A letter from Richard and Debbie Welch serving in Guatemala
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Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,
We’ve said it before, and no doubt we’ll say it again, one of the highlights of our job as mission co-workers is joining and accompanying groups of Presbyterians from around our denomination on visits to Guatemala. They come in response to their call to serve alongside their partners in this part of the world. Earlier this year the mission co-workers in Guatemala were privileged to accept a gracious invitation extended by the delegates of Heartland Presbytery to join them in visiting their partners in the Maya-Quiche Presbytery. Together we celebrated the ordination of Filomena Mejía, the first woman to be ordained in that presbytery and the seventh woman to be ordained in the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church.
Filomena’s journey is closely tied to Heartland’s mission partnership with Maya-Quiche. When she began receiving a Heartland Presbytery scholarship three years ago, she had only a 2nd-grade education (the national average for girls growing up in Guatemala is 3rd grade). Since then she has completed two secular grades per year and is currently finishing up the equivalent of 8th grade. While working to improve her secular education, an additional scholarship made it possible for her—and other emerging leaders in the Maya Quiché Presbytery—to take basic Bible and theology courses each year. Next year, when she hopes to complete 9th grade, she will be able to enroll in regular seminary classes.
The Maya-Quiche Presbytery Christian Education Committee examined her prior to the October Maya-Quiché Presbytery meeting and subsequently voted to ordain her as pastor of Iglesia El Buen Pastor on Saturday, January 10, 2015. We were blessed to be a part of this celebration for so many reasons. First of all, we got to travel with and get to know more U.S. Presbyterians committed to providing education opportunities to sisters and brothers in Guatemala who would otherwise have none. And we got to share this special time with our colleagues in mission service here in Guatemala. One of the most powerful moments for us was an expression of our “connected church.” During the time of laying on of hands and praying for this new pastor, PC(USA) pastors Rev. Ellen Marquardt (Heartland Presbytery) and Rev. Leslie Vogel (PC(USA) mission co-worker) joined in to offer prayers for Filomina’s ministry.
Paperwork is an important and necessary component of most, if not all, effective ministry efforts, but it rarely is the most exciting. In our role as educational consultants to indigenous people of the Guatemalan Presbyterian Church, we review the year-end reports of the theological education programs submitted by the church. So many names; 25 from this presbytery, 14 from that, 12 from another, and a whopping 60 from another; we scan the list of names, often recognizing people we’ve gotten to know and their individual stories of faith and sacrifice that led them to pursue a deeper calling as pastors and church leaders. As we scan the list of names from the Maya-Quiche Presbytery, we pause at the name “Filomena Mejía Jeronimo.” We see there not only Filomena’s story, but the story of the faithful Presbyterians of Heartland Presbytery who supported Filomena and many others. We see the stories of all of you, who for reasons that are uniquely yours have responded to the call to support us and other mission co-workers here in Guatemala and around the world. Our stories are truly connected. We consider ourselves blessed and thankful for our connection with you who read our correspondences, who correspond with us, who pray for us, and who support us financially. We invite your continued involvement as we keep that connection alive here in Guatemala!
Special thanks to former mission co-worker Rachel Lausch of Heartland Presbytery for providing the details of Filomena’s journey.
Every year seems to have its motto. Last year, as we found ourselves giving up our old way of life for a totally new one, our motto was a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you your life.” The motto for this year we first heard during an Advent worship service in our little garage church in which the message was about Mary’s encounter with God when the angel tells her, though a virgin, she is going to bear a child. The angel explains it to her ending with the wonderful words, “Porque para Dios no hay nada imposible” or “for nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37 NIV). Surprisingly this message keeps coming up in other sermons, daily devotions, and conversations with others. It’s an excellent reminder to us in this country with so many needs and seemingly impossible situations. Para Dios no hay nada imposible. Whether it is these two older folks still attempting to learn a new language and culture while doing a new job and raising support from back home, or a Mayan woman with a family, a second-grade education, and a meager income desiring to pastor a small congregation on a finca.* ¡Gracias a Dios, para ti, no hay nada imposible!
Blessings to you all!
Richard and Debbie Welch
* A finca is a usually large commercial agricultural tract of land, plantation, or factory farm
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 70
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