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Advent Hope and the Gift of Relationships

A letter from Sandi Thompson-Royer  serving in Guatemala

November 2015

Write to Brian Thompson-Royer
Write to Sandi Thompson-Royer

Individuals: Give online to E200334 for Brian and Sandi Thompson-Royer’s sending and support

Congregations: Give to D507581for Brian and Sandi Thompson-Royer’s sending and support

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

Today Brian and I were out shopping in our neighborhood market for the “perfect” piñata.  Gilbert is turning 6 and his whole family is coming over for a surprise party. I’m excited to bake a special cake and have our home filled with children, games and laughter.  I can’t wait to see his little face light up when he cracks open the piñata and candy spills to the ground.  We miss these celebrations with our children and grandchildren.  Slowly we are finding family in Guatemala.  We look forward to sharing Advent season in Guatemala with new friends.

New friends also include many of you who have supported us through prayer, financial gifts and taking the time to get to know us.  Some of you have visited us here.  Last spring we were invited to your homes and churches in the U.S.  The gift of relationships is how change happens.  We listen to each other’s stories.  We share our passions and dreams for a different world, moving forward together to make this happen.  It takes time to build trust and with all relationships, if they are to grow deeper, there will be challenges.  If we stay the course, we get to experience and create history together filled with hope and justice.  We have witnessed this many times in 2015.

“Our Advent hope calls on us to write, with our lives, a new history,
the history of lives lived in justice and peace”
(Philip Berrigan & Elizabeth McAlister).

Sally and Dina

Sally and Dina

In July we witnessed a U.S./Guatemalan partnership walking together in the closing of a private school that many students attended and were supported through scholarships by the partner church in the U.S.  Over 100 students needed to be placed in new schools.  Guatemala’s Suchitepequez Presbytery and its 15-year partner Covenant Presbyterian Church in Madison, Wis., have watched many of these students grow up.  They know the students and parents by name. They know each student’s desire for an education.  We heard testimonies from the parents about how important these scholarships from Covenant are for their children.  We heard the children’s dreams of becoming veterinarians, engineers, and doctors.  Together they are moving forward to support these students in their new schools.  Together they are looking at the possibility of an after-school program so that these students will continue to thrive.  You can see the love between Sally Lorenz of Madison, Wis., and Dina Doniz Vela of Iglesia Presbteriana Monte Hebron as they sit, hold hands, and worship together.

Often we are invited to visit churches in isolated places in Guatemala where receiving visitors is a big deal.  It may mean traveling four hours or more. Imagine trying to be on time when you travel by chicken bus, often changing two or three times before arriving at your destination!  Recently Brian visited a rural church on the coast where he had plans to meet with Pastora Ruth and her daughter.  Arriving 30 minutes late, he was greeted by 35 church members holding a welcome sign.  They were expecting him to preach! Brian didn’t hesitate to speak on the importance of equality, nonviolence, women pastors and elders.  He has become one of the biggest cheerleaders for the Sinodica (Guatemala Presbyterian Women).

In October Shannon Beck, PC(USA) World Mission reconciliation catalyst, and I organized and co-led a delegation, along with mission co-workers Leslie Vogel and Amanda Craft, called  “Heartbreak to Hope.  Designed to listen to stories of sexual violence in Guatemala and together move forward finding ways to address these issues, the following quotes come from some of the stories we heard:

“The church is a safe place for women to gather and share their stories.”

“This space has opened a window to my life.”

“We laugh, cry and share our burdens together.”

“We are putting pieces of our story on the table.  Coming here is not selfish—it’s daring.”

“Somebody who protects herself is somebody who loves herself.  I want this for my sisters.”

Heartbreak to Hope: Sisters on the Bus

Heartbreak to Hope: Sisters on the Bus

The U.S. visitors were amazed at the level of work that is already happening.  Our days were filled with storytelling and visiting organizations addressing sexual violence, and we ended with an all-day workshop with 30 Guatemalan women.  Together we studied the difficult Bible story of the rape of Tamar.  We heard from a panel of women from organizations that are helping children who have been sexually abused and providing legal work.  We also heard grassroots advocacy by indigenous women in rural areas.  We brainstormed ways to keep this movement alive.

One attending woman pastor shared: “Jesus came to liberate us from this kind of violence, and to take away the chains of oppression.  It is a huge error in our church that we don’t want to talk about.  We walk with Jesus to be freed—to be happy.” Lety, a leader in the Sinodica, shared: “We need to look for allies.  We need to respond and be courageous.  We need to wake up!”  By bringing together our PC(USA) U.S. partners with our global partners, CEDEPCA (Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America) and the Sinodica, our hope is to provide workshops, create allies, and break the silence.

The Sinodica plans for 2016 include more workshops on domestic and sexual violence. We will be working closely with Rev. Kevin Frederick as he returns to Guatemala in the fall of 2016, training men leaders on what it means to be male, supporting more respect and equality in both home and the church.  Brian will work with the Sinodica to evaluate existing projects, which include raising pigs or chickens, farming, and new projects such as micro-credit loans.  The women’s theology scholarship project is expanding and looking for ways to support basic education.  This will include a pilot education project in rural indigenous areas where women have little opportunities.

In 2016 we will be spending mid-April through mid-July in the U.S. on our mission Interpretation Assignment.  We would welcome an invitation to share more stories and get to know you.  Please contact us at brian.thompson-royer@pcusa.org or sandi.thompson-royer@pcusa.org.

Thank you for your interest in God’s mission in Guatemala.   We’ve been recently notified that even at this late date, our ministry hasn’t been fully funded for this year.  Will you pray about this situation?  As you consider Christmas gifts and your annual giving we hope you will consider supporting our position or increasing your gift for 2015.   Would you consider advocating for this ministry with neighboring congregations to see if they would like to join us?  We would so appreciate your help in these ways.

Thank you wholeheartedly to each of you who have joined us in prayer, visits and gifts.  It is through your support that this work continues.  Blessings to you and your families this season.  Let us all remember what Pastora Ruth shared—“Jesus came to us to liberate and break the chains of oppression.”

Peace,
Sandi & Brian Thompson-Royer

E200334 – Facilitator for Women Leadership Development, Guatemala (our sending and support)
E051618 – General work with the women of Guatemala
E051830 – Theological scholarship aid for Guatemalan women

The 2015 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 70


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