Thursday, August 07, 2008

Continuing Education, Mission and Discovery in Guatemala

We are now back from our Diocesan Youth Mission Trip to Guatemala. I can truly testify that this was one of the most powerful and life-altering continuing education events of my life. I went on the trip wearing several different hats. First and foremost, I was invited as a priest of this diocese and as rector of a church that has had a major impact on the Diocesan Companion Relationship (chiefly through the devotion of the Powell family and the commitment of our TYG youth and adult sponsors working with our Outreach Ministry). Second, I was asked to participate as a chaplain on the trip due to the fact that our TYG youth committed to the trip this year figured in as the largest group from any parish in the Diocese yet to date. Finally, I took these to factors into account an discerned that with the many opportunities available to me with regard to continuing education, becoming more aware of the opportunities and impact of our companion relationships with both the Diocese of Guatemala and our sister parish in the community of Solala-Santa Maria Madre De Dios, would best serve Trinity Episcopal Church, Solebury in the wake of our vestry's vote in July in support of, and our growing commitment to, a global awareness of how we as the Body of Christ can participate in mission, outreach and ministry in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations.
Our trip began with an very early morning flight to Guatemala via Miami. The picture at top shows one of our translators, Juan Ramirez, in his "super Guatemalan" persona. He wore that flag for the trip down, both to inspire us and to remind us of where we were going. Around him are the youth from the Diocese. After arriving in Guatemala City, we toured briefly around this remarkable metropolis...ending with a visit to the national anthropological museum. I was an anthro major in college...and have always loved archaeology. The Mayan culture as well has fascinated me since I was a child. It was a dream come true to be able to see pieces that I have only viewed in books. Incense burners, bas reliefs, carvings and everyday objects, along with colonial era and post-colonial contemporary displays.
We then headed out for Chimaltenango. While there, staying at the CENDEC conference center, we traveled daily to San Andre Itzapan to offer a project in dental care to the children of a local school. I will post more about that experience tomorrow, with photos. It heartens me on two levels: the first being that our Tabasamu ministry might have expression on this side of the Atlantic; and that our youth performed their demonstrations and trainings so effectively and with such passion.
After our time in San Andre drew to a close, our guide, Victor Hugo took us by bus to the historic city of Antigua. This community sits in the midst of a ring of volcanoes, and was itself destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1773. Victor showed us the main square, ruins left by the earthquake and also beautiful buildings and streets that were left virtually untouched. We paid a visit to La Merced, a baroque church that is one of the finest examples of that type of architecture in Central America and once of the only large churches in Antigua to survive the earthquake. Here is Victor in the doorway of the Cathedral on the main square. We were trapped by a rain storm. It is, after all, the rainy season...and we experienced that in spades when a visit to some Mayan ruins had to be canceled due to lightning.
Once we had finished in Antigua, Victor and the bus took us to Panjachel on Lake Atitlan. From this base, we visited San Lucas Toliman (again, more in another post), then went on to Santiago to visit a series of local shrines and a refugee camp left over from when a landslide devastated that community two years ago.
The next day, we again took the bus up to the community of our sister parish in Solala, a church led by our friend Padre Cuc. This predominantly Mayan parish has benefited from the companion parish relationship and from a grant from the United Thank Offering of the Episcopal Church. With the grant they were able to purchase land from which to base their parish life and ministry. With our support and with support from St. Paul's Church in Doylestown they have been able to begin construction on their worship and fellowship well as to begin renovations on the house that already existed on the property. Above is a photo of a Mayan fire ceremony, dedicated to our visit. The man to the right is one of the lay-leaders and a shaman of the Mayan community. He is testimony to the assistance of Trinity being felt in both large and small gestures. Before Trinity donated his crutches, he was forced to walk with only a stick for a prop. What a gift to meet these incredibly strong, intelligent and spiritual people!
Padre Cuc invited me and the Rev. Heather Hill to concelebrate with him. You can only just see beneath our feet, but the day before the parish had come together to spread gravel and pine needles on the lot for us. This effort was to assure that we would not have to worship with them in the usual mud of the dirt flooring of their worship space. It is rainy season, after all. Personally, I was overcome with both gratitude and humility. I cannot imagine a parish in the United States committing to a major project such as this on the day before an anticipated guests' visitation. Still, with that gesture, the effusive and warm enthusiasm of our hosts and with a meal after that was truly a feast (including Padre Cuc's wife Dolores' fearfully hot salsa picante), by the time we made our way back up the hill to the bus, Solala felt like home.

More to follow...

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