A letter from Sandi Thompson-Royer serving in Guatemala
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He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:31
This week Brian and I are taking a little sabbatical on Lake Atitlan. We were given the gift of house-sitting for a friend whose little casita sits above the lake looking out into the mountains. It is surrounded by colorful flowers, green lushness, birds singing and other nature noises. Jesus knew the importance of reflection and rest. If I don’t take time, my creativity diminishes. I just keep going without looking at where I’m headed. Brian loses his capacity to follow God fully with a loving spirit. Retreats are a time to stop, reflect, pray, listen to God, and hopefully see things differently. We have a little guilt because this is not the reality for most of our partners in Guatemala.
Hope abounds, and change is coming for Guatemala. September was an exciting time. The power of the people coming together in peaceful demonstrations landed the vice president and president in jail for corruption. The primary election process was mostly peaceful. Their votes ousted the worst candidate/party. Our Presbyterian sisters and brothers were out on the streets letting those in power know change must happen. I believe this hope is contagious and we are grateful to be here at this time.
Recently we experienced firsthand how the corruption has taken away resources, especially for the poor and vulnerable. Walking down the street one day we encountered a woman passed out on the sidewalk. Passersby had to go into the street to get around her. No one could ignore the pain of this woman’s situation. In her traje (indigenous dress) she lay there, filthy dirty. By her odors it was obvious she hadn’t bathed in weeks, maybe longer. One shoe was on and one shoe lying by her dirt-filled foot. Flies swarmed around her cracked and bloody face. Yes, she was wasted on drugs or alcohol and desperately needed medical attention. We walked to our neighborhood police station for help. They responded and called the ambulance, but alerted us that because of limited resources she would not receive help and would most likely remain on the street. The hospitals have no medicine and supplies. We brought her hot coffee and bread. Brian slowly sat her up and brushed her matted hair back so she could take a sip. Her eyes lit up just a little and she thanked us.
My time at the Presbyterian Women Gathering in Minneapolis with Deborah and Reyna (Presbyterian Women leaders in Guatemala) was a blessing. To experience their excitement and responses to the PW focus on peace and justice was a reminder to me. They were eager to join in a “peace march” walking alongside their sisters at the Gathering. Together we carried signs, chanting loudly for a world without violence, rape, and access to education and health care for all. Guatemalan women dream of the same reality.
We are wrapping up our first year working closely with the Directiva (leaders of Presbyterian Women in Guatemala). November is their annual conference when new leaders will be elected. Over a typical lunch of chicken, vegetables mixed into rice, and piles of fresh hot tortillas, I asked Enma, the moderator who has served four years, if this experience has changed her. Her face told it all. “Yes!” She has led with passion and without an agenda, only to serve God and her sisters. The leaders describe their service as a “privilege.” One woman serving as the president in her Presbyterian Women’s group left her paying job to serve! It is truly a “call” and the rest will work out! Can you imagine? We have personally experienced this deep faith and dedication.
Rarely do the Guatemalan Presbyterian Women leaders take time to reflect and dream. For this reason, we are committed to helping them with a two-day retreat in November. When we offered to lead and look at scripture, prayer and reflection in different ways using art, writing and play, they were excited. Brian and I want this to be a special couple of days—a gift from us. We all know that when we are able to take time out, it opens our hearts and we change a little inside. When we relax God touches us and we have new energy and capacity to move forward in our service to Christ.
The PC(USA), CEDEPCA (the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America) and the Sinodica (Presbyterian Women in Guatemala) are partnering in October. With a delegation coming from the U.S., together we will study sexual violence in Guatemala. One full day we will have 20+ Guatemalan women together with the U.S. women, learning and discussing ways to move forward in our churches and communities. Part of the work of the Sinodica is to provide a safe and loving place for women. Please pray for the sensitivity of this work and that healing can happen for those experiencing violence.
There are only seven ordained women pastors in the Presbyterian Church in Guatemala. Many are studying with a desire to serve as pastors. We are serving on the scholarship committee with the Sinodica, helping make decisions that will expand the program so more women are able to attend classes. Juana Herlinda Yak, a leader in her church and community, has received a scholarship. She shares, “It’s not enough to only study the Bible, but to be able to know and have a method by which you can understand the Bible. Women are the base and majority of the church here in Guatemala. We are leaders in the church. We are teachers of our children. [We need] to be educated and know God guarantees progress and a solid base for the future of our church, communities and children.”
As always your prayers and gifts are needed. Thank you for being on this journey with us and our sisters in Guatemala. They receive over 70 percent of their support from the PC(USA)—you! Of course we would not be here doing this work without your prayers and designated gifts for our support. As you think about your year-end gifts, consider contributing online to our sending and support, and additionally to the work of the Sinodica.
Or to contribute by check:
Presbyterian World Mission
P.O. Box 643700
Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700
Please include on the memo line:
E200334 – Facilitator for Women Leadership Development, Guatemala
E051618 – General work with the women of Guatemala
E051830 – Theological scholarship aid for Guatemalan women
Imagine what the Presbyterian Church of Guatemala would be like with more women pastors!
Sandi & Brian Thompson-Royer
The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 70
Read more about Brian and Sandi Thompson-Royer’s ministry
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