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Travel study seminar to focus on climate justice and faith in Central America

Guatemala and Costa Rica are on the agenda

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

Participants of a workshop in Guatemala led by Mayfield Central Presbyterian Church through CEDEPCA. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – Presbyterians interested in learning more about climate justice in Central America will have the opportunity to see it up close this summer. The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and Environmental Ministries are co-sponsoring a travel study seminar to Guatemala and Costa Rica on August 7–18.

Organizers say the main focus of the Guatemala portion of the trip will be the impact of extractive mining.

“We will visit seven different mining communities in central Guatemala and hear from residents about their experiences around mining resistance,” said the Rev. Leslie Vogel, a PC(USA) mission co-worker. “There are mayors, committees and other faith-based groups involved in this effort. We will be seeing where they live as well as a mine from a distance.”

The church has two global partners in Guatemala: the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies (CEDEPCA) and the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala.

“Mining resisters living in this country have had to deal with a lot including facing arrest and jail time,” Vogel said. “In the end, all charges are dropped and they are released, but they have spent months at a time away from their families.”

For the past three years, a disaster ministry team has been working with resistance leaders, helping them deal with the emotional trauma they’ve experienced. Vogel says those taking part in the travel seminar will be able to spend quality time with the people and learn more about their struggles.

“The idea is to be there and hear from the people who are impacted by the mines, what they’ve learned and what they are proactively doing,” Vogel said. “We will also hear about the good things that have come out of their work.”

Vogel says she hopes attendees will come away with a better understanding of how people in Guatemala are impacted by environmental justice issues.

From there, the group will spend four days in Costa Rica exploring current indigenous communities’ struggles such as land rights and renewable energy production.

“Costa Rica, in contrast to Guatemala, has chosen a development path that rejects militarism and embraces protection for the environment. In 1948, the country chose to disband its army, and invest in the education and health care of its population,” said the Rev. Dr. Karla Koll, a mission co-worker in Costa Rica. “It is considered to be one of the countries of the world with the greatest biodiversity due to the variety of ecosystems contained within a small land area. Over 25 percent of its national territory has been set aside as national parks or reserves.”

Koll says Costa Rica generates almost all of its electricity from renewable resources, while mining and exploration for petroleum are prohibited. But despite its commitment on paper to environmental protection, Koll adds that the extensive cultivation of pineapples and African palm, used for biofuels in Europe, require intensive use of agrochemicals.

“Hydroelectric power comes at a huge environmental and social cost. Indigenous groups are fighting to protect their territories from further hydroelectric development,” she said. “Costa Rica claims to be working toward carbon neutrality, but the country’s economy depends on more than a million people traveling to the country, mostly by plane, each year.”

Koll says Central America is one of the most vulnerable areas to the effects of climate change and is already experiencing changing weather patterns and increasingly intense weather phenomena.

The travel study seminar in Costa Rica will be hosted by the Latin American Biblical University (UBL), a PC(USA) mission partner that has been training church and community leaders throughout Latin America for transformative ministries for more than 90 years.

“Our hope is that seminar participants will be inspired to work for climate justice in Central America and in the United States. The Costa Rican experience shows that there are other paths to development that do not rely on resource extraction and militarization,” Koll said. “With sisters and brothers in Central America we can find ways of working for a just and ecological healthy future.”

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is enthusiastic about this partnership seminar with Environmental Ministries, World Mission and colleagues in Guatemala and Costa Rica.

“It is something of a convergence event — where the commitments of peace and justice, the work of world mission and our partners alongside indigenous communities and our common concern for climate issues and the environment meet,” said Carl Horton, coordinator for the Peacemaking Program. “This will really be an on-the-ground opportunity in a global context for participants to see the impact of climate issues on communities and to learn about the efforts of peacemakers, organizers and activists to advocate for those experiencing first-hand the very real affects of our changing climate.”

For many years, the General Assembly has acted to encourage Presbyterians to increase their awareness and understanding of the global climate crisis. “This seminar will accomplish that as a sort of immersion contextual experience, one that we hope will equip Presbyterians to return as more informed and effective advocates for global climate justice,” Horton said.

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For more information on how to register for the travel study seminar, click here.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and Environmental Ministries are made possible through your gifts to two of the Special Offerings of the Presbyterian Church (USA) — the Peace and Global Witness Offering and One Great Hour of Sharing.


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