A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
August 1, 2010
Dear friends in Christ,
It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon here in Quetzaltenango. The last few days we have had a bit less rain here than in recent weeks, though other parts of the country continue to receive more rain than usual. Landslides and localized flooding continue. It’s nice to have an afternoon to relax and spend a bit of time with friends through writing this newsletter.
Javier and Tamara, my husband and daughter, returned home from Nicaragua on Thursday, so we are all together once again. Tamara now has a new Nicaraguan passport. Her mosquito bites are fading. Her stomach didn’t respond well to the amount of grease in typical Nicaraguan food, but I hope her appetite returns soon.
I have been asked by the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) to be the interim academic dean of the Biblical and Theological Training program for the coming months while we seek to discern what the program is called to be and whom it is called to serve in the future. As I imagined, this has meant more much for work for me as well as much more time in the CEDEPCA office in the capital. I’ve been talking with students, going through files, and dialoging with colleagues at CEDEPCA. The program is related to the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica, so I have also been communicating with the leadership there. I ask for your prayers as I live into these new duties and set the program up for the next person.
I’m teaching one course this semester in the capital on Christian ethics. There are five folks who gather with me on Wednesday mornings to consider how it is that Christians make moral decisions and how we can encourage people and communities to take responsibility for the moral dimensions of their lives.
In addition to weekly classes, my schedule includes some special events this month. On August 11 a group of five women from Fairfax Presbyterian Church are coming to Guatemala along with Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Shannon Wooley of the Looking for Lilith Theater Company. Carolyn Thalman, Jen’s mother, is also coming. They will be participating in a retreat with women from the Sinodica, the national organization of Presbyterian women here as part of the Faith Stories Project. The retreat will be here in Quetzaltenango, which means Tamara will also be able to be involved. The visitors will also be learning about Guatemala through CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters program. I’ll be accompanying them the week they are here in the country.
On Friday, August 20, I’ll travel to Poptún in Peten in order the following day to teach the second session of a course on the mission of the church. I went up to Poptún for the first time on July 23. The students, who come from a number of mostly Pentecostal churches, were eager to learn. They had lots to share out of their own experience as well as lots of questions. CEDEPCA has been teaching classes in Poptún for almost three years now. There are no other opportunities available for theological education there. It’s a long trip, more than seven hours by bus from the capital, but it’s worth it to see people developing new understandings of their faith.
As I have mentioned before, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza of Harvard Divinity School will be coming to Guatemala this month. We are expecting more than 200 participants at the conference where she will be speaking on August 26 and 27. The theme of her talks will be “Traveling the Paths of Wisdom: Feminist Biblical Interpretation.” There is still a lot of work to do to get ready for the conference. I’ll be working on the translation of the texts for Dr. Fiorenza.
Once he catches up on his rest after his visit to Nicaragua, Javier will be starting back to work on his thesis. He still hopes to graduate this year with his licenciatura in political science from Rafael Landivar University.
Tamara will be starting her senior year of high school on August 16 at the Interamerican School here in Quetzaltenango. It hardly seems possible! She’s taking another college course online, creative writing this time. She’ll also continue teaching English classes on Saturdays at a local language school. It’s time to start the college application process, which will be both exciting and tension-producing for all of us.
It’s certainly a time in which we all need prayers.
This month I’d like to introduce you to a couple I was able to get to know better when I was in their home in Poptún. Alvaro Perez and Elizabeth (Betty) Andrade used to live in Sumpango, about 35 kilometers from Guatemala City. They have been up in Poptún for four years now. Betty started taking classes in CEDEPCA’s women’s program before starting in the theology program. She talked to me about how important CEDEPCA has been in her life in helping her develop both her capacity for reflection and her leadership skills. Alvaro, with Betty’s help, serves as pastor for the Prince of Peace Church in Poptún, part of a national Pentecostal denomination. As president of the local pastors’ association, Alvaro is encouraging his colleagues to study. He insists on starting every meeting of the association with a class. Alvaro and Betty invited CEDEPCA to come to Poptún to offer classes. These courses have allowed Betty to continue her theological education. I’m encouraging Betty to think about studying in Costa Rica next year.
My friend Daniel Caño, a q’anjob’al intellectual who has participated in CEDEPCA’s theology classes in Quetzaltenango, wrote to tell me that some of his poems had been included in a new collection of contemporary Mayan poetry. I just happened to be in the capital last weekend to be able to go to the book presentation at the international book fair and hear Daniel read his work. Fifteen poets have their work included in Uk’u’x kaj, uk’u’k ulew: Antología de poesía maya guatemalteca contemporánea. Maya Cu, another of the poets included, is an educator and communicator who used to work with CEDEPCA. I don’t usually list books that are only available in Spanish, but I wanted to let you know about this important work that shares part of the revitalization of Mayan literature. It has been published by the University of North Carolina. Unfortunately this means it will be more available in the United States than here in Guatemala.
It’s a privilege to share my life and work with folks here in Guatemala, just as it is a gift for us to have you share with us. Thank you for the prayers. I also appreciate your messages even if I don’t always have a chance to answer immediately.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277