A letter from Sandi Thompson-Royer serving in Guatemala
Individuals: Give online to E200334 for Sandi and Brian Thompson-Royer’s sending and support
Congregations: Give to D507581 for Sandi and Brian Thompson-Royer’s sending and support
Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery).
In our neighborhood we don’t need an alarm clock. Around 6:30 a.m. our street bustles with children on their way to school. Up goes the metal door to the tienda (store) below, trying to attract those who missed breakfast. Once the horns begin, sleep is impossible! First comes the wonderful Ta-Ta (grandfather) coffee from our friend Gaspar in San Juan on Lake Atitlan. Gaspar manages a small coffee finca and roasts the beans over a fire like his Tzutihil grandfather did. Brian makes his way around the corner to Las Flores, our neighborhood farmers market and has grandmother Isabel fill our glass jug with fresh orange juice. She works seven days a week and 10 hours a day.
We love our neighborhood in Xela. Our local friendships are not limited to the Presbyterian church. We know the names and pieces of the life story of many neighbors.
In December our son Noah was visiting for Christmas. He and Brian held a belated surprise birthday party for me. Over 25 people gathered in our home. Half were our Presbyterian sisters and brothers and half were new friends from our Xela community. I was overwhelmed with the love they shared with me. This is what happens when one chooses to walk with people and take the time to listen to their stories.
I held the mirror up so she could get a close look at her beautiful face. As she focused on her image, I said, “You are a daughter of God. You are beautiful in God’s eyes. Always.” I repeated this exercise with each of the 40 Maya Quiche women in the room. Soon the others chimed in so that the woman looking in the mirror could hear this ringing affirmation loud and clear. Loving ourselves is an important part of being good leaders. This is not always easy for us women and especially Guatemalan women who are victims of violence, must obey their husbands, bear the load of much responsibility in the home, and even hear from their church that they are less than the men.
I have learned in my work that when women have low self-esteem, they tend to be more negative not only about themselves but about the world around them. We ALL have gifts and talents that need to be used and lifted up to make this world a better place for all. The theme of this workshop was “Loving Ourselves as God Loves Us.” This workshop was supported through a partnership with Albany Presbytery. Rev. Bonnie Orth and Rev. Kate Kotfila from Albany Presbytery helped lead this workshop.
Juana, a leader in the Mam Presbyterial, sees the importance of encouraging her sisters to speak out against sexual violence in the church and the community. Juana is courageous, strong, and beautiful. She is an obrera (church worker) for Mam Presbyterial assigned to the women’s organization and the youth ministry. She is a fierce presence and I’ve seen her impact on those she accompanies. Sometimes her presence is simply to hold a sister’s hand who nervously seeks to speak her mind. After learning more about sexual violence in a workshop in October, sponsored by Presbyterian World Mission, CEDEPCA and the Sinódica (Presbyterian Women), Juana went back home and shared a similar workshop with her sisters at their yearly convention in December. With confidence she shared what she had learned and, not wavering from the truth, challenged her sisters to lift up their voices on this issue in their churches. Domestic and sexual violence is a global issue and if we are to remain silent it will continue.
Carolina, a Guatemalan woman living in Washington State, was one of the participants in the delegation that participated in the October workshop. As I helped plan this delegation, I knew Carolina’s participation would be important. In Olympia, Washington, she works with immigrants, providing advocacy and support to those who have experienced sexual violence. Many of the women she serves are from the Mam-speaking region in Guatemala. She was anxious to learn more about their lives and how better to serve them.
Carolina and Juana immediately made a connection, and these creative women arranged for Juana to visit Carolina in Olympia in February. During that visit Juana provided a “cultural competency” workshop for other advocates in Washington so they could learn about the lives of the Mam women in Guatemala. Carolina was able to give Juana an opportunity to learn more about supporting women experiencing violence. They will stay connected, exchanging ideas on how to support Mam women who have migrated to Washington State! These two women understand how much we need each other and the importance of sharing leadership. Together they support the global movement to end violence against women.
Speaking of mirrors, Brian continues to garner enthusiastic response for Rev. Kevin Frederick from Western North Carolina Presbytery and his planned September visit to share his “Men in the Mirror” curriculum. Its goal is to train men to understand the importance of respect and equality both in the home and church. The Sinódica has paved the way for us to be able to offer this curriculum to several presbytery leaders. Guatemala’s Presbyterian Seminary is also excited to possibly offer this as part of their curriculum. The workshops will be over two days and will allow men, both pastors and elders, to come together for study, prayer and worship. They will leave with plans to continue what they’ve learned. This is another way to work toward ending violence.
The Women’s Theology Scholarship program continues to grow. We have been serving on the Scholarship Committee and have worked on ways to spread the word about this opportunity to take seminary classes. Brian created a beautiful flyer to hand out at the annual Sinódica convention. While that seemed like a great idea, we know that word of mouth is what makes things happen. The goal was to increase the scholarships from 8 last year to 15 this year. This has happened, and the scholarships have also been expanded to include other Presbyterian seminaries in Guatemala, including those in Suchitepequez and Sur Occidente. Thank you for supporting this ECO account (E051830), which hopefully will grow! I believe IF the Guatemalan church is to change, we need more women leaders with more education and skills to help facilitate change. Women taking seminary classes need your prayers. Some women need to finish their basic education before they can focus on seminary. It is a huge commitment and can take years to accomplish.
As I write this newsletter we are also in the midst of itineration plans for our Interpretation Assignment! So far we have scheduled 12 states and 40 church visits. We are grateful to all who have agreed to host us. We look forward to sharing stories, bringing the good news of deep faith and love in Guatemala, and having meaningful, transformational conversations. We are also thrilled to share that our financial support is growing! Thank you so much for your continued support. We ask you to look for ways to deepen your support this year. We continue to feel blessed and called to be with the people in Guatemala.
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