A letter from Karla Koll in Guatemala
Dear Sisters and Brothers in mission,
Teaching theology is about proclaiming good news. I want to share with you some glimpses of good news from my teaching this semester at the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) in Guatemala City.
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted
yet he did not open his mouth,
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter" (Is. 53:7).
In our class on the history and theology of salvation, we were reading a text in which the Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino describes the peoples of Latin America who are dying needless violent deaths as servants of Yahweh today. We talked about the common graves that have been uncovered here in Guatemala where the army buried those they killed during the armed conflict that lasted from 1960 to 1996. Ubalda Juarez, a young woman who just started studying theology this year, starting crying. Later that day she told me her story.
In January of 1982, when Ubalda was 10 years old, the army came into their village near Rabinal, in Alta Verapaz. The army ordered everyone to gather in the town square. Ubalda remembers that there was a marimba that played while soldiers passed out toys to the children. Then the army rounded up all the men while they sent the women and children away. The men were then tortured and their bodies were thrown into a pit. Ubalda never saw her father again.
Ubalda has been an active member of a Pentecostal church for many years, but never before had she heard that God was there with the people of her village that day, sharing in their sufferings. She now knows that her father's death was the result of injustice, not God's will.
"As a mother comforts her child,
so will I comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem" (Is. 66:13).
Aracely's face glowed with joy. "God shares my experiences as a woman and as a mother!" she exclaimed.
The Women's Pastoral Program of CEDEPCA had asked me to lead a workshop on feminist theology for the women who are taking courses. In preparation for Mother's Day, I facilitated a Bible study on maternal images for God. As human beings, the only way that we can talk about God is through analogies to our own experience. Throughout the centuries, churches have emphasized paternal images for God, drawing analogies from masculine experience. Women have often been told that our experiences and feelings are not worthy of being compared to divine existence.
The women like Aracely Martinez who come to CEDEPCA hear something different. We affirm over and over again that we are made in the image and likeness of God. We read the Gospels together, imagining what it was like for the women who were part of the Jesus movement. We celebrate our foremothers in the faith: Lydia, Dorcas, Priscilla and Phoebe. We study the ways that women have lived their faith in Jesus and served in the churches throughout history. We rejoice together when we read God described as giving birth to a people (Dt. 32:18). Yes, our Mother God has shared and continues to share our experiences.
"God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world,
but in order that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:17).
Jairon Santay has told me that he has wanted to study theology since the time he was 10. He is now 26. Jairon, who earns his living welding decorative metal sculptures, is a praise leader in the Pentecostal church he attends in Amatitlán, a city 20 miles south of the capital. He started studying at CEDEPCA last year, making the round trip several times a week, but this has been the first semester I had him as a student. All semester long Jairon has been telling me that his ideas about God have been turned upside down, but it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I learned why this has been so important to him. At the end of class one day he told me and his classmates that he understands now that he doesn't have to believe that his father, who never joined an evangelical church, is condemned to hell. Jairon has discovered a God of grace who loves all of creation, including all human beings.
Many Christians here in Guatemala carry similar burdens. Evangelicals often believe that their relatives and friends who are Roman Catholics are not saved. Similarly, many Roman Catholics believe that their family members who are outside of the Roman Catholic Church do not have access to God's grace. I'm reminded of how John Calvin elaborated the doctrine of predestination to assure people during the Protestant Reformation in Geneva that no human being, not even a priest, and no human institution, not any church, can determine whether one is saved or not. Salvation comes from God, and God sent God's Son to save the world. This is good news indeed.
My final semester of teaching at CEDEPCA is coming to an end. In late July I will be moving to Costa Rica, where I will continue to teach at the Latin American Biblical University. I'm looking forward to sharing good news with students from throughout Latin America and beyond.
Thank you for being part of this process of sharing good news. My work in theological education in Central America through Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission is made possible by financial support from congregations and individuals as well as being upheld by your prayers. If you and/or your congregation have not given recently to my support, please consider doing so. And may we all grow in faithfulness as we seek to share good news.
Mailing address after August 1:
Rev. Dr. Karla Ann Koll
Universidad Biblica Latinoamericana
San Jose, Costa Rica