A letter from Karla Koll on home leave from Guatemala
Dear companions in mission,
As planned, I returned to Guatemala on October 30, despite Superstorm Sandy. Javier, my husband, met me at the airport with flowers. We traveled to Quetzaltenango on the following day. Since returning I've been concentrating on resting and letting the radiation burns heal. I'm feeling quite well and I look forward to getting more involved in CEDEPCA's work soon. Thank you all for your prayers and support during my treatment.
Things have not been calm here in Guatemala since I returned. At 10:35 am on Wednesday, November 7, an earthquake occurred off the coast of Champerico. The U.S. Geological Survey puts the magnitude of the quake at 7.4 on the Richter scale; local authorities have measured the quake at 7.2. We felt the quake very strongly here in Quetzaltenango. As of Saturday, November 10, the official death toll stands at 42, though some people are still missing. The destruction has been scattered, though the department most affected is San Marcos, the department just to the west of Quetzaltenango. The number of damaged houses is climbing as authorities assess the damage. Older adobe buildings suffered the most, though some newer structures were also damaged. The official number of people left homeless stands at about 6,000. The government appears to have done a good job in the initial response. It remains to be seen if resources will be available for rebuilding. The Disaster Ministry of CEDEPCA is considering how we might work in social, psychological and recovery assistance for groups affected by the earthquake. We will keep you posted.
The evening before the earthquake I invited the three Young Adult Volunteers of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who are working in and around Quetzaltenango over to our home to watch the results of the elections in the United States. I thought back to the last election days here in Guatemala in September and December of 2011. The greatest concern here during elections is avoiding the violence that sometimes breaks out. In the U.S. the concern was how those left homeless or without power by Superstorm Sandy would be able to cast their ballots. I am thankful for peaceful elections.
For most people here in Guatemala, the primary concern as they watched the U.S. elections is the welfare of their family members living and working in the United States. They hope for a comprehensive immigration reform that will keep families together and provide avenues to residency and citizenship for those currently working in the United States. As I visited churches during my recent stay in the U.S., I was heartened to hear concern expressed for both immigrants and immigration policy. The Office of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) maintains an office on immigration concerns (oga.pcusa.org/section/departments/immigration). There you can find a variety of resources as well as a link to Presbyterians for Just Immigration, an advocacy network. I also recommend Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (www.faithandimmigration.org/). Now that the elections are behind us, it's time to work for immigration reform.
CEDEPCA's program year is coming to a close. For the most part, classes have ended in the Biblical and Theological Training program. The Intercultural Encounters program has received the last group that is coming this year. It's time for writing reports and preparing for the coming year. The Intercultural Encounters program has asked me to do a workshop for group facilitators on mission theology. We'll be meeting in Antigua November 28 to 30. We'll be thinking together how the visits of groups from outside the region can be transformative for those who travel as well as for those who are visited.
At the beginning of the year, CEDEPCA in Guatemala City started a prayer shawl ministry. A group of women here in Quetzaltenango have been wanting to start a prayer shawl group. Visitors from Flint River Presbytery brought us some yarn a few months ago. I returned from North Carolina with more donated yarn as well as knitting needles and crochet hooks. I imagine I'll be teaching knitting and crocheting soon as we pray for those who are grieving or experiencing illness. Please join us in praying.
November 25 is observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In Guatemala, the Women's Pastoral Program of CEDEPCA will be holding workshops in Guatemala City on November 15 and 16 to increase awareness of how domestic violence affects women. On November 25, folks involved in CEDEPCA will be joining in the marches in Guatemala City and Quetzaltenango organized by a coalition of women's groups.
The date of November 25 was chosen because on that day in 1960 the three Mirabal sisters—Minerva, Patria and Maria Teresa—were assassinated by the secret police in the Dominican Republic. The women had become involved in the movement opposing the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo. The novel by Julia Alvarez, In the Time of the Butterflies, tells the story of the Mirabal sisters. Alvarez's family fled the Trujillo dictatorship in 1960 when she was just a child. She wrote the novel to understand the courage shown by the Mirabal sisters and others who have resisted violence regimes. As Dede, the only sister who survived, says in the novel, we need to bring stories of the past with us into the present in order to understand what has happened to us and to inspire us for our current struggles. I encourage you to read this novel as well as get involved in efforts to end violence against women wherever you are.
Though I would not have wanted to have cancer, I'm very grateful for all the gifts these last months have brought me, including the chance to connect with friends in many places as well as engage in wonderful conversations about God's mission in the world. Thanks to all of you for accompanying me on this journey.
The 2012 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 6
The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 16