Guatemala Mission Trip 2016

Guatemala Mission Trip
June 30-July 8, 2016

Can you still feel the joy and love that we experienced in December in our brothers and sisters who visited us from Bethel Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City? Can you imagine what it would be like worshipping and serving alongside a whole church-full of people just as joyful and filled with love for God (and us!) as they were?

This is the new face of missions – working and worshipping alongside our mission partners, understanding that we both have much to give and receive from each other. The relationships that we form with each other are every bit as important as the projects that we do, and the truth is that our lives and faith are usually impacted in even greater ways than the people whose lives we might touch there- just ask any of the people who have participated in this partnership.

Guatemala 1If this sounds like something you feel the Spirit nudging you to be a part of, why not consider coming with us this summer?

We will spend half of the week in Guatemala City doing community outreach and home visits with Bethel Presbyterian. You will be stretched by the poverty you encounter, and overwhelmed by the expressions of faith and gratitude you hear from the people you visit.

After worship Sunday we will join a delegation from Bethel and travel north to Coban, where mission co-workers Philip Beisswenger and Debbie and Richard Welch live and work. Joining members of Philip’s congregation we will paint the interior of the Bee Rigby multipurpose building at the Guatemala 2Presbyterian Complex (funded in part by a bequest of our own Bee Rigby!), participate in its dedication, and do some form of community outreach. As a special project we hope to paint a mural on a portion of the wall surrounding the complex, under the creative oversight of Judy Grover.

For more information contact Sharon, or ask any of the previous participants about their experiences.
Cost: $500
Registration forms can be found in the foyer. Return to Sharon with a $200 deposit.
Deadline: March 31st.

The Continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

From Missionary Phillip Beisswenger’s sermon on December 6:

It’s an honor and joy to be here with you in Kingsport, and I bring greetings in the name of Jesus from Guatemala, the Land of Eternal Spring. Someone might wonder about the timing of this visit, and with good reason. Why a delegation from Guatemala at this particular time, when the weather’s colder, when so many people are busy with important pre-Christmas activities? On one level, the reason is that the school year runs differently in Guatemala, and now is when more people are available for such a trip. But on a deeper lever, we remember that this is the season of Advent, the coming of Christ. We remember that Christ came under less-than-ideal circumstances—a census, difficult travel, an uncomfortable stable. And we remember that Christ will come again, also under unexpected circumstances, like a thief in the night. As people of faith, we understand that God operates in ways we don’t always expect or understand, especially at this time of year.

By the way, you at Kingsport First Presbyterian Church have been great innkeepers.

To be honest with you, in Guatemala, many Presbyterians feel uneasy about Christmas. They tend not to fully embrace this holiday, for several reasons.

One reason is that Christmas in Guatemala is dominated by extravagant, crowded street processions of the Roman Catholic Church that Presbyterian don’t find meaningful.

Secondly, the Pentecostal churches, the largest segment of Protestantism, are adamant that Christmas is unscriptural, and they denounce it as a pagan holiday.

Third, Guatemalan Presbyterians object to much of the Christmas culture—Santa, reindeer, snowmen—that’s imported from other parts of the world.

Fourth, Guatemalan Presbyterians observe that Christmas is used by many people as an excuse for indulgence, excessive drinking feasting and partying.

On town squares throughout Guatemala, including Cobán’s, instead of a Christmas tree or a holiday tree, you find a Gallo tree. A gallo is a rooster, and it’s also the emblem of the country’s most popular beer. So instead of a star topping these trees, there’s a rooster’s head, announcing that tis the season to buy a six-pack of suds.

Lastly, economic poverty keeps many Presbyterians, especially the indigenous, from partaking in the consumerism of the season. Christmas for them is austere, often without gifts, only tamales, firecrackers & a few familiar carols over the radio.

Yes, Presbyterians in Guatemala tend to downplay Christmas. Which makes me wonder if St. Mark wasn’t actually a Guatemalan Presbyterian. You see, Mark definitely downplays Christmas, even ignoring it altogether.

We know each of the four Gospels approaches Christmas differently. Matthew tells about Christ’s birth from perspective of Joseph and the messianic connections. Luke offers the perspective of Mary and the marginalized. John stresses the cosmic perspective of the incarnation—the Word made flesh. Then there’s Mark, who makes no mention Christ’s birth at all. He makes no mention of Mary, Joseph, the angels, Bethlehem, the manger or shepherds. Instead, Mark starts with the Prophet Isaiah, about 800 years before Christ. So far, so good. But another prophet appears in the limelight, John the Baptist, about 30 years after Jesus’ birth. The birth story gets skipped over altogether. Instead of Bethlehem, we get the wilderness. Rather than a birth in a stable, we get baptisms in the Jordan River. The baby in swaddling clothes is replaced by a strange prophet wearing camel hair and a leather belt. Instead of angels singing, John the Baptist starts railing about repentance and the confession their sins. How did John get into the picture? John comes across like one of those photo bombers who’s always jumping into somebody else’s snapshot, stealing attention for himself.

As it turns out, a key theme in Advent is penitence. That’s what the purple candles stand for. At first I thought the purple candles stood for royalty, the coming of the King of kings. But actually, the purple is for penitence. When we light the three purple candles during Advent, we’re declaring this to be a season of repentance. The pink candle symbolizes joy, so according to the Advent wreath there should be three times as much repentance as joy. Maybe one of our favorite Christmas carols, along with “Joy to the World, The Lord Is come,” ought to be “Just As I Am, Without One Plea.”

Unlike the U.S., where the holiday season officially starts right after Thanksgiving, on Black Friday, in Guatemala, the holidays start with a tradition called“La Quema del Diablo” (the burning of the devil). On Dec. 7, people comb their homes looking for unwanted stuff they can pile into big bonfires. It’s burned along with effigies of Satan as a symbolic ridding of evil powers. The smoke and soot in the air, along with noise from firecrackers, is supposed to scare off wicked spirits. As a finale, men dress up in devil costumes and children gleefully chase them around.

In years past our family has done our own version. We buy a red devil piñata in the market, and I pontificate to our kids about all the ungodly stuff that can interfere with our appreciation for Jesus’ birth. We stuff the piñata with firecrackers and light a match to it, to our kids’ delight, blowing up Satan as a vivid and loud start to the Advent traditions that point to the approaching “Light of the world.”

So, during Advent we light the four candles in succession, and eventually the Christ candle in the middle, and we’re finished. There’s a beginning and an ending, just the way we like it. Unless we notice that another important part of the wreath’s symbolism is its round shape. It’s a circle that keeps going around and around forever, without end. No clear staring point, no obvious ending. Kind of like, well, the Gospel of Mark.

Interesting enough, the title of the Gospel of Mark isn’t really “The Gospel of Mark.” That title was added several centuries after the gospel was written. The original title is the very first verse, which reads, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In other words, with those words as the title, that means the entire book is just the beginning. The gospel keeps unfolding. It keeps going, nonstop, from generation to generation, from place to place, from grace upon grace. We today, in countries like the United States and Guatemala, are the continuation of God’s story of salvation.

As if to accentuate the point, the Gospel of Mark doesn’t even give us a clear-cut ending. Most biblical scholars agree that the gospel’s final passage, verses 16:9-20, aren’t an original part of the book. The book end abruptly, with confusion amongst the disciples, as if to say that more chapters need to be written, that we’re called to write them with our lives until Christ’s return brings all things to their conclusion.

None of us should let our lives be seen by God as a place where the gospel didn’t continue, where the gospel came to a screeching halt, where it stopped. I hope that in the book of life, next to each of names, the words “the end” won’t be stamped. In the same way that Mark’s Gospel was titled “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” may each of our lives be titled “The continuation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Years ago, the Mayans in the region around Cobán had special traditions that reinforced their community bonds. One Q’eqchi’ ritual involved the relighting of fires. In the middle of the village sat the temple, where a perpetual fire burned inside. Fires also burned in the hearths of each homes. If someone’s hearth went cold, people could borrow a flame from a neighbor, or go to the temple itself, to relight it. However, on an appointed day every seven years, everybody’s fires were extinguished. After enduring a set time of darkness, families would emerge from their homes and process toward the temple. They’d approach the temple altar, take fire from it, and carefully carry it back home to relight their hearth. The ritual reminded the Q’eqchi’ people of the source of their fire and heat, and that it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

That’s what the season of Advent provide for us, a reconnecting with the source of our light. That’s what symbols like the Advent wreath offer, a rekindling of the true light. That’s what happens when we’re drawn together in Christ’s name to celebrate his coming, we experience how the true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. May his light burn brightly in us, as the gospel about Jesus Christ continues.

FPC to Host Group from Guatemala in December

Our Advent calendar is full of lots of events and activities, and now we have one more exciting thing to add to it. From December 5-8 we will have a delegation of our brothers and sisters from Bethel Presbyterian Church visiting us and getting a sense of our ministries and life together. This is a CHURCH-WIDE event and we hope that everyone will find some way to participate with us! If you wish to attend dinner on Sunday December 6 at 5:30 p.m. click HERE to make a dinner reservation so we know how many to cook for. Your reservation is needed by noon on Wednesday, December 2.


Q: Who will be coming?
A: Our mission co-worker, Philip Beisswenger, will be accompanying Pastor Luis, his wife, Delia, and four other church leaders.

Q: Why on earth are they coming in December? Won’t they freeze??
A: The dates in December were proposed by the Bethel congregation because their “summer” vacation is from October – January and this would allow one of their young people to join them. Even though it will be chilly we are excited about the possibilities that this time frame opens up – we host Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Kingsport (IHNGK) that week, and plan to take a spin through Speedway in Lights.

Q: What is the purpose of this trip? Is it a good use of money?
A: We have been told that our relationship with the Bethel church is extraordinary, and exactly what the World Missions office had in mind when they drafted the guidelines for forming partnerships between congregations or presbyteries:

“our mission relationships within this country and around the world are most faithful when they proclaim and incarnate:
• Our shared grace in Christ and thanksgiving to God
• Our mutuality and interdependence
• Recognition and respect of our identities
• Open dialogue and transparency of action and
• Two-way sharing of resources, human and financial.”

The goal of our relationship isn’t simply to do projects in Guatemala with or for the church or their community. It is to be the Church of Jesus Christ together, and to encourage and challenge each others faith. Looking at the relationship this way, we recognize that they have as much to give and teach us as we have to give and teach them, and we demonstrate a willingness to open our doors and hearts to them as they have to us.

Q: What kinds of things will they do while they are here?
A: First, this is a congregation-wide event! You all are invited to join us in everything we do as it is logistically feasible. We will begin each morning in a brief time of worship, introduce them to many of our mission and outreach programs, share a meal with the congregation Sunday night, see a bit of downtown Kingsport and the area, and hopefully do a few home visits. Saturday night will include a little cultural immersion with a trip to the Carter Fold! See below for a more detailed itinerary.

Q: What kinds of cultural differences should we be aware of?
A: Guatemalans tend to be more formal than we are here. We address the pastor as Pastor Luis, and they frequently call us and refer to each other as Hermano or Hermana – brother or sister (hint: the h is silent). Also, very few Presbyterians in Guatemala smoke or drink alcohol. If you find yourself at a meal with the group we will ask you to be sensitive to this and refrain from partaking yourself.

Q: How can I be involved?
A: Join us! Here is just a short list of ways you can participate:
• Ride along with me to Knoxville to pick them up from the airport.
• Come with us on one or more of our outings.
• Come for morning worship and devotions.
• Come to worship Sunday morning for what we know will be a powerful and Spirit-filled worship service.
• Come for dinner and a program by Philip Beisswenger Sunday evening.
• Help cook our Southern-Guatemalan fusion dinner Sunday evening! Teach them how to cook Southern-style, or learn how to cook a typical Guatemalan dish.
• Help in the planning of the trip by making phone calls to arrange activities.
• Drive on our outings.
• Translate, if you are proficient in Spanish.
• Pray for them as they travel and experience the Church in North America.
• Pray for us.

Q: Who do I contact if I have more questions or want to help or come along?
A: Contact Sharon Amstutz at


Saturday, December 5
9:00 a.m. Worship, meet with the Session, tour of church, Farmer’s Market and Carousel
Labyrinth and Community Garden
Dinner and Carter Fold

Sunday, December 6
NOTE: There will be one (1) Worship service today
10:00 a.m. Sunday School
11:00 a.m.  Worship – Philip Beisswenger preaching
3:00 p.m. Southern-Guatemalan cooking
5:30 p.m. Dinner and program on Guatemala and the Presbyterian Church’s work there

Monday, December 7
8:30 a.m. Devotional in chapel
Clothes Closet
Visit KCMC, Family Promise of Greater Kingsport (FPGK), Hay House
Home Visits
Speedway in Lights

Tuesday, December 8
8:30 a.m. Devotional in chapel
Visit Oasis, Salvation Army, DB Excel
Home Visits
Dinner with IHNGK

Wednesday, December 9
Travel to Knoxville for the flight home

Minute for Missions Stewardship – 2015

Stewardship Season is a wonderful season – it is a gift. It is a time in which we are given the opportunity to recommit ourselves to God and to our church.

Next Sunday is our Stewardship Dedication Sunday. So, if you haven’t already done so, spend some time this week in discernment, reflecting upon our call to glorify God through worship and work. I encourage you then to use the pledge card in your stewardship package to capture part of what you plan to do next year for and through this church, viewing stewardship as a gift and an opportunity to recommit to God’s work.

You know, Stewardship Season is commonly associated with money. It is true that joyful, generous financial giving is an important, long-established, scripture-based spiritual discipline. And using the pledge card to communicate our financial commitment to the church does enable our church leadership to make informed and wise decisions going into the new year. Nevertheless, the truth is that money is not what’s really on my mind this morning when I think about commitment to our church.

Again, it’s an important piece of the puzzle, but it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

When I mentioned recommitting to our church, I was primarily thinking about the commitments that we made when we joined this church. Paraphrasing just a bit:

• We acknowledged that we are w/o hope w/o God’s mercy.
• We vowed that we believe in Jesus as the Son of God and our savior.
• We vowed that we, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, would endeavor to live in a way becoming followers of Jesus.

And we promised to support the Church – this church – in its worship and work to the best or our ability.

The wonderful thing about stewardship season is that it’s a chance to celebrate that we’re “all in” – not just our money. We are fully “in” with all of the faith, effort, work, challenges, and joy that our commitment as members of this church entails.

Margaret and I spent roughly the first halves of our lives as United Methodists. Much like the promise we Presbyterians make to support the church to the best of our abilities, Methodists vow to support the church with their “prayer, presence, gifts, and service.”

I frankly think we are at a critical juncture in this church. We could be scared by that, or we could decide that we are in the midst of an exciting time. I believe it’s an exciting time for us at First Presbyterian. And I believe we will succeed in glorifying God if we commit to supporting this church with our prayers, presence, gifts, and service.

As you reflect this week upon your stewardship commitment, I encourage you to commit:

• To pray for this church every day.
• To be present. If you are in town and your ox is not in a ditch, come to worship; and look for other opportunities, like Sunday School, to make meaningful connections with others – people with whom you’ve lost a connection, people you don’t know well, people of a different generation.
• To be thoughtful and imaginative about the gifts and talents that God has given you and how you can use those gifts to enhance the worship and work of this church.
• To continue the proud heritage of service to and through 1st Pres.

Election Day in Guatamala

Published on Election Day in Guatamala, Tuesday, September 8, 2015

By Richard and Debbie Welch, PCUSA Missionaries to Guatamala

Last Sunday (September 5th), Guatemalans went to polling places all over the country to select their next leaders. Every branch of government from the President/Vice President, to departmental representatives, congressional representatives, mayors and municipal leaders is up for grabs throughout Guatemala. We started our day by attending a prayer vigil for Guatemala that was organized by our little Presbyterian church in Cobán. Walking around town we observed a festive atmosphere around the polling places as people gathered, reconnected, and exercised their right to vote.

Observing this election process as outside observers made us realize that we haven’t been keeping our friends and supporters up to date on the incredible events that have rocked and shaped Guatemalan politics since April. With all the coverage we’ve been exposed to here, it slipped our minds that maybe not everyone has the same access to news surrounding all these happenings.

Many of you might remember our post of June 14 in which we asked for your prayers for Guatemala as outrage over exposed government corruption scandals intensified. (If not, you can read it here). The intensity of the outrage grew into what many are calling a “Guatemala Spring”. Following the resignations and incarcerations of many in the current cabinet that were linked to the scandal that robbed millions of dollars in tax revenue while critical public services struggled from lack of resources, thousands of Guatemalans from many different walks of life, gathered in different locations around the country to peacefully call for the resignation of the president. Just prior to Sunday’s elections, the congress voted unanimously to strip the president of his immunity from prosecution. Shortly thereafter, the president did step down and immediately was charged and incarcerated and is now awaiting trial. These are only the highlights. We’ve seen several good English-language articles related to all these happenings. We’ll refer you to a couple. Here’s a link to an article that does a good job of telling the story from the perspective of the Guatemalans protesting in the streets:

This New Yorker article gives a very good account of the events leading up to the actions against the president, and some background on the president himself:

It is against this political backdrop that Guatemalans went to the polls on Sunday. There was a popular cry to delay the elections, primarily because the populace does not believe the current field of candidates, each with his or her history of corruption, offers any improvement over the past administration; and that is no longer acceptable to a fed-up and empowered populace. Guatemala’s electoral commission decided that it would be too impractical to delay the national elections so close to the planned date. In what will probably ring with familiarity with many of our US readers, the majority of Guatemalans voted for a former business man and TV comedian with no previous experience in public office. As no candidate captured the required 50% majority, there will be a runoff election in October between him and a former first lady. Even though the field of candidates failed to reflect the spirit of intolerance to corruption so manifest among many Guatemalans, many cautiously believe that Guatemala is on a road to change, and that indifference, fear, or apathy are no longer the dominant attitudes towards corruption in this country.

This is truly an exciting time to be living and ministering in Guatemala. As a precaution, mission coworkers in Guatemala have been asked to review their contingency and emergency procedure plans should things take an ugly turn. And we remain thankful to be part of an organization that looks out for our safety and well-being. For several reasons, we hope and pray we can stay right here as this new dynamic in Guatemala unfolds before us. In the past we’ve shared the stories of students of different ages and backgrounds with whom we’ve had the privilege of working alongside. We share them because their stories are your stories too. All that we’ve been able to witness and accomplish has happened as a result of your faithful prayer, accompaniment, and financial support. Clearly the sense of hope and optimism among these folks is more prevalent among the younger students, but even older students that we’ve met through the theological training exhibit new energy and enthusiasm as they acquire a growing knowledge of their reformed faith and the roles they can play in praying for, working toward, and participating in positive change in the world around them.

Thank-you and blessings to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala

Re-thinking Outreach

Sharon Amstutz

Several years ago I went to visit my father in his retirement community out in Tucson.  One night we went to dinner in the dining room and I found myself watching the couple at the table next to us.  The woman was tiny and frail; she didn’t look well at all.  He seemed fine.  When they finished eating and got up to leave he took her arm.  Then my father made an interesting comment.  “I’m never sure who is helping whom.”

He was right.  I assumed he had taken her arm to help her out – she certainly looked like she was the one in need – but as I watched I saw that she was in front, and he was following her lead to the door.

I thought of that couple again this year when we were in Guatemala.

Traditional views of mission work have depended on a model that suggests that we are ‘unevenly yoked,’ that there is an imbalance of need and power; one party is ‘weak’, poor or without necessary resources, and the other party has what they need.  One party gives, the other receives.

It doesn’t take you long in Guatemala to come to the same conclusion my father did:  We are never sure who is helping whom.  Yes, we have financial resources that can make things possible for the church there to do things they couldn’t do otherwise, whether it’s re-doing Sunday School classrooms or reaching out to the homebound in their congregation and the community.  We can help them do ministry in their own setting just a bit better.  But we would be mistaken if we thought that they were the tiny and frail ones at the table.   In the end, they have been the ones leading us to a greater understanding of what it means to praise and trust God for life itself, not just the goods, freedoms and privileges that accident of birth have bestowed on us.   They have shown us what life looks like when you don’t have a lot of other stuff and activities and priorities to crowd God and true Christian fellowship out of the center of it.   When I visit them, I imagine that that must be a lot like what the early church looked like.

We are already thinking ahead to next year’s visit (mark your calendar for June 30th-July 8th), and hope to have a small group from Bethel visit us in the coming months.  Take a moment to read about this year’s trip on the Tales From Our Guatemala Mission blog.  We have so much to learn from them about being disciples and the church of Jesus Christ, and I treasure this time together.  But for now, the one thing I have gleaned so far is that I need to have a far better appreciation for what God has done for me already, and spend more time being grateful and joyful than thinking how much better life would be, if only_______.

Maybe I’m wrong, but that probably holds true for all of us.