Guatemala Companion Diocese
St. Andrew's relationship with Guatemala began in 1996 when I and my husband, Fred, went to Guatemala with a small group of people to meet people in Guatemala, their Bishop, and to visit certain areas in Guatemala.
I had previously been part of a Diocesan Committee to explore the idea of having a companion relationship with another diocese in Central or South America. I had presented the idea to St. Andrew's vestry and they had approved it. Bishop Bartlett had previously met the Bishop of Guatemala at meetings of Bishops of our national church. Guatemala was at that time part of our Title 9, the group of dioceses outside of the U. S. but under the umbrella of our national church. The two bishops had known each other for several years and Bp. Bartlett had visited in Guatemala. He had recommended the partner diocese should be Guatemala and also that the relationship should be one that would encourage friendship between the participating churches and not simply diocese to diocese. Accordingly, he and Bp. Guerra together choose partner churches for each Pennsylvanian church. Fred and I found that our partners were churches in the southeastern part of Guatemala on the Caribbean side.
On this first visit in 1996, Fred and I were taken to the small town of Mariscos on Lago Izabal, the largest freshwater lake in Central America, which empties via a river into the Caribbean Ocean. We were taken to the church of San Esteban and essentially dumped on the priest-in-charge of 5 small churches in the area, Padre Alberto. He and his wife graciously housed us, fed us and introduced us to the people in the area. Others in the group were taken to the homes of the priests of the churches they were partnered with. This very warm and friendly beginning has characterized the relationships that have developed over the years.
In the past we had visitors from Guatemala here twice and I also have had five young people from St. Andrew’s go down at various times. Two of these young people elected to develop a Vacation Bible School for the children there. They bought materials, planned activities that did not need much English to explain and chose stories from the Bible to present. On a Saturday when there was no school in Guatemala they had around 25 children take part in all the activities including snacks of cookies they had made and brought with them and fruits they bought in the shops in Mariscos. The two boys we took down mostly played soccer with the kids and hand wrestled. Language was not much of a barrier and those who were studying a language (Spanish or French) found both were useful and valued the opportunity to practice.
Over the years we have been able to help many children and teens stay in school with the money we regularly send to help them pay school fees and we have helped one young boy save his eyesight when one eye developed a serious infection. Unless he could get to Guatemala City to a special eye doctor and hospital, the local doctor would have to remove the eye. We sent funds down so he and his mother could travel to Guatemala City, afford a place to stay and to buy food as well as pay the doctor and for the corrective surgery. He now has two eyes that can see.
Helping the people of Guatemala to improve their education and acquire the technology and machines for the future is the best way to halt the flow of Guatemalans seeking to cross our southern borders. They must cope with an astounding amount of corruption in their government with very little governmental help. Drug gangs effectively rule much of the country. People try to "live under the radar" so they, or their sons and daughters will not be caught up into the drug culture. Church and their faith is very important to them. Some of them say, "It's all we have". I am hoping we will be able to renew this connection and truly be neighbors to the people of Guatemala.