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A letter from Dennis and Maribel Smith in Guatemala

Dear friends:

This quarter I've been teaching a class in Latin American History in El Petén, Guatemala’s rambling northern region more often associated with Mayan ruins and howler monkeys than with sensitive pastoral practice and thoughtful academic inquiry. Poptún, the town where we meet, is the home to the kaibiles, Guatemala’s most feared counter-insurgency unit. Today Poptun is a regional hub for U.S. and Guatemalan anti-drug activities

My eight students are all Pentecostals. They include a Guatemala army vet who, at age 14, was forced into military service in 1982. He is now a pastor. Another student, a young woman, is a professor at the local branch of a university. Another is a social worker and the daughter of a former mayor. A young couple, entrepreneurs, have a private school; he is considering whether to run for political office.

We all have plenty of stories to share, because in this part of the world, history is not an arcane academic discipline. Here past, present and future collide every day. Our task is to place Guatemalan history within the context of Latin America’s long struggle against colonialism and oppression and for freedom and human dignity. In the process we discern together how Latin America’s history illuminates our pastoral task today.

Photo of a woman and man with their son

My hosts are Betty Andrade and Álvaro Pérez, a married couple who are pastors with the Prince of Peace Church, one of Guatemala’s national Pentecostal denominations. They are not your stereotypical small town Pentecostal pastors.

Mari and Betty have worked together on alternatives to domestic violence. Betty and Álvaro regularly lead workshops challenging violence against women and encouraging pastors in their community to make their churches safe spaces for women and children.

Here I am perusing Álvaro's library.  Composed of several hundred volumes, it is clear why he is comfortable conversing insightfully about psychology and sociology, pastoral theology and biblical criticism, contemporary literature, and Guatemalan history.

A family friend enters the room. He is from a former parish in the western highlands, recently unemployed. Betty and Álvaro have taken him in while he gets back on his feet. Álvaro recommends a fairly weighty tome of psychology. The friend is not the least bit intimidated and knows that, when questions arise, Álvaro will be there.

I am thankful to have this opportunity to watch respected colleagues who are so deeply committed to the Gospel and so thoroughly at home in their church and community. Witnessing such faithfulness is one of the great privileges of mission service.

Moving South. WAY South!

If you aren't on our email list you may not have heard that that Cedepca decided not to renew my contract when it expires in October. Here are the operative paragraphs from the statement prepared by General Coordinator Judith Castañeda:

In the last year, CEDEPCA has gone through a process of analyzing the situation in which it ministers, theological reflection and strategic planning, seeking to discern its role in God’s mission for the next few years. Each program has reviewed and updated its work plan seeking to improve its capacity to minister in the region. As a result of this process, the General Coordination has made important decisions regarding programs and personnel, as well as regarding the mission personnel assigned to CEDEPCA by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA).

In the case of the Communication Training and Publications program, it has been decided that the time has come to strike out in a new direction. We thank Dennis Smith for his years of service and valuable contributions. As he finishes his assignment to CEDEPCA we pray that his new ministry will be a source of blessing and inspiration as it has been for us.

God is good. When we received the news we began to work with colleagues in Louisville to discern our next call as mission workers. I have accepted the position of PC(USA) regional liaison for Brazil and the Southern Cone; I'll be replacing good friend and respected colleague Dr. Sherron George when she retires later this year.

In this new position I will be working under María Arroyo, World Mission Area coordinator for South America and the Caribbean, liaising with our mission partners, fellow mission workers and PC(USA) presbyteries and congregations that have developed their own mission partnerships down south.

Mari and I feel deeply called to this new position. It won’t be easy leaving Guatemala, but we are sure that our years here have prepared us for this new stage in our ministry.

We'll keep you posted as we sort out the details. Thank you for accompanying us in prayer in this time of transition.

Under the Mercy,

Dennis Smith

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 277

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