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Climate is focus in virtual visit to Guatemala

Betsey Moe lives in Guatemala with husband, Eric. Photo courtesy of Betsey Moe


By Emma Maple - Intern

A virtual visit to Guatemala may help individuals reconnect with their own community roots, as well as expand their understanding of what exists beyond their borders.

The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has a history of partnership with the Protestant Center for Pastoral Studies in Central America (CEDEPCA).

On April 20, CEDEPCA hosted a "Virtual Journey to Guatemala: Confronting Climate Change with Actions of Hope."

The Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, which has a long-time partnership with Guatemalan churches, invited participation. They will be hosting a pastors trip to Guatemala in January 2023.

This event is the 11th virtual visit CEDEPCA has held the past two years. The Zoom visits have focused on such topics as migration, deportation, gender equity and COVID-19.

The virtual visits are in English but are open to people around the globe. According to Betsey Moe, a mission coworker with Presbyterian Church (USA) and an intercultural encounters facilitator with CEDEPCA, the visits usually have around 100 participants.

As part of her role, she lives in Guatemala with her husband, Eric, and two children.

Betsey has long loved Central America—specifically Guatemala. Her love for it began in 1993, when she spent a semester in Central America, including more than a month in Guatemala as part of her studies at Whitworth University.

"This trip opened my eyes to the painful history of U.S. involvement there," Betsey said. "This knowledge haunted me for years and affected how I saw faith and politics."

After she graduated in 1995 with an English major and Spanish minor, she was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor. She worked as a pastor for five years in Denver and then 12 years at Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church in Spokane.

In 2019, she participated in a mission trip to Guatemala with Hamblen Park.

"The trip reminded me how important it is for U.S. Christians to know their country's history in international politics so they may make faithful, informed decisions about our international relations," she said.

When Betsey came back, she saw the PC (USA) mission coworker position in Guatemala was open.

"When I traveled, I felt part of me come alive," she said. "I wanted to know more and to enter into global justice issues more deeply."

Although she began working with CEDEPCA in 2020, because of COVID, Betsey and her family did not move to Guatemala until January 2022.

The virtual visits to Guatemala were a direct result of COVID's shutdowns.

"For four months, there weren't even flights going to Guatemala," Betsey said. "The Intercultural Encounters Team had to start thinking differently. We wanted to maintain the relationships already established with churches, presbyteries and university groups in North America. We wanted to support them and let them know that we were committed during the pandemic to keep them connected."

The PC (USA) decided to offer the virtual journeys so people could still "come to Guatemala" in some sense.

"The response we received from people in the U.S. was surprising," Betsey said. "Many expressed joy at being able to 'go' to Guatemala from their own living room."

"Many people could never come to Guatemala in the first place because of mobility issues, work schedules or limited finances," Betsey said. "Virtual journeys have been a way to expand the reach of Intercultural Encounters. We're reaching people who may still come to Guatemala in the future, and people who will never set foot in Guatemala but care about it and want to learn about global issues."

The virtual visits attempt to make people feel like they are travelling. For example, Betsey said use of a drone gives the impression of flying over the country or videos taken from a car that simulate driving along a bumpy road.

When participants go to breakout rooms, Betsey often frames them as "imagine you're on a bus, and you're sitting with a seat partner that you've never met before."

"During the pandemic, it's been so easy to become accustomed to the four walls of our homes. A virtual journey to Guatemala helps people open their eyes to what's going on in the world, and how people around the world are connected and working together for justice. It's not only refreshing, but it also helps reframe our view of who we are, wherever we are and our own role in our local community," Betsey said.

The breakout rooms are also a chance for people to meet people from different parts of North America.

"The Zoom participants might be in a breakout room with one person from Arizona and another from New York. They discover what the others are thinking, and how they're seeing and experiencing the virtual journey," Betsey said.

These visits are just one tier of CEDEPCA's four areas of work:

• Women's ministry and gender education trains women and men to think critically to form more just and equitable relationships.

• Disaster ministry includes humanitarian aid and psychological support before and after a disaster.

"Guatemala is such a vulnerable place, especially related to climate change," Betsey explained. "In this region, volcanoes erupt, earthquakes shake the land and hurricanes strike. We must be ready all the time for a disaster."

• Intercultural Encounters, the branch Betsey serves in, operates as a "bridge between North America and the issues Guatemalans are facing."

• Biblical and theological education, which includes training for pastors and community leaders in a contextual reading of scripture, may be the most important branch of our work," according to Betsey.

"CEDEPCA functions as a seminary in Guatemala," she described. "Our partner is an ecumenical organization representing several different Christian churches, not one denomination, as many U.S. seminaries are."

The goal of the recent CEDEPCA virtual journey was to "give voices to Central Americans who are dealing with the effects of climate change," said Betsey.

The virtual visit included an 11-minute video with testimonies of Guatemalan farmers on the effects climate change has had on them for years, and what their lands look like now. Participants also learned steps Guatemalans are taking to counter the effects of climate change.

"Central Americans are innovative people," Betsey said.

"I hope North Americans are inspired by learning that even these people who are suffering are doing something about climate change. They're not just standing by and watching. It's powerful to see. If they are doing something with the few resources they have, certainly we can do something in the United States," she said.

Virtual visits to Guatemala also incorporate theological reflection on the topic. The April visit included a 20-minute talk by Karla Koll, a professor at the Latin American Biblical University in Costa Rica.

Her talk centered on the problem that arises when people believe God is going to do away with the earth as it is and create a new one, so they unsustainably use the earth's resources, or give up on mitigating climate change.

"Religious fundamentalism in Central America has had a long history and influences how people think," Betsey said. "CEDEPCA is teaching a new way of looking at Scripture and what Scripture says about the end of the world, about suffering and about caring for creation."

This organization approaches issues like climate change differently than a secular organization would.

"A secular organization might say, 'The climate is changing, so we should do X, Y, and Z to change the situation.'

CEDEPCA says, "Let's change the theological mindset."

"I love that CEDEPCA sees the root," Betsey said. "The real root cause is that religious fundamentalism sometimes leads to people throwing their hands up in the face of suffering."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2022