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A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala

Eastertide 2012

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Lent is a time for giving up things. As Lent approached this year, I could not even imagine all I would be required to give up.

Karla in Quetzaltenango at the start of chemotherapy.

On February 1, I underwent surgery to remove a lump in my left breast. I woke up to the news that I had had a mastectomy. Losing part of my body was only the beginning. I had to give up my plans to travel to the United States in February for 10 weeks of mission interpretation. There were many people I was looking forward to seeing and churches I was hoping to visit. I had to give up my accustomed ways of participating in the work of the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA), the organization with which I serve here in Guatemala.

As I healed from surgery and traveled to the University of North Carolina Cancer Center for evaluation, I thought a lot about Jesus as he set out on that last journey to Jerusalem. He knew he was heading for a final confrontation with the political and religious authorities. Much has been written over the centuries of how Jesus willingly gave up his life. But how often do we think about the day-to-day aspects of that life?

Jesus formed a community of folks around himself as he went from place to place. He spent his time teaching these women, men and children. Though the Gospels present the disciples as a pretty dense bunch who had a hard time grasping what Jesus was saying, surely there were moments when their eyes lit up as they caught a glimpse of God's coming Reign. We teachers live for such moments. Jesus would have been no different.

A seminary professor I had described the Jesus movement as a moving feast. Jesus had a habit of showing up at parties. His enemies accused Jesus and his followers of gluttony. What joy Jesus must have felt in gathering folks around a table. He told his followers to remember him by sharing a meal.

For Jesus there would be no more shared meals. No more dialogues with his traveling companions or people he met along the way like women at wells.

But perhaps Jesus knew that as long as he was with them, his followers would never fully take on God's mission as their own. He needed to leave them, as hard as it was to do and as much grief as it caused him. The post-resurrection appearances recorded in the New Testament make it clear that Jesus expected his disciples to carry on the work of proclaiming God's coming Reign. In John 20:21 Jesus says to those hiding in the upper room, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." In Acts 1:8 Jesus' final words to his followers are "You shall be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth."

This sending out in mission applies to all of Christ's followers, then as now, no matter what their age, educational level or economic resources. There are no exceptions. To follow Christ is to be sent in mission to the world.

A few years ago I was talking with an elderly woman who was a member of a Presbyterian church in the United States. I asked her how she was involved in mission. "I can't be involved in mission," she told me. "I'm not able to go on a mission trip." Her answer broke my heart. How many churches have reduced involvement in God's mission to a particular mission practice in which only active adults and teenagers with sufficient resources to buy a plane ticket can participate?

All Christians are called into mission. In the local church, each and every believer, from the kindergarten children in Sunday school to the folks whose health keeps them shut in at home, should discover the ways in which they can participate in God's work in the world. Some of the most faithful supporters of my work in mission are women who faithfully pray for me and my colleagues at CEDEPCA, even though they are no longer able to participate very actively in their local churches.

This Eastertide I am once again learning this lesson. A cancer diagnosis doesn't change my vocation as a follower of Christ. It has altered the way I am able to live out my vocation. The chemotherapy regime I am receiving here in Quetzaltenango keeps me from traveling to Guatemala City each week as I have done in recent years. I am doing what work I can from my home with my computer, the telephone, and my books. Though I miss having regular contact with students and colleagues as well as visiting groups, the slower pace is allowing me to catch up with other aspects of my job. I continue to work, not because the work of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in Guatemala or CEDEPCA's ministry depends on me, but because this is who I am and what I am called to do even as I fight cancer.

Thank you for being part of this journey in mission and for allowing me to be part of your journey in mission. My family and I are very grateful for the prayers, notes and other expressions of support we have received in recent weeks. Please do keep the support coming as my treatment will continue for several more months. May this Eastertide be a time when each of us discovers once again our calling in mission.

In resurrection hope,


The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 6

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  • Karla, Your new haircut is FANTASTIC! You look so snappy and quite well. May your whole body continue on its healing route so that "quite well" becomes "all well". Much love, Bonnie by Bonnie Clarke on 05/10/2012 at 2:23 p.m.

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