Thursday, 27 August 2015

Politics update

I was planning on writing a new blog about the political situation, but a Guardian article today sums up the situation well -- so you´d be better off reading this.....

Monday, 17 August 2015

Reading and Thinking

Over the last few months, I´ve been reading several books and thinking alot!

It all started with Dietrich Bonhoeffer´s classic 'Life Together'. He says 'let him who cannot be alone beware of community' and then 'let him who is not in community beware of being alone'. What (I think) he means is that somehow we need to find the balance -- our alone time with God most be where we gain our strength and hold our identity in God, but it then needs expression in community, as we relate to one another. So often, people use the sense of being sociable and achieving lots of activity as simple avoidance of being alone, when we are faced with the reality of ourselves, not just the image we portray. On the other hand, for those of us who like being alone, it can be easy to look down on 'activity' as not being quite spiritual enough, when really - whatever we gain in solitude, is not solely for our benefit, but also for the blessing of those around us.

Then I´ve read a few more books, with variations on those themes...

Rhythms of Grace: Finding Intimacy with God in a busy life, by Tony Horsfall. That was great in thinking through how we can quieten the soul - to be still with God - which isn´t necessarily an absense of external activity, but is much more of an attitude of our hearts.

Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community, by Ruth Haley Barton, looked at how we can be authentic with one another and encourage each other in the transforming work that Jesus does in us, but not in isolation.

Sleeping with Bread: Holding what gives you life, by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn is a beautiful book about using a process called the 'examen' to reflect on our experiences in life - to celebrate the goodness and appropriately work through our negative emotions. All of that best done in community.

And most recently I´ve read Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a culture stripped of Grace, by Miraslav Volf. A bit more of an academic book, but it does exactly what it says on the front! Recognising the absence of grace in our society, as Christians we are called to be countercultural as we give and forgive generously  - just as we have received the generous gifts of forgiveness from God.

Just wanted to share a bit of what I´ve been reading and thinking.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Step team among the volcanoes

Some step teams get all the luck. The most recent team have been living in Alotenango, an agricultural town nestled between 3 volcanoes. Out of 30-something volcanoes in Guatemala, 3 are active, and one of them is 'next door' to where the step have been living.
Volcan Fuego and Volcan Acatenango
These are the views (in two different directions) that they woke up to every morning.
Volcan Agua
And this has been a regular view as well, aa Volcan Fuego has been almost constantly active with smoke and plumes of lava. Some of the team have been sleeping on the roof of the house, to maximise their chances of seeing the spectacular eruptions.
 For those of you concerned about health and safety, I feel the need to explain that these have only been minor eruptions, and that we have kept up to date with the news from INSIVUMEH (National Institute for Sismology, Volcanology, Meteology and Hidrology - approximate translation!) and Conred (National Coordination for the Reduction of Disasters), and the Step team have not been in unnecessary danger.
I took them for a weekend away at Lake Atitlan - which, just to give them a break - is also surrounded by three volcanoes - although all of them dormant.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Step team and butterflies

 Last weekend, I took the step team to Panajachel. Butterflies, Zipwire, kayaking, swimming.

This view never gets boring.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

40th Birthday Celebrations!!


I started the day in San Pedro La Laguna  - so began with a swim in the Lake. That´s always the best way to start any day... but especially one that marks a new year and a new decade!.
 I love floating in the water, and seeing this view, the shades and layers of mountains and volcanoes in the distance, as the rising sun burns off the mists.

 Birthday meal with great friends.
 And then the party began......
(well actually I only remembered to take photos half way through the evening, so there´s lots of people missing ... but here´s a few who were there.... .)

 I had a really great time. I´m so thankful for all that God has given me here in Guatemala and for all that might increase and grow over the next decade!!!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Decisions for 12 year olds

I can´t remember much about being 12. I certainly can´t remember having any life changing decisions to make.
Last week in the Guatemalan news, was the story that highlights just how different life can be, even for children as young as 12. A young lad called Angel, went missing. The alert was raised but police were unable to find him. The following morning, police were called to the Belice bridge in Guatemala city, where locals had seen a boy thrown from the bridge. Later the story of what had happened emerged. He was kidnapped by a local gang and held for over a day. The following morning, he was ordered to kill a bus driver - a request often made of youngsters to initiate new recruits into Guatemalas gangs. When he refused, he was given another choice; of how he would prefer to die; either cut into pieces (the spanish word used literally means to be quartered), or to be thrown from the bridge. (Puente Belice is a busy traffic bridge in the city, crossing a ravine hundreds of feet below). Amazingly he survived the fall, but is in critical condition.

It highlights the violence, manipulation and fear that characterize life in the marginal zones of Guatemala city but the fact that Angel choose not to kill - most likely, knowing that it may mean the end of his own life, is also a cause for hope.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Politics 2

Politics has come alive in Guatemala. In previous election years, the majority of the population had a sense of resignation that their task was to choose the least worst of a bad bunch, and that after the initial euphoria of victory, election promises would be forgotten and they would simply get more of the same.
This year, the involvement of a UN backed organisation working against impunity, has revealed two big corruption scandals at high levels of the government and the public sector. Arrests have been made, and investigations are ongoing. 

It kickstarted a series of peaceful manifestations which have galvanised the middle classes into action. A couple of friends have felt very emotional about the chance to protest. Knowing that one of my friends father was killed over 30 years ago, specifically for standing up for workers rights -- helps me to understand why. For many in the middle classes (only about 10% of the population), they have grown up with a sense that there is nothing they can do to influence the politics of Guatemala or its outworkings in everyday life. That has changed now - but it is very fragile. The BBC wrote a slightly overenthusiastic article about how peaceful protests have changed this violent country ( It is true that the protests have remained mostly peaceful -- but that hasn´t affected the normal violence that continues in every day life. 

The protests are calling for the Presidents resignation, although so far no specific charges have been brought against him. The Evangelical Alliance made a statement that the Presidents resignation would de-stabilize the country and called churches to respect authority (and assumed that that meant passivity and not protesting in the face of corruption). Amongst my friends, that brought about a florish of facebook statuses basically saying that the EA does not represent them. The EA seemed to have missed the point that although the protests are calling for resignation, that is not the only thing. The protests are much broader than that. They have encouraged ordinary citizens to properly evaluate the claims of Presidential candidates and political parties and call them to account. Groups have been painting over and cleaning up political propaganda which has been placed or painted illegally on rocks, trees, lamp posts. Whereas before it seemed like the political classes could get away with lies and manipulations, and financial corruption, without anyone calling them out, even when there was broad public knowledge of what was happening. Not any longer. The protests (involving up to 50,000 in the last one) seems to have awoken a generation to be actively involved in politics. They have brought diverse groups together with a common call for justice. Even the student union groups of the state university and the private universities, have joined together -- unthinkable only a few months ago. 

Last weekend, I went to a prayer event early one saturday morning. About 1500 people gathered in the main square where later that day, the protesters would also gather. This cross-denominational group (again  - that sort of unity would have been unheard of 6 months ago) came together simply to pray for justice in this country  - and that the protests would continue to be peaceful. In spite of what I would say was an unhelpful dose of patriotism mixed in with the event, it was a moving time to stand (and kneel) with others in prayer for this country. 

The protests continue  - as the corruption cases now move forward, and more revelations of dodgy dealings emerge every week. The protests started with a general anti-corruption theme. Now we are also beginning to see specific suggestions for reform (most importantly to electoral processes and the financing of political parties and campaigns). It´s going to be a very interesting few months, as we get closer to the elections in September.