During COVID-19, need for food and clean water take priority as mission trips are canceled, postponed or moved online
December 19, 2020
The ministry of presence is important in God’s mission. Yet even when a global pandemic causes cancellation of short-term mission trips, congregations and presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) are showing care and compassion in creative and urgently needed ways from afar.
In Mid-Kentucky Presbytery, after more than a decade of mutual mission, Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church canceled its scheduled July mission trip to the Q’eqchi’ Estoreño Izabal Presbytery in rural eastern Guatemala due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
It’s the first time a trip has had to be canceled since the partnership officially began in 2009, said Perry Chang, a deacon at CHPC, Guatemalan Connection participant and research associate in Research Services with the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
With news of growing food insecurity, CHPC decided to send its partner presbytery some of the money that would have been spent on airfare, housing, meals and other expenses for the seven-member team, along with some money from the church budget, to provide food for Guatemalan families experiencing extra challenges during the pandemic.
“People are not working at home at Guatemala,” Chang said. “They don’t have big savings accounts or access to paycheck protection program loans. They aren’t receiving economic stimulus checks. A family who grows corn depends on their neighbors to grind the corn.”
Through CHPC’s reallocation of a portion of its mission trip funds for COVID-19 relief, some 240 families in 12 congregations within the Estoreño Presbytery received emergency food assistance.
There are many factors that cause division among people in Guatemala — financially, culturally, geographically, as well as through the more than 20 Indigenous Mayan languages spoken, Chang said. Yet the Guatemalan people are resilient in the midst of some pretty tough circumstances. Guatemalan and U.S. partners faithfully pray for one another. They share joys and concerns through phone calls, Facebook messages, emails and mutual visits.
“Our visits to be with our Guatemalan partners do not include typical mission projects. Our time together is focused instead on building personal relationships, self-education activities and learning from each other how to serve God more effectively,” said Soni Castleberry, an elder at CHPC. “This year, however, our partners had asked us to help them to do some very basic maintenance and improvement projects on the grounds or inside their church buildings. We were eager to help with those because we saw firsthand on our last visit some of the problem areas that congregations had identified to the presbytery as priorities.” On previous trips, the team has led workshops for women, children, men, youth and young adults, and visited new congregations within the presbytery.
Other presbyteries across the country, such as the Presbytery of South Alabama and the Presbytery of Denver, have seen their Guatemala partnerships continue even during the pandemic. Some of the relationships are decades long.
“Albany Presbytery is in the process of providing emergency food for our partners in the Mam Presbytery, working with CEDEPCA to do so,” said the Rev. Kathy Gorman-Coombs, co-pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Scotia, New York, and co-chair of the Guatemala Mission Network.
The Albany-Mam partnership is more than 30 years old and Gorman-Coombs has been involved since 2007.
“Those involved in the partnership now, both in Guatemala and in Albany, are not the same people who started it all those years ago,” Gorman-Coombs said. “We try to visit our partners at least once a year and have, on a few occasions, attempted to bring folks here to visit us, but they have not been able to obtain visas. The most recent time we attempted this was in 2016.”
Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has granted $55,000 to partners in Guatemala for emergency humanitarian response. This has included hygiene kits, food security projects, psychosocial support and the launch of an awareness campaign to share ways to prevent coronavirus. PDA also hosted a resiliency webinar in Spanish for CEDEPCA.
World Mission has added a discernment tool to its online Short-Term Mission Trips Toolkit. This new resource, “To go or not to go,” includes questions for reflection during the pandemic, along with alternatives to consider and additional service opportunities to explore.
Tammy Warren, Communications Associate, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Guatemala Mission Partners
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray:
Loving God, thank you for the faithful who lead us to Christ through their love, ministry, proclamation and service. Amen.