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’Tis the Season to be Communicating

A letter from Richard and Debbie Welch serving in Guatemala

Christmas, 2015

Write to Richard Welch
Write to Debbie Welch

Individuals:  Give online to E200505 for Richard and Debbie Welch’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507571for Richard and Debbie Welch’s sending and support

Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).

Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,

“Thank you for clarifying this situation for us. We’ve been thinking for so long that someone is trying to get their hands on money that’s supposed to come to us. To be honest, just about everyone here was pretty upset with the way things were going. Now that you explained how the project plan works, it all makes sense. I can’t wait to explain this to everyone. We’re so grateful that you could come here and describe the plan to us. Thank you once again.”

That was from Maura, a pastor and one of the few women leaders in Guatemala’s Presbyterian Church. As a member of the Mam Presbytery’s education committee, she, as well as most of the committee, had some deep concerns about how one of the education projects was being conducted. We learned from Maura and others that someone heard a report in a meeting that described this education program as it had been first designed 20 years ago. The original plan called for funds to be directly distributed to each entity in the program. Each entity would be responsible for managing the project funds and accounting for their use.

Richard and Debbie and colleague Brian Thompson-Royer with Mam Presbytery leaders

Richard and Debbie and colleague Brian Thompson-Royer with Mam Presbytery leaders

No one mentioned that the original project had been changed over time. Problems with tracking the money, changes in accounting practices, and a desire to simplify the process resulted in a need to update the project design so that teachers were paid and materials were purchased centrally. Somehow the members of this committee were not aware of the updated plan. During a recent visit to the Mam Presbytery, we spent time listening to the concerns and then explained how the program now works. One could feel the collective sigh of relief once everyone understood the updated system. Maura summarized the meeting better than anyone. “All this time,” she said, “it was just a matter of a lack of communication.”

A lack of communication.  Those words continue to resonate. This is the time of year when Christmas cards and letters are shared among friends and family. Through exchanging simple written, photographic, and artistic communications, people are connected and reconnected all over the world. Prior to our new life with Presbyterian World Mission, part of our Christmas tradition was to display the myriad of beautiful cards and letters around our house. Each one represented a unique and valued relationship with an individual or family. As we prepare our third Mission Connections Christmas letter from Guatemala and we face the challenges of establishing a new position here with World Mission, the importance (and complications!) of communication in our life and ministry is very poignant as we reflect on the Advent season.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Our regular readers know well the challenges and triumphs we’ve experienced on the road to effective communications through language study. Learning Spanish has created for us unique “Ah-ha!” moments, particularly in the context of Advent. This passage from John succinctly summarizes the miracle of God’s incarnation. Reading it for the first time in Spanish, I was surprised to find verbo used instead of palabra as the translation for word since verbo also means verb. I shared this observation with a pastor friend back in the States. I loved her response: “I love your story of the “divine verb.” I enjoy language study very much and this sent happy chills down my spine. The Word not only in flesh but in action. Very, very nice. Too often we think of God as static, an eternal being … but Del Divino Verbo gives a much firmer sense of God’s ongoing involvement in the re-creation of the world. Thanks for sharing that.” (Thank you, Dr. Christine Chakoin, for communicating that “Ah-ha!” moment so beautifully.)

Christmas card from a supporting church. Like the subject in the picture, it has "traveled afar”

Christmas card from a supporting church. Like the subject in the picture, it has “traveled afar”

Speaking of Advent and language, Advent means so many different things to all of us. To me, three action words summarize a healthy Advent posture: to wait, to expect and to hope. Learning that the single Spanish verb esperar can be used for all three helped me better to understand the connection between these verbs. Each is so distinct when we think of their meanings in an English context. To think of one word describing all three actions causes us to think of waiting hopefully and expectantly. Another “Ah-ha!” experience from our language study.

Reflecting on a year of travel, meetings, letters, emails, Skype calls, worship services, work parties, phone calls, lessons, seminars, workshops, songs, and conversations around a meal, the life-giving impact of all this connecting, communicating, listening, and being heard seems to be more impactful than the content of each encounter alone. The One whose birth we celebrate this time of year told us, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Thus, even this annual ritual of sharing greetings becomes imbued with the spirit of the “Divine Verb” becoming flesh and dwelling among us.

Giant Christmas tree in the Plaza Magdalena

Giant Christmas tree in the Plaza Magdalena

Because we’ve traveled with you this year, we thank you for your hospitality. Because we’ve met with you, we thank you for sharing with us and listening to us. When we’ve discovered your letters, slid under our door, we’ve said, “Thank you for thinking of us.” As we’ve shared emails and Skype calls with you, we want to thank you for inviting us to be part of your lives and ministries. For including us in your worship services and mission projects, we thank you for your words, your music, and your spirit of community. For the times spent sharing meals and conversation around the table, both in our house and in yours, we thank you for the opportunity to break bread together. And for your financial support that sustained us this year, we thank you for believing in the work that God is doing through our partnership with you here in Guatemala.

Even as we thank you, we want to be upfront with you about the future of our position. Our Guatemalan partners invited us to answer this call three years ago to help them address new challenges faced by the church here. Thanks to your generosity, the level of direct support for our position has grown steadily since we started. Unfortunately, supplemental funds from World Mission are running out, so more direct support from churches and individuals is needed.  Will you please pray about this situation? If possible, will you increase your gift for this year? Would you consider advocating for this ministry with neighboring congregations to see if they would join us? We would so appreciate your help in these ways.

Christmas Blessings!
Richard and Debbie Welch

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, page 70

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