A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear Sisters and Brothers:
Greetings from Guatemala! I apologize for having been out of touch for a few weeks. Sometimes life and commitments conspire to fill up all of my waking hours. I’m happy to have time now to let you know what I have been involved in during recent days.
On October 19 I returned to Guatemala from a quick trip to Geneva, Switzerland. A friend of mine who is a scholar in India, Atola Longkumer, is part of a team putting together a book on women in mission around the world. I was invited to submit a case study of Protestant women in Latin America. I’m working on a study of the 68 women who served as Presbyterian missionaries in Guatemala from 1882 to 1982 as a fairly typical example of a historic Protestant mission in Latin America. From October 15 to 18, 13 women from around the world gathered at the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, just outside of Geneva, to read and comment on each other’s drafts. These were wonderful, intense days of sharing insights and struggles, celebrating both diversity and commonalities in our experiences.
On October 18 I had the opportunity to visit the offices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). It was a good chance to reconnect with acquaintances and to learn more about current ecumenical efforts. Though there was concern among staff about the declining resources coming into ecumenical organizations, I found folks seeking to build networks and imagine possibilities for ongoing common witness. It was a wonderful day of conversations.
I found when I returned that Guatemala has received little rain this month, which is unusual for October. However, the lack of new rain doesn’t mean that the landslides have ended. The ground is still supersaturated. Though the government has made efforts to keep roads open, it remains to be seen when the tons of mud and rock on highways around the country might be moved, not to mention when repairs might be made in those places where sections of road have washed down mountainsides. The effects of the very heavy rainy season Central America has experienced will continue to be felt for many months to come. Here in Guatemala, 30 to 40 percent of the corn crop has been lost.
In the midst of many challenges, the work of CEDEPCA’s Biblical and Theological Training Program continues. This program operates as a branch of the Latin American Biblical University (UBL). At the end of September we held a planning meeting with staff, professors and students. Each person shared some of what the program has meant in his or her life. Several spoke of how their studies through CEDEPCA and the UBL have helped them come to a new understanding of God. Enthusiasm for continuing the program was high. Funding remains a challenge, but we have been encouraged by gifts from several Presbyterian churches and a UCC congregation in the United States. Every dollar helps.
It is also obvious that some things need to change if CEDEPCA and the UBL are going to be able to respond to the demand for theological education that we perceive in Guatemala today. Saturday classes are a must so that people who are working full time can have the opportunity to study. We are also planning to offer a yearlong certificate program for Sunday school teachers.
One change is already under way. The CEDEPCA library is being moved to a much larger space in the CEDEPCA office building. We are offering students the opportunity to pay for their classes by giving hours of work to the library. Soon we hope to have the books and journals well organized and available for use by students, staff and professors. Thanks to a generous gift from the Stewardship Committee of Princeton Theological Seminary, we are also in the process of acquiring more books to support our theological curriculum.
Courses have continued at CEDEPCA. Daniel Gloor, professor of New Testament from the UBL, offered an intensive course in exegetical method the second full week of October to 12 students. Daniel is a mission worker from Mission 21, a Reformed mission based in Basel, Switzerland. He arrived in Costa Rica in January after 10 years of teaching in Malaysia. He brought a variety of experiences into the classroom and to the encounter with the Biblical text. Everyone seems to have enjoyed the week. Now we are waiting for final papers on the book of Amos.
Our academic year draws to a close at the end of November. We have one more big event. We’ve invited Ruth Mooney, who teaches Christian education at the UBL, to return to Guatemala on November 17. She’ll be doing a workshop for CEDEPCA staff and teachers on teaching adults. We’ll also do a Saturday workshop for Sunday school teachers.
October 31 is Reformation Sunday. I’ll be preaching at both the English and Spanish services at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church here in Quetzaltenango. Every year this congregation invites women to fill its pulpit every Sunday in October.
My husband, Javier, is nearing the end of his licenciatura thesis in political science. Rewriting is always more difficult than writing, but his work is taking shape. We are looking forward to a graduation sometime early next year.
Our daughter, Tamara, is enjoying her senior year, despite the challenges and headaches that go with being student council president. She’ll take the SAT again in November. It’s time to start filling out the college applications. She’s looking forward to academic challenges and being on her own.
This month I would like to invite your prayers for Sonia Gonzalez, one of our students, who is on her way to Costa Rica to spend two months studying at the main campus of the UBL. Sonia has been working on her bachelor’s degree in theology for several years. She is a member of the Presbyterian church in Guastatoya, a small city about two hours east of the capital. She was moderator of the national organization of Presbyterian Women in the late 1990s when the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) debated the ordination of women. Even though Norte Presbytery voted against the ordination of women, on December 31, 2003, she was ordained as an elder. In addition to serving on the session of the church in Guastatoya, Sonia has served as secretary for the presbytery and as her presbytery’s representative on the executive committee of the synod. She was born in Chiquimula, but she moved to Guastatoya in 1973 to take a job as a primary school teacher. She and her husband, Hector, raised two sons and a daughter. Hector died several years ago. Sonia now has two grandsons to keep her busy. The academic year has just finished at the school where she is the director. She’s looking forward to the three courses she will be able to take this bimester in Costa Rica to move her closer to finishing her degree. She spent two months in Costa Rica in 2008. Sonia told me she knows there are many needs in the churches in her presbytery. With her theological training, she feels she will be better prepared to serve, perhaps not as a pastor, but in some capacity within the church.
Instead of recommending a book this month, I’d like to encourage you to see Reparando, a new documentary film about Guatemala that is currently being screened around the United States. The film tells the story of two Guatemalans, Shorty and Tita, who through faith have overcome difficult struggles and are now working to transform situations of poverty and violence. Reparando shows how the current levels of violence experienced in Guatemala today come out of the country’s recent history. The current reality here is portrayed without sugarcoating, but also without provoking pity. The film is not yet available on DVD, but you can find information about screenings at the Reparando movie website.
November is the month for reviewing the work we’ve done over the last year and writing our annual reports. It’s also a time of thanksgiving. We are grateful for the women and men who make up the CEDEPCA team and who give themselves wholeheartedly to the work of God’s mission in which we share. We are grateful for the women and men who dream of a better future for Guatemala and come to CEDEPCA to receive training. And we are especially thankful for friends who accompany us with their prayers and gifts. Thank you.
The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277