Reflections on Guatemala Mission Trip
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
May 13, 2018
Acts 10:34-35, 44-48
Reflection: Valuing Women
by Carrie Mook Bridgman
When we arrived at La Guitarra, we were welcomed by the president of the Presbyterian Women, Ana Coc Pop. She asked us if we would speak to the women during the meeting the next day, “just something to encourage them,” and maybe give a little Bible study. As we settled into the house where we were staying, we wondered what to say. Ruth came to mind immediately because the whole book is about a friendship between women and about women using the power they had to care for themselves and each other. We chose to read the most famous part of that book, Ruth’s speech to her mother-in-law Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you live I will live. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May God do so to me and more also if anything but death parts you from me.”
We were clear among ourselves and with the women there that we were not casting ourselves as either Ruth or Naomi in this story. Yes, we had spent time and money to come to be with them, but we could not and did not say, “Where you go I will go.” We were there to visit for a few days, and then were coming back here to our far safer and more comfortable lives. We saw God moving in the story of Ruth and Naomi in the same way we saw God moving in their gathering and in their lives and in their work with each other. We had the blessing of being witnesses to God in action. We saw the officers step up into leadership roles that Soni had seen their reluctance to accept last year. We saw the delegates speak up to challenge their leadership at times.
We also saw Boaz in their story, in the support they were given by one of the men present. There were a number of men present. The Presbyterian Women’s organization in the presbytery has an “advisor,” who according to their bylaws must be a pastor and is therefore a man because there are only four women pastors in the whole country. The executive council of the presbytery (all men) was also there, along with the pastor of the host church, Pastor Gerardo, who has come here to visit before, and several other pastors who had accompanied their delegations for security. At one point during the reports by the different churches, a question arose about finances, and the men began to take over the conversation. After a few minutes, though, Pastor Gerardo stood up from his seat near the front. “This is not a men’s meeting,” he said. “This is a women’s meeting, and the sisters need to do the talking.” Then he walked to the back of the sanctuary and sat down. The men shut up, and the women spoke up. It was beautiful to see.
Sometimes people here wonder why we have this partnership and what good it does, as we don’t do “mission trips” to build schools or put in water systems. We do offer some financial help, sending it to the presbytery for them to decide how it should be used, but mostly this is a matter of building relationships over time. And the growing understanding and support for women’s leadership among the women themselves and among at least several of the pastors and male elders in the presbytery is part of the contribution we have made—not by saying, “This is how it should be,” but just by showing up. That is part of our gift to them. Part of their gift to us is the friendships we are making, and the opportunity we have to witness the Holy Spirit at work there as She is here.
by Elisa Owen
Today we have been enjoying in our liturgy the poetry of Julia Esquivel, who was exiled from Guatemala during its civil war. The women with whom we have a relationship are also Qechchi, and I am bold to believe are her spiritual heirs. At least, I am betting that their voices might be heard through hers. As introduction to what I found most meaningful about the trip, I read from the Dedication of Esquivel’s book, The Certainty of Spring: Poems by a Guatemalan in Exile.
Here what Julia, and through her other Quechchi women, may want to speak to our hearts?
I offer these pages to the women of Guatemala. These poems are simple plants born of our hard reality.
More than poems, they are deep breaths which allow me to keep going in the hope that life is more powerful than death. They express urgency and the hope that we do all we can to expand the space in which we can live together as human beings, respecting and defending life.
These words are for you, women of Guatemala—indigenous, girls, widows, old and young—wherever you are. These poems are for you, working women that survive as domestics; for you, women who carry on your back baskets and bundles in the market; for you, homemakers who perform daily miracles to stretch pennies so that they last until the end of the month; for you, women who work in government offices; for you, women who are teachers, union members, laborers, campesinas, journalists, professionals, students, writers, nuns, Christians, Catholics and Protestants, Jews, Adventists or of any other religious faith.
These pages are also dedicated to you, women who have preferred to live a comfortable life, concerning yourself only with yourself and your small nuclear family … and who, nonetheless are not happy…
Finally, these pages are dedicated in a special way to all of you, men and women, who, torn apart by the terrible situation in which so many Guatemalans live, have let go little by little of all you clung to and, with nothing left to hold on to, have felt free to become brothers and sisters with all those whom we have crucified: the illiterate, the anemic, the sick who have no medical care, the unemployed and the laid off, those who have been pushed into crime, beggars, the persecuted… The list is very long (and includes those Gary told us about who do not receive their daily bread, and so are served by Bread for the world .) Julia continues: “Every day we find ourselves with them wherever we are in Guatemala.”
Here these words from Julia Esquivel’s poem about the civil war and its aftermath called, “We Dream Awake,”
…What won’t let us sleep
what won’t let us rest
what won’t stop pulsing away
is the silent warm weeping
of the Indian women without their husbands,
the tragic gaze of the children
engraved deep down in our memory….
What became true for many of us North Americans during that time more than two decades ago during and after the central American civil wars, was that we began to be inspired and converted by the faith of the people of Central America. They taught us about the connection between cross and resurrection; they offered a hope that defied all the odds. The women whose meeting we went to observe are kin to Julia Esquivel. Not just by blood of the Quechchi people, but by experience. Those who are more than 21 years old, who we have had the privilege of meeting, lived through some of the tragedy of which Julia Esquivel writes on these pages into the hope of redemption. But by God’s grace and the human faith God enables, and that alone.
We got to witness that extraordinary resilience. That love of life in defiance of death and all that threatens it that all human faith witnesses to. That God of love and life and hope we have all learned to love, and love more deeply through our partners in Guatemala – or maybe people in other nations like them?
This trip, one of the most extraordinary things we witnessed too place at the business meeting of the Presbyterian Women’s group. If you can imagine such a thing! The Spirit at work during a business meeting! The five women who were officers, elected last year this time, were up in front of the church listening to reports of each of the churches come in. The churches were describing the ministries the women’s groups had been involved in over the course of the last year. And, during this seemingly mundane exercise, many of the officers dissolved into tears. We were perplexed. What was going on? Why were they upset? So we asked. What is the problem? We wanted to know. Are they upset that they are finishing up a year of service? Was the year too hard on them? Did they not accomplish what they’d hoped?
Quite the contrary, we learned. The women were weeping precisely because of the change they had seen in themselves (all had been reluctant to accept leadership positions because they were unsure of how they would serve there AND take care of their families) and in the churches they served in and through. As the litany of accomplishments was read out in that setting, the women became overwhelmed at what the Holy Spirit had accomplished in them and through them. As such, they wept. Tears of joy.
I’d like to end with the end of Esquivel’s poem, which may speak to the redemption they felt of themselves and their people at that moment. Continuing from earlier……the end of “we dream awake.”
What won’t let us sleep
is that we’ve been threatened with Resurrection!
Because every evening,
tired by now from the endless
counting since 1954,
we still go on loving life
and we won’t accept their death.
We’ve been threatened with Resurrection
because we’ve touched their lifeless bodies
and their souls have penetrated our own,
now doubly strengthened.
Because in this Marathon of hope,
there are always replacements
to carry on the strength
until we reach that goal
Be with us in this vigil
and you’ll learn what it means to dream
you’ll know then
how wonderful it is
to live threatened with Resurrection!
To dream, awake
to watch, asleep
to live, dying
and to know yourself already Risen!