- Population: 17.9 million
- Area: 108,890 km2
- Climate: Tropical
- Capital: Guatemala City
- Currency: Quetzal
- People: 60% Ladino (Mixed Race/Spanish) and European Descent, 40% Mayan
- Main Languages: Spanish plus 23 indigenous languages
- Religion: 87% Christian (42% Protestant/evangelical), 11% without religious affiliation, 2% Mayan
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. However the biggest economic earner are ‘remittances’: money sent home from family members who have migrated to the USA or other countries.
Much of the population is 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.
Guatemala is noted for the beauty of its forests and lagoons, its biodiversity, and its three UN world heritage sites. Alongside this panorama, however, is the heritage of a recent, bloody past and a continuous awareness of the sinister presence of organised crime and street level violence. This creates an underlying climate of fear which mars the otherwise good 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. Hundreds of villages were razed and most of their inhabitants massacred and often tortured.
During this time, 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. She is highly respected in the field of indigenous human rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation, not only in Guatemala but in the Western Hemisphere.
2015 saw the beginnings of mass demonstrations (mostly peaceful) against the government, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of the then President and Vice-President on corruption charges. This marked a change for the previously passive (or scared) population. Although at first the new government, under President Jimmy Morales, invited the UN to send CICIG, an anti-immunity organisation, Morales proceeded to dismiss CICIG when it began to investigate him.
In the 2019 elections, 19 different political parties proposed presidential candidates, and after two rounds of voting, Alejandro Giammattei from the centre-right party Vamos will be the next president. There was a high rate of voter dissatisfaction with the choices available, as over 13% of votes were intentionally spoiled or left blank.
Three to four million people live in the capital, Guatemala City, but many more make long commutes to work there, effectively doubling the population. About half of the national 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.
Nominal Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, but evangelical churches have grown in the last 30 years to represent more than 40 per cent of the population, and is now almost level with Roman Catholicism. 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 – education at all levels is a key concern. Members also work in integral health and community development, training church leaders and pastors, and mobilising the church to sustainably send Guatemalan mission workers to other cultures.
Latin Link is looking for people who are keen to be part of, and contribute to, the development of a growing multinational team. We’re seeking people with a vision to help churches see themselves as agents of change to bring about transformation in their own communities as well as in global mission; people willing to live simply and to share their lives with Guatemalans.
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 mission mobilisation. There is a need for community development (including vocational training) in rural areas: people to train others in how the church can be an agent of change in the local community and society.
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.
For more information, please see the Opportunities page of our International website (this will open a new tab).