Building a Church: A History of Our Guatemala Partnership

August 31, 2018

Williamsburg Presbyterian Church began its road to Guatemala in the summer of 2011. Christian Outreach and Christian Education ministries searched for a meaningful Presbyterian mission that could lead to a relationship with brothers and sisters in Central America. After some research and much prayer, we decided to work with the Central Presbyterian Church in Guatemala City and the remote Presbyterian church congregation in Chajul. On our first visit to Chajul, in March 2012, we were warmly received by Pastor Miguel and the Chajul elders. Our discussions focused on getting to know the people in the church, possibilities for education in the area, and the building of a church for a growing congregation.

The WPC staff and congregation approved the partnership and the following January, Rich Watkins and Pastor Karen Stanley returned to Guatemala to sign a five-year covenant with the two congregations in Guatemala City and Chajul.

Seven years ago, no Presbyterian church building existed in Chajul. Pastor Miguel had enclosed the space in front of his house for worship. The people had faith and trusted God would provide a larger building. Pastor Miguel had gifted his land on the steep mountainside above his home for a new church, but a “shelf” had to be excavated to provide a level site. With the covenant signed, and with support and encouragement from WPC and Central Church, the people of the Chajul congregation started to work to realize their dream.

Men and women, using small shovels, carved the shelf. Materials were carefully sorted out as the mountain was cut away. Large rocks went in a designated pile, smaller rocks in another, and dirt was distributed to level the site. Once the site was cleared of rocks and leveled, the foundation was begun. Terri Harris, with the WPC high school mission team, worked on clearing the land and they were in Chajul when the cornerstone was laid!

Some materials were needed to be purchased including steel rebar to support and stabilize the building. A contractor was hired to help erect the reinforced concrete frame, install the roof and do specialized work that required skills the people lacked. Most of the work was done by hand.

Day after day, women carried water in buckets up from the river to the construction site. Cement powder, small stones, and water were mixed and placed by “bucket brigade.” The wall spaces between the frame members were constructed of concrete and rubble (remember those small rocks collected from the excavation). Our mission teams came with paint, paint brushes, rollers, hammers, chisels, and other tools and labored alongside the villagers in finishing the interior. Window frames and doors were constructed from local timber, shaped with machetes and with hand tools brought by our mission teams.

Throughout the project, our mission teams and the Chajul congregation worked together under the leadership of their elders. The architectural design, materials used, and the colors selected for the church evidenced the colorful artistic heritage of the people of Chajul.

The completion of the large church was celebrated in 2014 as an enthusiastic brass band and parade of villagers and our mission team marched up the steep road and entered the open church doors! WPC Pastor Lindsay Santamaria was invited to participate in the service along with Pastors Jenner and Alvero from Central Church and our missionary Philip Beisswenger. This church plan unfolded 13 because of faith in God’s purpose, and the people’s obedience to God’s call. The partnership grows because the Chajul congregation is highly motivated, the Central Presbyterian Church staff often visit Chajul, and our mission teams willingly work alongside the people of Chajul developing their trust and forming friendships.

Over the years WPC members have contributed funds and worked in the building process. Today a large church and adjacent education building have been completed and work is beginning on a second floor above the education building. These two floors will allow enough space to establish a middle school...but that is another story!


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