A letter from Leslie Vogel in Guatemala
Dear companions in mission,
Lent is a time for reflecting on our own brokenness and the world’s brokenness; it is also a time for preparing our hearts to receive God’s amazing gift of the power of life over death—demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ—which we celebrate at Easter.
In the 10 short months I have been working in Guatemala with CEDEPCA (the Evangelical Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America), I have managed to get my fingers into many “pots.” Future letters will fill you in on some of those additional responsibilities and pastimes. Meantime, since serving as an Intercultural Encounters (IE) facilitator is my primary responsibility, I want to focus this letter on what the IE program is all about, beginning with the words of an Intercultural Encounters immersion seminar participant:
As a teacher, I’ve always believed education plays a fundamental role in eliminating poverty, so CEDEPCA’s motto, “education that transforms,” struck a chord with me, even before I set foot in Guatemala. In 34 years of teaching Spanish, I’d covered Mayan history without really understanding the daily struggles Mayan women face today. I taught about the terrible civil war in Guatemala without having ever spoken directly to a survivor of that bloody conflict. I was unprepared for the emotional impact of talking with Guatemalan women, many of them Mayan, whose lives had been fundamentally transformed by the classes CEDEPCA offers. In turn, their stories of overcoming obstacles I couldn’t even imagine experiencing transformed me. The courageous people I met through CEDEPCA not only made me a better Spanish teacher, they gave me hope for a better future.
CEDEPCA works with women’s ministry, theological training, and disaster assistance, but for most of us, an intercultural exchange—a trip through Guatemala—makes all the other programs come alive in a way no printed brochure ever could. Meeting people, staying in their homes, sharing conversations about our two nations, and helping with projects in small villages all make Guatemala come alive. If you have the chance, sign up for an intercultural exchange. I think you’ll discover, as I did, that you too will be transformed by the education you receive from the program and the people. (Sunny Stautz, Washington; reproduced with permission of the author)
CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters is a program that designs and facilitates experiences of encounter, reflection, dialogue and mutual service between people from the United States and Canada with Central American communities, aimed at the creation of a more just, tolerant and equitable world. Our specific objective is to strengthen dialogue and cooperation between people from different countries and cultures for the purposes of prayer, mutual learning and the joining of efforts to create more just churches and communities.
Intercultural Encounters offers three different types of “trip” options for visiting groups.
- Immersion seminars: Designed for groups that are interested in a deep study of a specific topic. During their time in Central America participants have the opportunity to talk with local experts who provide the group with serious and up-to-date information about the context so that they can have a framework to facilitate their group discussions and reflections.
- Immersion–work groups: Designed for groups that are interested in combining study of a particular topic with work (praxis) in shared spaces of mutual learning and interaction with Central American persons and groups.
- Strengthening of partnerships: Designed for groups that have already established partnership and solidarity relationships with local groups and/or churches, and that are interested in learning more about the situation in which their partners live from day to day.
The content of the Intercultural Encounters seminars touches on all three of the “critical global issues” identified by Presbyterian World Mission: identifying and addressing the root causes of poverty, especially as they impact women and children; working for peace and reconciliation in cultures of violence (including our own); and evangelism, or sharing the Good News of the love of Jesus Christ, particularly through training pastors and church leaders for community transformation.
I often find, however, that evangelism happens more through the example of our lives and the lives and faith of the Guatemalans we visit. Presbyterian World Mission director Hunter Farrell writes: “Through the Intercultural Encounters program CEDEPCA’s staff minister to U.S. Christians, opening their eyes to other realities and deepening their understanding of how God is working in the world.” I encourage you to read the entire article, which describes a bit of ALL of CEDEPCA’s programs and includes links for further information on the three critical global issues: http://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/world-mission/mission-matters-cedepca/
When I was a child all Presbyterian (U.S.A.) mission workers were supported by congregational giving to general mission from the Sunday morning offering plate. That paradigm has drastically changed in recent years. Every designated gift from you and/or your congregation makes a difference in my ability to continue to work on your behalf, and on behalf of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), to facilitate these rich, challenging, transformative experiences for North American and Central American Christians who are seeking to build mutual relationships of understanding that lead to changes in our world.
Please continue your support for my work with CEDEPCA into 2014 and 2015, through your prayers, your correspondence, and the financial support that many of you have already shared so generously. Please consider bringing a group from your church, presbytery or educational institution to participate in an immersion experience. Together, as sisters and brothers of the God of life and justice, we can transform our world!
01901 Guatemala, Guatemala