A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves” (Luke 22:25–26).
In the Gospels the only criterion Jesus offers for leadership among his followers is service. When my students and I study the movement of people who gathered around Jesus, we see how women participated fully in Jesus’ ministry. Yet even in the New Testament there is evidence of how women were excluded from leadership as the church became institutionalized. Throughout the centuries women have faithfully served the cause of Christ. But in many churches women still struggle to have their service and authority recognized.
In mid-July the current moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), ruling elder Cynthia Bolbach, was in Guatemala to speak to a seminar of Hispanic pastors. As part of her visit, Cindy asked for an opportunity to learn about women in mission in Guatemala. At Cedepca we invited a group of six women ruling elders from five presbyteries of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) to meet with Cindy and share their stories. All of these women have taken courses in Cedepca’s Women’s Pastoral Program.
Dina Donis from Santo Domingo is the first woman to serve as moderator of the Suchitepequez Presbytery. Dina reflected on how women in leadership always have to work harder than men to prove they are capable.
Sonia Gonzalez was the moderator of the Sinódica, the national organization of Presbyterian women, when the IENPG began the process of studying the question of women’s ordination as ruling elders and pastors. When the IENPG voted to approve women’s ordination in 1998, Norte Presbytery, where Sonia lives, voted no. When Sonia was ordained as a ruling elder by the church in Guastatoya, she became the first woman ruling elder in Norte Presbytery. Sonia has been studying theology with Cedepca for several years. She has also started the process to be a candidate for ordination as a pastor.
Alicia Moscoso is a member of the Central Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City. She was elected an elder in the second class to include women. She shared how many criticized her for being a single mother. Her husband abandoned the family and left for the United States many years ago. Alicia told of how people in the congregation would move in order not to receive communion from the hands of a woman.
Juana Herlinda Yac Salanic, the first woman elder ordained in the Getsemani Presbyterian Church in Pachaj, Cantel, was chosen by the session of her church to finish out the term of a man who was unable to fulfill his obligations as an elder. Even though she participated in the decision-making of the session, she was never allowed to serve communion. Because of her service with the Sinódica as well as in her community, Juana Herlinda has been chosen by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as an International Peacemaker this year. She will be visiting churches and presbyteries in the United States during September and October. I will have the privilege of accompanying her as she shares her story and the struggles involved in following Christ in Guatemala.
Marina de Monterroso is from Occidente Presbytery. She’s an elder in the Jehovah Jireh Presbyterian Church in Quetzaltenango. She spoke about how she is often criticized for her involvement in the presbytery and at the synod level. Though some men think Marina should stay home, she enjoys the full support of her husband and her three children. Marina is now serving the national church on the international relations committee.
Betty Carrera is the Guatemala coordinator for Cedepca’s Women's Pastoral Program. She is also an elder of the Central Presbyterian Church, a church her father once pastored. Betty gave thanks for all the strong missionary women she knew as a child who provided her with examples of women working in the church. She also spoke of how her father encouraged her, even though the church was not open to women in leadership.
Lilian Vega also joined us. Lilian is a member of the Divino Salvador Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City. She is one of our advanced theology students at Cedepca. She is also a facilitator for the Women’s Pastoral Program, especially the Program on Alternatives to Violence. She also serves on Cedepca’s board of directors. Several years ago some people in the congregation submitted her name to be a candidate for ruling elder. The pastor phoned her to tell her that the session had decided the church was not ready for women on the session.
At the end of the conversation, the women present began to dream about having a woman moderator in the IENPG. Though one woman has served on the executive committee of the Synod of the IENPG, the national church’s highest governing body, in the past, the current executive committee is composed of men only. Someday…
Much of what we as mission co-workers do is encourage women and men in their participation in God’s mission in the contexts where we live and serve. The women elders who had a chance to meet with PC(USA) General Assembly moderator Cynthia Bolbach returned to their homes and their congregations greatly encouraged in their service to the church and the cause of Christ.
Thank you for being part of encouraging sisters and brothers here in Guatemala.
Karla, gracias por compartir tu carta con noticias de las mujeres de Guatemala. Fue muy bueno saludarte y almorzar juntas. Muchas bendiciones.
Your letter dovetails beautifully to the recent CEDEPCA article by Silvia Apel about women in the church, which I thought was so well written! A message that obviously needs to be heard in Guatemala!