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A New Call

A Letter from Leslie Vogel, serving as regional liaison for Mexico and Guatemala, based in Guatemala

November 2018

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Early on Sunday morning, June 3, I boarded a plane to travel from Guatemala to the U.S. for two-and-a-half months of PC(USA) mission co-worker-related business (interpretation assignment, General Assembly, the Presbyterian Women’s Churchwide Gathering, and other meetings and training events). While changing planes in Atlanta, I began to see news reports that the Fuego volcano near Antigua, Guatemala, was erupting and wreaking havoc on the population that inhabits the southern face of the volcano.

The previous Thursday, May 31, my CEDEPCA colleagues had wished me hasta luego (see you later) as I ended five years of working with them as a facilitator with CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters program. The very next day, I began my new position as the PC(USA) regional liaison for Guatemala and Mexico. Overnight, I went from being one member of a team of Guatemalan workers inside CEDEPCA, one of Presbyterian World Mission’s international partner institutions, to being a primary “link” of communication and accompaniment between that and other partner institutions and the Presbyterian Church (USA). The regional liaison position is stretching me in some new ways, and it also calls on my varied experiences over the years as a mission co-worker in different settings.

My goals for this new position (to the best of my ability, and with God’s help) are:

• To accompany the PC(USA) mission co-workers in the region through regular communication, information-sharing, mentoring/guiding, and encouraging missiological reflection.

• Similarly, to accompany the PC(USA)’s mission partners in the region — long-time partners in Guatemala and new partners in Mexico. This includes Presbyterian Border Region Outreach (PBRO) in some of its ministry sites along the U.S.-Mexico border.

• Additionally, to serve as a resource for PC(USA) congregations, presbyteries, and mission partnership networks as they relate with their partners in Guatemala and Mexico. I hope to do this by sharing connections and information and by facilitating and seeking to strengthen healthy, effective and missiologically appropriate relationships between PC(USA) congregations, presbyteries and our partners in Mexico and Guatemala.

People have asked about the ways my life has changed/is changing. Three big changes are work location, travel and a steep learning curve:

• I am continuing to live in the home that I have been renting in Guatemala City, but I now work primarily out of my home (I am converting one of the guest bedrooms into an office) rather than being in an office with other colleagues.

• As for travel, previously I traveled a lot inside Guatemala accompanying visiting groups. Now, most of my travel is alone, rather than as a group facilitator, and I spend a lot more time in meetings. Further, most of the travel that I am now doing is primarily between Guatemala and the U.S., and I will begin traveling to Mexico regularly in 2019.

• The learning curve is steep, especially regarding Mexico and dealing much more directly with the structure of PC(USA) World Mission. There are still days when I feel like I am trying to drink from a fire hose.

However, in moments like the one I describe below regarding the work with survivors of the volcanic eruption, I know that I can make a difference, and I pray every day that God will help me to continue serving with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.

In a small sense, the volcanic eruption thrust me immediately into fulfilling several aspects of my new role as regional liaison.

Right away, I was involved in reaching out to the other PC(USA) mission co-workers assigned to Guatemala to determine their well-being and safety. Then, I began learning from my CEDEPCA colleagues about the extent of the damage and the displacement of thousands of people from their homes and livelihoods. Most importantly, I was able to encourage CEDEPCA (through its Disaster Ministry) to send an appeal to Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.

While all of this could have transpired without me, I believe that my physical presence in the PC(USA) offices in Louisville during that first week in June helped to facilitate and speed up the process. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA) responded quickly to a formal appeal from CEDEPCA, and by Thursday, June 7, $10,000 in PDA funds had been wired to enable CEDEPCA’s important psychosocial work with victims and survivors of the volcanic eruption. Please see Presbyterian News Service’s interview with me about this.

When I returned briefly to Guatemala in August, I was able to travel with Ana Paxtor, manager of the psychosocial area of CEDEPCA’s Disaster Ministry, to witness how those PDA funds are being used. We visited two of the 21 shelters in the department (or state) of Escuintla where CEDEPCA is working with survivors. I was able to observe several examples of the psychosocial work being done by CEDEPCA’s team of psychologists in each of those 21 shelters:

• Through what we would probably call “group therapy,” survivors of a disaster share their stories with one another through simple artwork and other exercises. Age-appropriate activities are designed for children and youth as well.

• As survivors listen to and share with one another, they learn that others have experienced similar losses and share similar feelings of despair, grief, anxiety, etc. They realize that they are not alone. In this way, they begin the long process of healing from the traumas they have lived through. They learn and practice important tools for recovering, for managing stress, and for strengthening their resilience. All of this helps them to continue to find purpose and meaning for their lives, to set new goals for themselves and their families, and to gradually rebuild their lives.

• As of this writing, some of the people affected by the volcanic eruption have been able to return to their communities or relocate to more long-term housing, but many continue to live in the shelters, as their homes and the land surrounding their homes are still uninhabitable. I know from my years of working with CEDEPCA that the psychosocial teams will continue to accompany and follow up with these people throughout this year, and at least once a year after that.

I am so very grateful to each individual, congregation, presbytery and Presbyterian Women’s group who has supported me during these past five years of my service as a mission co-worker with CEDEPCA. I understand that some of you will prefer to direct your support now to the new Intercultural Encounters facilitator, Eliane Menezes, who arrived at CEDEPCA Nov. 8.

Please know that in this new position I will continue to need your support through your prayers, emails, and financial contributions. While the increase in responsibility sounds like a “job promotion,” I continue to be a mission co-worker and still need to participate in seeking the funding support to sustain this position. Please note that the account numbers for contributing to my ministry remain the same as before.

Because of your generosity, we are able to diminish the grip of poverty on women and children, violence is dramatically reduced, and thousands of people around the world come to know the life-giving love of God in Jesus Christ. Thank you for your partnership.

Grace and peace,

Please read this important message from José Luis Casal, Director, Presbyterian World Mission

Dear partners in God’s mission,

We near the close of 2018 inspired by the hope of Christ. God is transforming the world, and you are helping to make it happen.

Thank you very much for your support of our mission co-workers. The prayers and financial gifts of people like you enable them to work alongside global partners to address poverty, hopelessness, violence and other pressing problems in the name of Jesus Christ.

Every day, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers are blessed to be able to walk alongside their brothers and sisters across the globe. Listening to each other in faith and in friendship, they learn from each other how to work towards a world in which everyone flourishes. Acting upon what they discover together, PC(USA) mission co-workers and our global partners strengthen the body of Christ.

Because you are an integral part of God’s mission, I invite you to become more deeply committed to Presbyterian World Mission. First, would you make a year-end gift for the sending and support of our mission co-workers? The needs in the world are great, and World Mission is poised to answer God’s call to serve others.

I also invite you to ask your session to add our mission co-workers to your congregation’s prayer list and mission budget for 2019 and beyond. Your multi-year commitment will make a great difference in our involvement with our partners. The majority of our mission co-workers’ funding comes from the special gifts of individuals and congregations like yours, for God’s mission is a responsibility of the whole church, not a particular area of the church. Now more than ever, we need your financial support!

In faith, our mission co-workers accept a call to mission service. In faith, World Mission, representing the whole church and you, sends them to work with our global partners. In faith, will you also commit to support this work with your prayers and financial gifts? With hope and faith, I await your positive response!

At God’s service and at your service!

José Luis Casal

P.S. Your gift will help meet critical needs of our global partners. Thank you!

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