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Guatemalan partnership of Inland NW Presbytery fosters understanding

Beyond connections through prayer, visits, letters and support in emergencies, the Inland Northwest Presbytery’s Guatemala Task Force reminds area churches that people in the Presbyterian association of Maya K’ekchi have lessons for people in the Inland Northwest.

From 30 presbytery congregations, 82 members have joined in 11 delegations to Guatemala; several went more than once.

The Rev. Grant MacLean, pastor at Faith Presbyterian in Hayden Lake, Idaho, first went to Guatemala with a delegation in 2000 and went again in June after a mudslide in Senahú.  Jim Hallam, an elder at Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church, Spokane, went in 1999, 2001 and 2003.

Both are on the task force, which was formed five years ago.  Grant is chair.

When he went in June, Grant found rain in the Polochic Valley had caused mudslides that “obliterated part of a town, and killed the Presbyterian pastor, Jose Pop.

“Our delegation met and prayed with his widow and children.  We brought money we collected in the Presbytery to add to $15,000 sent by the Presbyterian Disaster Response (PDR),” Grant said.

While Hurricane Stan received press coverage, few in the United States knew of the mudslides.

After that hurricane, the presbytery sent a letter to tell area churches about the destruction.  People donated through the PDR, which sent $30,000.

The presbytery keeps informed about Guatemala through Presbyterian missionaries Roger and Gloria Marriott from Hillsboro, Tenn., who have lived three years in Quetzaltenango, an area hit by the hurricane. 

Pastor Alberto Sacul, presbytery executive, said hurricane damage in the Maya K’ekchi area to the north and west was minimal. 

The Inland Northwest Presbytery has a covenant relationship with the five Mayan presbyteries that make up the K’ekchi association.

Grant recently preached a sermon series on lessons from visits to K’ekchi churches, such as:

• a sense of community;

• a sense of hospitality that extends to sharing beyond what they can afford to whatever they have;

• a sense of spirituality of the earth from indigenous understandings of the stewardship of creation rather than exploitation of it, and

• a sense of how to walk together rather than competing.

Six of his 111-member congregation have gone there with various delegations over the past five years.

“We came back different people,” he said.  “We realized we have an obligation that goes with the privilege of being North Americans.”

He was impressed with the Guatemalan partners’ hospitality.

“North Americans give what we can afford, what fits in our budget.  When we visited churches and homes in Guatemala, we knew people would miss a meal because they provided lunch for us,” he said.

The visits have personalized his thinking about Guatemala.

“I see faces.  I know people by name.  When I hear of the disasters, it’s not just news.  I know it’s not just a simplistic matter of sending money to help with recovery after the hurricane there.

“I know of the complications.  To whom do we send money?  For what do we send it?  What system of accountability is in place so the partnership is more than sending money so we feel good about ourselves?

“There are real people there with strengths and weaknesses, just as there are here,” said Grant, who has been involved with churches and theology in Latin America since he was in seminary 40 years ago.

Beginning with a Peace Corps experience from 1969 to 1972, doing rural community development in a neighborhood with no water in Caico in Rio Grande du Norte, Brazil, he has felt a solidarity with Latin American people.

Latin American people he has read about and studied under have shaped how he understands himself as a Christian American.

He gathered people to talk about their needs.  Water was an evident need. 

So they visited the mayor and researched engineering possibilities to draw water from an uncovered irrigation ditch two miles away.

“The people were unsophisticated, not used to talking with authorities.  They expected to take orders,” said Grant, who grew up in Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Stanford in 1967.

“The mayor promised to provide water after the election.  He had a project to build housing for the district army officers and bankers on the other side of the barrio and arranged to bring water from there, so he put a faucet in.”

Grant came to Hayden in 1984 from Mendocino, Calif.  He had worked at a family counseling center in Chicago for five years after seminary at McCormick Seminary in Chicago.

Jim, who teaches math at Spokane Falls Community College, has been on the Guatemala Task Force since his first trip there.

Involved in mission with the senior high youth group at Hamblen Park Presbyterian, he has also led five youth mission trips to Mexico and served on Hamblen Park’s social concern committee during the civil war in El Salvador. He grew up in Everett, Wash., and moved to Spokane in 1971.

Jim said he carries with him questions about how to take teachings of faith seriously as he sees people and develops relationships in Guatemala.

Jim, who speaks some Spanish, could see that the people have a basic existence with few material things. On the first visit the delegation visited homes and saw rudimentary tools outside.

“Since then I wonder about our values in the United States and why people always seem to want more,” he said.

“There, where the people have so little, we can see what is important and necessary to have in life,” Jim said.  “Each time I go, I look at and want to learn about values, so I am not sidetracked by devious things here.

“I know that when the people there supply us with lunch they will go without.  I question if I should eat it or leave it for them, but I also know they prepared it with their hearts.”

For information, call 924-4148.


By Mary Stamp, The Fig Tree - © March 2006