A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Greetings from Guatemala in Jesus’ name.
July is going by fast. I apologize for not writing sooner. The amoebas in my intestines regrouped and launched a major attack. I lost a week and several pounds. I’m now back on my feet, but I’m still not eating very much. I hope to have banished the amoebas with the help of modern medicine and drops made from the bark of the jacaranda tree.
The rainy season is in full swing. There has been enough rain around Quetzaltenango. The corn in the field in front of our house is much taller than I am—a promise of food in months to come. Thus far I’ve only had to deal with minor mudslides on the highway between Quetzaltenango and Guatemala City, but much more rain could lead to landslides. In some places there has been too much rain. Over the weekend of July 16 and 17, five people lost their lives in flooding in La Tinta, Alta Verapaz. As I’m writing, Hurricane Dora is churning in the Pacific off the coast of Guatemala and Mexico, bringing more rain to the western and northern parts of the country. There are at least three more months of rain to come. CEDEPCA’s Disaster Ministry is working to train people from churches to respond in helpful and appropriate ways to the damage caused by flooding.
The tragic murder of Argentine folksinger Facundo Cabral in Guatemala City on the morning of July 10 is emblematic of the ongoing violence here. While arrests are made in only 4 percent of violent crimes here, two men have already been detained for Cabral’s murder. The authorities believe the paid assassins were after the man who was driving Cabral to the airport. Meanwhile, every day the violence takes 15 to 20 lives.
The election cycle is heating up. Security is a principal topic of the campaigns, though the politicians are offering few concrete proposals. The elections are also generating violence. More than 30 precandidates or people related to campaigns have been killed. We as a family are experiencing this election close at hand. Our daughter, Tamara, is dating the son of the mayor of Coatepeque, a city on the south coast. The elections will be held on Sunday, September 11. Please continue to pray for Guatemala in these difficult days.
The second semester for CEDEPCA’s university-level program started on July 4. To our surprise, we have even more students this semester than we had last semester. Students who had stopped studying for one reason or another are coming back to the program. I’m not teaching classes this semester, which gives me a little time to catch up with administrative details. CEDEPCA is currently searching for someone to take over as academic dean. We have five candidates for the post. I ask your prayers for this process, that CEDEPCA might find someone with vision and energy to carry the program forward.
The highlight thus far this month has been the visit of Cynthia Bolbach, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to CEDEPCA. Cindy was in Guatemala to be part of a seminar for Presbyterian Hispanic pastors from the United States. She and Loyda Aja of the Office of the General Assembly came to learn about CEDEPCA’s programs on the morning of July 14. Cindy is a ruling elder. We decided to bring together women ruling elders from the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala to share their experiences with Cindy. The women shared their stories of struggles and their joy in serving in the church. One woman present, Dina Donis, is the first woman moderator in Suchitepequez Presbytery. All of these women had taken courses in CEDEPCA’s Women’s Pastoral Program. Two are also studying theology in our university-level program. We rejoice that CEDEPCA has been part of training and encouraging the leadership of women in the Presbyterian Church in Guatemala as well as in other denominations.
The big event for our family this month is my husband Javier’s graduation on July 21 with his licenciatura in political science from the Rafael Landivar University. We’re so glad this day has finally come! Thank you for celebrating with us.
At the end of July Biblical scholar Elsa Tamez is coming to Guatemala. On July 28 CEDEPCA, together with the Bible Society of Guatemala, is sponsoring a conference Elsa will be offering on women in the Jesus movement. We’re expecting at least 200 women to come and hear Elsa. More about Elsa below.
On July 29 Tamara and I fly to Colorado Springs. We’ll be staying with my dad, John Koll, and his wife, Jeannie. The phone number at the house is 719-593-1928. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is sending Tamara to a seminar for young people who are transiting between cultures at a camp near Colorado Springs. She’ll be there from July 30 to August 5. I need to attend a meeting of mission personnel in Louisville August 7–13, but otherwise I will be in Colorado until August 22. I have three Sundays available, July 31, August 14 and 22. I’m looking forward to visiting churches and meeting with mission committees, as well as spending time with my father and the rest of my family. My U.S. cell phone number is 502-689-8333. Please call, even if I won’t have the chance to see you on this trip.
On August 22 Tamara and I fly to Portland, Oregon, where I will be leaving her at Reed College to start her freshman year. It’s an exciting time, but there’s a lot of sadness when I realize Tamara won’t be with us here any longer. The cats won’t be the only ones who miss her. I’ll be returning to Guatemala on August 26.
On August 25 and 26 CEDEPCA will be celebrating 25 years of service here in Central America. There are several events planned, culminating with a conference by Violeta Rocha, the rector of the Latin American Biblical University on Friday, August 26. We hope you will celebrate with us, even if you can’t be here in Guatemala City.
Looking beyond August, I want to let you know where Juana Herlinda Yac Salanic and I will be as we travel on behalf of the Peacemaking Program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
- Louisville: September 20–23
- Western North Carolina: September 23–29
- Chapel Hill, North Carolina: September 29–October 5
- Kansas City: October 5–12
- Winchester, Virginia: October 12–17
If you are close to any of these places and would like to see us or have us come speak, please contact me and I will put you in touch with the person who is organizing our visit. I have no control over our schedule on this visit. I’m very excited about introducing Juana Herlinda to many friends and helping her share the work she is doing in her community. She will have her interview at the U.S. Consulate here in Guatemala City for her visa on August 17. Please pray that she will be granted a visa to enter the United States.
Profile and Reading Corner
This month it is my pleasure to introduce you to my colleague and friend Elsa Tamez, one of the most gifted Biblical scholars in Latin America. Elsa grew up in the Presbyterian Church in Mexico. She was the first woman to receive a licenciatura from the Latin American Biblical Seminary (SBL) in Costa Rica in 1979. When I studied at the SBL in 1984, I was privileged to have Elsa as a professor. Shortly thereafter she went to Lausanne, Switzerland, for doctoral studies. There Elsa studied Paul’s letter to the Romans. Her rereading led her to conclude that we are justified by faith in order to serve God’s justice with our lives. The book that came out of her doctoral studies is The Amnesty of Grace: Justification of Faith from a Latin American Perspective.
Elsa served as rector at the SBL as the institution took the step of becoming the Latin American University. Elsa’s leadership ensured a strong focus on women. In recent years Elsa has dedicated most of her time to work with the Bible Societies. She currently lives in Colombia, where her husband, theologian Jose Duque, works with the Methodist Church.
Other books by Elsa that are available in English include The Scandalous Message of James: Faith without Works is Dead, Struggles for Power in Early Christianity: A Study of the First Letter of Timothy, Bible of the Oppressed, and When the Horizons Close: Rereading Ecclesiastes. The Women’s Division of the United Methodist Church has published Jesus and Courageous Women. Any of these books would be wonderful for an adult Sunday school class or a book group. I invite you to learn about Latin American theology by reading works by Elsa.
I leave you this month with the following quote from Elsa in an article published in Sojourners back in September 1983. "God remains silent so that men and women may speak, protest, and struggle. God remains silent so that people may really become people. When God is silent and men and women cry, God cries in solidarity with them but doesn't intervene. God waits for the shouts of protest." God is still waiting for our protest.