A letter from Richard and Debbie Welch in Guatemala
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Dear Friends and Partners in Mission,
“Partnership is hard. It always has been. It means coordinating different peoples’ schedules. It means learning, understanding, and responding to the different needs, perspectives, contexts, and ideas of everyone in the partnership. We need to work through differences in language, culture, demographics, and time zones just to be in communication with one another. It is hard. But we’re here because we know the results are worth it; and we know we can’t achieve them on our own.”
In January, The Guatemala Partnership Network met for three days in Guatemala City to celebrate the partnerships between congregations and presbyteries in the U.S. with congregations and presbyteries in Guatemala. It was also an opportunity to share ideas, experiences, successes, and ‘learning opportunities’ encountered over the years of mission partnership. Gatherings such as this one can bring much to an individual partnership as each one works through the nuts and bolts, the relational and the practical, and how we can all be better partners in discerning and living out our call to work together in order to accomplish what can only be accomplished through each member’s unique contribution.
In the midst of the different presentations, messages, prayers, workshops, meals, and discussions, our thoughts often returned to the words shared as we opened our time together. It is hard. Sometimes it seems that as we grow closer in our relationships, the more we learn about the areas in which our partnerships fall short of the goals and ideals on which we established these relationships. We should point out that this is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s often an indication that the level of trust and respect between partners has grown to a place where honest evaluation of the work we do together can take place. But I don’t think we’re alone in saying that it’s a lot more fun to celebrate our progress than it is to face the daunting challenges ahead.Can we celebrate the ordination of a new woman pastor without recognizing how scarce female pastors are in the church here? Can we celebrate the installation of another water purification system without recognizing how many more people are without clean drinking water? Can we celebrate the graduation of more indigenous children from secondary school without recognizing the continued reality of limited opportunities for these graduates? Can we celebrate the beautiful weavings produced by women learning and rediscovering the traditions of their mothers and grandmothers, even though we know the challenges these women face as they try to organize and access the markets they need in order to sell their wares and help support their families? Does every celebration have to be accompanied by the reminder of the work that still needs to be done?
“Don’t talk to God about the size of your problems. Talk to your problems about the size of your God”. This quote, shared with us by our “pastora” many years before our call to mission service, often comes to mind when we feel overwhelmed by the challenges of our work in Guatemala. After the close of our network gathering, and after saying farewell to so many friends, we repeated those words once again as we rode the bus home and on to meet a visiting delegation in the northern part of the country.
Then we met Sandra. This precocious seven year-old was playing outside her aunt and uncle’s simple home across the street from where our friends from the U.S. were planning on meeting their Guatemalan partners. As we waited, we started a conversation with Sandra. The house was also home to several students that had benefited from a scholarship program supported by our visitors. Sandra’s parents live in an outlying village. She’s staying with her aunt and uncle in order to attend the local primary school. “Do you like your school?” one of the delegates asked. “Oh yes!” was the reply. “What subjects do you like the most?” “I love to read” She said. Her cousin produced a reader from inside the house. Sandra read story after story to us. Her joy of reading was palpable. We checked the reader. It was designed for fourth grade students. That was pretty impressive for this second grader. Our time with her was a special gift of hope that we received right when we needed it.
It is hard. The challenges are significant. We are so thankful that we don’t face these challenges alone. Sandra’s reading, the words (and often tears) of thanks from parents of scholarship students, the deep questions from theology students, the looks of accomplishment and pride of a weaver, the comments and notes we receive from our folks back home, and the notification of each gift of financial support from you is the gift of hope that always comes at just the right time. Thank-you for walking with us and reminding us that we meet these challenges together.
As we look ahead to the end of our first term as mission coworkers (June, 2017) we have sensed a call to commit to another four-year term in Guatemala. Will you consider continuing with us as we embark on this new chapter of working alongside our indigenous brothers and sisters of the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala? The journey will continue with your continued prayer, encouragement, and financial support of this work with our Guatemalan partners.
Blessings to you all in celebration of the hope of the resurrection!
Richard and Debbie Welch
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