Presence

Date posted: Tuesday 05 December 2017

As Guatemala City shrank below us, I was sad to see it go. A thick deck of white clouds obscured the earth below as we hung suspended under a bright blue sky. The plane ride was a brief nexus between our experience in Guatemala and the reality of suburban life that awaited our reentry. Our band of travelers - Denise, Deb, Sammy, and I - spent nine days in this beautiful country. It was sad to say goodbye to Pastor Karen, Karen Sofia, Marco, Amanda, and Estuardo. We thoroughly enjoyed our time traveling around the country with them in our little red bus.
 
Our final, official activity of the week was to have a debriefing with Pastor Karen on our last morning at the Lutheran Center. We discussed the details of the trip and provided feedback. There are many different ways that delegations can experience the partnership with ILAG. Some trips are focused on one community and seek to cultivate deeper relationships with that group of people. There is very little traveling involved in that type of experience. Our trip was on the other end of the spectrum. I called our experience the "sampler platter of Guatemala." We had a women's retreat in a local-oriented mountain hotel, visited a remote community, stayed in a fancy tourist-oriented hotel, toured the Mayan ruins, and visited an inner-city community. This required a lot of traveling. I loved it.
 
The discussion around the Women's Retreat exposed some important aspects of our visit. Denise, our veteran Guatemala delegate, mentioned how much more open the women are now, compared to how they were a few years ago when she participated in it. It seemed, to Denise, that it was less important for the American women to be there now. The indigenous women seemed more interested in visiting with each rather than trying to interact with us.
 
I asked if my presence had any impact on the women's resistance to interact with us during unstructured times, wondering if having both a male and a pastoral presence there created some discomfort for them. Pastor Karen said it was just the opposite. My presence, and my interaction with Pastor Karen as an equal, was huge for the women. It demonstrated to them that women have the right to be equal to men at every level. The fact that Pastor Karen and I stood side by side to preside over communion and shared the role of teacher equally had more impact than I can understand.
 
I think the biggest thing I take away from this trip is what an honor it is to be in partnership with such an amazing leader as Pastor Karen Castillo. She is breaking the mold and forging a new path for the church in Guatemala and the world. Here is what I saw as I watched her lead our delegation, interact with the members of the communities, and share her story with me during casual conversation. She is a natural leader. Her diverse background of earning an MBA, a degree in alternative medicine, growing up as a pastor's kid working with indigenous people, and theological training allows her to interact adeptly with multiple types of people. She can, on one hand, stand up to the government in advocacy for the poor, while, on the other hand, offer gentle pastoral care to a sick woman in a simple rural house. It was an honor to learn from her.
 
I also learned that the communities of the ILAG are comprised of indigenous people who have been mistreated by the government, displaced by war and power economics, and are seeking to simply survive in this world. Pastor Karen is showing them that they matter; that women matter; that justice and equality and the Gospel of Jesus Christ matters. I look forward to working with her and learning from her as we move forward in this partnership.
 
The Rev. Steve Thomason
Easter Lutheran, Eagan
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