Sunday, 29 November -0001 19:00

Congregation Profiles: Chirramos

Written by Rev. Ken Herfst
In an effort to make the mission work more personal, the Mission Committee has endorsed the idea of twinning a congregation in Guatemala with one In North America. The North American congregation will then be more directly involved in the daily congregational life of their Guatemalan counterpart. Getting to know the 'obrero' lay pastor, understanding the obstacles, the challenges and victories In a more concrete way should go a long way In providing fuel for prayer and will make financial support more personal. We en vision, for example, that the Sunday school children would like to support the Guatemalan Sunday school program, providing gifts at Christmas, etc. In the same way, it is hoped that the Guatemalan congregation will pray more specifically for a North American congregation. They are grateful for the support they receive; however, this arrangement should make things more personal as well. In some Instances, work teams from North America might even be able to help with various projects, cementing the relationship even more.This month, we begin by giving a profile of Chirramos, our first mountain congregation. Interested congregations can contact the Mission Secretary for more details (Mr. Garry Postma, Missions Secretary, R.R.#1, 4378 Tufford Rd., Beamsville, ON L0R 1B1, Telephone: (905) 563-1650; email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The community of Chirramos lies some 23 km from the town of Cubulco. It is of moderate size and has a population of about 80 families. Chirramos is located at the base of Mount Chimiagua, the highest mountain in the area. Locals believe that this is "'where the clouds are born." Many people have their fields high up along the relatively steep sides or on the summit where consistent moisture ensures a harvest of corn each year. Additionally, many plant along the banks of Rio Chixoy. This river forms the main branch of the reservoir system for the hydroelectric dam. As a result of the dam, the banks are flooded during the rainy season. When the water subsides, fertile flood plains provide rich sandy soil for corn, sorghum, beans and peanuts.

Due to the poverty of the area, most of the men in the community travel to the coast to work on sugar plantations for as long as 6 months every year. Usually, able-bodied men leave just after Christmas and return for "'Holy Week." At this time they might stay for a month and prepare their fields before returning to the plantations again. Once the rainy season begins, the men return to stay. Sometimes, some of the men return to the plantations after planting. From October to December entire families work together on coffee plantations. While the men are at the coast, the women scrape together an income by making and selling petates, a hand-woven sleeping mat made from palm fronds. It usually takes them 2 days to make a petate and the current price is about Q8 ($1.60 CDN).

Chirramos was an aldea steeped in witchcraft until only a few years ago. Some of the most 'powerful' brujos (bru-hoes) or witchdoctors live in this community. Most people were nominally Roman Catholic, but it was more of a thin veneer than a religious commitment. Ancestor worship, appeasement of spirits, idol worship that includes all-night drunken festivals that attempt to syncretize the Mayan customs with the pantheon of saints and gods of folk Catholicism makes up their religion. Much of their religious activity consists in paying off various saints, ancestors, the' holy' rain or the 'holy' earth, along with a ÔSupreme Being' as well as the devil, so that they will be left in peace and have prosperity. In their worldview, the sun is equated with God the Father while the moon is their mother--the Virgin Mary. Idols are manipulated to ensure crops and health. It is a never-ending cycle of negotiation and payment, with the brujo as middleman.

Vengeance looms large in the Achi culture. Crop failures, the death of a cow, sicknesses, spurned love and other negative events in life are often attributed to jealous neighbours who make use of the brujos to cast spells on the prosperous person. At such times, the affected person goes to visit the local brujo to find out the cause for the affliction. The brujo is then paid a handsome amount to appease the spirit. He promises to provide incantations, and a wide variety of rituals involving candles, prayers, liquor, bread, chocolate, cigars, etc., that will remove the curse. Generally, the affected person seeks to retaliate with another curse.

It has been said that "Religion is the essence of Culture; Culture is the dress of Religion." This is especially true in an Achi community where everyone participates in all aspects of public life and everything is an airtight system. They do not divide their lives into compartments as many North Americans do. Their religion is part of their identity. Consequently, change does not come about easily.

However, God has worked powerfully in His sovereign grace and there is now a small Reformed church here. The initial reaction was outrage and questioning. Gradually, the community ostracized the few families that formed the congregation. As people questioned the new challenge to their belief system, they gravitated to the Roman Catholic Church. As a result there has been a resurgence of folk Roman Catholicism. There are now two groups that regularly hold meetings: Acciợn Catợlica, a more traditional Catholicism that is seeking to maintain faithfulness to Rome, and Renovaciợn Carismảtica, the renewal wing of the Roman Catholic Church that has adopted many of the practices and worship styles of the growing Pentecostal movement. The opposition remains strong and yet, by the grace of God, the Reformed Church in Chirramos has grown slowly, but steadily over the past years. Thankfully, we are the only evangelical church in the community. (That means that, unlike other aldeas, we only face the opposition from one side!)

Through the initial witness of Santiago Alvarez and the follow-up and teaching of myself, Josẻ Maria Rosales Teletor came to know the Lord in 1994. Josẻ Maria or Chema is now 45 years old. In addition to being a respected community leader, Chema used to be the director of the Òdance of the bull troupe." Each year he would travel to Chichicastenango to rent the elaborate costumes used for these pagan rituals. Since Chema's conversion, these dances are no longer performed in Chirramos because no own else has the right connections in Chichicastenango. Other members used to be involved in these ceremonies as well.

He and his wife Maria have 10 children. While his wife was expecting their tenth child, the midwife informed them that there were serious complications: they would probably lose the child. Maria's life was also in danger. Both Chema's father and father-in-law practice witchcraft. In fact, Chema's father-in-law, don Gaspar, is one of the leading witchdoctors in the area. Furthermore, he is a recognized community leader. Don Gaspar counselled his son-in-law to return to the old ways and try to appease whatever spirit they might have offended and was causing the complications with the childbirth. When Chema resisted, don Gaspar as well as many others in the community became more aggressive. They warned him that Chema would be held responsible for the death of either the child or his wife. Furthermore, they insisted that death was certain unless he returned to the old ways. At this point, Chema was a new Christian with very little knowledge or experience. There were no other Christians to whom he could go for counsel or encouragement. He was all alone. Not even his wife was a believer. The trial was a real one.

By God's grace, he resisted. His response was this: "I have no guarantee that my wife or child will live. However, the Bible clearly forbids the worship of idols and the kinds of practices that you promote. I will pray to God. Whether or not He chooses to save them I cannot tell, but I will not turn back." God graciously answered ChemaÕs prayer and his wife Maria gave birth to a healthy boy whom they named Marcos Noẻ.

Gradually, through the testimony of Chema, a number of families joined the group that met in his house for worship. Growth has been slow. In 1996 a small piece of property was purchased and an adobe church building erected. No one would sell land to us at first; however, later Chema's father offered us a small plot in front of ChemaÕs house. It is on the main trail and stands in the centre of the community. They named the church: Iglesia Reformada - Monte Sinaỉ, expressing their prayer that God's glory will rest upon them as a congregation.

Today there are 52 members in this exclusively Achi speaking congregation. On the whole, the congregation functions well. They meet every Lord's Day as well as every Wednesday for a mid-week service. Financial needs force many of the men to spend time on the coasts as outlined above. This affects the congregation, as there are times when the majority of the men of the congregation are gone.

Recently, Chirramos was the first mountain congregation to become organized. It was a time of thankfulness to God as well as solemnity as 2 elders and 2 deacons were installed. However, since then, one of the deacons, a man who had been 'dry' for three years, began drinking again. We have had to suspend him from office. It was a difficult decision and one that has caused grief in the congregation. It is a bitter disappointment for the local consistory.

This highlights the need for prayer for this young congregation. Illiteracy and seasonal labour hampers spiritual growth. While some members are outstanding in their Christian walk, others struggle with the lack of a godly example in their upbringing and are slow to grasp the Biblical requirements of holiness as well as the provision in Christ to live in union with Him.

Chema has laboured faithfully and God has taken care of him in remarkable ways. Not long ago, he was on his way to visit another community. As he walked along the trail that runs parallel to the river he heard a loud splash. Curious, he stopped and retraced his steps to see what it was. As he stood there looking, there was a roar ahead of him as a mudslide suddenly descended and covered the path where he should have been walking. At our following prayer meeting, we gave thanks to God for His gracious intervention.

Once per month, either Alejandro, the rural coordinator, or I visit each community. We are convinced of this: it is one thing to plant a congregation; it is quite another thing to nurture it. However, we are convinced that God has His people here and that He will continue to provide for them.

Prayer requests:
1.For Chema and his family as he ministers in Chirramos and the surrounding aldeas.
2. For the consistory. That they will be able to work together in harmony and demonstrate real godliness.
3. For the spiritual maturity of the congregation. Godly leadership in the home is a new concept. Illiteracy hampers family worship and personal study of the Word. We use cassettes where necessary, but even those who read, don't always understand what they read.
4. For the witness of the congregation within the community. Although the lines have basically been drawn between Roman Catholics and Protestants, the line is not carved in stone. By showing love and a Biblical alternative, the church has grown. Pray that this might continue.
5. For the children and young people. We need a suitable teacher in each community for Sunday school. The curriculum used in Cubulco would be too advanced for the children in the mountains and we are looking for something simpler.
6.For their material needs. Heavy rains this year have wiped out crops in the lowlands. Those with land along the mountain slopes have the hope that there will be enough to eat. Folks with land in the lowlands have already lost not only their seed, but also their fertilizer.

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