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Guatemala ties give perspective to local struggles

People in the Palouse and Guatemala’s Western Highlands are learning about and praying for each other.   Both suffer—low wheat prices, affluenza and poverty in the Palouse and the legacy of repression, disaster recovery, illiteracy and poverty in Guatemala—and both care.

Patti and MIke Cooper
Patty and Mike Cooper at senior lunch.
Licensed local pastors Patty and Mike Cooper have brought Guatemala to the Rosalia United Methodist Church through two sister-church relationships.

Fostering those ties connects people as they share their experiences of suffering, giving Palouse farmers perspective when wheat prices are low.

Now in their sixth year at the church founded in 1888, the Coopers took members for week  visits to the area north of Coatepeque, Guatemala, in 2001, 2003 and this fall.

The Rosalia church sends $25 a month—beyond its budget for local, regional and national church obligations—to each of two sister churches in the Primitive Methodist Church of Guatemala. 

That supplies enough to pay Pastor Daniel Miranda of Iglesia Araco d’Noa and Pastor Augistin Aguilar of Iglesia Emanuel to minister full-time. 

“It’s a small amount for us, just $600 a year.  Their role in our covenantal relationship is to pray for us,” Patty said. “Learning that people there attend church regularly and believe in Christ empowers us to be bold.”

Communication and personal contacts increase understanding of each other’s lives.

Guatemalan partners
Guatemalan partners
In 2001, the Coopers went in a medical team, taking Arlene Morgan, a nurse who always wanted to be a missionary.

In 2003, they took Tom Crowley, Rosalia school superintendent, and his wife, Polly, superintendent of the West Spokane Valley School District, for the first face-to-face visit their sister churches, which have 70 to 100 people in villages of 250 people.

For the first week, from Oct. 29 to Nov. 13, Patty and Mike visited the sister churches with Tom, and his daughter, Lora Jackson, a Medical Lake school counselor. 

12 clergy
The Coopers joined 12 clergy.
Then the Coopers joined 12 other clergy and spouses from the Inland District—District Superintendent Joey and Ole Olson; Deb Conklin of Davenport; parishioner Patti Richardson, and Darryn and Lisa Hewson of Sandpoint; Jeff and Aimee Wallace of Lacrosse and EWU campus ministry; Todd Scranton  of St. Paul’s in Spokane; Brenda Tudor who is on sabbatical, and Mark and Roberta Randall of Central United Methodist in Spokane—to do lay training at a retreat center with 40 pastors and wives.

While the sister-church villages were affected some by the hurricane with the direct road was cut off, provisions had been flown in.  The Rosalia team also bought $100 of food for each church.

Emanuel Church
Emanuel Iglesia
“Despite limited resources and illiteracy, the hope there was astounding,” said Patty, impressed by the people’s resilience.

They left names of people in Rosalia and returned with names of people in the sister churches so they can personalize prayers.

Patty described the power of simple encounters and funds: 

“In 2003, we were with Pastor Daniel one day for worship, a meal, laughing and singing beyond language barriers,” she said,  “We learned his wife had taken their daughter, who suffered a stroke during pregnancy, for medical care, using $150 Rosalia sent. That $150 meant the baby was born healthy. 

“We were humbled by his servant ministry of worship, Bible study and education on the economic and political issues from 36 years of suffering.

Guatemalan congregation
Guatemalan congregation
“Those who go with us open our congregation to human ties and possibilities for healing,” she said.  “The ties are a mission to our congregation’s generations, past, present and future.

“People understand that their suffering here is different from the suffering in Guatemala but feel a solidarity with the suffering there,” she said.

“We both experience Christ in the rubble of our lives.  There, homes and villages may be buried by rocks and mud, and here farmers struggle to make a living.”

Patty finds the Guatemalan ties opportunities to awaken people
from the “affluenza” of U.S. society. 

She saw the United States sliding back into it until hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Stan and Wilma, and the earthquake in Pakistan.

Guatemalan home
Guatemalan home
“God wants us to be awake, more than just alerted by media.  There are disasters every day we don’t hear about.  In those big and little disasters are stories that help us make connections,” she said.

“Mike and I feel called to these difficult times for mainline churches—times profound with possibilities.  As we hear stories, we are awakening,” she asserted.

Church was a constant in Patty’s upbringing—in six Lutheran churches in Spokane—but she said she somehow missed “the message of God’s redeeming love and grace for me as an individual person.” So she separated from church for a while, until at 32, she realized that love and returned to church.

The Rogers High graduate joined the Army in 1965 when the Vietnam War was escalating.  Serving as a medic in San Antonio at 19, she saw “the horrendous toll of war on the lives of soldiers coming to the burn center.”

She became a licensed practical nurse (LPN) and moved to Denver to work in the emergency room at Fitzsimmons Hospital, where Mike, a Vietnam vet, drove ambulances and busses.

After their marriage in 1968, they spent two years in Oakland near Mike’s family.  Patty worked in a nursing home and Mike for the phone company.

They relocated to Spokane in 1970.  Patty worked at Holy Family Hospital five years as a LPN, and at Deaconess Medical Center three years as an LPN and seven years as a registered nurse. Mike was a lineman with Qwest.

Seeking spiritual ties, they began attending Audubon Park United Methodist Church in 1979.  In 1984, participation in a Walk to Emmaus, which Patty described as “a short course in Christianity that helped us see Christ in the hands, faces and feet of the body of Christ,”  moved them into local and global mission.

Mike began to feel called into ministry beyond bringing Christ’s presence into his line crew.   Patty was then a nurse with Hospice of Spokane. Their pastors encouraged them to discern if they had a call into ministry. 

While continuing their jobs, Patty and Mike followed the United Methodists’ alternate route to ministry, its Licensed Local Pastor program.

For five summers, they attended St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., which emphasized rural ministry.  From 1994 to 1997, they served Westview United Church of Christ, still continuing their jobs with Hospice and Qwest.

Mike retired and Patty left Hospice to serve Rockford United Methodist for two years.  Next they served Clark Fork, Ida., a three-point charge with Heron and Noxon, Mont., for a year.

In 2000, they were called to Rosalia.  Each serves half-time, sharing preaching, visitation and other tasks based on their skills.               

The congregation, founded in 1888, draws from Rosalia’s 600 residents, Thornton’s 200 residents and nearby wheat farmers. 

“Wheat prices impact the community.  They are so low this year that some younger farmers are considering leaving farming.  Older farmers know the fluctuations but are committed to farming as an art form,” Patty said.  “We connect old and young farmers, so they can pass on the wisdom and blessings of farming.  Low prices are an age-old story.”

Although many of the 115 members have moved, the 50 in town are joined by 40 others, who are not members but are active.

The Methodist church also draws new people—young, working poor families who moved to Rosalia for affordable housing.

When the Christian Church, the former distribution site for food commodities, closed three years ago, Evelyn Morgan, who ran it, joined the Methodist church and continued to run it.  It serves 75 people in 40 families one Wednesday a month.

Tuesday senior lunches through the Whitman County Council of Aging bring about 30 people to the church for socializing, education and a low-cost meal.

The old  Christian Church now houses the North Whitman County Food Pantry, run by volunteers from the Assembly of God and Methodist churches one Tuesday a month.

“Many people in the area are poor, with about 60 percent of children on free and reduced-cost lunches, up from 20 percent 10 years ago,” Patty said.

The global connections give perspective on poverty and help motivate people to serve.

For information, call 523-3851.

Patty is no longer at Rosalia.

By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - Copyright © December 2005