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Members of the Saint Paul Area Synod (SPAS) Guatemala Committee (Janet Metcalfe, Kim Becker, Nick and Cindy Fisher-Broin) along with representatives from the Southeastern Synod traveled to Guatemala July 11-18 to re-engage in person with our ILAG friends and discuss the resumption of in-person visits. We can share with you that the ILAG staff is ready and eager to see us in person again!
The Lutheran Center is as welcoming as ever and feels the same. The grounds are even more beautiful! Visits within Guatemala City seemed very familiar. Right now masks are required in public and compliance appeared to be very high. Mask-wearing requirements fluctuate with infection rates in the country.
The ILAG staff is ready to start rural visits, but would encourage delegations be no larger than 10-12 individuals. They encourage congregations to partner with other churches who have ILAG partners in the same area (e.g. two churches who have partners in the Peten) to fill out delegations if necessary. Most communities are now able to house delegations in their own quarters vs. splitting up among community members’ homes. The rural communities have been vaccinated for the most part but mask wearing is not widespread.
The ILAG staff is hosting leadership retreats every other month for the four regions of the ILAG. They would prefer to have our delegations come in the opposite months or send just a small group to assist with leadership retreats. We should have their 2023 calendar of retreats sometime in August. The SPAS will be taking a more active role with the ILAG staff in scheduling and coordinating travel. If you would like to travel to Guatemala, the first step is to complete this form found on SPAS website ( https://spas-elca.org/mission/global-mission/guatemala/walking-together/traveling-to-guatemala/ ) and submitting your dates for travel to firstname.lastname@example.org. Our SPAS Guatemala travel guide, Kim Becker, will confirm your dates with ILAG and assist you in the planning process.
In the meantime, until you can be there in person, please communicate with your partners via letter, videos, Zoom calls, etc. The ILAG staff emphasized how important this is to our relationships.
While the CLAG was shut down for in-person learning the last two years, the CLAG staff have been busy creating a much-improved learning environment. Our group got to help unload the truck with new school furniture. If you have visited the old school, you can remember how beat up the desks and chairs were. They have a garden planned for the school they will use to teach the children about gardening. They also have some green space where they hope to eventually have some playground equipment. This is much improvement over the concrete space they had before! They have added more bathrooms to the school and a kitchen. They have added railings and other safety features throughout the school. Check out the new Guatemala Friends Facebook page for more pictures of the school.
Their next construction project for the school is to add a security gate at the street level. There is a gate in front of the courtyard but there is a small parking lot in front of that at street level where people from the neighborhood hang out at night. There is always lots of trash and bottles when they arrive in the morning. They want to create a more secure, welcoming entrance for the school. It is hoped that funds from the upcoming gala (Oct. 2 - mark your calendar) can raise the funds for this.
While we were there, CLAG began welcoming students back in person in limited numbers for the first time. They are using a “bubble" approach where students will rotate who attends school in person for the time being. It was an exciting day for the staff. In Guatemala, the school year ends in October and resumes in January. It is hoped that if COVID permits, they will be back to full in-person learning in January!
We got to spend a fair amount of time with the ladies at Milagro. They have 15 young women living there this year. If you were able to meet these ladies in past, you would not believe the transformation. They smile and laugh and take the initiative to greet us. They spent the better part of a day teaching us what they are learning on nutrition, climate change, music, health and how to make bread.
They have been taking a lot of virtual classes the last two years. The classes include nutrition and sustainable agriculture classes taught by two members from SPAS. They are learning about gender justice and leadership as well as technical skills to help earn incomes. They are even learning to prepare and lay concrete! One morning we woke to squeals from their house....turns out they had trapped and killed a mouse. Truly becoming empowered young ladies!
The ILAG staff spends a lot of time teaching them to teach others. When they have leadership retreats at the Lutheran Center, the young ladies are expected to prepare some type of presentation. It is good for the community leaders to see them do this to make them more accepted back home. Again, more pictures on the Facebook page of our visit.
Developing leaders in the church is a high priority of the ILAG. They have divided the churches into four regions of Guatemala with a designated pastor in each region. ILAG hosts each region in separate retreats every other month. This is a big time/financial commitment for ILAG and the members of the community who attend. They find having smaller groups that can have a region-specific focus is more effective. Each region is working on updating their liturgy to reflect Lutheran small catechism and counter some of the prosperity, fundamentalist theology commonly taught in Guatemala. Funds from this year's gala will go to supporting this important ministry.
The Health Ministry will likely get back on track for a retreat in 2023. At the time of the last Health Promoters Retreat, the discussion was leading to a focus on women’s health. The other main emphasis for the Health Ministry at this time is ensuring that travel delegations are prepared to be as safe as possible in an ongoing COVID environment.
The ILAG staff are planning to resume retreats and activities for their music, youth, children's and women's ministries in the coming months. Watch for more information on how we can assist with these ministries.