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A letter from Marcia Towers in Guatemala

September 2013

Friends,

YAV Rachel Lee celebrates as her U.S. family meets her Guatemalan host family. Here, Rachel’s visiting sister is with her Guatemalan host cousins.

I love to share each year about the thoughtful and energetic PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteers I have the privilege of receiving and mentoring in Guatemala.  This year to give a glimpse into their journeys, I thought I’d share a few details from what two of them have written. 

Rachel Lee worked with Corazon de Mujer (Heart of the Women), a weaving cooperative made up of Mayan women that PC(USA) partner CEDEPCA has supported for years.  She reflects on her U.S. family meeting her Guatemalan host family.  I loved watching how Rachel fully became herself and engaged and loved her Guatemalan family:

“On our first full day together we went to visit my Guatemalan family in Chimaltenango. We had all been looking forward to this day for weeks and it was quite a day. … When we arrived at my house in Chimaltenango nearly the entire family was there to greet us. Though my two families are from completely different cultures and don’t share a common language, they bonded right away. … I was touched to see my families using what little they knew of the other's language to communicate.  Dora [Rachel’s host mom] prepared a delicious meal for us to share and after a few delightful hours at the house, most of us piled into the back of a pickup and headed down to see the firework booths where Dora and many other members of the family work during the month of December. We rode a chicken bus back to Antigua. … Having both of my families in one place was an experience I will never forget. Thinking back on our day together reminds me of a quote by Desmond Tutu: You don't choose your family. They are God's gift to you, as you are to them. God blessed me with two families, two gifts, I wouldn't trade for the world.”

YAV Annie Aeschbacher with her Guatemalan host grandmother (left), host mother Juana Herlinda (to Annie’s right) and host aunt (right).

Annie Aeschbacher lived amidst cornfields about a half hour outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city.  She lived with Juana Herlinda Yac, a Mayan woman community organizer who has visited PC(USA) churches in the U.S. as part of the Peacemaking Program.  Part of Annie’s work was at a community health center Juana worked hard to get running.  She reflects on pain and healing:

“As the months are winding to a close, I see how much my heart feels at home here among the beautiful mountains, pines, and corn, and among these incredible people who continually radiate hope and joy. At the same time, my heart breaks for the pains and hardships that these people and this country are facing—poverty, malnutrition, corruption and lack of access to education and health care, among many other things. … One stirring example of this that I encountered a few weeks ago was during a visit to a theater group in Guatemala City called Las Poderosas (the Powerful Ones). This group is comprised of six women who are all victims of sexual violence and abuse. However, through the use of theater they are finding strength and healing as they are able to share their own stories and empower other women to do the same. … In a culture that is very private and oftentimes oppressive for women, the work of this group is inspirational. As we sat and talked with them, hearing bits of their testimonies and seeing pictures and videos of some of their workshops and shows, it was obvious that these women are no longer living in shame and fear. They are strong and beautiful examples of survival and of the strength and hope that redemption brings. One of these women I will never forget is named Maria. The first thing I noticed about Maria was her brilliant smile—her face just shone with joy, and her eyes gleamed vibrantly with life. It was only afterward that I noticed that Maria was missing her entire left arm. She later told us that she lost her arm fighting for her life while her husband tried to kill her one night. Fortunately, Maria escaped with her life and her husband was put behind bars (a circumstance which doesn’t always happen). For many years Maria was ashamed to be seen in public that way, but she shared: ‘Now I don’t have shame to walk around like this. … I feel like a free woman.’ Just from seeing her face, worn from hardship but resolute and glowing, I could tell that this was the truth. Her story, and the thousands of others unspoken in Guatemala and around the world, give me hope for the possibilities of healing and leaving situations of darkness and entering into light.”

2012-2013 Guatemalan YAVs get ready to go experience the difficult labor of picking coffee

Also integral to this year’s YAV group were Jensen Blankinship and Kate Garden, whose reflections I also loved but just don’t fit in this newsletter!  Jensen worked with the local organization CEIPA at an elementary school for kids who work, and he lived with a large family from a local Presbyterian church.  Jensen is back studying law at the University of New Mexico and wants to be involved in international human rights!  Kate graced us with her touching and funny stories about her experiences in Guatemala working with low-income elderly at an Episcopal church lunch program and working at one of two shelters for abused women that operate in Guatemala. 

I am very thankful to all of you who support my work to facilitate the experience of these young people as they grow and as they pray and learn about how to best be God’s hands in this world. 

Please continue to join me in being part of God’s work in the world through prayer, correspondence (Marcia.towers@pcusa.org) and financial support!

Marcia

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 16
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