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Seeing Through New Lenses

A Letter from Leslie Vogel, serving in Guatemala

April 2018

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May the grace and peace of our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ be with you and sustain you, today and every day.

Four people carried a man into the schoolyard cradled in a blanket, each one holding a corner to create a makeshift hammock-sling. My attention completely captured, I inadvertently stopped interpreting for the teenagers in our Intercultural Encounters (IE) group. The image from Mark 2:1-12 & Luke 5:17-26 immediately came to my mind: the story of the “crippled” man whose friends carried him on a mat and then let him down through a hole in the roof of a house so that Jesus could heal him.

Salvador was 41 years old when I met him in 2014 at the special education elementary school in Santiago Atitlán, a Guatemalan town characterized by steep hills and extremely narrow stone streets, at the edge of beautiful Lake Atitlán. Salvador was visiting the grade school that day to be fitted for a device that would enable him to become more mobile. It was one of Salvador’s first times to be outside of his house in his 41 years of life.

Because Salvador’s physical condition had always made it virtually impossible for him to leave his house, he had never attended school a day in his life. His first “wheelchair” was fashioned from a hospital gurney, as he is unable to sit up or even spend time on his back.

Each year since then, I have had at least one opportunity to visit Santiago Atitlán, and to accompany an IE group that is visiting the special education school (See Educación Especial Santiago Atitlán in FaceBook), the artisan collective, and the larger installation of ADISA. ADISA articulates that its mission is “to assist, defend and further the rights of people with disabilities. Using a strategy of community-based rehabilitation (CBR), we [ADISA] envision an outcome where persons with disabilities and the community are brought together on an equal basis. We [ADISA] believe this not only helps people in need, but also provides tangible benefits to the communities where they live. ADISA has programs in healthcare, education, and social empowerment that foster these goals.”

Since that first day in 2014 when I first observed and later met Salvador, I have had an opportunity once a year to catch a glimpse of his progress and development. Just last month, when I accompanied 22 fraternity men to engage in a work/building project at ADISA, I saw that Salvador is now enrolled in school and learning to read and write!

The group was from the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity; 20 students and two leaders were engaging in the first “Ability Experience” outside the United States. The mission of The Ability Experience is to “use shared experiences to support people with disabilities and [to] develop the men of Pi Kappa Phi into servant leaders.” With a vision of creating “a community, one relationship at a time, where the abilities of all people are recognized and valued,” the focus is on “the idea of service leadership. The goal of each and every Ability Experience program is to give of one’s self in order to benefit people with disabilities, instilling a lifelong commitment to service.”

Salvador continues to have many challenges in addition to his mobility: health concerns impacted by being horizontal almost 100% of the time, severely limited economic resources, and more. He lives with his elderly father and a nephew, who assists in the care of both Salvador and his father. Nevertheless, he comes regularly to school and really seems to enjoy learning. During P.E., some of the fraternity men assisted the students in a rousing game of soccer. Salvador served as goalkeeper at one end of the field!

For each child (or adult) student in the special education school, for each young-to-middle-aged person working in the artisan shop, there is a unique and challenging story of learning to live with disability and making the most of the abilities one does possess.

Each time an IE group visits the school, they reflect afterwards that they received (in smiles, hugs, positive interactions, insights about abilities/disabilities) at least as much as, if not more than, they gave (in volunteer labor and playing with the students during recess or P.E.). I certainly know that I learn each time, and that I am challenged to continue to broaden my understanding and awareness of inclusion — not only regarding abilities and disabilities, but also regarding inclusion among and between cultures: Guatemalan indigenous, Guatemalan Spanish-speaking, U.S., etc.

I am grateful for these opportunities and relationships CEDEPCA has developed with the special education school, the artisan collective and ADISA organization — they provide experiences that expand my understanding of my own limitations and of how I see and move in the world. These experiences also enable us in CEDEPCA to challenge young people and adults from the U.S. to see God’s creation and God’s people through new lenses.

Some of you who are reading this letter have experienced an Intercultural Encounter that has sparked growth and fresh insight in you — new ways of seeing the world and your own surroundings that change you in some small or large way and that never let you be quite the same again once you return home.

I am constantly grateful for those of you who accompany me and my work in Guatemala with your emails, prayers, and financial support. I invite those of you who have not yet done so to please make a one-time contribution or a regular, ongoing pledge toward my sending and support. Information on how to do so can be found at the end of this letter.

Further, I plan to be on Itineration Assignment during June, July, and August of this year (2018). I invite you to envision how, when, and where you might utilize me to speak to your congregation, and/or your presbytery. Part of my commitment as a Presbyterian mission co-worker is to visit supporting individuals and congregations in the U.S. That means you! Please consider inviting me to visit your church, presbytery, or Presbyterian Women’s group to speak, lead a Sunday School class, preach, etc. Weekday meetings (daytime or evening) are wonderful, as I can’t be everywhere on Sundays. I look forward to hearing from you and to building my schedule as summer approaches.

You can write to me at; call or message me on WhatsApp (602-818-1443); and talk with me on Skype, FaceTime or FB Messenger.

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. ~Philippians 1:3-6

Rev. Leslie S. Vogel
PC(USA) Mission Coworker in Guatemala with the
Protestant Center for Pastoral Education in Central America (CEDEPCA)
(602) 818-1443 – U.S. phone, text messages & WhatsApp
Skype: vogel.leslie

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

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