadership that is not always supportive.  However, they have seen that women’s work and ministry in the church is another essential piece required to fully glorify God and to bring God’s care to those in need. 

Amanda Craft

The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 286

Blog: Walking with Guatemalan sisters of faith
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