A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Greetings from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. We are now well into March. The passing weeks are moving us through Lent toward Holy Week. In Guatemala City the jacaranda trees are covered in purple flowers that remind me of this season of penitence. Jacaranda trees are native to South America, but they were introduced to Guatemala City in the 19th century. The bark has been found to contain compounds that help to fight intestinal parasites. I was very grateful for the jacaranda tree when I had amoebas a couple of years ago. Around Quetzaltenango the few apple and peach trees left are in bloom as well.
The weather here continues to be very strange. Twice now I have driven back to Quetzaltenango from Guatemala City on Saturday afternoons through rain and fog. We are still experiencing hard frosts at night. The air here in Quetzaltenango and all the way to Guatemala City is filled with a haze, the result of smoke from forest fires as well as smoke from fires used by campesinos to clear land for planting.
I am feeling well, though I never seem to get enough rest. It still takes me much longer to do things than I think it will, but I'm focusing on the joy it brings to be back to my usual activities. I'm trying to find ways to stretch my efforts, so I'm writing one prayer letter to cover two months.
I'm teaching two courses this semester in the Biblical and Theological Training Program of the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA). In the history of Christianity course we've been exploring how Christian communities in the second century thought theologically about the cultural pluralism around them. One of the students exclaimed, "Interreligious dialogue is nothing new!" The course on the history and theology of salvation has been looking at how ideas about salvation developed in the Biblical text as God's people reflected on the ways they experienced God within history. I love teaching this course because it allows students to see how doctrines about salvation have shaped the practices of their churches. The group of students includes Presbyterians, Nazarenes, Pentecostals and one woman from a neo-Pentecostal church. Discussions are interesting. My hope is to help students ask better questions and be able to articulate why they believe what they believe.
From April 8 to 12 I'll also be teaching a weeklong intensive course on mission. I'm looking forward to reflecting with students here about what God's mission requires of followers of Jesus Christ here in Central America today. More than 20 people have signed up for the course already.
This is a historic moment here in Guatemala. As I write the trial of former general Efrain Rios Montt is getting under way. As dictator from March of 1982 to August of 1983, Rios Montt presided over one of the bloodiest periods of Guatemala's internal armed conflict. He is being tried for genocide and crimes against humanity. The trial, which shows that the courts here are beginning to take on former functionaries in order to strengthen the rule of law, is allowing a much-needed public debate about Guatemala's recent past. Though the current president, retired general Otto Perez Molina, denies that genocide took place here in Guatemala, the voices of those whose family members were massacred by the army are being heard. At CEDEPCA we are following the trial, though we are carrying on with our normal activities. If there are folks in the PC(USA) who would like to come and be part of the international presence observing the trial, CEDEPCA is offering housing and logistical support. Please write to me if you are interested in coming.
In March the Intercultural Encounters program of CEDEPCA has received two student groups and one church group. In April we'll have a bit of a break from visitors. The psychologists of CEDEPCA's Disaster Ministry are bringing to a close their work with people who have been affected by last November's earthquake. Though the government promised to rebuild homes for those who lost their houses, very few have been built. The government shut down most of the shelters. The CEDEPCA psychologists have been doing many workshops in the schools. They are looking for a way to continue working in the San Marcos area.
In April the Women's Pastoral Program of CEDEPCA has invited me to lead workshops for the volunteer facilitators on feminist theology. I'm looking forward to working with these sisters to help them articulate their theological reflections out of their own experience. The first workshop will be in Guatemala City on April 18 and the second in Coban on the 25th.
On this occasion I would like to request your prayers for long-time CEDEPCA friend, Miriam Azucena (Susi) Rosal Sagastume de Miranda. Susi was ordained as a pastor by Central Presbytery on Sunday, March 17, and installed as pastor of Peniel Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City. She is the first woman pastor in Central Presbytery and the fifth in the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala. Her ordination was a joyous celebration and I was very glad to be able to be one of those laying hands on her. Susi is a pediatrician who has been teaching at the University of San Carlos. She has studied theology in Guatemala, Colombia and Costa Rica. She even took a course from me several years ago. For the first time she is teaching a course this semester at CEDEPCA. Please pray for her and the congregation that has called her to be their pastor.
As Holy Week draws close, may we remember God's love for the world. May resurrection hope find each of us on Easter morning. Thank you for your prayers, your accompaniment, and your gifts as we all continue in God's mission.