Using Tamar’s story to strengthen Guatemalan girls

Longtime PC(USA) partner CEDEPCA welcomes Presbyterian delegation

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Luis Sarpec, who’s with CEDEPCA’s Disaster Ministry, shows a water purifier invented by a Guatemalan. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

GUATEMALA CITY — Up against some appalling facts — 119 Guatemalan women each day report a violent attack against them and nearly 62,000 women and girls 19 and under became pregnant during the first six months of 2018, many of them the result of rape — CEDEPCA, a longtime partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was determined to empower girls in a new way.

That innovation, a Presbyterian Mission Agency delegation found out last week at CEDEPCA’s Guatemala City compound, is called Project Tamar, named for the biblical daughter of King David who was raped by her half-brother.

Begun with a 2016 seed grant from Presbyterian Women, the 1 ½-day retreats are, for many girls, the first time they’ve ever slept alone in a bed, and the first time someone else has served them food, said Pamela Liquez of CEDEPCA’s Women’s Ministry.

“We really believe education transforms, and we want women here and in Mexico to live free from violence,” she said during a Friday morning talk.

A course on healthy relationships called “It’s Marvelous to be a Woman” teaches girls and young women that they, like boys, are created in the image and likeness of God.

“That’s news to many women. They haven’t heard that before,” she said. “They were taught that men were created in the image of God, and women from a man’s rib. This is eye-opening, because it helps to re-dignify women’s image.”

Begun in 1982 and funded by a number of Presbyterian churches and mid councils in the U.S. as well as Presbyterian World Mission and CEDEPCA USA, CEDEPCA is an educational center that provides safe, accepting, creative spaces where women and men from different Christian traditions can deepen their faith while strengthening their ability to confront the key issues facing their community. On a budget of about $600,000, CEDEPCA last year served about 36,000 people with humanitarian aid, psycho-social support, courses, workshops and other services.

CEDEPCA is a Spanish-language acronym for Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America.

“Women in Central America and Mexico live in a patriarchal, violent and oppressive system at all socioeconomic levels,” said Judith Castañeda, CEDEPCA’s general coordinator. “Central America is fragile, and Guatemala is one of the most vulnerable countries.”

Ana Paxtor and Luis Sarpec explained CEDEPCA’s disaster ministry. Sarpec showed a simple clay and carbon water purifier invented by a Guatemalan. Tap water in Guatemala City is not recommended for consumption.

CEDEPCA risk managers help communities make contingency plans and create early warning systems. If cellphones aren’t widespread, villagers have been known to warn one another of impending nasty weather by banging pots and pans with a spoon or by blowing a whistle throughout their neighborhood. “We use whatever they have available to them,” Sarpec said. “They can do it with the materials they have.”

Paxtor talked about emotional support services CEDEPCA offers to residents of small Guatemalan villages. “We help them get to know their emotional capacity and resilience,” she said.

Following the June 3, 2018 Fuego Volcano eruption, “the government was absent helping families and facilitating aid,” Castañeda said. All aid had to be approved by the country’s military ministry. Lutheran World Relief donated 12,000 hygiene kits, but “to this day we haven’t received them,” she said. “It’s difficult to get in there and do relief work.”

The organization also welcomes and arranges week-long visits by congregations in the U.S. and Canada. This year 27 groups are scheduled for an immersive visit to experience the topic of their choice, including, for example, the environment or gender issues.

“You are experiencing a short part of that today,” Castañeda told her guests.

Learn more by visiting

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?