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Snapshot of Guatemala – Many missionaries called to Guatemala are surprised to learn that Spanish is not the official language of the country. The Coban Mission is located in the area where Kekchi (Q’eqchi) is spoken. The LDS church is just starting to make a big push in Coban, nicknamed the Imperial City, since it became a new mission as of July 2013.
Guatemala’s official language is Spanish, though it does have a significant Native American population, with each tribe having its own language or dialect as its primary language. K’iche’, Kaqchikel, and Q’eqchi’ are among the most-spoken indigenous languages in the country. Much of Guatemala’s population still lives in rural areas. Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion of Guatemala, though many people incorporate traditional practices into their Catholic worship. About 40% of the population belongs to some type of Protestant church. The marimba is the national musical instrument of Guatemala and is played throughout the country, though salsa, merengue, hip hop, and reggaeton are more representative of modern popular musical styles. Brightly-colored, traditional clothing is still worn in many areas (generally a shirt and long skirt for women), and most villages have their own unique patterns. Guatemalan cuisine is heavily influenced by Maya culture. Corn, chilis, and beans are all staples of the Guatemalan diet. Tamales are also extremely popular, and there are many different types available throughout the country, using different ingredients for the dough and different fillings. They are generally served wrapped in banana or plantain leaves.
The Church is constantly growing in Guatemala. The people of Cobán are extremely humble and faith oriented. They have a strong and wholesome faith that is based from a powerful testimony. At times, member referrals and assistance can be difficult to acquire. However, your ability to work with and encourage members to aid in missionary work will come from your ability to focus on the testimony and love they have for the Gospel.
Guatemalan food consistently includes rice and black beans. Fruits and vegetables can be found all throughout the year. One of the most famous dishes in Cobán is ‘kak ik’ which is a turkey soup mixed with many vegetables and spices. Common to accompany this meal could be rice and, if you are lucky, a tamale. But remember, don’t eat the outer layer of tamales!
Missionaries in this mission do A LOT of walking. So, it is important that you have really good shoes that will last through a lot of wear and tear. There are several mini buses that have a specific route, which can be taken to facilitate travel to certain appointments; however, this is not something you will want to do too often.
Due to the location and lifestyle in Guatemala, theft and car jacking are the most common problems experienced by foreigners. Missionaries that refrain from carrying large amounts of money and wearing flashy jewelry rarely run into problems while out in the field.
Drink lots of water and stay away from eating food off the streets until your body has acclimated.
Just as you will see throughout the scriptures with families in the Bible and the family of Lehi, following ‘the tradition of your fathers’ is a big deal. This will be something you will notice in the way the people of Cobán act, speak, dress, believe, and live. The better you are able to appeal to these beliefs, the quicker you will help them realize that following Jesus Christ by living His gospel is a long-time tradition that they need to follow.
There are many Mayan dialects in the Coban mission. The most widely used is Kekchi.
The church published a full translation of the triple combination in Kekchi in 2011, along with the translation of the hymm book. Those copies can be found at the following link: http://www.lds.org/languages/kek?lang=eng
Suit coats are rarely if never worn during your mission. Typically suit coats are only worn on Sundays and Zone Conference.
Wear quality shoes. You will be walking everywhere. Your shoes should also be able to endure flooding during typhoon season.
Umbrellas are optional. It depends on your preference. Many missionaries just brave the rain along with the locals. Females usually use umbrellas. Umbrellas can be purchased at the local “mercado” (open market).
Most silk ties shrivel up in the humidity. Use ties with fabric blends.
Light weight sheets and a pillow case is all you will need for bedding. Bring sheets that are good quality but are also very cool to sleep in.
Small hand sanitizer bottles are essential to pack and use constantly. You can find these at local drugstores in the mission.
Bring a small, lightweight proselyting bag. While proselyting, you will only be bringing small Books of Mormon and a few other items. A “fanny pack” style bag that has a shoulder strap and a waist strap is a very good option.
The best way to send letters is through the postal service. Once a missionary arrives in the field, pouch mail (Dear Elder) can take several months to arrive. However, in the MTC pouch mail is the best option.
Typically the best way to send packages is through a fixed-rate box. Packages can take a few weeks to a couple months (so send Holiday packages very early in advance).
Rumor has it that boxes with religious stickers placed on the outside often pass untouched through customs.
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