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The Guatemala Journal 2013

By August 16, 2013August 27th, 2013No Comments

The Guatemala Journal

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Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5

Guatemala, Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Day One Theme – “A Global Mission Church prays regularly for partners, missionaries and the world.”

Linda Trowbridge, Journalist       Christal Williams, Worship

Well, we arrived safely in Guatemala last night.  It was a long tiring trip, but, even as we rode through what seemed like a close, dark, tunnel on the grounds of the retreat of Casa de Retiros Betania, we emerged into a comfortable building with spacious rooms and the essential bed.

Upon arising this first day of our adventure, many of us were particularly energized by a brisk, cold shower (there is a “trick” to receiving hot water which we would learn later.)  Breakfast was ready for us in the cozy dining room and consisted of bread, a new kind of toast, refried beans and eggs with cheese.  Coffee was delicious!  We had devotions and Christal Williams was our worship leader for today.  Part of our devotion was to pray throughout the day for people specified on papers given to each of us.

Loading up in the van which was to become “home” for many hours in the next week, we were driven by our oh-so capable driver, Prof. Edwin Armando Lopez Avila (note that we now have three “Eds” in our entourage), to the office of the Christian Ecumenical Council of Guatemala.  We were greeted warmly by Secretary General Rev. Vitalino Similox Salazar and Executive Secretary Nora Coloma.  Ana Maria Aceytuno blessed us with a Mayan ceremony, indicating the four corners of the earth and candles that continued to burn throughout the morning.  Vitalino asked each of us present to an item in our possession indicative of what we hoped to accomplish in our time together.  All these items, including earrings, money, pens, and more, were placed in a basket on the prepared altar in the room.  This was a moving experience.

Vitalino then proceeded to inform us of what is happening currently in Guatemala, noting that we have arrived at a very important time, in addition to it being Pentecost.  For the first time ever, there has been a historical trial of genocide in Guatemala.  This is a result of years of struggle – since 1982.  Victims of the mass rapes and genocide that killed 200,000 men, women, and children kept demanding a just trial and witnesses were finally able to come forward and tell their stories.  Former dictator General Efrain Rios Montt (86), who knew about the genocide and did nothing to prevent it, was sentenced to 80 years in prison,  Other points of the verdict include:

  • The dignification of women – an ethical, moral and human commitment.  (The verdict appropriately came on Mother’s Day.)  98% usually impugned but all are thankful for the women who faced the system and trial.
    • Here Ana Maria told her story – of 62 undercover forces – of her father – how she is thankful for elders and grandparents – and gave thanks to the Creator for not being forgotten
    • An apology for the genocide at the palace (and 2 others)
    • Education on human rights
    • Those presidents and ministers of defense to draft an official apology
    • Monuments to be erected in these three regions
    • Study center to be built in Ixil region
    • Reparations to include genocide and crimes against humanity
    • Rescue and promote cultural expression
    • Court to dedicate mural to Ixil people
    • Build traveling museum of the 50 years of genocide and 30 years of crimes against humanity (non-negotiable)

Of course, the sentence is subject to appeal, changes, etc.  The violence now is much more subtle.  The are sixty (60) organizations united in resistance.  Deb Golden asked about protection for the women who testified.  While this has been requested it has not yet happened.  The judge in this trial is a woman, but she has her own security

Of equal importance is the fact that there is collision course between the state and the people, primarily concerning hydro-electrics and mining ventures.  The state uses military presence but the community continues to reject.  The Ecumenical Council is accompanying folks in different regions.  Here is what is happening to date:

276 licenses for exploitation of resources74 community consultations from which
111 licenses for exploration of resources99% of the people reject these agreements.
734 requests for licenses (accompanied bribery, manipulations, and assassinations)These consultations include 4,685protestors during 2005-2011.  The State does not respect or recognize these processes.
Companies are U.S. and Canadian

These protesting people are Christian folks and they believe these materials and resources all come from God.

The Ecumenical Council is comprised of the Episcopal Church of Guatemala, the Alliance of Reformed Presbyterian Churches of Guatemala, San Juan Apostle Evangelica, CONFREGUA, and Iglesia Luterana Guatemalteca,   Guatemala has a population of 14 million people, 40% of whom are under 15 years of age and 70% of whom are under 30 years of age.  In the council office, Nora Coloma works with Justice and Gender Equity, Misael Mendez works with youth in leadership empowering, ethics, vocational and occupation training and risk presentation.  He also works in HIV/AIDS areas, accompanying church programs, awareness and training, and establishing support links.

Ecumenism, inter-culturality, and a culture of peace are the foundation of the council’s work.  This is accomplished and continued through interreligious dialogues.  For instance, in January is the Christian unity effort.  In May Pentecost.  With the signing of the Peace Accords, the council keeps reminding the population of the importance of these.  In addition, creation stewardship is promoted including risk prevention and emergency aid.

Additional notes on mining situations:  Not one mining company has responded to the communities.  Question from delegation and response from Vitalino:  Are there benefits to the people in the communities where mining operations are located?  There is no skilled training of the people – short term only, as in building roads.  If the people are forced out, where do they go?  There is nowhere to go, so it is essential to defend their rights.  Some went to the most remote mountainous regions.  The impact is felt by the population only.

We broke for lunch, prepared and presented by the council staff.  Delicious.

Off to the National Historic Archive.  What an interesting place!  There are all these documents that supposedly no one knew about (or where they were.)  There is a huge staff working painstakingly on restoring, documenting everything that is there.  Stories about how it has helped some folks who were searching for family members helps it all make sense.  This endeavor is primarily funded by donations from Poland, Germany, Switzerland (and more?) but there has been a noticeable decrease in the amounts recently.

On our way back to the retreat house we stopped at a mall which had a Wal-Mart (because everyone was already tired of Linda’s incessant coughing.)  That was quite an experience due to language difficulties.  Interesting place, as parking was ticketed.  In order to leave one needs to have the parking validated and then leave within 10 minutes.  Security, security.

It was a full day and we had a good dinner.  The staff is attentive and yet unobtrusive.  Day one in Guatemala.


Guatemala, Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day Two Theme – “A Global Mission Church educates it’s members about global issues from preschool age to adult.”

Deb Golden, Journalist       Linda Trowbridge, Worship


We enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Casa Betania, scrambled eggs, refried beans, crunchy bread, coffee.

We traveled to San Rafael Las Flores Roman Catholic Church, where we were introduced to the injustices perpetrated by the Escobal Mining Project.  Here we met with the people affected, hearing their courageous stories. There were about a dozen people who shared their stories on how their lives have been negatively affected by the mining industry invasion, but Danino, was truly the one who they all looked up to, the one who has a chance to save their culture. Danino, about 23 years of age, is a member of “Defense of Life & Peaceful Resistance”. He group has 150 members who strive to educate the Mayan people on what is at stake when a mine is built in their community. Through small consultations and peaceful demonstrations, the team provides information on how natural water would be contaminated and/or dry up completely. The land, which has been in their family for generations, may be completely taken away from them. Over the past three years, the consultations have proven that 95% of the Mayan people are against the mine. These results are not honored by the government. The government sides with the mining companies, intimidates the Mayan people to give up their land. With Marshall Law, the people have lost their voice. The Mayan people are told that jobs would be created and how much better their lives would be. In fact, the jobs are short term, only to build roads and prepare access. Once the mine is active, trained personal, not from the community, are hired to run the mine. Members of the “Defense of Life & Peaceful Resistance” are called terrorists. False articles are published to lead the communities to believe they should not trust them. At times they have been wrongly imprisoned, threatened, abused and even shot. The government does not have requirements to set environmental impact of the mines, they continue to issue a license for new mines, with total disregard for the indigenous people.

Key thoughts and plea from Danino:

Help us, show us, how to freely express ourselves to get our opinions shared

This is an international struggle

Please share our story

Parish has members who have warrants on them, because they are against the mine

Marshal Law has removed human and constitutional rights

After the lengthy detailed discussion of the struggles, our hosts at San Rafael Las Flores Roman Catholic Church and the Ecumenical Council combined food and we shared a great lunch and fellowship. From there one of the church members directed us and we went to visit the mine. We parked and could look over a lot of the operation and also look above to see the power lines. We were honored to be greeted with big smiles by three adorable young children and then the land owner himself. He shared specifics on how so much of his land had been taken from him, how the wells on his land once provided ample water are now barely producing or have completely dried up. The mining process had somehow redirected the water sources for their own use. The home owner had no voice in this process, they robbed him land and natural resources which had been in his family for generations. It was a heart breaking story. This is just one of many mining companies who have violated the earth in spite of the protests by the indigenous people, ecumenical groups and environmentalists.

We headed back to Casa Betania, speaking for myself, with a very heavy heart. The travel team shared deep discussion on the events of the day and possible next steps.


Guatemala, Friday, May 17, 2013

Day Three Theme – “A Global Mission Church seeks justice for the “least of these” in

the international community.”

Ed Morris, Journalist          Jean Wallace, Worship


Today is our free day and we have no set agenda other than to visit the ancient city and former capitol of Guatemala – Antigua.

Jean led a good devotion sharing out of Micah:  “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”

We boarded the van at 8:30. Edwin (aka Armando), the driver, looked surprisingly rested after a long and arduous drive up to Santa Rosa yesterday.

We picked up Glenda and Gloria who introduced to us yesterday who introduced us to her husband ; Santos,and her three children, Nicolas, Ixbalanke and Ixmukane. Such a beautiful picture of family. We discussed how we should conduct our selves for safety while we are out shopping.

We inquired of Gloria about the ethnicity of the land owner we met at Santa Rosa whose farm is adjacent to one of the active mines. We inquired because he was so much taller and fairer than the average Myans. His fetures were more European (Hazel eyes, sharp nose, etc.). Gloria explained that they are “Xilhn”. One of the indigenous people of Spanish and European decent. Interesting to me that they are also the largest group of land owners. Interesting because it took my mind back to the days in the U.S. when the more fairer the skin and the more European the features, the greater chance of being higher on the social scale. I see that nothing has changed but the location.

Edwin drove us to Antigua.  There were lots of street vendors. Antigua is the oldest city in  Guatemala and was originally the capital city. However, due to the many earthquakes and volcano eruptions, (Volcano Agua) the capital was moved to its present location. We were also were able to shop in a large open market and smaller shops at the center of town. Some of us purchased various types of coffee.

There, we met Disciples of Christ Gary Sparks, former missionary to Guatemala,  who now teaches at the University of Louisville.  He served as the unofficial coffee guide among other informational things.

Asked Gary about the “Black Christ” / El Christo Negro that we saw up in Santa Rosa. It is very sacred to the people in that area and has a number of miracles attributed to it. (I will research it later).

At Lunch Gary led a very interesting conversation about the role of the church during the civil war. While the church was often an aggressor agisnit Mayan culture, there were also Presbyterian, Catholic and some protestant churches playing roles of support of the Mayan people during a critical time in their history.

I was moved by the revelation of what I thought was a Christian ceremony at the Ecumenical Center yesterday, turned out to be uniquely Mayan and dated back centuries.

I need to check out the negative effects of Marshall Law and what it means to a people who are forced to live under its rule (i.e. Santa Rosa and San Rafael).

I purchased a nice looking machete from the market place and wondered if I would have problems getting it back home. The others spent the afternoon helping each other and meeting some of Gloria’s acquaintances that worked in the market. It was pretty neat having to bargain for our purchases.


Guatemala, Saturday, May 18, 2013

Day Four Theme – “A Global Mission Church receives the gifts of a global church.”

Ed Taylor, Journalist       Deb Golden, Worship

7: 30 am Pancakes, coffee cake, eggs, friend black beans, oatmeal, juices, milk, water…Deb Golden  led us in worship by reading from Romans 1:11-12 and called us to receive the gifts each person brings (those of our group and of those we meet through the day.) She acknowledged that after 32 years in corporate world that she wants to serve: giving, helping, and educating wherever led.

8:30 am Our driver and companion Edwin / Armando welcome us as we prepared to leave for the area of Chimaltenango.

10:00 am Arrived at Chimaltenango and the Prebyterio Kaqchikel which served as the setting for ministries of the Iglesia Evangelical Nacional Presbyteriana die Guatemala – Theological     Institute, medical clinic and more.  We were greeted by Nora Coloma and by host Rev. Saul (treasurer of the executive committee of the theological institute.)

Following introductions, Rev. Saul shared the history of the ministry.  While it served as the headquarters of the Kaqchikel there was also a congregation that worshipped and served there. Begun in 1987, at the height of the war, it was affiliated with the Protestant Alternative Movement and was characterized by a pluralistic / ecumenical vision providing shelter for persons from many communities who were being persecuted and martyred.  They worked with the Roman Catholic Church to strengthen life for all traditions which put them in danger.  The Guatemalan army was “unhappy” about the work to shelter persons from war.

They had a commitment to:

  1. Build spaces for dignity.  Challenging with Roman Catholic neighbors, Protestants unfamiliar with such an approach, diverse community, and not following traditional requirements (offerings) of wider church, and serving widows and the poor.
  1. Build space for mutual support.   Strong staff team and community based approaches.
  1. Build space for looking within selves. Creating a spiritual community, united in diversity to which scripture speaks. Here to support majority of community in economic, human, and spiritual poverty.  Many conditions that existed     during the war are worse now – infant death, hunger, educating children who are hungry. Protests are ignored by government.
Five Phases of Center
1976-1980Rev. Blanca Margarite Valiente de Similox (Vitalino’s first wife.) began center in 1976 after earthquake – relief, food, shelter
1980 -1987Defense of Life: War
1987Political Formation – not partisan, but community based for common good
1987Political Participation – proposed leaders for local office and Congress.  This was not successful as most local positions are bought.  Not accessible to the poor.
2000-2013Shift in Approach – to community action

Church can help with employment, feed the poor, but more important to change structures which keep people poor and unemployed. Proactive, “can’t wait for magic.”

Support pastoral agents:

  • Health
  • Education: Theological and Technical (i.e. efficient stoves) Education
  • Women
  • Youth
  • Economic justice


Theological Institute

The educated bring skills to the community.

Certificate program available – “participants”, not “students” – participatory, not just passive students. School accredited by Martin Luther King Jrs. School in Guatemala High school level in theology (3 year, every Saturday, men and women, diverse faith communities)

Some have additional formal education during the week.

Religion / Sociology model – witness, judge, act, celebrate


  • Pastoral
  • Theology – positive and visionary
  • Diverse social theme
  • Discernment process to determine whether to go into pastoral ministry.
  • Bible / Sacred scripture
  • Church history
  • Mayan studies

Mayan and Christian culture both respected as part of one life. Two foundational tools needed:  Pastoral / Bible as well as to Know Their Community

First Term:           16 students graduated – form pastoral team – some to be ordained.

Current:               13 students and teacher

Looking to team with theological school for BA level in theology.  Possible certification through        US school.

Classroom Visit

We visited in-session class. Introductions by students and guests.  Spokesperson told of their                studies. Current class was on “Nurturing Family.” Josephina – Moderato of Presbytery greeted                us at close of class.

Returned to Betania Guesthouse             

We returned for brief rest before heading out to ecumenical Pentecost worship.

Ecumenical Pentecost Worship

We traveled to a nearby Catholic church – Parroquia Nuestra Senora Del Sagrado Corazon or

Parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.  Father Pio was our host. Participants from traditions                represented on the Ecumenical Christian Council led worship. While our group were honored on          the chancel, Christal, Ed T, Linda, and Ed Mo all read as part  of the litany.

Refreshments and fellowship followed at the Parish Hall down the street.

Closing Worship

Deb led us in reflection on the day – each was touched by the reality of our hosts stories and                current  situations.  We closed with song, prayer, bread and wine.


Guatemala, Sunday, May 19, 2013

Day Five Theme – “A Global Mission Church gives to the work of global mission.”

Jean Wallace, Journalist       Ed Taylor, Worship

               We rose early to travel to Tiquisate, Escuintia, for a Pentecost Celebration at the Presbyterian Church of Tiquisate.  We ate our breakfast as we traveled.  This was our only trip to a lower altitude level of Guatemala.  Here we saw more tropical vegetation and vast sugar cane fields and also endured the highest heat and humidity of our pilgrimage.  Rev. Vitalino Similox Salazar, Nora Coloma, Mayra Rodriguez Castro, Diacono Misael Mendez, and Gloria López traveled with us.

The Pentecost Celebration was led by Pastor Edwin Gelista, supported by a guitar trio, and translated by Gloria Vicente.  The church was decorated with doves and tongues of fire.  Rev. Vitalino Similox Salazar delivered the sermon, first acknowledging that this day he had returned to the place where he grew up and recognized those in attendance who were from different religious backgrounds.

He then defined what Pentecost meant.  The first Pentecost, five weeks after Easter, occurred at Hebrew celebration where tongues of fire appeared to indicate the Holy Spirit.  Although those in attendance spoke many different languages—in fact from all of the known world– the Holy Spirit descended upon them, making it an ecumenical experience—an understanding.   The gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to individuals to serve the common good for the benefit for all.

Why does the Holy Spirit come?  For the ability to forgive sins, the ability to forgive others, to repair the damage of evil, and to deliver justice, not vengeance.  When justice is done, forgiveness is possible.  The Church stands against injustice and must learn to heal communities and individuals.  The Holy Spirit established a new community, recognizing the material possessions as belonging to all.  In contrast, modern society creates individual competition leading to the oppression of others even though the Guatemalan constitution talks about the common good.  When the Holy Spirit enters our hearts and church, the welfare of the community becomes our mission.

Rev. Vitalino similox Salazar concluded: “The Holy Spirit does not tolerate governmental, political, corporate misdeeds and injustice.  Just thinking about these impurities and injustices will not bring change; the total, ecumenical church must speak out.”

Rev. Dr. Christal Williams, Rev. Ed Taylor, Rev. Linda Trowbridge, and Rev. Dr. Ed Morris led the intercessory responsive readings.

We traveled back to Guatemala City, eating at a Denny’s style restaurant, returning early enough to have a restful afternoon.

Rev. Ed Morris, our chaplain for the day, led us in reflection after our evening meal at Casa de Retiros Betania.  His text was taken from Corinthians 2:9, leading us to recognize that God’s graciousness is the ultimate reason to give.  What did God give us?  We must keep the gifts of God flowing.  Quoting Roque Dalton, “Poetry, like bread, is for everyone.”

 We then focused on what is next for our Regional connection to Guatemala.   Regional Ministry has limited finances, which the Guatemala partner does not seem to understand.  Mission trips to Guatemala are expensive.  What does a partnership mean?  Contributions to this partnership can be made to the Regional Office for the Mission Committee, specifying Guatemala.

Guatemala, Monday, May 20, 2013

Day Seven Theme – “A Global Mission Church grows in sharing the story of God’s mission with others.”

Christal Williams, Journalist      Ed Morris, Worship


Fundamaya: Our first visit of the day is to Fundamaya.  Fundamaya is an organization dedicated to assisting small institutions within indigenous communities as they work with the following groups.  A) Elders: They work with the Elders to lift up their authority in the Mayan territories. b) Elders were working to help recover ancestral ways. Helping to rescue rights and finding a balance. The role of the Elder is being strengthened. They are the true owners of the Indigenous land. Ancestral-Agricultural c) Also, working towards a healing process. There has been lots of bloodshed in Guatemala. There has been significant loss and pain caused in their community. (IXIL)  there were 114 Massacres…that is why is a trial—actors of Genocide toward people. We are going to have a Press Conference, today. Through every things-there is Hope. d) working with Mayan youth.

There are three municipalities- 170,000 inhabitants, mountainous, rivers, forests, gold mines and different metals, petroleum and because of the level of wealth many company have come to take over the land.  Fundamaya is committed to Working with youth to help them pick up the fight in defense of Mother Earth. The racial and racist term ‘Indians’ is seen as inferior.  The rights of the Indigenous people are it written or oral?

2 years ago—a University was started—working with technology…From own Mayan culture, tights-getting familiar with technology and universal culture.  They are also, working to help reclaim the Mayan culture. The course work begins in Spanish and they end is IXIL. It is a 3 year process.  2014, Aim to get undergraduate degree. We are looking for partnership. We are executing our Rights.

Youth are gaining the trust of the Elders. Elders come and fuse with the youth to help them research.

The Press Conference:  Our next stop of the day was to the press conference.  Our presence at the Press Conference was to show support and solidarity as Americans for the support of the Witnesses and the Humanity of all persons. We stood as carriers of Justice, as we all prayed for justice to be done in the lives of both dead and alive victims of war in Guatemala. We were buzzed into the law offices -of where the location of the actual press conference was being held. This location was not publicly, known. This was for the safety of the witnesses and those who were to be most vulnerable. The purpose of the Press Conference was to give witnesses the opportunity to publicly reaffirm their truths. These testimonies were about the actions, rapes and other tragedies of the war. Although, the businesses and government says that there is no genocide. The witness and others who were part of the war wants to tell their stories. Today, (we hope that the constitution will declare it-genocide.)  At the end of the press conference we had the opportunity to share with the legal team who has been working diligently, with the witnesses. We had the opportunity to share with them our support and concern.  As we prepared to leave the Press Conference we received posters and other hand out to pass out about the rights of Women and those who were battling in the court case.

The Park

In between the Press Conference and Conivigua we stopped at a local park. There was about a 30-40 minute wait before our next appointment. So, Edwin took us to a park that had a model of Guatemala City- and small carnival rides. We did not ride any of the rides. Neither did we get in to see the model. We just stood around sharing in conversation about our time in Guatemala and other aspects of the trip.

Conivigua-Rosalina Tuyuc:  We were warmly, received at conivigua. We met on the third floor of the building in downtown Guatemala City. Rosalina Tuyuc is a woman who is about 5 feet in stature, but mighty in Spirit. Originally, Conivigua was established in 1988, and organized around the need for women to have some assistance in looking for their husbands, and other family members in the cemetery and other regions who were affected by the war. Women were being called, together-to take actions and to dialogue about their families and their state. They wanted to discuss how to put an end to the war. Most women who were from different Regions did not know how to speak Spanish or understand the news or any other media. (They were Mayan) They did not know how to organize themselves.

Women could give their testimonies. This was another platform or truth commission for women to denounce-rapes and treatments of Genocide.

Several Questions Were Asked, of Rosalina! One of the main questions was

What has given you the courage to live the life? Why do you continue to live the life you have been part of with Conivigua? Racism-Young adults show racism not wanting the Indians and Indigenous to be in this country. We believe that the world is watching.

*Political Violence, Persecution towards indigenous for defendants life and territories we created as images of God. So, when we have understood so that can live in peace. When we see that every person is not living life. Husbands were killed, children – to search for their loved ones.  * I lost my dead husband. Today, I do not know where they were thrown. When we see the panoramic view; the number of people searching for their family we are moved to be helpful. It is not enough to have a paid guard. But, the way we come together. There is a historical justice. It includes the search for Justice within ourselves.

When we decided to do this work- It was to bury our loved ones. Also, we must search for the equality of all, within the legal system. I do this work so that other families do not experience what I experienced. It is more than reaching personal goals. It is about collective objectives that were affected by the war. It destroyed identities, the loss of languages, traditions and education.

Today, we are working towards recovering the tradition of old. “Like You, I am committed so that the world can experience justice.”

“Some countries promote wars.

Some countries promote suffering

So, I promote peace. It is a universal struggle.”


This was our time of debriefing and brining closure to the week. We had a closing worship service and had an opportunity to share the things that we were excited about from the week- as well as share some evaluation about future groups.  The question was asked, if Ecumenical was still satisfied, the way in which the partnership is going or are there any changes that need to be made.

We received several gifts as we departed. However, there were wrist bands and a Mayan designed Mats and bookmarks for each of us. We returned back to Casa Betania for the evening and had an opportunity for a time of prayer with Gloria.