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Learning from a dedicated partner in ministry

Mission Co-Workers Richard and Debbie Welch see the power of partnership

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Julian, a partner in ministry in Guatemala with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-workers Richard and Debbie Welch, recovers from surgery with the help of his daughter, Norma. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — It’s a universal theme among mission co-workers that they often learn more from the people in the cultures they serve than they could ever hope to give. That’s exactly the lesson mission co-workers Richard and Debbie Welch, serving in Guatemala, learned from their longtime partner in ministry, Julian.

The Welches knew Julian even before they became mission co-workers through their home presbytery’s partnership in Guatemala. He is a leader in his own indigenous Presbytery of the Polochic, serving as a dedicated church worker, pastor, evangelist and leader, passionately committed to education. He made certain that all seven of his children, including the girls, completed secondary education.

“Because he is such a dynamo, we were ill-prepared when he called us to let us know that he was in too much pain to carry on with the project possibilities we had been working on together,” said Debbie Welch. “Fearing the worst, we insisted that Julian come to our home while we made an appointment for him to see Richard’s doctor.”

Julian and his family gathered for dinner at the Welch home the night before his surgical procedure. (Contributed photo)

After a physical exam and several tests, Julian was diagnosed with a large bladder stone that would not get better without treatment. Treatment cost would be the first challenge. While medical care is free to Guatemalans, the traditional surgical procedure available at the public hospital would be more invasive, risky and require a much longer recuperation time. With prayer and a leap of faith, the Welches arranged for Julian to go to the private local hospital and offered to reach out to Julian’s partners who might help financially. They insisted Julian recuperate at their home.

Another challenge came from directly from the physician.

“The doctor took Richard aside to explain the process, the cost, and the challenges he would facing trying to keep a Q’eqchi person quiet for three days while recuperating, which was difficult to hear,” said Debbie Welch. “Such general statements about an entire people group, all too common here and elsewhere, are regular reminders of how we tend to see one another. We know Julian, and we knew that keeping him quiet for a few days would be a challenge — not because he is Q’eqchi, but because he is Julian.”

Julian and two of his children arrived at the Welch house the night before the procedure. Although they expected him to spend at least one night in the hospital, things went so well he was able to return home with the Welches the same evening. Julian’s own family was there to make certain his recovery went smoothly.

“Daughter Norma immediately confiscated her father’s cell phone, acting as his secretary, informing family and friends and ministry colleagues that he wouldn’t be available until later,” said Debbie Welch. “Son Joel monitored his blood pressure and sugar levels and kept track of his medications. The next few days were a flurry of activity. Julian’s wife Maria arrived the day after surgery with another son. We lost count but we’re pretty sure that every child and a few friends stopped by to check on Julian. When not tending to their father, they shopped, cooked and cleaned our house.”

Julian is pictured at home. He stands in front of photographs of the many partnerships in which he’s involved. (Contributed photo)

By Saturday, Julian had been cleared by the doctor to return home. His voice cracked with emotion as he expressed his wonderment and gratitude for feeling so loved and supported by a community that included family, neighbors, colleagues, and sisters and brothers.

“As mission co-workers, we are often seen as ministers, doing God’s work in a faraway place where needs abound,” said Debbie Welch. “And while we hold to and embrace the callings that God has put onto our lives, we also witness and experience the caring and supportive ministry we so often receive from our own partners, who pray for us, encourage us and support our ministry financially. Through our friend, we’ve learned once again of the power in our partnerships.”

Since 2013, Richard and Debbie Welch have served as educational consultants for indigenous peoples, with the responsibility to establish relationships with presbyteries serving the indigenous membership of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the leadership of the national church. Through these relationships, they help indigenous people gain access to primary, vocational, and theological education. Based in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, they seek to build bridges between Guatemalan education projects and U.S. supporters of Guatemalan education.

Guatemala is the most populous and the most industrialized country in Central America. It is also by far the country with the highest percentage of indigenous people. Most of the indigenous population descended from the Mayans.

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