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Virtual chocolate tasting replaces in-person mission trip

New Castle Presbytery’s Guatemala Partnership creates a sweet event to connect supporters ‘like a bucket brigade’ to meet emergency needs during the pandemic

by Chris Hickey of New Castle Presbytery’s Guatemala Partnership | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Prior to the virtual chocolate tasting event, participants received delivery of traditional Guatemalan/Nicaraguan chocolates from vendors in Guatemala and Philadelphia. (Photo by the Rev. Sudie Niesen Thompson)

WILMINGTON, Delaware — In late January 2020, New Castle Presbytery sent a delegation to Guatemala for its annual visit with mission partners: the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development and the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA). Delegates look forward to the yearly trip as a great way to reconnect and see God’s work in action. The presbytery has been sending a team to Guatemala for more than 30 years, as it believes building collaborative relationships are of utmost importance in addressing the root causes of poverty

 After the trip last year, the coronavirus pandemic made it clear that the Guatemala Partnership’s focus needed to shift to address an emerging set of critical needs. The partnership realized an alternative would be needed to take the place of an in-person visit in 2021. U.S. and Guatemala partners rallied together to create an end-to-end delivery process for providing emergency food kits and a set of three egg-laying chickens for each family in the Association.

Toward the end of last year, after all food kit deliveries had been fulfilled, the partnership felt one additional fundraising effort would help ensure that every family in the Association had at least three egg-laying chickens. After much reflection and inspiration from CEDEPCA, partners decided to host a virtual chocolate tasting fundraiser, centered on Guatemalan chocolate, once a form of Mayan currency. The online event was scheduled so partners and presbytery leaders could attend the same week as their traditional annual partnership visit.

“The chocolate tasting event was the first time I have seen that many people from one presbytery come together virtually for something other than a stated presbytery meeting,” said the Rev. Betsey Moe, the facilitator of CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters Program and a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission co-worker with her husband, Eric.

“To see them interacting with their Guatemalan partners (who were present through Zoom), having fun together and rallying together around a common mission goal was inspiring,” said the Moes.

Thirty years of partnership allowed for efficient delivery of emergency relief when the pandemic hit. (Photo by the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development)

“One of the striking things that came to light last year was the solid infrastructure that’s in place and what we can accomplish because of it,” said Meg Burich, a member of the Guatemala Partnership Steering Committee at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, Delaware. “The relationships and partnerships we have built over the years are what enabled us to deliver emergency relief in quick order when the pandemic hit. It’s like a bucket brigade standing at the ready and efficiently working to deliver supplies where needed.”

“These chocolate-tasting events via Zoom have been wonderful ways, during this time of pandemic, to reconnect old friends and partners and to bring in new ones,” said the Rev. Leslie Vogel, the PC(USA)’s regional liaison for Guatemala and Mexico and former facilitator with CEDEPCA’s Intercultural Encounters Program. “These are creative ways to keep relationships and partnerships alive when physical travel is not yet feasible.”

About 1,100 of the 1,600 laying chickens have already being delivered to the homes of women in the Guatemalan highlands. (Photo by the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development)

Virtually gathering from two countries, 20 churches, and six different presbyteries, the group got to learn more about the history of chocolate in Guatemala while tasting cocoa-based chocolates from a local vendor based in Lake Atitlán and another from Philadelphia. Above all, the attendees learned that the event proceeds exceeded the goal of providing a set of three laying chickens to each of the 530 women in the Association. That is 1,600 chickens, which will lay about 6,500 eggs each week.

After a year of many twists and turns, the Guatemala Partnership remains steadfast in its belief that relationships and collaboration with in-country partners are both vital in encouraging positive change to address poverty. Partners agree there is much work to be done, but they can see they are making an impact together.

The Guatemala Partnership of New Castle Presbytery is led by a designated Steering Committee to encourage, guide, support and coordinate efforts of the presbytery, its congregations and individual members to actively engage with partners in Guatemala, namely the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA) and the Association of Mam Christian Women for Development. For more information about the Guatemala Partnership of New Castle Presbytery or how to get involved, visit ncpguatemala.com.


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