A house for peace in Guatemala

In the busy Guatemalan city of Santa Cruz del Quiché, a Canadian Anglican priest, the Rev. Emilie Smith, leads a ministry of reconciliation known as Peace House. It is, by turns, a place of worship, a guest house, a garden, and a community centre where people come to learn worm composting or how to prepare healthy snacks.

Children play at Peace House in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala. COURTESY OF THE REV. EMILIE SMITH
Children play at Peace House in Santa Cruz del Quiché, Guatemala. COURTESY OF THE REV. EMILIE SMITH

Ms. Smith sees opportunities for reconciliation all around Peace House. In the 1980s, people of this northwest Quiché region suffered serious violence in the country’s internal armed conflict. Tensions still exist between various communities, including Roman Catholic and Pentecostal Christians, Indigenous Peoples and those of European ancestry.

For Ms. Smith, reconciliation comes one small project at a time. This spring Peace House is sponsoring a mural project that includes 25 young people from different religious traditions.

“The exciting thing is the coming together of those who have been taught to distrust one another, even hate one another,” she said in a recent phone interview.

In 2009, Ms. Smith arrived in Quiché as part of General Synod’s Volunteers in Mission (VIM) program (now ended). An author and doctoral student, Ms. Smith already had 26 years of shared living experience with the Guatemalan people. She established Peace House in 2010, and decided to stay beyond her two-year VIM commitment. With the help of her Vancouver-based support group, Ms. Smith will stay at least until the end of 2013.

“It continues to be a ministry of presence,” she said.

In a country with few Anglicans, Ms. Smith finds she is well positioned to assist reconciliation between religious groups. At Peace House, she strives to be inclusive. She leads Anglican worship services at the Chapel of the Holy Innocents and also shares space with Mayan spiritual leaders.

Ms. Smith also views her work as building reconciliation between people of the North and South. She has set up creative, relational connections between Canadian partners and Guatemalan NGOs. Last Christmas, she helped a Canadian group loan money to Guatemalan women who wanted to buy pigs. Later this year, a parish group from Mission, B.C., will help build a shed for a women’s mushroom-growing project.

Dozens of Canadians have already visited Peace House’s guest house, staying alongside Guatemalan visitors who may be travelling between the capital, Guatemala City, and the countryside. The spacious Spanish-style home—complete with maid’s quarters and a courtyard—was once occupied by the Guatemalan army.

Yet Ms. Smith emphasizes that Peace House is not a hotel. The ministry is downtown, with buses roaring by and people yelling in the street. Guatemala’s violence and extreme poverty are not far away.

Yet all are invited to experience the growing ministry of this unusual oasis, what Ms. Smith calls “a spirit space.”

“Guatemala has an incredible ability to reveal the truth about God to those of us who come from wealthy countries,” said Ms. Smith.  “Bring your Bible, come here, and live with me,” she said.

  • To learn more about Peace House, download the brochure or read Ms. Smith’s blog
  • To support Peace House, first pray for their ministry of reconciliation. For more information about offering financial support, contact the Rev. Dr. Angus Stuart, convenor of Ms. Smith’s support group, by email or phone: (604) 922-3531.

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