A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2)
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
On November 23 the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central American (CEDEPCA) held a worship service to bring to a close our academic year and to give thanks to God for all that we have been able to accomplish in the last 12 months with support from friends in many places. This year marked 25 years for CEDEPCA in the service of God’s mission in this region. Our closing worship service was the last public event of our anniversary year. The above passage from Paul’s letter to the Christians living in Rome has been our guiding theme during this year. My colleagues at CEDEPCA asked me to be the preacher for the closing worship service. Here are some of the thoughts I shared that day.
Paul encourages the Christians living in the center of the empire not to conform to the social order around them. What would it mean for us to conform to the social order of Guatemala today? It would mean accepting that 15 to 20 people die each day due to violence. Conforming would mean accepting that the work women do is of less value than work done by men. It would mean accepting as normal and even inevitable that half the children in the country are chronically malnourished.
Many times conformity disguises itself as piety. I find it amazing how many people here in Guatemala claim to know the will of God. Recently we experienced a tragedy in our family, the death of Francis Barreno, our daughter Tamara’s boyfriend. Person after person, both Protestants and Catholics, approached Francis’ mother to tell her that this ending of his life was the will of God. I refuse to believe that God willed the death of a 23-year-old in a motorcycle accident. I have also heard such things said at the funerals of people who have been victims of violence. If such acts are seen as God’s will, then the only possible response is to accept them. Yet Paul tells us we shouldn’t conform to the way things are.
How are we to reject the current social order? By the renewing of our minds. Twenty-five years ago the Christians who started CEDEPCA made a choice. They decided that the way they would work for change in the region was to renew people’s minds through theological education. If women come to understand that they are made in the image of God, they will be able to leave behind abusive relationships. If pastors come to understand that their role is not to tell people what to think but rather to engage all members of the church in mission, then churches will become agents of transformation in their communities. If Christians from the United States and Canada discover that Christians in Guatemala are their sisters and brothers, they will look for ways to work together to create a more just world. If communities come to understand that social conditions rather than God cause natural phenomena to become disasters, they can take steps to reduce their risk.
CEDEPCA also opted all those years ago to work primarily with churches. We believe that people coming together to follow Christ continues to be a sign of hope for the region and for the world.
We who share in the classroom experience in CEDEPCA’s Biblical and Theological Training program are privileged to see transformation happen. This year Ernesto Barrientos started his studies at CEDEPCA. Ernesto worked for many years at the National Institute of Statistics before he recently retired. He’s a member of the Prince of Peace Church, a national Pentecostal denomination. The pastor of the small church he attends is quite elderly, so Ernesto decided he would get some theological training in order to be able to serve better in the leadership of the local congregation.
Ernesto decided to take four courses in the first semester. After one week of class, he started saying, “In one week, CEDEPCA has changed my way of thinking.” Then he began to ask questions. “Why don’t the churches teach what CEDEPCA teaches?” Later his question changed to “How can I transmit to others what I’m learning with wisdom?” Renewal has begun, not only for Ernesto and his family, but also for the congregation in which he is a leader.
We are now entering Advent and preparing to celebrate Christmas. We remember how Mary responded to her angelic visitor by agreeing to be part of what God wanted to do in the world. This year may each of us, like Mary, open ourselves up to participate in God’s mission. May we welcome Jesus into our hearts and allow our minds to be transformed, that all of God’s creation might be renewed.
In the hope of Christ’s coming,
The 2011 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 286
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 6
Karla - an awesome newsletter full of the good news about the bad news! That God's presence be felt by your family and the Barrenos. Peace, Bonnie
As I read this on Christmas Eve, my prayers are with you and your family. May you be blessed in additional ways in the coming year!
Thank you, Karla, for adding us to your newsletter list! What an inspiration to read your sermon and its challenge for us all for the future. It's just what we've been discussing in our study of the Beatitudes! May God continue to bless your ministry, Miriam Kishi for the Karla Koll Circle at Sunnyvale Presbyterian.