A monthly update from World Mission, a ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency
The Mission Matters column addresses the impact of Presbyterian mission in the world and the issues that affect mission co-workers, the people we walk alongside and assist in service to God, and our partners around the globe.
October 2019 — Legacy of faith: Julia and Lois
Leslie Vogel, regional liaison, Guatemala and Mexico
Presbyterian World Mission
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 RSV)
Through the years, my life has been graced with opportunities to come to know strong role models. These inspiring women of faith have taught me much about living a life in service to God, loving God with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength — and loving my neighbor as myself. (Luke 10:27)
This year, two of my faithful women role models joined the “great cloud of witnesses”: Julia Esquivel, internationally known Guatemalan poet, professor and theologian, activist for justice and human rights, died July 19. She was 89. And, Presbyterian mission worker Lois Kroehler, music teacher, hymn composer and advocate for peace who served in Cuba for more than 40 years died at age 91 on Aug. 4.
When I was 23 years old, I was gifted with an opportunity to travel with a group of Presbyterian Women on a “global exchange” to Cuba. I met Lois, a Presbyterian woman who, as a young mission volunteer, had followed her heart and faith and had stayed in Cuba when virtually all other mission workers left, at the beginning of the Cuban revolution in 1959.
Lois chose not only to stay in Cuba, but she became a commissioned church worker, focusing on Christian education, organizing national retreats and events for children and youth, and contributing to the growth and development of Christian music produced with a uniquely Cuban flavor.
When I saw her again in Washington state two years ago, Lois was busy writing music to be used in liturgical settings. Once more, I was moved and inspired by her musical gifts and indomitable spirit, just as I had been in 1981.
Lois’s embodiment of love for people in need of Christ’s love, and her commitment to living out the gospel in very challenging circumstances, inspired me and fueled a discernment process in me that led me to studying Bible and theology and, eventually, to seeking mission service. During those same years, I was becoming acquainted with Julia Esquivel through her reputation and her poetry.
After years living in exile during Guatemala’s 36-year-long internal armed conflict, Julia was able to return to her beloved Guatemala to live the final years of her life. When I moved there as a PC(USA) mission co-worker in 2013, I met Julia in real life, through a book study group in her home. In addition to her extensive knowledge about the socio-political situation in Guatemala, Julia shared with me her love for the people engaged in peaceful resistance to mining in La Puya, and her commitment to living out the gospel of Jesus Christ in practical, concrete ways.
In the words of former nun and accompanier/facilitator, Carmen Martínez, whom I met through Julia, so that I could learn more about mining resistance, “Julia was “…deeply spiritual, profoundly ecumenical and interfaith, with an enormous desire for the radicality of Jesus, who has fully revealed to us the God of Life, a compassionate and solidary God.”
Both Julia and Lois continue to inspire me with their examples of clear, decided commitment to living out the gospel in ways that seek to empower and give voice to the most oppressed, despised and forgotten in our world.