A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear companions in mission,
Greetings in Jesus' name from the highlands of Guatemala.
Here the rains began at the end of April, a bit earlier than usual. The corn is already sprouting in the fields around Quetzaltenango. The rains bring the promise of life but also the threat of destruction. Already we've experienced the first landslides of the year. We hope and pray the rains will be steady and not too heavy. It is so beautiful to see the hillsides turn green again.
Now that May is here, I have fewer events on my calendar. This should give me more time to grade the papers my students are writing. I've had the best semester here at Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) I've ever had in terms of the responsibility students are showing in doing their written work.
In the course on the history and theology of salvation, students tell me I have their heads spinning with new ways to think about God and God's love for the world. Currently we are reflecting about salvation in other religions, especially the presence of God in the spirituality of the indigenous peoples of Latin America. Some of my students express the prejudice that many non-indigenous hold toward Mayan culture and spirituality. CEDEPCA is a space where people can share their experiences and allow their ideas to be transformed. All of the students in the course agree that God was present here in Guatemala before the Spanish invaded and brought a form of Christianity with them. I'm looking forward to the final month I will have to reflect with these students.
For the history of Christianity course, students are writing a research paper on a person or movement from history. For several of them this is the first time in their lives they have ever been asked to write a research paper. I always find it challenging to teach people how to write while at the same covering 15 centuries of the lived experience of Christianity throughout the world in only one semester. I would ask you to hold my students in your prayers as they struggle to acquire new skills.
The 23 students who participated in the intensive course on mission last month are working on their final research papers. I have asked them, individually or in groups, to analyze a particular organization or mission project here in Guatemala. My hope is that the class helped them develop biblical and theological criteria for evaluating mission projects. The papers are due on May 10. I'm looking forward to reading my students' conclusions.
On May 30 I will be delivering a paper for the Evangelical Society for Social and Religious Studies (SEES) on teaching the history of global Christianity here in Latin America from an intercultural perspective. The paper is based on an article I have written for a book on teaching methodologies the Latin American Biblical University is publishing. I'm looking forward to the conversation with other Protestant academics here in Guatemala.
The Synod of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG) will hold its annual assembly from May 20 to 24. The Sinodica, the national organization of Presbyterian women here, will be presenting a proposal to use inclusive language in the new statutes and bylaws that were approved in a special session of the Synod in January. The IENPG ordains women as pastors and deacons, but there are still sectors of the church opposed to women in leadership positions. Our Presbyterian sisters here are asking for your prayers as they continue their struggle to be recognized as full participants in the IENPG.
My husband, Javier Torrez, will be spending part of May in Nicaragua working on our farm. I hope he won't be there too long, because there is a lot to do here at the house as we prepare for our upcoming move to Costa Rica.
Our daughter, Tamara Torrez-Koll, is finishing her second year at Reed College. It's hard to believe she is now halfway through college. She'll be staying in Portland over the summer. We hope she'll be able to get a job. She's excited about living in an apartment off campus with two friends. This will be her first experience of managing her own budget. We'll see how it goes. She is enjoying her studies as well as a new romantic relationship. Thank you for your prayers for her.
The trial of former dictator General Efrain Rios Montt and his head of intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, for genocide and crimes against humanity for massacres carried out by the army in the Ixil triangle in 1982 has now been suspended as the result of legal and judicial maneuvering. It's unclear when the trial will be able to move forward again. However, it has been amazing to see the survivors tell their stories in court. The women who dared to tell of the sexual violence they suffered at the hands of the army have been very inspiring. You can follow the trial at www.riosmontt-trial.org.
In light of the trial, I want to recommend a book that I recently received, Terror in the Land of the Holy Spirit: Guatemala under General Efrain Rios Montt 1982–1983 by Virginia Garrard-Burnett. Rios Montt was Guatemala's first Protestant president and Garrard-Burnett examines carefully the religious ideology of his regime that was used to justify massacres. She also looks at why these human rights atrocities were ignored at the time by the outside world.
I ask your prayers for Leslie Vogel, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker who will be joining the team of the Intercultural Encounters program of CEDEPCA early this month. Leslie served as a mission worker in El Salvador in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I've known her for many years and I'm looking forward to working with her, if only for a couple of months. She's very excited about returning to Central America. I hope to bring Leslie to Quetzaltenango one weekend this month so I can introduce her to CEDEPCA's friends here.
I was very glad to be able to celebrate my birthday this year with my cancer treatment behind me. Thank you all again for your prayers and support, as well as the many birthday wishes. I hope that I will have your continuing support as my journey in mission takes me to the main campus of the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica. Every gift, no matter how small or large, helps to make the work of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission here in Central America and around the world possible.
Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll
Latin American Biblical University
Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America - CEDEPCA
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