A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Greetings from Guatemala. All Saints’ Day, November 1, is a holiday here. Most Guatemalans spend the day decorating the graves of their loved ones and eating traditional food. The markets and cemeteries explode with color. The flower supply is down this year and the prices are up. The heavy rains in mid-October caused significant damage to the flower crop. Of course much more than flowers was lost. The official death toll here in Guatemala stands at 38. The rains have stopped for the most part, but the effects continue to be felt.
This All Saints’ Day finds my husband, Javier, our daughter, Tamara, and myself still in mourning. On September 13, Javier’s father, José Felix Tórrez Correa, died in Managua. Javier was there with him. You can find the note I wrote saying good-bye to my father-in-law on my Facebook page.
On October 16, Luis Francis Barreno Orozco, Tamara’s boyfriend, died here in Quetzaltenango as the result of injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident. Tamara flew in from Portland on October 17. She was able to be present for the second night of the wake and the burial the next morning. I arrived on October 18. We accompanied the Barreno Orozco family through the traditional nine days of mourning.
I want to thank everyone who has written. Your notes and your prayers have been a great deal of encouragement not only to us but also to the Barreno Orozco family. One of the difficult parts of this experience has been the abundance of bad theology surrounding us, in both Roman Catholic and Neopentecostal varieties. Many people have tried to tell Francis’ mother, Johana, that his death was God’s will. I refuse to believe this. Yet I trust that Francis is with God, even as we await the resurrection. So I write to Johana each day, encouraging her as she struggles with her questions and mourns the loss of her youngest child.
We put our grief-stricken daughter on a plane back to Portland on Wednesday, October 26. The Student Services office at Reed College has been very supportive. I trust she will have the support and strength she needs to move forward. If you know Tamara personally, you can write to me for her contact information.
Life and work continues. I went back to work at CEDEPCA, the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America, on October 26, right in the middle of the week of strategic planning. The team has gained much more clarity about how we understand what we do and how we should think about the coming years of our work. Of course, we have much more work to do in the coming weeks and months.
Our academic year is just about over. There are still some final papers due and, of course, reports to write. Overall, it’s been a good year for CEDEPCA’s Biblical and Theological Formation Program. The number of students has grown and the program has been strengthened in many ways. We will be celebrating the end of the programmatic year with a worship service on November 23.
On November 5 we have another CEDEPCA wedding. Susana Noriega, CEDEPCA’s bookkeeper, is marrying her longtime sweetheart, Julio Velasquez. Please send your prayers their way.
On November 6 the Reformed Theological Institute of the Kaqchikel Presbytery in Chimaltenango will hold its graduation. CEDEPCA has been collaborating with their three-year program, providing Bible Institute courses in pastoral theology. I’m looking forward to being there to congratulate these students who are leaders in their communities.
On that same day Guatemalans will be going to the polls to elect their president for the next four years. The two candidates in the runoff election are retired general Otto Pérez Molina and businessman Manuel Baldizón. Both are making lots of promises that can’t be fulfilled. Both are reported to have ties to drug cartels. The lack of political alternatives at the national level is a good reminder that change here will not come through the formal political process but through people organizing at the community level to hold their leaders accountable. Please pray that the elections will take place without violence and intimidation. Elections are also being held on the same day in Nicaragua.
Juana Herlinda Yac Salanic, whom I accompanied in the United States for a month as she served as an International Peacemaker for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is back at work in her community of Pachaj, Cantel. A medical team arrives through CEDEPCA on November 5 to work in three different communities in Cantel under Juana Herlinda’s supervision, as she is the president of the municipal health commission for Cantel. We at CEDEPCA hope this experience will work toward strengthening the capacity of the communities to offer ongoing health services.
As I write, the population of the world has reached 7 billion, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Here in Guatemala the fecundity rate, the number of children born to each woman, is 3.8, the highest rate in Latin America. This rate has fallen from the beginning of the last decade, when the rate was 5.1. Juana Herlinda reports that the birth rate in Pachaj has dropped since the health post was opened two-and-a-half years ago. Women are gaining more control over their lives, though the struggles go on. CEDEPCA’s Women’s Pastoral Program is one of many organizations working to empower women.
This month I want to introduce you to Betty Carrera de Paz, who currently serves as the national coordinator for CEDEPCA’s Women’s Pastoral Program here in Guatemala. Betty has now been at CEDEPCA for 16 years. Prior to joining CEDEPCA’s staff, she participated in various CEDEPCA workshops. She was challenged by the idea of thinking about being a woman through God’s eyes. She began to work for CEDEPCA as a bookkeeper, but as the staff was much smaller then she also helped with workshops for women. Soon she was working full time for the women’s program. She’s fascinated by the way women from the churches who come to CEDEPCA begin to see themselves as protagonists.
Betty and her husband, psychologist Julio Paz, have five grown children, four sons and a daughter, all of whom are married. This year their first granddaughter joined the eight grandsons they already have. Julio works with ICTHUS, an interdenominational ministry for pre-adolescents. He also administers entrance exams for the Mariano Galvez University. As of this year, for the first time since they became parents, Betty and Julio are living alone. It’s a new stage of life for them, though most of their children live close.
This year Betty has been able to advance in her studies as she took two theology courses at CEDEPCA to gain more theoretical tools to help her in her work. This has also been a very difficult year for her in terms of her health. A variety of symptoms, especially strong pains in her legs, sent her to a series of doctors. She has finally been diagnosed with a type of rheumatoid arthritis. She asks for prayers as she assimilates living with a chronic disease. She’s taking things more slowly, learning to delegate and to do less. Her family life has also changed as her children are no longer asking her to look after her grandchildren as much as they did.
Betty also asks for prayers for CEDEPCA’s Women’s Pastoral Program. In recent years the program has been working throughout Central America and Mexico. CEDEPCA hopes to find resources to allow the program to continue to reach women with the good news that they are made in God’s image.
As I was traveling in the United States last month with Juana Herlinda visiting churches involved in different ways in God’s mission, I read Sherron George’s latest book, Better Together: The Future of Presbyterian Mission. This book provides a great introduction to discussions about mission in U.S. Presbyterian circles in recent years as groups at all levels of the church have become involved in international mission. George draws many of her insights and illustrations from the Latin American theologians who have influenced her life and work during the many years she served in mission in Brazil. Her study of the Letter to the Ephesians is suggestive rather than comprehensive. She insists that Christ, in breaking down the walls of hostility, has made us members of one family and called us into mission together. As I read I found myself saddened by the walls of hostility that continue to exist among Presbyterians, as evidenced by the recent decision of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico to break relations with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and movement by some churches to leave our denomination. Yet God’s mission goes on, as does the ministry of reconciliation that we have been given.
I am very grateful for all of you who have joined CEDEPCA and me on this journey in mission. Each time I’ve turned on my computer over the last couple of weeks I have found more notes offering condolences and prayers. It is wonderful to be accompanied in this way. I hope and pray that our efforts here might also encourage your wherever you are as we all seek together God’s coming Reign.
Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll
PO Box 526125
Miami, FL 33152-6125
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 286
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 6
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