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A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala

September 2011

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

September has begun. In Guatemala, September is celebrated as the “Month of the Fatherland.” Central America gained its independence from Spain on September 15, 1821. As always, there will be lots of parades with marching bands. Here in Quetzaltenango, the Independence Fair lasts more than a week.

This year the elections are being held on September 11. There is electoral propaganda everywhere—on billboards, on telephone poles, on the radio, on the television.  Lots of promises of a better future, more security, more employment, more housing, etc.  What’s missing are concrete proposals. One big change this election cycle is the number of women running for elected office.  Three women are candidates for the presidency; several more are running for the office of vice president. For the first time ever, more women than men are registered to vote. It remains to be seen whether this new level of political participation by women will lead to improvement in the conditions of women’s lives.

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by Hurricane Irene.  Those of us who live in Central America know what hurricanes can do. One of the effects of global warming is an increase in the severity of storms as rain patterns change. There are two more months left of the Atlantic hurricane season. August saw more rain than we normally have here, with localized flooding leaving 8,500 people homeless.

Juana Herlinda Yac Salanic and I are preparing for our upcoming trip to the United States as part of the International Peacemaking program of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We are very grateful that Juana Herlinda was granted her tourist visa to visit the U.S. When I warned Juana Herlinda that the food she will be served during the trip will be different than what she is used to, she told me that she is excited to have the same kind of experience that people from the U.S. have when they come to visit her community. Once again, here’s our schedule:

Louisville, Kentucky

Western North Carolina

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Kansas City, Missouri

Winchester, Virgina

Louisville, Kentucky

September 20–23

September 23–29

September 29 – October 5

October 5–12

October 12–17

October 17–19

If you are near 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 might not have much access to e-mail as I’m traveling, but I will have my U.S. cell phone with me, 502-689-8333. Please hold us in your prayers. Our hope is the people who hear what we have to share will be moved to become more involved in God’s mission in Guatemala.

The second semester is well under way in CEDEPCA’s Biblical and Theological Training program. The third intensive course for the year, on justice in the Old Testament, will be held October 10–14. Elisabeth Cook, professor of Old Testament at the Latin American Biblical University and PC(USA) mission co-worker, will be coming to Guatemala to teach this course. So far we have over 20 people signed up.

In the context of CEDEPCA’s 25th anniversary, as an organization we have embarked upon a process of strategic planning. As a team we are receiving training in planning and evaluation. During the last week of October experts from the organization CREAS will be with us to lead us in the process of setting CEDEPCA’s direction for the next five years. Please pray for this process, that CEDEPCA will be able to make the changes necessary to allow us to continue to serve and to grow as an organization in the coming years.

Four Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) have just arrived in Guatemala to begin their year of service here. I will be telling you more about these young women in coming months. Right now they are in language school in Antigua while they adapt to being in Guatemala.

At this time I would like to ask your special prayers for the 11 PC(USA) mission co-workers who have been serving in Mexico. On August 19 a special session of the General Assembly of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico voted to end immediately relations with the PC(USA). This followed votes by presbyteries in the PC(USA) to accept the changes in ordination standards that were adopted by the 2010 PC(USA) General Assembly. Please pray for each of these servants as they discern the next steps. It’s also important to remember that God’s mission in Mexico continues, though it’s unclear at the moment what shape the PC(USA)’s participation in that mission will take now that the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico has decided they no longer wish to partner in mission with our denomination. [See the editor's note below.]

In terms of our family, our daughter Tamara reports that she is enjoying her classes at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. I am very thankful to be able to communicate with her every day. I am grateful to all who sent me advice on going through this transition.

My husband, Javier Torrez, traveled to Nicaragua on August 31. His father, José Torrez, is declining rapidly. We are praying that he may be at peace and free of pain as his life draws to a close. Please keep the Torréz Bermúdez family in your prayers these days. Javier has five brothers and two sisters, all of whom live in Nicaragua.

Reading corner

As Guatemalans get ready to go to the polls, I have enjoyed reading El país de las mujeres (The Women’s Country), the latest novel by Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli. In the book a political party made up of only women come to power in the fictional country of Faguas. The women are aided in their political quest by the eruption of a volcano, the ash of which has the mysterious effect of lowering the production of testosterone, thus rendering the men of Faguas unable to continue running the country.  Belli invites us to imagine a new kind of politics. In this new society, for example, mothering is a task shared by women and men. Unfortunately, the English translation of this novel has not yet appeared in print. Other novels by Gioconda Belli are available in English, such as The Inhabited Woman, The Scroll of Seduction, and Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand. Gioconda Belli’s memoir of the Nicaraguan revolution is The Country Under My Skin. I encourage you to enjoy the work of one of Central America’s most prolific writers.


Given that we have just celebrated CEDEPCA’s 25th anniversary, I decided to interview once again the only person on staff today who has been with CEDEPCA since the beginning, CEDEPCA’s general coordinator, Judith Castañeda. In 1982 Judith started working as a volunteer with CELEP, the Latin American Center for Pastoral Studies, which had begun work in Guatemala a few years earlier. At the time she was studying economics at the San Carlos University. It was a very difficult time in Guatemala, the height of the violent civil war. When most of the CELEP staff fled the country at the end of 1982, Judith continued to work in the women’s program and maintain communication with the CELEP office in Costa Rica. Judith wrote the first bylaws for CEDEPCA as a semi-autonomous regional office of CELEP, and she took on the coordination of the work.

I asked Judith to reflect a bit on the work of CEDEPCA over the last quarter century and how she sees the challenges facing the organization today. CEDEPCA’s work has touched thousands of people’s lives. CEDEPCA started offering workshops to pastors and leaders. Today we offer the best theological education available in the country. CEDEPCA has represented and continues to represent an option that leads to a different way of seeing life. CEDEPCA has maintained a presence in the entire region, especially through the women’s ministry program. CEDEPCA has been able to do a great deal with very little money. Many people, including many volunteers, have given of their time and talent to make CEDEPCA’s work possible.

The situation in the region has changed considerably from when CEDEPCA started. In the midst of increasing violence and widespread poverty, the challenge today is how to continue building hope. CEDEPCA needs to find the resources, people as well as funds, to continue its service in God’s mission in the region.

Judith and her husband, Samuel Barrientos, have two children. Priscila is in her fourth year of psychology at the Rafael Landivar University. Josue is studying robotic engineering at the Valle University. The family is active in the Church of the Nazarene. At this point in her life, in addition to prayers for her children’s studies and safety, she asked for prayers for wisdom and good health that she might continue her work.

Closing comments

For me, it is a great privilege to work here at CEDEPCA with a dedicated team of people who share a vision of God’s desire for this region of the God’s world. Thank you so much for walking with us.



The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 286

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