Joining in the Harvest
by Juan Sarmiento
Fourth and Final Reflection
The youthful congregation of Antioch Presbyterian Church in Coban sang with great gusto a popular praise song as the praise band, with Hector at the keyboards:
Lift up your eyes and look, the harvest is ready
The time has arrived, the fields are ripe
Arise and shine, get up and preach to all the nations that Jesus is the life.
Hector arrived at this new congregation only four months ago. He confesses for almost 30 years he played the keyboard in parties. The sexist and objectifying nature of the lyrics of one of the songs that he used to play may not be appropriate to share here but it had to with seeing women as an “unending harvest.” After a series of violent and humiliating incidents Hector decided to stop playing in parties and found a group of genuine, supportive and transforming friendships at church that is appreciative of his Q'eqchi identity. He has now joined another harvest and is glad to sing about it.
Hector’s story is but a small part of a larger story. The work of Presbyterian missionaries here started in the late 19th century upon invitation of the President Justo Rufino Barrios to collaborate on improving the educational system. In 1884 they and a group of eight members chartered the first Protestant congregation in the country. Over years of steady growth, the Presbyterians here grew and became an autonomous Synod in 1962 now known as the National Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Guatemala (IENPG, after its Spanish-language initials).
During that same decade, IENPG sent missionaries to begin what is now the growing Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Honduras. The IENPG is currently made up of 476 churches, hundreds of preaching points and approximately 17 thousand active members. Protestant Christians of different types now comprise more than 40% of the population. Still, the country has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America. Half of its population lives below the poverty line and 15% in extreme poverty. Exploitative transnational practices coupled with internal political corruption affect the most vulnerable and severely affect the well-being of many. The harvest is still plentiful here as in all of God’s world, including the United States. But as the praise song says:
The whole earth will be filled by God’s glory
As the waters cover the sea
Denominational leaders expressed to us that at the top of the list is the ongoing development of the ministry in the Coban area, increasing the number and scope of female pastors as well as the formation of a new generation of pastoral leaders, since many of their pastors serve two or three congregations. They are appreciative of Presbyterians in the U.S. and very open to opportunities to partner in God’s harvest. Here are some simple suggested things that you may be able to do:
• In addition to Philip and Bacilia Beisswenger, serving with The Antioch Partners, there are five PC(USA) co-workers who serve in the country and are happy to assist in helping you develop mission relationships with Christians in the country.
• If you read Spanish or have a way of translating pages, check out the web site and/or Facebook page.
• Visiting my previous journal entries may also be helpful – click HERE to view.
Please feel free to contact me for further information on how you can be part of God’s abundant harvest with guidance from our precious Guatemalan sisters and brothers. Bantiox (“Thank you” in Q’eqchi language). I am very grateful to you for following my reflections on this trip on the site of The Outreach Foundation. Please click HERE for a partial list of similar vision mission trips in which you can learn first-hand with our partners how God is at work through the Church in many places around the world. I will have the privilege of leading some of those. Would you be interested in coming along?
Juan J. Sarmiento
Associate Director for Mission
Cell: (615) 497 3153