Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Violence Hits Closer to Home!

Guatemala is a beautiful country filled with lovely and friendly people.  It is also considered one of the most Christian countries in Latin America boasting an evangelical population of around 30-50% who attend one of the almost 20,000 churches present here. At the same time it is also one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world with anywhere from 17-20 murder per day. Gangs and drug cartels have overtaken large parts of the country and neighborhoods. There are parts of Guatemala City where even the police can not go into.  To make matters worse often the police and other government authorities can not be trusted and many have links to criminal organizations.  The slogan is more or less "if you can't fight them, join them".  The ones that can be trusted and want to make a difference often have their hands tied because of human rights laws protecting civilians and in a way criminals. To cap all of this off, the decades of civil war has created huge slums and settlements filled with people who are full of resentment. Resentment because of what happened to them during the civil war (being misplaced, losing their possessions and land, and seeing family members get killed or disappear) and resentment because of the lack of opportunities and services available to people living in slums. For many people their future appears bleak.  They do not have a vision for the future, because they can not see past their needs for today. This lack of vision and hopelessness become the arteries that feed the criminal organizations since they offer "opportunities" and short term solutions and hope to the desperate. Stories of extortion, gang violence, drug turf wars, murder, rape, femicide, etc are what fills the newspapers and airwaves each and every day. And while much of the violence is targeted innocent people often become victims. Missionaries also are not exempt because of the work we are doing here. It is not that God always spares us from the violence. Yesterday this became alarmingly clear as we heard of the shooting of a fellow missionary who lives in our neighborhood. While this missionary is in critical condition and we are praying that God will spare his life, we were all reminded again of the fact that this could happen to anyone of us. It hit very close to home and many of us felt a certain sense of fear. It is one of the realities of living in this country. Death constantly stares us in the face. All of us have seen more murders than we would care to recount. Some might ask, "why don't you leave?  Go back to North America where it is relatively safe"! The reason why we do not leave is because we feel we have the unique answer to many of the problems and that what we are doing is making a difference. Thankfully the answer and the making a difference is not from us since we are all failures in our own way. The answers lies in Christ and him crucified and risen from the dead. This means that we must willing to give our life so that others may live. For this reason the Apostle Paul referring to striving to reach the lost and broken writes......
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man (body) is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal" 
(2 Corinthian 4:16-18).

This is of course not an easy thing to do, and it is something we often struggle with. God created us to live and as human beings we cling to life. It is only by the grace of God that we are able to give our life so that others may live. Please pray for the safety of the missionaries in Guatemala and for them to be bold and courageous and not live in fear. Also pray for this missionary that God will not only spare his life, but heal him completely.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Year End Activity with FRMI Employees

Pastor Edgar, and almost all the employees.
Around 6 years ago we started doing year end activities with our employees to show our appreciation for their work.  Over the years we have gone to water parks, an auto-safari and done things locally in Cubulco.  The employees decide on when and where the activity will be held, and understand that if the activity costs more than the amount in set in the budget they will have to cover the rest themselves. We encourage them to take the opportunity to go somewhere where they have not been before so that they can have new experiences. 
This year they decided that the activity would be at a mission camp/retreat center called El Faro (Lighthouse) situated on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean roughly a 5 hour drive from Cubulco.  For transportation the group rented a mini-bus from Cubulco for the day and left at 2:00 AM.  Since it was a long drive drove from Guatemala City, I decided to drive half way the day before to avoid being tired for the long drive back home.  (You have to remember that driving here is much more challenging and tiring than in North America).  Our linguist Jorge who was in the city joined me on the trip together with his sister and a friend who wanted to tag along.  We spent the night in a town around 3 hours from the city and while we were there Jorge's sister had the idea of going to visit a local Presbyterian church since she knew the couple who were pastoring there (most churches in the rural areas have a service almost every night of the week).  I must say that we were not all that keen on going because we were not dressed for church, but we decided to go anyhow. The service was already underway when we got there, but we were privileged in being part of the majority of the service.  Since it was a thanksgiving service (a common service often done once a month and not related at all to NA Thanksgiving) several members of the church participated by singing or reading Scripture. We were also asked to come up and share a bit about ourselves and the work we are involved in.  For me it was special to get to know another group of believers in a different part of Guatemala.

After spending the night we met up with the group from Cubulco at around 5:00 AM.  We drove to the Camp.  The road to the camp was in bad shape, but the scenery was beautiful.  We drove through lush tropical jungle, past volcanic rock formations and a boiling hot spring. When we arrived at the Camp our breath was taken away. The grounds were immaculate and the buildings well maintained. 
Hot spring
The first thing we did was have a devotional time after which I addressed the employees and thanked them on behalf of the mission for their dedication and work. Many of them will cease to be employees of FRMI this year since next year they will be working for AMG through the support of FRMI.  After that we went to the soccer field and played for a couple of hours in the heat and humidity.  This field was the nicest field I have ever played on in Guatemala. Then to the ocean we went to cool off.  For some it was the first time they had ever seen the ocean. For others they had never swam in the ocean before.  Some said... "it is true, the water is really salty".  For me it was a neat experience since it fulfilled one of the purposes of the activity which is to get people from Cubulco to experience other things in life.  After a delicious lunch, a nature walk, and some more swimming in the ocean we packed up and headed back home.  
Although most of our employees will not be working with us next year, I will continue to be in contact with the majority of them in the coming years. I am very excited about them working with AMG and the opportunities that AMG can offer them and hope that each one of them will continue to grow in wisdom and knowledge and that God will use them as instruments of transformation in the communities they work in.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Signing of Agreement with Guatemalan Bible Society

Saul Sosa- Exec Director, Fernando Mazariegos- President, Nico Kattenberg, Marco Vinicio- Project Director.
Early this morning I was invited to breakfast at the offices of the Guatemalan Bible Society in order to sign a strategic agreement between the Bible Society and the FRC mission as to the work of the translation of the Bible into Cubulco Achi.  
Around 7 years ago Pastor Evert (who was working in Cubulco at that time), our linguist Jorge, and myself had gone to the Bible Society to explore possibilities of working together.  However, nothing came of it as the Bible Society was not in a position to help at that time.  In the following years the Bible Society evolved as did their policies and vision and new people entered in positions of leadership.  One of the changes in their vision was to support communities and organizations who were working on translating the Bible.  Among the new people in key positions of leadership were several men from the Presbyterian church who knew of the work that the mission was doing in Cubulco.  Around two years ago we renewed discussions with the Bible Society of working together.  They had started supporting the translation work in Cubulco by providing us with Paratext (translation software) and with training for our translators in the use of this software and also in other areas.  Paratext was a huge blessing as it helped us drastically reduce the time it took to complete a number of steps of the translation process.  Before having Paratext we projected being finished with the majority of the translation process by 2015.  By using Paratext we were able to finish this past October which saved us around 2-3 years of work.  
Even with Paratext we still faced one major hurdle which was finding a consultant who could validate the translation work. This kind of consultant is hard to find since there are very few of them in the world and these few are very busy and sought after. For around 5 years we have been using a consultant here in Guatemala. However, this consultant is very busy and can only work in his spare time so he is able to do around 35-40 chapter per year. If you do the math you will soon realize that at this rate it could possibly take around 30 years to do the almost 1200 chapters of the Bible. 
With the agreement that we signed today, the Bible Society will assign a consultant to work full-time on the Achi translation.  Part of that consulting work will include traveling several times a year to meet with the translation team in Cubulco. The Bible Society will cover all the expenses of the consultant during that time which could take anywhere from 2-5 years.  The Bible Society will also help in the promotion of the Bible in Achi not only when it is completed but starting next year to try and get especially the churches to support the work. This has been a big concern of mine for many years, that there has been very little interest from the churches including our own church in Cubulco as to the translation of the Bible. Having the support of the Bible Society will go a long way in that it will give a certain level of credibility to the translation work that we ourselves can not give.  
The signing of the agreement took close to a year to complete as there were some discussions as to what it should contain. The mission wanted certain points to be added with regards to the infallibility and accuracy of Scripture.  The Bible Society not only accepted these additions, but also applauded them as it conveyed that our convictions were the same.  
I ask that you pray for this relationship between FRMI and the Guatemalan Bible Society and for the continued work of the translation of the Bible into Cubulco Achi.  It is my hope that in less than 5 years we will be able to present the people of Cubulco with copies of the complete Bible in their language.  


Thursday, November 8, 2012


Yesterday morning at around 10:35 the ground shook all over the country of Guatemala and parts of Mexico as an earthquake with a magnitude 7.5 was triggered off the coast of Guatemala. While we were sitting in the AMG conference room having a meeting with the city school directors, the building started to sway from side to side. It started gently, but soon you could feel and see the building moving under our feet.  It last for over 30 seconds although it felt to last much longer.  Initially, we all stayed sitting thinking that it was just a powerful tremor, but as the intensity increased we got up and left the office. When the quake stopped all of us were on our phones calling home and then the projects to see if everyone was okay. We received word back from most of the projects that all was well except for some damage to things that fell off shelves and desks.  However, as we left the office yesterday, Orfa who is the AMG director of our camp Canaan in Chimaltenango said that her daughter in law lost several family members as the house they were in collapsed. Please pray for them during this time of grief and for those who were injured!
In the city there was some damage in some of the squatter settlements where houses are built in ravines and the quality of construction is not good.  West of the city, which was closer to the epicenter there was a lot more damage reported. So far the death toll is at around 50 and over 20 people are unaccounted for.  150 people were injured and 17,000-20,000 people have been affected. Although this is minor compared to the major quake of 1976 in which around 20,000 people lost their lives, many people (especially the ones who experienced the 1976 quake) have been affected not only materially but also psychologically. There were many incidents of people fainting and needing medical attention due to stress as the quake jolted back terrible memories. Pray for Guatemala and those affected! 
As I may have mentioned in a previous blog Guatemala is one of the most natural disaster prone countries in the world. The country is lined with fault lines and quakes are very common; there are numerous active volcanoes and dormant ones that dot the country; hurricanes and tropical storms wreak havoc each year causing widespread damage to homes and infrastructure because of flooding and mudslides. Also conditions in the country vary from lush, tropical coastal plains prone to flooding, to the cold highlands prone to mudslides, to hot, semi-arid prone to drought.   
Living in a country prone to natural disasters remind us that this earth is not our home and that we need to be prepared to meet the Lord at any moment. Please pray that during times like this people will turn to the Lord and look to Him for help and comfort and that the church will be ready to receive and disciple those who come seeking for answers and support. 

For pictures check out this link.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Reformation Day in Cubulco

On the 31st of October we had a special Reformation event at the church in Cubulco. I believe this was the first time we ever formally celebrated the Reformation with the church in this way. Several weeks prior to the date, at a meeting I attended with the leaders of the Cubulco church Pastor Xicara had brought up the idea of doing something special on Reformation Day. He proposed an all day seminar and a church service in the evening.  This was approved by the committee and I was asked to be the main speaker at the seminar.  I agreed, but also suggested getting someone else to come in to teach on the history of the Protestant church in Guatemala.
Although, I love history and have a good grasp of the history of the church, it still took me several weeks to prepare for the seminar.  What complicated things for me was finding the Spanish equivalent of names, places, and concepts. I must say that I learned a lot of Spanish in the past few weeks and I also learned a lot more about the history of the church.
For the seminar I expected perhaps 20 people, but we had a turn out of around 45. We had a number of people from other churches attend which was nice to see as well as the teachers, translators, the obreros, and members of the central church and the aldean churches.  Although the focus of the seminar was the Reformation period, I spent a considerable amount of time reviewing the history of the church since the time of Christ. I felt that it was important for people to understand that the church started out following the example of Christ and that it was not until the church became powerful that it started to deviate from the what the Word of God teaches. Most evangelicals (this is what they call Protestants here) in Guatemala come out of the Catholic church and reject anything and everything associated with their religious upbringing. This includes things that are good and that precede the Catholic church like the Creeds. 
I also spent some time talking about the invasion of the Moors in Europe and the 800 year struggle Spain had against driving the Moors from their country and how this affected their colonization of the New World and their view of those who held to different beliefs and religions.  It is interesting to note that Spain finally drove out the Moors in the year 1492 which is when Columbus discovered the Americas.
After I spoke for most of the day, Carlos Palaez a professor from the Presbyterian Seminary finished of the seminar with a history of the Protestant church in Guatemala. The Presbyterian church is the oldest church in Guatemala and just celebrated its 130th anniversary.
An hour after the seminar ended we had a service in the church to commemorate the Reformation and Pastor Edgar preached on the need for us to continue on with what the Reformation started and continue to reach out to those who are lost and to ensure that the church stays on the right path.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Tristan is 3!

Today, is Tristan's birthday. He turned 3 and we celebrated it by having a small party together with a few of his friends.  We had ate hotdogs, chips, and cake, and a lot of candy. He got some cars from his best friend Micah, and from Mom and Dad he got a nice blue tricycle. We are thankful for our little boy and hope and pray that he will grow up to love the Lord and serve him with his whole heart.