Sometimes change is so subtle we don’t notice it until we look back and see how different things have become.
“Charlie and George” are living examples of the hopeful change that opportunities for education are bringing to Guatemala’s indigenous. (Their real names are Carlos and Jorge, but they always smile when they hear the English equivalents of their names.) We first read of Carlos and Jorge through the mission letters of our predecessors in this mission, Roger and Gloria Marriott.
The oldest of nine children born to indigenous subsistence farmers, the well-worn path to illiteracy and poverty stretched out before them. The crowded dirt-floor shack of the family house was hardly an environment suitable for study. Their small town did not have a high school. So the path seemed clear. They would quit school and join their father in the fields to help support the family, and the cycle would continue.
The life trajectories of these two young men took a new direction when the pastor of their small rural Presbyterian congregation noticed their potential (these are a couple of bright kids) and submitted their names as applicants for scholarships to support their continued study through high school in Sayaxche.
This scholarship program is an example of what can happen through active long-term mission partnerships established between a local church or presbytery (in this case Sayaxche Presbytery), a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) partner (in this case Hillsboro Presbyterian Church of Nashville, Tenn.), and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) World Mission.
Fifteen years ago these partners determined they would commit to the goal of easing the crushing poverty of their indigenous sisters and brothers by providing opportunities for their children to have better access to education.
Volunteers from the Sayaxche presbytery created living space in their presbytery center and opened the doors to house and care for students from nearby villages during the week. Hillsboro Church provided resources to staff the center with a cook and adult supervisors, and provided for incidental school expenses and supplies. PC(USA) mission workers coordinated the communications and hands-on activities between the partners.
Jorge and Carlos are now attending college. It’s not easy for them. They work during the week and attend classes on the weekends. Jorge is working as a bookkeeper and is studying to be an accountant. Carlos hopes to be a lawyer.
Earlier this spring we traveled to Sayaxche Presbytery with a visiting delegation from Hillsboro Church. As educational consultants to indigenous people of Guatemala, one of our duties is to help facilitate projects such as the one that changed the lives of Carlos and Jorge. We count ourselves blessed to be a part of this vital partnership. Our work requires us to be familiar with the people and the processes in place.
While doing that, we met with and heard from many other students who, like Jorge and Carlos, were given opportunities to break out of the entrenched cycle of illiteracy and poverty.
Concepción, now working on her master’s degree, sent a letter of thanks. Hector, studying auto mechanics, spoke with confidence of his potential to support his family. Elsa, now working in hospital administration, sent her words of appreciation to the church.
One young man, speaking with the confidence and assurance that comes with education, summed up the group’s sentiment: “We know we can no longer live as (subsistence) farmers like our parents did. The land is becoming scarce, and it’s no longer possible to grow enough corn to sustain our families. We know we need to find another way. Thank you for giving us this chance to work for a better future.”
Our church has identified the alleviation of poverty as a critical global issue to be addressed by the ministry of World Mission. Since answering the call to serve World Mission in Guatemala, we’ve felt strongly that the creation of opportunities for education can change the lives of those denied such opportunities by past and present injustices of social and economic systems.
As our ministry unfolds among Guatemala’s indigenous Presbyterians, we’re beginning to see the very real impact that education is having on the lives of our partners here in Guatemala. Your support for us and our ministry is truly bearing fruit that will improve the lives of this generation and generations yet to come. Thank you for believing in us and our work. Thank you for your prayers for us. We sense them regularly. Thank you for communicating with us and encouraging us. And thank you for the financial support that sustains our ministry in Guatemala.
As educational consultants for indigenous peoples, Richard and Debbie Welch’s first responsibility is to establish relationships with presbyteries serving the indigenous membership of the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the leadership of the national church.
To visit the web pages of all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, visit Mission Connections.