Guatemala is noted for the beauty of its forests, lagoons, biodiversity, and UN heritage site at Antigua. Alongside this panorama, the heritage of a recent, bloody past and a continuous awareness of the sinister presence of organised crime and street level violence creates an underlying climate of fear which mars the otherwise ambient quality of life.
Statistics vary, but it is alleged that more than 200,000 people – most of them innocent civilians – were killed or ‘disappeared’ in the civil war that ended in 1996. The bases of rebel activity were mainly in the poor, rural areas, and hundreds of villages were razed; most of their inhabitants massacred and often tortured.
Rigoberta Menchú Tum became widely known as a leading advocate of the rights of indigenous peoples, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.
Guatemala contains huge and varied natural beauty: volcanoes, lakes, jungles and wetlands. It has a coast on the Pacific Ocean as well as the Caribbean Sea – but the majority of the population lives in the mountain range that transects the country. Its main economic activity is agriculture – growing maize, bananas, coffee and sugar cane.
Much of the population are affected by the uncertainties of agricultural production – as well as by the natural disasters that affect the country. Guatemala lies within an earthquake zone, and is hit by hurricanes annually causing destructive flooding and mudslides.
Two million people live in the capital Guatemala City. About half of the population is indigenous, the rest being Ladino (a mix of people of indigenous and European descent). The majority of the indigenous population are Maya (with over 20 language groups). Despite promises within the peace agreement there is still a large amount of discrimination against indigenous groups.
Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, but evangelical churches have grown in the last 30 years to represent 30-40 per cent of the population. Much of this growth has been within the Pentecostal churches. A number of neo-pentecostal ‘mega-churches’ are active in Guatemala City.
Ancient Mayan beliefs and rituals (ancestor worship and animistic beliefs) are still prevalent in rural indigenous areas, sometimes alongside or mixed with Roman Catholicism.
Latin Link members are working in theological education and social work with children at risk and on the streets - street children are a great cause for concern in Guatemala City.
Current and ongoing needs are for help with children’s projects and homes, medical personnel, youth and student workers, theological education with a focus on integral mission, discipleship and English teachers.
More challenging and difficult areas are prison chaplaincy, ministry with gang members, education and church planting projects in poor and dangerous areas of the capital, and pioneer student workers to extend Christian witness in regional university bases.
There is a need for community development in rural areas: people to train others in how the church can be an agent of change in the local community and society.
Latin Link is looking for people who are keen to be part of, and contribute to, the development of a growing multi-national team. We’re seeking people with a vision to help churches see themselves as agents of change to bring about community transformation; people willing to live simply and to share their lives with Guatemalans.