Sermon at Seeker’s Church
by Dave and Jackie McMakin
December 5, 1999
Good Seed for the Future
Odd that you see me here! As you know, I am not usually one to give a sermon. Last time was probably when Jackie and I returned from the Orient after serving in the Presbyterian Mission after the Korean War. However, circumstances do alter cases: the time has come to speak up from the pulpit again. Again, we will do it together.
Most of you know that we spent six weeks in Guatemala this fall, five studying Spanish. Jackie moved from a five to a six on a scale of ten. Being linguistically impaired, I moved from a zero to maybe a one! Nevertheless, we learned a lot more than language. We want to share some of that with you because as in most things of interest to Seekers, our subject relates to valuable human contact with a potential for grass roots help to people who deserve a better future. In addition, because it is the season to think about both Christmas giving and our annual international budget we felt now was the time to speak up. We do so because there are rare occasions when both the combination of need and a key person to address the need coincide. Doing interesting things is not enough. Having a vision to really make a difference for the future matters.
Guatemala, as many of you know, has suffered years of conflict between ethic groups, military and civilians, the haves and have-nots. The peace accord three years ago ended overt violence for the first time in two generations. However, hope for a more just future is fragile since an agreement to cease hostilities alone cannot eradicate the historical, economic and cultural seismic fault lines so evident in that volcanic country. My task is to outline the situation. Jackie will follow with specific information on the program we support.
Our school was in Quetzeltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city in the western highlands. The Director, Jorge Chojolan, also the Director of the school Jackie will talk about, gave freely of his time to share his knowledge (in Spanish, naturally!) of the complex social, political and economic history of his country. We were impressed with his knowledge, balance and objectivity. He could be less objective: he is Maya and, like our friend Doctor Vickie Gussman in El Salvador, has received death threats because of the perceived threat some of his ideas pose for the established inequitable order.
Some of what we learned:
· 60% of the population are indigenous people, the highest in the Hemisphere. They have been killed and pushed from their land for almost 500 years, ever since the Conquistadors arrived. 200,000 were killed or disappeared in the last decade.
· 60% of the population is below anyone’s measure of the poverty line. Most are in the mountains. Most are Maya. Most do not have full access to adequate health services or schools.
· Large landowners and conservative religious groups (catholic and protestant) are fearful of empowering the poor. They want to continue to pay low wages or maintain stability by not changing the old order. Liberal groups (catholic and protestant) favor reforms that will provide more opportunities for the poor.
· There are 23 languages in this country of 11 million, 21 of them Mayan. Many do not speak Spanish, making it difficult for people of similar interests to collaborate on efforts to improve their situation – or enter fully into the larger economy.
· In the recent Presidential election, the party that initiated the repression of the last decade got the most votes. Regardless of who wins the run-off, the military establishment still wields undue influence.
· Much paranoia exists. Many people still fear communism. Some think that anyone who wants to initiate reform (education, health, etc.) is a communist. The US contributed to this fear in the context of our own struggle against Soviet domination. While global circumstances have changed, old fears live on.
· Reconciliation between groups is difficult to achieve, but essential if people are to live decent lives and not fear for the safety of their families and themselves. The basis exists in the peace accord. International pressures now support such an evolution. So, the outlook is mixed, but not without hope.
We want to enhance that hope! Jackie will elaborate.
The hope, creativity and courage that Jorge brings to the situation are truly inspiring. Jorge has a vision – a strong and vibrant Guatemala led by a new generation of leaders schooled in popular education – the method pioneered by Paulo Freire, empowering students to think critically about society and come up with imaginative solutions. Jorge’s strategy is to create a model school based on popular education – the Miguel Angel Asturias School. Then to start sister schools in a variety of locations and eventually to change the way Guatemala educates its young people.
Four years old, the school has an excellent record
It now has 150 students in grades K to 7
Students enjoy it so much they do not want to be absent on weekends and during vacation times
There are more applicants than can be accommodated
Encouraged by this success, Jorge has an ambitious 5-year plan of development:
Add grades 8 – 12
Build and equip a building to house more students
Train future teachers equipped to establish similar schools in other locations
Become self-sufficient financially.
In the meantime, however, Jorge faces many difficulties:
Rent for the current building has been raised
The government education ministry constantly harasses him to justify his methods
Books, maps and materials are in short supply
Yet, the school squeaks by and still gives full scholarships to 40 students and half scholarship to 50 students. We visited the school for a celebration of the UN Day of the Child. Picture kids carrying chairs from schoolrooms and lining them up in the schoolyard. Bouncing with enthusiasm they wait for the program to start. Suddenly, it beings to rain. Teachers bring out a huge piece of plastic, roll it out over the heads of the kids rigging it up with poles and ties on the wall – that was the roof! The program begins. Individually and in groups, using song and drama, kids ranging from 4 to 12 depict and really claim the rights of the child as formulated by the UN – for example, "we claim the right to health, to education, to safety, to live with our families" – all quite normal for our children but truly radical for Guatemala. It was inspiring.
To keep progress going and to face the difficulties, Jorge and his people could use some encouragement. Dave and I are committed to partnering with Jorge to develop some funding help. Seekers might be interested in joining us in this by considering his work in our international giving or perhaps as part of our Christmas offering. An immediate injection of funds would enable Jorge to
Give his teachers a much-deserved raise
Increase his supply of materials
Grant scholarships to more kids who need them.
We could help a lot of that happen very quickly. Money goes a long way in Guatemala.
This morning’s scriptures are so relevant. Jorge literally takes little lambs in his arms and nurtures them into becoming contributing adults. He makes God’s steadfast love, justice and peace a concrete reality in the lives of those he touches. Each day he and his people create a new earth where justice dwells. Actively forgiving the past, they move into the future with tremendous forbearance.
On this Communion Sunday, we would like to suggest that we consciously place ourselves in communion with Jorge and his people and with other international people we are connected with such as
The Japanese folks Brenda talked about
The Australians Cynthia introduced us to
The South Africans Cathy, April and Roy told us about
The Russian people Billy is working with
Dr. Vicky Guzman and our friends in El Salvador
And with all people who need the energy and peace that God’s presence brings.
We heard Jorge’s children sing a song called "Peace, We Want Peace", a song which Jorge says represents great risk to sing in public since so many still want to hide after the wounding of war, a song that can be our prayer for ourselves and all people:
Peace, we want peace.
For the children of all the world
we want peace and freedom.
No more hunger
no more war
we want peace
on this earth.
For the poor
and the old people
We want peace and freedom.
No more bombs,
or radiation, or
ideas of extermination.
Peace, we want peace and freedom
in this world.