A Letter from Richard and Debbie Welch, serving in Guatemala
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He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust,
He knew no more that he was poor,
Or that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy ways
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book.
What liberty a loosened spirit brings.
When we first came to Guatemala to work with the indigenous here, we soon realized the need and desire for education beyond the 6th grade. We listened to the stories of pastors who wanted to continue their theological training but could not because they had not completed the 6th grade, and stories of women who had not completed even second or third grade whose greatest desire was for a good education for their children. So, for the last four years, we have worked towards those ends and are now excited to report that we are seeing the results with scholarships for pastors and church leaders to fulfill their dreams of secular education. This year for the first time the seminary is able to offer an advanced level of theological training in our area.
But with these achievements has also come the realization that even when students do advance beyond the sixth grade, education obtained in the villages is often not adequate to prepare them for junior high and further education. That set me to pondering. What else could we do?
First, it brought us to realize the value of pursuing scholarships for the younger children to attend La Patria, the private Presbyterian school. This year we are pleased to have five new eager scholarship students at the primary level. Unfortunately, there are just not enough resources to provide scholarships for all the needy children here in Cobán, let alone in the entire country.
Still pondering and praying, we came upon an idea: What if we provided books for the children here? “Young children, fresh uncluttered minds, the world before them — to what treasures will you lead them? With what will you furnish their spirit?” “Reading to a child is like painting on a canvas” (from Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Child’s Heart). Our pondering and our prayers led us to a program that is successful here on the other side of Guatemala called “Libros para Niños” (Books for Children), which not only provides books but also training for the teachers — something the teachers here are very excited about. Finding that one of our sponsoring churches in the US was eager to commit to supporting a project such as this, we began a season of asking questions and speaking with teachers, students and directors of schools as well as other potential donors in the US. Was there really interest? Would people on the ground be willing to maintain the program once it was initiated?
We discovered that there was more interest and enthusiasm than we ever could have imagined! So, we began with several months of hauling Spanish language children’s books in suitcases down from the US, attempting to stay under the 50-pound weight limit of the airlines. All were donated by Presbyterians in the US. The plan was to have our first training session and distribution of books in March of this year. We would start by focusing on two schools in Cobán — La Patria, our Presbyterian school, and La Libertad, a public grade school of over 480 students located in a poor neighborhood near the Presbyterian church. The founder of the program, Mary Jo, would bring two trainers over from Lake Atitlan for the two half-day training sessions.
Ephesians 3:20 says God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us. However, I confess, a couple of weeks before the training was scheduled to begin, I was imagining all kinds of things but not the kind that Paul was speaking of in his blessing for the Ephesians. Amanda, one of our trainers, told me on the phone not to worry, that in Guatemala these things all work out in the end. I, however, was in full panic mode. We still hadn’t ordered the books we planned to get from local distributors in Guatemala City. Mary Jo had dropped out due to time commitments, so there was some confusion over what she had communicated to the directors of the two schools. The public-school director had problems getting permission from the ministry of education to take the two days off. He apparently didn’t like the idea that this was being sponsored by “missionaries.” La Patria was considering only sending one teacher. We needed a place to have the workshop. If we ended up having only a one-day workshop, we would need lunch provided as well as refreshments served in the morning and the afternoon. My imagination was running wild with all the ways this could all go wrong! But our trainers had already purchased their tickets to come, and there was no cancelling at this point.
Amanda, of course, was right, and so was Paul. The day of the workshop was immeasurably more than we could have asked for or imagined. Our trainers were delightful and engaging. This was unlike any workshop these teachers had attended. They came prepared to sit all day, to listen to a speaker at the podium. What they encountered, however, were exciting stories and sharing with one another ways to make other stories come to life through engaging children in a world of imagination. It was a fun as well as educational day for all 33 in attendance. They left excited and equipped.
The next few days consisted of delivering the books to the schools (they did arrive). As we walked through the security door of the public school, a small boy ran to me and gave me a huge hug. I felt as if I were being hugged by God.
This divine hug was for you, too! You have helped to make this project possible by financially supporting us. Thank you!
If you haven’t yet given, it’s not too late. We would love to have you join us! The details on how to do so are listed below. Also, if you would like to hear more about the book project, contact us by email. And please keep us in your prayers. We have only just begun to imagine.
Debbie and Richard Welch
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Tags: Richard and Debbie Welch
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