A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear Companions in Mission,
A new month and a new year have begun, at least by one calendar. I hope and pray that this new beginning finds each one of us with renewed strength for the tasks ahead as we work for justice and peace in God's world.
Our family had a quiet Christmas in Colorado Springs with my dad and his wife. Our daughter, Tamara, met us in Colorado. My brother came in from San Francisco. It even snowed twice while we were in Colorado, a nice treat for those of us who live where it never snows. I also had a chance to worship with the folks at Faith Presbyterian Church and to thank them for their prayers and support during the past year.
We returned to Guatemala on December 27 with Tamara. We began the new year with folks gathered around our table to share food and fellowship. The visits have continued in the following days. It's such a gift to welcome people into our home, to have a table full of food and conversation as we reflect together on how are lives are part of working toward healthy relationships and God's peace.
The office of the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) in Guatemala City officially opens again on January 9, but there is much to be done before that date. I'm preparing for the three courses I'll be teaching in the Biblical and Theological Formation program this year. I have taught these courses previously, so I have a head start on my preparations. Courses will start on Thursday, February 7.
The Intercultural Encounters program is gearing up to receive a group of nine students and two professors from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia, on January 14. Their experience here will focus on the relationship between the struggles for social justice and the worship life of various faith communities here. I'm looking forward to accompanying them to the extent that my energy permits during the 10 days they are here. At the end of January we are expecting a visit from a small group of folks from New Castle Presbytery. Since I was unable to visit New Castle Presbytery last year, it will be good to see folks when they are here.
Tamara will be returning to her studies at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, on January 27. She's very glad to have a month to be here in Guatemala with her friends and with her parents. She's very enthusiastic about her studies, which warms my heart, of course.
Javier, my husband, will be spending some of January in Nicaragua working on our farm. Now that his studies have ended and I am finished with cancer treatment, he plans to spend more time on the farm. The production of both milk and meat is up.
The administration of former army general Otto Perez Molina has been in office here in Guatemala for a year now. Several tendencies in this government are very clear. The administration is making efforts to curtail or limit the prosecution of military and former military officers for crimes committed during the internal armed conflict. The administration is making of show of social programs as seen in the monopolization of efforts to aid those affected by November's earthquake in San Marcos. This administration is also criminalizing protest movements and responding with brutal force, as when government forces killed 6 and injured at least 30 campesinos from Totonicopan during a peaceful protest in early October.
As the year begins there are several issues on the horizon that are likely to provoke further protests. Many campesino organizations support a proposed law for rural development that the congress has thus far refused to pass. In many places groups are protesting the high rates charged for electricity. Communities in the western highlands and elsewhere want to protect their lands, their water sources, and the environment from plans by the government and private industry, financed by transnational capital, to expand mining and construct large hydroelectric plants. The government claims those communities that engage in protests are backwards and against progress. High school students and parents, in addition to many educators, disagree with the efforts of the Ministry of Education to restructure training for primary schoolteachers. Whereas it has been possible to teach primary school in Guatemala with only a high school degree in teaching, the changes eliminate this high school degree program and will require two years of university studies for new teachers. Students and their parents are protesting the additional time and expense it will take to be able to work as teachers as well as the lack of pedagogical content in the government proposal. Communities and organizations here resort to protests because they feel the political system doesn't represent their interests. I encourage you to watch for news coming out of Guatemala and to pray that the voices of the communities will be heard.
While the rest of the CEDEPCA staff has been on vacation, psychologist Ana Paxtor of the Disaster Ministry has been working with three psychologists in areas affected by the November earthquake. Ana reports that the team has been working with people experiencing trauma and mourning after losing their homes in the earthquake. She sent the following list of prayer requests for me to share with you.
1. For the families that are gathering the paperwork they need to turn in so that the government will rebuild their houses.
2. For the health of the families in the shelters or in damaged homes. Many are suffering from respiratory problems.
3. For unity among the leaders in the shelters and affected communities.
4. For strength for the mental health professionals who are working in the communities, including the CEDEPCA team: Ana Paxtor, Monica Lopez, Sulmi Noriega and Lissy Lopez.
5. For the government, CONRED and other organizations that are working with the Emergency Operations Center to coordinate the humanitarian aid in San Marcos and Quetzaltenango.
6. For hope and understanding for the families affected.
7. For those who are feeling discouraged because they are out of work and afraid that they will not receive a new home from the government.
8. For safety on the highways as the CEDEPCA team moves from place to place to provide psychosocial support for affected communities.
As always, thank you for keeping CEDEPCA and its work in God's mission in your prayers.
In 2010 I was invited by my friend Atola Longkumer, a Naga missiologist from India, to participate in a book project to highlight women's participation in mission. The project brought together 16 women from around the world. I contributed an article on the women who served in the Presbyterian mission here in Guatemala from 1882 to 1982. When I arrived in Colorado Springs I found a copy of Putting Names with Faces: Women's Impact in Mission History. If you are interested in mission, I invite you to dive into this collection of case studies that cover different Christian traditions and different geographical locations as well as various historical periods. I'm looking forward to rereading the work of my sisters. The book is published by Abingdon Press (www.abingdonpress.com).
As this new year begins, thank you for the multiple ways in which you support my work and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission. Your financial gifts make our service with our mission partners possible. I'm especially grateful for the prayers that have carried me and my family through this past year. I hope that I and World Mission can count on your support throughout this new year.
The Psalmist reminds us that God wills justice and equity in the world (98:9). In this new year may we work for justice and equity wherever we are.