A letter from Leslie Vogel serving in Guatemala
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Dear companions in mission, friends, family, colleagues,
Even though I have been in Guatemala now for almost three years, people still ask me what it is that I do. While I could tell many stories about how Guatemalans have been impacted by the work that CEDEPCA does, that is not the work in which I am most directly involved.
Since I am a facilitator for the Intercultural Encounters Program of CEDEPCA, my primary task is to be in communication with people from churches, presbyteries, colleges and theological seminaries who are interested in visiting Guatemala in order to learn more about the “realities” that Guatemalans face on a daily basis. They want to learn about how the Christian faith of the Guatemalan people not only sustains and gives them strength in the face of great obstacles and difficulties, but also how it gives them hope and perseverance to move forward. Many group participants come thinking that they are going to somehow “help” Guatemalans to address the poverty or violence or corruption in this country; however, most participants leave with a sense that Guatemalans have taught them something about what it means to truly trust in God and to live out a life of faith in God’s justice and mercy “on earth as it is in heaven.”
The following story, about the experience of a student from the UKirk Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., perhaps better conveys the essence of what I “do” in my position as a PC(USA) mission co-worker assigned to CEDEPCA. The Rev. Ginny Taylor-Troutman of UKirk, VA Tech, wrote while she was preparing a group of students to travel to Guatemala last May:
Our presbytery (of the Peaks) has a long-standing relationship with a Guatemalan non-profit organization called CEDEPCA, the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America. CEDEPCA “is an educational non-profit that works to transform lives by offering education, accompaniment and safe reflection spaces to women and men of diverse Christian traditions and communities.”
CEDEPCA has developed deep relationships through the years with Guatemalan folks connected to this amazing organization. We will be building upon these connections as we travel. As we prepare ourselves to travel to Guatemala, hosted by CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters Program, we have talked, prayed and reflected about mission and service in the church. …
We had a lively discussion about the purpose of short-term mission trips, where we often go wrong, and how we can do them with integrity. One local pastor shared with us about her many experiences in Guatemala, where she has seen the power of God’s presence and grace, especially in the midst of suffering.
“So, what’s the purpose of your trip?”
We have heard this question many times as we have prepared for our mission trip; our group has spent a lot of time considering what our “mission” is to be in Guatemala. I believe the students understand what our mission is not. We are not going to convert people to Christianity. We are not going to participate in building projects for which we have no skill. We are not going to “help” the poor people there.
We are going to be transformed and to witness to the transforming power of God that is already at work in Guatemala. We are going to learn from people who are committed to and engaged in making positive sustainable change. We are going to see Christ in the face of the other. And we hope they will see Christ in us.
During five days in May 2015 the students traveled in Guatemala with CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters program. The students experienced the sheer beauty of the country’s geography and the generous hospitality of Guatemala’s ethnically diverse people. They also witnessed the intense pain and contradictions of the social, economic, political and religious realities of the country.
They witnessed the violence and grinding poverty that forces people to migrate in search of a better life; a patriarchal system that beats down and literally brutalizes and kills women and girls; government corruption that makes systemic change seem impossible.
Ginny, the campus minister, wrote to me again after she and her students returned home to Virginia. Ginny shared reflections from several of the students, and told me about one of the graduating students in particular:
Amy (not her real name) shared that her experiences in Guatemala have really shaped how she sees her call and the decisions she will make about her career in architecture. Prior to participating in the immersion seminar in Guatemala she was much more focused on how she could get a good job that pays well.
Amy herself wrote:
Now I see that helping others to use resources creatively and responsibly is part of my call. I will now be sure that my work is making a positive impact on the lives of others. I no longer see serving others as something separate from my career.
When people ask me, “What did you build?” I tell them, “We built relationships!”
Below, please see a link to an article written by Presbyterian News Service about me, about an award I received in October at my alma mater, Whitworth College (now University) in Spokane, Wash.
I thank you for the many ways that you encourage and support me in this important work to educate and transform the lives of U.S. Christians wishing to be in relationship with Guatemalans. If you are not already doing so, I warmly invite you to come along on the journey by committing yourself to learning more, by making a one-time gift or monthly pledge toward my sending and support, and through your prayers on behalf of the Guatemalans with whom I live and serve.
Grace and peace be with you!
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