A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
First, a word of thanks to all for your prayers and your notes of concern for the Tzul Tzul family. Javier talked with Marcelo’s widow, Maria Candalaria, yesterday. Byron is due to be released from the hospital tomorrow, January 4. All of our information is second-hand, so it’s very hard to know how he’s doing or what the long-term prognosis is for him. Apparently he has to wear some kind of back brace. As far as we know, he has not yet been told of his father’s death. I’m sure the family can still use lots of prayers.
Now, on to my regular prayer letter. A new month begins. A new year begins. My neighbors rang in the new year with firecrackers and fireworks: money literally going up in smoke. The noise went on for more than half-an-hour, much to the distress of our dogs and cats.
I suppose the fact that many here feel they have resources to burn should be a good sign. As I’ve spent the last three weeks here in Quetzaltenango, I am amazed by the prosperity of Guatemala’s second city. Driving around town it’s hard to believe this country has rates of absolute poverty equal to or above the rest of the region. Quetzaltenango, also known as Xela, provides educational, medical, commercial and banking services to surrounding communities. Even so, it’s hard to see how the local economy can support so much high overhead commercial space and so many luxury homes. There is even a new 10-story luxury apartment building going up not far from our house, though I do not understand why anyone would want to live in a multistory building in this active earthquake zone. Though Quetzaltenango has been relatively isolated from the wave of violent crime in Guatemala, we are seeing another side of the drug trade: money laundering.
Yet poverty is here as well. We visited with a friend of Javier’s who works for the Ministry of Agriculture. He told us that pockets of malnourished children have been found in communities in the mountains to the north of Xela. Malnutrition will undoubtedly become more widespread because the rains damaged much of last year’s corn harvest. He also told us of a doctor who was stealing food gived to affected families to sell on the black market. Corruption: another part of the ongoing story here.
This year, 2011, is an election year. Already today, Monday, January 3, the highways are blocked at various points by protests. In this case, those protesting are members of the civil defense patrols who were used by the army during the civil war against the guerrillas. The previous administration initiated a project with the former patrollers, offering them payment in exchange for work in reforestation. Those protesting claim they haven’t been paid for the trees they planted. Though December 29 marked the 14th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Accords here, many issues from the war remain unresolved.
Because the official mechanisms of political power here, such as the legislature, are so disconnected from the general population, many groups resort to protests to make their demands known. Blocking highways is a favorite protest tactic. As the September elections approach, protests are likely to become more frequent. Most protests are peaceful, but they are very disrupting. I hope to be able to make it to the capital and back every week.
I’m starting back to work on January 6, even though the CEDEPCA office doesn’t officially open until Monday, January 10. David Hernandez and I want to get a head start on promoting our theology classes. We hope to have many more students than last year when classes start in February. The theological education program is moving in several new directions. We’ll be offering university-level classes on Saturdays for the first time. We are also offering a certificate program in Christian Education for Sunday school teachers. The program is receiving many requests from around the country to offer theological formation. Join us in praying for creativity and resources to respond to these requests.
I have enjoyed this quiet vacation at home, which has included lots of Christmas tamales as well as church services. I found the top of my desk for the first time in several years. I also made progress in cleaning out files, as attested to by the boxes of paper ready for recycling. My heavy workload in the coming months means I need to be efficient, something which will be helped by greater organization here at home (or that’s the theory, anyway). This is also a way of preparing for upcoming transitions.
Our daughter, Tamara, turned in her college applications a couple of days ago. It’s such a different process now that it was 30 years ago, as everything is done online. Now the waiting begins. She still has her heart set on Reed College, but she applied to a total of five schools. It’s my turn now to fill out all of the financial aid forms. I would greatly appreciate advice from anyone who has been through this process before. Tamara starts her final semester of high school on Wednesday.
My husband, Javier, is continuing to jump through bureaucratic hoops at Rafael Landivar University. He hopes to be able to turn in his thesis in a couple of weeks, then he’ll go off to Nicaragua to deal with things on our farm.
I don’t have many commitments on my calendar yet for this month. A group from St. Paul’s School of Theology, a Methodist seminary in Kansas City, will be visiting the country through CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters Program from the 12th through the 22nd. I won’t be able to be with them during very much of their visit, but I’m looking forward to introducing them to people here in Quetzaltenango who can help them understand the reality here.
This year marks CEDEPCA’s 25th anniversary. I thought I would share a bit this month about the history of CEDEPCA. The roots of the organization can be traced back to a project of the Latin American Mission called Evangelism-in-Depth, which was an effort to involve all the members of the Protestant or evangelical churches in evangelistic efforts. After a decade or so of evangelistic work, the leaders of the project began to ask why the growth of evangelical churches hadn’t led to transformed communities. By the beginning of the 1970s, things seemed to be getting worse for most of Latin America’s population. Some leaders of Evangelism-in-Depth concluded that the problem lies in the model of church. The pastor-centric model of most churches left the congregation passively sitting in the pews expecting the pastor to carry out the entire ministry. In order for churches to become agents of transformation in their communities, the churches themselves needed to be transformed. The Latin American Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies (CELEP) was formed to train all church members, not just pastors, to carry out God’s mission. CELEP became an independent organization in 1974. CELEP encouraged the emergence of regional movements. The Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) was legally incorporated in Guatemala in 1986. We continue to train women and men from the churches to be faithful disciples of Jesus and to work to transform their churches and communities. Thank you for being part of this work.
Recently I read Sue Monk Kidd’s delightful novel The Secret Life of Bees, which is set in South Carolina in the 1960s. It’s a wonderful story of women building community and drawing strength from feminine images of the divine. A friend then lent me Traveling with Pomegranates, a memoir by Sue Monk Kidd and her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a memoir by a woman entering her fifties relating to her grown daughter. I don’t need someone telling me how I’m supposed to feel at this juncture in my life. In this memoir, Sue Monk Kidd recounts her discovery of Mary as a living symbol of the divine feminine. Living in Latin America, I’m surrounded by images of Mary. Several feminist theologians have pointed out how lifting Mary to divine or semidivine status allowed the church to present God in exclusively male terms through the centuries. In much of my work here, I struggle to both recover the story of the human Mary, the adolescent who found herself pregnant out of wedlock, and to free God from the masculine images in which God has been bound. Sue Monk Kidd has helped me think about how women through the centuries have lived parts of Mary’s story as their own story and thus found God moving in their own lives.
She also tells of how she decided to start writing novels after fifty. The memoir provides glimpses into the creative process. It gives me hope that perhaps my most creative days are still ahead of me.
As we live into this new year, may God’s creative grace fill us all.
Mailing address (for letters and cards):
Karla Ann Koll
P.O. Box 526125
Miami, FL 33152-6125
PS: If you would like to send something other than letters or cards to us, please let me know in advance so I can advise you on the best way to send items.
The Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll
Professor of History, Mission and Religions
Latin American Biblical University, Costa Rica
Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA), Guatemala
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Mission Co-worker
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 286