Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Latin Link Leaders Event

I´ve just come back from Lima, Peru, where I joined the Latin Link leaders event. We had a really good time together, recieving training (crisis management, mentoring, mobilisation and more), and catching up with what God is doing in our different countries and contexts. 
During our devotional times, we spent the week reflecting on Colossians 1, and thanking God for all that he is doing. Answers to prayer that connect us up as a 'community with a calling', as we see the gospel 'bearing fruit' in lots of different ways. 
The conference was a lot of work to get organised and prepare for, but was a great opportunity for leaders from all the different Latin Link teams to come together and look to the future. I led a session about mission mobilisation. Part of that was distributing these booklets to all the spanish speaking teams. Xplore is a series of 7 Bible studies about God´s word, God´s world and God´s work - and how every Christian can be involved in that. Over the last 9 months, I´ve been coordinating a group of us, as we translate and adapt the english version for a latin american audience. Although it looked unlikely at a couple of points, we did manage to get the work completed and the booklets printed in time. I´m looking forward to being able to resource people in Guatemala with this great booklet.

 We also managed an afternoon out....
 Plaza de Armas
 We got to the top of the hill in the background and were rewarded this is panaromic view over most of Lima...

 Back at the conference centre, this was the view from my room..... so guess where I was every morning??
 And I finished off the week with a quick visit to Paddington.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Diamonds, Lasers and trip wires!!!

I was talking with a friend recently, about learning languages and culture and everything that goes with it. Although language is relatively easy to learn (she says in hindsight!!!), as it has an agreed structure, and rules, and plenty of people who can explain what you don´t understand.

Learning culture on the other hand, is a very different thing. My friend compared it to trying to steal a diamond! (Just imagine one of those scenes from mission impossible)

 You know where you want to get to, and initially it might even look easy to get to, but then you take one step and alarms sound all around you. Of course any diamond of any value is surrounded by lasers, and trip wires and alarms -- but you can´t see where any of them are, so you´re forced to move forward blindly and slowly, knowing that at any moment you might make a mistake or trip or set off alarms that you didn´t intend to. Sometimes you learn where one laser is, and manage to contort yourself into avoiding it. Other times, just when you think that you´ve worked out where it is, it changes or shifts, so that you´re right back to the beginning.

It seems like quite an accurate analogy to me! 

Giant Kites on All Saints Day.

The 1st Nov is a great celebration in Guatemala. A couple of towns hold kite competitions... but not just any old kites.... these are serious work and seriously big. Here´s a short video about the process. (It´s actually a beer advert, but you can ignor that part!!)

Weather and tragedy

Guatemala is the 4th country in the world, with the greatest risk of climate change. That is seen in lots of different ways, but the increase of extreme weather patterns is certainly one way I which I have seen changes - even in the time that I have lived here.

A month ago, a massive landslide buried over 100 homes, and their inhabitants, after weeks of heavy rain had saturated and weakened the hillside, at the base of which they were situated. A huge rescue operation began, but it uickly turned into a search for remains, rather than for survivors. Around 200 bodies have been recovered, but a similar number of people are still unaccounted for. It has been a huge tragedy here in Guatemala. The area was known to be at high risk of landslides, but the local government had continued to sell land rights in the area. Hard questions have been raised, but not quite answered.

But land has already been identified, where new houses will be built for those who have lost everything, and work actually started last week.

The funny thing about politics

A couple of weeks ago, Guatemala went to the polls again for the second round of their presidential elections. But it was a very different experience compared to the first round. For the 6 months before the first round vote, the country was alive with political engagement, everyone talking about the elections, about electoral reform, and of course about the corruption scandals that have rocked the government and led to the resignation, arrest and imprisonment of the ex vice president and president. There were large scale peaceful protests in all the cities, as well as well-attended public prayer meetings infront of the government buildings.

There was a high turnout for the first round vote, which left the 2 most popular candidates for the second round vote a month later. Then everything seemed to die down and go quiet. In the second round, less than 25% of the population voted for one of the candidates. Many spoilt their ballat papers, many others stayed away altogether.

It´s seemed like in the first round, everyone was keen to vote to keep out their 'favourite' villain of the drama (there were plenty to choose from), but then in the second round, both candidates carried significant risks for the voters; one with well documented scandals in her political history, the other with no political experience at all - and only vague ideas included in his manifesto, but now surrounded on his political team by others who are just as stained by corruption and scandal as the other parties. So many people threw their hands up in dispair and just disconnected from the whole process.

The President Elect will come into power in January. It may be very different from what we have seen before. He is best known as a comedian (he starred in a popular TV sketch show with his brother for more than a decade) - not as a politician! On the other hand, it may not be very different at all.... his team are made up of political operatives with plenty of scandal between them. His party also has very few seats, so even with good plans and policies, he may have some difficulty in implimenting any of it.

Only time will tell.

At the same time, the court cases of the ex president and ex vice president continue, and every week there are more arrests of people involved in corruption in one way or another. Today it was 5 civil servants who had sold information to criminal organisations. The day before it was a money laundering network. They say that things have to get worse before they get better, as the bad stuff becomes more public, before it gets dealt with, but I wonder when it will turn the corner, and we´ll start to see some good news.?

Monday, 21 September 2015

Guatemala Politics Update

And whilst I was away, Guatemala went to the ballot boxes. The law here is that if no one candidate gets 50% plus one vote, then the two candidates with the highest percentage of votes, go through to a second round. And with 14 candidates, that was always most likely to happen. Thankfully for the most part, election day was a peaceful affair, and then there was a wait for the results. The three highest scoring candidates were revealed within a day or so, but votes were still being counted for a few more days. When it looked clear that he was going to lose, the candidate placed third, then made a big deal of withdrawing from the presidential race, and resigning from his party, saying that the electoral process had been suspect (although his party have been the most to blame for that!). That great British saying about 'throwing your dummy out of the pram' came to my mind, but I don´t think it would translate into spanish!

So now they´ll have the second round in late October. The two candidates remaining, one of them has come of nowhere, he´s a completely fresh face in terms of being outside of the traditional 'political class' of Guatemala, (although is well known publicly for other reasons) - but has very little political experience. The other candidate has a lot of political experience, but as seems to be the norm in Guatemala, that brings with it a history of corruption and scandals as well.  So let´s wait and see who the Guatemalan public will prefer.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Independence - Mexican Style!

After my holiday in Isla Holbox, I then had a week visiting some Latin Link members in Puebla. From their flat they had a fantastic view of volcanic peaks of Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl (or Popo and Isa!)

 I also happened to be visiting over Mexican Independence Day, 15th September. This is the same day as much of Central America, but of course they celebrate it slightly differently.
We went to a party of their church, where they explained a bit of the history of the Independence which took about 11 years to gain victory over the Spanish colonisers. Then we had  the traditional 'Grito'  - a shout of independence - celebrating a list of different heroes of Independence.
 Then there was a fantastic display of traditional Mexican dances  - incredible energy and balance!!  - and they carried bottles and whole trays of drinks on their heads, whilst continuing to dance and stomp!

 Then dances from a different region of Mexico, the dances were in enormous skirts with lots of rapid twirls and swirls. (Sorry for the blurry pictures - but you get the idea!)

It was a fantastic atmosphere - and then came the food - all the church members had brought a different Mexican food, for everyone to try - so there were mountains of food - and much of it made in the colours of the Mexican flag!