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‘Our earnest desire is that you come and visit’

Presbyterians considering a trip to Guatemala are given a webinar exploring what they can expect and what difference they can make

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Blessed by weather described as “eternal spring,” there’s hardly a bad month to visit Guatemala, webinar participants were told last week. (Photo by Ferrando Elias via Unsplash)

LOUISVILLE — When individuals and small groups are ready once again to travel to places like Guatemala to learn about and walk alongside that nation’s welcoming people, CEDEPCA, the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America, is ready to handle all the details and deepen visitors’ experience.

Together with recently arrived mission co-worker the Rev. Betsey Moe, the staff of CEDEPCA, a longtime World Mission partner, put on a webinar last week attended by nearly 60 people. Some in attendance regularly travel to Guatemala. Others are considering a trip when they determine that the pandemic risk has abated enough to travel internationally.

“We cherish your visits whenever they happen,” said Moe, who arrived in Guatemala City earlier this month with her husband Eric and their children. “Intercultural visits matter to us and to groups throughout Guatemala. Our earnest desire is that you come and visit. The pandemic will one day be endemic.”

The Moes had to wait two years before finally arriving in Guatemala from their stateside home in Spokane, Washington, in early January. The wait “required a lot of patience, a lot of discernment about when we were going to move and a lot of flexibility,” Moe said. “But we did it, and we are so happy we’re here.”

Moe said advice she heard from the travel writer and guide Rick Steves spoke to her.

“People who travel are reminded we are all God’s children. No matter if we eat our food with our fingers, with chopsticks or with a fork, we are all beautiful and worthy of respect and dignity,” Moe said, paraphrasing Steves.

The Rev. Betsey Moe

Groups and individuals travel for different reasons, Moe said. Some groups make regular journeys to Central America because of longstanding partnerships. Others want to learn more about migration, gender issues, climate change or other important struggles. Still others simply want to grow in awareness.

“When the time is right for your group, I hope you will come in person to see this amazing, resilient family you’ve been made part of by the grace of God,” Moe said. “Remember there is this family waiting for you.”

Nancy Carrera, Intercultural Encounters coordinator for CEDEPCA, described the current COVID-19 protocols in Guatemala, which are “changing every two days.” The government requires that travelers present a vaccination card and a negative COVID test before boarding a Guatemala-bound aircraft. Recent visitors from New Castle Presbytery brought rapid antigen tests with them to use during their stay, “and it worked well,” Carrera said.

Carrera’s colleague, Esvin Sirin, helps visitors arrange conversations with groups and ministries going on in and around Guatemala City. “These relationships bring hope and light to people. The small groups who come [to Guatemala] let people know they matter and are not forgotten,” Sirin said. CEDPECA’s partners in Guatemala “are well aware of the risks,” Sirin said. “If it’s not an appropriate time to visit them, they will let us know.”

Because Guatemala’s climate can be best described as “eternal spring,” just about any month is a good time to schedule a visit, according to Carrera. “We don’t have a favorite time of year,” Carrera said.

Carrie Saathoff, a member of the visiting delegation from New Castle Presbytery, said the trip finally occurred after it had been postponed three times since the pandemic began in 2020. She recommends groups register with the U.S. State Department’s free Smart Traveler Enrollment Program which, among other services, keeps travelers up to date on travel situations around the world.


Nancy Carrera

Carrera said CEDEPCA works to stay in regular contact with group leaders throughout the United States. CEDEPCA recommends that groups announce a planned trip at least three months in advance to, among other considerations, allow people without a passport to secure one.

Asked how CEDEPCA is faring as the pandemic enters its 23rd month, Judith Castañeda, CEDEPCA’s general coordinator, said the organization has learned it will receive several grants and plans to announce them soon, after it’s completed its annual report and audit. “We hope to share with you some of our projects and needs in the humanitarian area,” Castañeda said. “We have a lot of work to do in the healthcare area and in the areas of women’s ministry and domestic violence.” Some Guatemalan pastors are taking to their pulpit to urge their congregations not to get vaccinated, “and that’s part of the work we have to do in the coming year,” Castañeda said.

For the meantime, consider helping to arrange for your small group or ministry to visit Guatemala, Castañeda said.

Judith Castañeda

“Don’t hesitate to contact us. We want to help you in this discernment process” because “we believe intercultural encounters transform lives and communities,” Castañeda said. “I hope you are excited, because we are excited to have you here in Guatemala and we are well-equipped to welcome you safely. Come soon.”

“When it’s time,” Sirin petitioned the Almighty during a closing prayer, “bless us in your fellowship and bring peace to the world.”

Webinar attendees completed their time together in time-honored Presbyterian fashion, but with a twist: They filled out a webinar evaluation accompanied by the happy tones of recorded marimba music.

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