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Guatemala: Swimming in Encouragement

30 June 2023

When they read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.
Acts 15:31
…they have proved to be an encouragement to me.
Colossians 4:11

Dear Friend,

Guatemalan pastors and leaders enjoying pool timeLast year (as I mentioned last newsletter), the Guatemalan pastors threatened to throw me in the pool. This year they merely kindly invited me in. But these pastors left me swimming in encouragement!1

“How was Guatemala?” you ask. Well, never mind the 21-hour marathon to get from reveille to my first overnight location. Don’t count the fact that I had a head cold from the second day right through to the end of the trip. Ignore the experience of being smitten with… how do I put this delicately?… an “intestinal ‘souvenir’” from the early morning of my return-flight day right through my first full week back home. This Guatemala trip was very encouraging, maybe the best trip yet! (And that’s saying something, because I’ve been blessed with visits there almost every year since 2008.)

Yes, despite being “out of it” physically, teaching five to six hours on conference days in “feels like” 107° F. temperatures, and a daily regimen of cold showers, I’d return under the same conditions in a heartbeat!

Trip Diary

Never been on a teaching trip like this? Then climb in, buckle up, and hang on while I take you through my day-by-day itinerary.

IBISPI students in Coatepeque, May 2023The Bible Institute students. (There were another 30 at a location about an hour away.) I think the little fellow in yellow is pre-enrolled!

Coatepeque IBIPSI maestros (teachers)The morning’s teachers: Sucely de León, Pastora Lilian de Chávez, Pastor Edwin Reyes.

Sucely de León teaching an IBISPI classSucely teaching

Thursday 5/18:

Long travel day, two late flights (praise God, the second flight was late, too, which saved the day!), and a seven-hour car trip across Guatemala to Coatepeque.

Friday 5/19:

Head cold sets in, but great day catching up with Fermin, Lilian, Rut, and Josué Chávez, my hosts.

Saturday 5/20:

Attended one of the regional Bible-institute training sessions (held two Saturdays a month in multiple locations). These are for up-and-coming leaders. I heard three teachers who really knew their stuff and taught well. One these was Sucely de León, who lovingly expressed her disappointment about me not being in Coatepeque in 2022 because it was precluded by the itinerary last year.

Sunday 5/21:

Preached at the Coatepeque church. Received a memorable gift from Sucely (pronounced “sue-SAY-lee”). Attached to her gift, she had written a note which said (my translation):

Thank you, brother, for visiting us.
It’s a privilege to enjoy
your presence and teaching.
Your life is an example for me
in God’s service.
You are greatly appreciated.
God bless you and your family.
— Sucely de León—

(As part of our praying, supporting “family,” please include yourselves in that blessing!)

Photo of a thank-you note, written in SpanishSucely’s kind and encouraging note

Talk about encouragement! In the afternoon we re-instituted our annual “Chávez family” tradition of an ice-cream outing. (Hey, don’t laugh; ice cream is “encouragement,” too!)

Monday 5/22:

Pastores Giovanni and Carolina Cojtín of Pacayá, GuatemalaGiovanni and Carolina Cojtín

Spent the morning at the dining-area table reviewing and updating conference handouts, and the afternoon visiting the pastores of Pacayá, Giovanni and Carolina Cojtín and their family. You may remember praying for this couple last year after their very serious motorcycle accident. Carolina has come through without needing brain surgery. She’s still weak, but praising God that she is slowly mending.

Tuesday 5/23:

Pastores Wilfredo and Flori Cifuentes of Tecúm Umán, GuatemalaFlori and Wilfredo Cifuentes pastor in Tecún Umán, a block from the river-border shared with Mexico.
Pastores Mario and Arelis Lopez, San Lorenzo, GuatemalaMario and Arelis Lopez

Visited six churches west of Coatepeque from morning to mid-afternoon — San Lorenzo/Varsovia (Hector and Francisca Juarez), San Lorenzo (Mario and Arelis Lopez), Tecún Uman (Wilfredo and Flori Cifuentes), Pajapita (Joel and Iliana Peña), Las Palmas (Dimas and Clara Tomás), and Betania (Edwin and Edna Reyes and their family). I learned a lot from the interchanges, including some serious health needs.

Pastor Mario (whom I’ve known so long that we’ve had a personal running joke for the last 11 years) said something very touching to me as a small group of us sat in the shade outside of his church building:

“Years ago when you first came, I thought, “‘This guy can’t speak Spanish. What can he possibly teach me?’ But since you exhorted us [back around 2010] as men of God to read through the Bible every year, and why that regular reading is so important, I have read through faithfully, even in different translations. I have learned so much from that reading — and from you!”

For me, it was one of those “Now I can die happy” moments.

Wednesday 5/24:

Pastor Fermin Chávez with a colorful stone jaguarEven with all the visits, there was still time for a bit of fun. Here’s Pastor Fermin Chávez with his favorite jaguar.

Visited three churches east of Coatepeque in the morning — Paraje Nil (Francisco and Alma Chen), Santa Elena (Henri Flores, whose wife Dominga was away), and Santa Domingo (René and Victoria Elias). Rut, my retreat translator, wanted the conference’s third-session notes in English, so after lunch I back-translated some of the material. Repacked my bags in the evening, ready for the conference.

These ten church visits were meant to be informal and friendly. But over the next few days I heard five times how much these visits meant to the pastors. God clearly was in these encounters.

Thursday 5/25 – Conference Day 1:

Young people gathered around a tablePoolside, clockwise from left: Melissa Aguirre (whom I nicknamed “Lefty,” for obvious reasons), Pastor Joel Peña (from the Pajapita church), Amaydi Atjun, and Rut Chávez.)
Pastors around a dining table at a conferenceFeasts of fellowshipping in the dining hall. Across the back of this table are (L to R) Pastor Wilder Hernández, Pastora Carolina de Monterroso (who lost her husband to COVID, but who has continued the work of his pastorate), and Pastores Emilsa (“Emi”) and Jorge Pérez.

Had a profitable ride to the conference center in “Rehu” (Retalhuleu) because the backseat was full with three of Coatepeque’s under-30 ministry-team members. Rut I’ve already mentioned. Flanking her were Axel (a preacher / teacher who makes his living as a clever car mechanic) and Melissa (a nursing student nearly ready for her year of residency). I drew them out on their spiritual experiences and aspirations.

Lunch brought more fellowship with the young people, including Amaydi, another sister from the “young Coatepeque” team. Superintendent Walter Almaras also brought along a quiet but intense young man named Carlos. Like the pastors, these young folk came hungry. What a blessing to fellowship with these young adults — and to teach them, too!

Ah, yes, teaching! For me, that’s when the Holy Spirit really flows, so much so that I don’t notice the heat and humidity while ministering. But after nearly six hours of teaching, the “wear and tear” catches up with me in the late afternoon. Nevertheless, by “quitting time” I had finished teaching the Rivers of Living Water (John 7:37-39) module and had introduced The Sin of Moses. I spent an hour with Walter Almaras (Guatemala’s new superintendent) before dinner; he wanted to make certain I’d like to keep coming back annually. ¡Absolutamente!

Photo of a room full of pastors worshippingForty of us gathered for worship and teaching each day.

Friday 5/26 – Conference Day 2:

Pastors fellowshipping poolsideThese leaders like being together! And they appreciate times of receiving ministry, since they are usually the “givers.”
Quotation about the need for trained pastors: '...outside of the U.S.... there is only one trained pastor for every 450,000 people.' Dr.l Mark Yarbrough, President of Dallas Theological SeminaryThe operative word here is “trained.” The Guatemalans have been very faithful and disciplined at basic training for many years. Thus they appreciate all the more the challenging, deeper teaching, studies, and training we have shared with them as leaders over the years.

More of the same! We had great fellowship around the meal tables, good questions during the teaching sessions, and profitable interaction. I felt led in the morning to call the group to pray for Estefani Pérez (daughter of Pastores Jorge and Emilsa Pérez), who was taking the oral exam for her engineering degree that morning. Finished teaching on The Sin of Moses, and started the final module about The Purpose of Grace. Repeatedly I heard expressions of thanks from the pastors for the indepth treatment of the subjects; the topics the Holy Spirit led me to teach were on point.

Estefani (a young leader in her own right in the Guatemala City Zona 12 church) sent me a quick message that evening that she had passed her exam! And a few days after I returned home, she wrote me this note in English:

Saludos, hermano Jim! I truly missed seeing you during your recent visit to Guatemala. It's always a tremendous blessing to learn from you. Thankfully, my father has been sharing me the lessons they learned at ESUM [i.e., the pastors’ training conference], and I have gained a wealth of knowledge from them. May God continue to provide for you and bestow good health and wisdom as you carry on with that important work. I am sincerely grateful for your prayers on the day of my exam, and I eagerly look forward to the opportunity of seeing you again on your next visit to Guatemala.

Saturday 5/27 – Final Conference Day:

Somebody has a birthdayI keep getting older
because every time I go to Guatemala,
they throw another birthday party for me!2

Another very encouraging day! Finished teaching the third module and received a lot of helpful feedback and questions from the pastors. At the end of our last session, the gang celebrated my cumpleaños (a day early) with a cake and singing and hugs all around. Then came lunch and goodbyes. By the time I left, I had been able to distribute around $350 — for gas (prices are over US$16/gallon in Guate!), medical needs, and “seed money” to help with a church-plant just across the Mexican border.

Then the long drive “home” ­— this time all the way back to Guatemala City and the house of Atilio and Gladys Chávez. Pastor Wilder Hernández, responsible for the relatively new Zona 18 church, drove part of the way, so that Atilio could sleep in the back seat. During this time, Wilder shared two things: 1) He was deeply convicted about one of the things which I taught on; and, 2) The importance of the teaching we bring: “You are the only pentecostal teacher I know. All the other good ones are Baptist / fundamentalist.” Encouraging, yes, but also a humbling and sobering thought to hold before the Lord.

Sunday 5/28:

Photo of Atilio and Gladys Chávez with Antigua in the backgroundIn the mists behind Pastores Gladys and Atilio Chávez, you can barely discern the outline of Guatemala’s Volcán de Agua.

I awoke exhausted, yet still having to make a choice about where to preach that morning (they had given me four options!) — and to get the mind of the Lord about what to preach. I thought I’d make the “easy” choice and preach in Atilio’s Zona 6 church. Ha! It turned out that the “easy” choice meant I had to preach twice, because they’ve increased to two Sunday-morning services. The Lord strengthened me and blessed it — anyone present for both services heard two distinct messages on the same pair of scripture passages.

Then on to a birthday lunch (on my “real” cumpleaños), followed by rest in the Chávez garden for the remainder of the day.

Monday 5/29:

A photo of the central park in Antigua, GuatemalaThe parque central in old AntiguaPhoto of a pink fushciaImagine having lunch surrounded by such floral beauty! (Is this a fuchsia paniculata? I forgot to ask Atilio, the plant expert.)

I learned a new Spanish phrase this day: El lunes ni las gallinas ponen (roughly, “On Monday even the chickens don’t lay”). With that modismo (idiom) firmly fixed in my mind, I decided to surrender myself to cultural immersion by practicing siestas ­— a 90-minute one in the morning, a three-hour one in the afternoon, all to gain enough strength to start for bed early in the evening! (Yes, that pretty much accounts for the whole day!) So many days of nonstop ministry catches up with us eventually.

Tuesday 5/30:

Atilio, Gladys, and I took a side trip to nearby scenic Antigua, my old “stomping grounds” where I lived for six weeks, on and off over three annual visits, while in Spanish-language school. It was time to unwind and fellowship, shoot some photos, and eat in an outdoor restaurant set in a beautifully landscaped plant nursery. Then back “home,” to repack and ready myself and my things for the return flight on the morrow.

Wednesday 5/31:

“Home again, home again, jiggity jig!”

Thanks for “taking the ride” with me!

Publications Update

Reliving the trip has taken us a while, so I’ll just briefly mention our publication progress:

Title tile for 'On the Brink of Failure
  1. We’ve made great strides on the article Rivers of Living Water – John 7:37-39 (the first teaching module at the Guate conference). It should be up on the website late next week.
  2. The Sin of Moses (the second module) has been available for a few months as a major section within On the Brink of Failure?
  3. Guate module #3, The Purpose of Grace, is about halfway through its first draft. I’m estimating August 1 as the publication date.
  4. Translation encouragement: The Spanish translation of Preparing the Way (chapter one of The Extraordinary Messenger, book one of The John the Baptist Experience series) is complete and awaiting one final review and edit.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

After all of God’s encouragement through the Guatemala teaching trip and its June aftermath, there are just three prayer items to share:

Women praying at the front of a churchPastores Francisco and Alma Chen of the Paraje Nil church have a secret weapon! While we visited them on 5/24, sisters kept quietly arriving in the sanctuary, stealing up to the altar, and praying. This shot shows four of the six present.
  • Thanksgiving to God for the encouraging success of last month’s Guatemala trip. Now let’s pray that the implanted Word would take root and bear fruit in the hearts of all who heard it. I suspect that we often lose the full fruitfulness of ministry, because, although we pray for ministry before and during teaching, we often don’t faithfully follow through with more prayer afterward. Yet perhaps some of the most important prayer should come afterward in “watering the seed” with a view toward an abundant harvest. Multiply those pastors and young leaders times the number of people to whom they minister, in order to see the potential that such follow-up prayer can have!
  • Supply: Praying over, researching, writing, and preparing for such a trip takes time, hidden time when to an outsider there’s no activity to be seen. Yet the ministry is ongoing, and its needs and our own personal support needs continue during the preparation times.
  • Open Doors: I mean this in two realms: a) for more teaching trips, both abroad and Stateside; and, b) deeper unction and understanding, and stronger impetus, as I continue to write out the burden that God has placed on my heart concerning the Gospel-shaping truths of The John the Baptist Experience.

Many thanks to those of you who have prayed and given, and who are continuing to hold us up before the Throne and support us, allowing us to serve the King in this teaching ministry!

Much love in Jesus,


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  1. Unless otherwise specified, all photos in this edition of the newsletter are by the author, Jim Kerwin.
  2. Photo probably by Pastora Lilian de Chávez
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