Thanks very much for the support all of you gave me to go to Guyana. You were generous with your money, travel supplies, prayers, and encouragement. The trip was beneficial for me and, I hope, for those our medical team visited with in Guyana this past week. Our team leader’s report on the trip can be found at www.thecolefamily.com/guyana/guyana04.htm.
We worked in cooperation with the congregation at Stewartville, 45 minutes away from our hotel in Georgetown. The local Christians were there every day to help in any way that they could; some of them took the week off work in an economy that must make that difficult. They were there for the clinic during the day and for church at night.
Each morning we left our hotel in 3 mini-buses in time to cross the pontoon bridge over the Demerara River before it opened to ocean traffic for 1½ hours each day. At the Stewartville church building, we had an area for an eyeglass clinic, two medical doctors and 2 triage nurses, a pharmacy, and several personal workers. Some of the people who came to the clinic arrived as early as 6 a.m., although we usually didn’t start seeing patients before 9. We would ask each person who came if he or she wanted to study the Bible while waiting for the doctor, and almost every person said yes. Most of the personal workers stayed inside the building, where several fans ran, but after the first day, I found I could hear much better on a bench outside the building. In the picture at the left, I’m taking a water break on one of those benches with my buddy Jeannetta, who is drinking her Pepsi. Our leaders asked us to drink a gallon of water a day to prevent dehydration; I usually could manage about ¾ of a gallon before I began to feel waterlogged. In the picture below, I’m visiting with a lady named Donwattie and her daughter, whom she’d checked out of school that day because of a headache. It turned out that her daughter had eyestrain, and she was tested for glasses in our eye clinic. Most people in Guyana don’t wear sunglasses, and the tropical sun is very harsh on their eyes.
We never pressured anyone to study the Bible, but most people readily agreed to do so. Many people who were already Christians wanted to tell me how good God had been to them. One lady told me, “When I get three meals a day, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ When I get two meals a day, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’ When I get one meal a day, I say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’” I talked to about 45 to 50 people during the week, and that number was split about evenly between different Christian groups and Hindus, with a few Muslims. Guyana has a strong East Indian influence, and Hinduism seems as much a cultural identity as a religious belief. Most would tell me, “I was born a Hindu.” Our leaders encouraged us to be blunt (directness is expected in Guyana), so I would tell them that although my daughters have been born in a Christian household, they are not automatically Christians and will not be until they make that choice.
When I spoke to people who believed Jesus was not anything special but just another in a long line of prophets, I would ask them how their prophet told them to be saved. Everyone would mention good works -- helping others, loving people, praying, etc. I would tell them that Jesus wanted His followers to do those very things also, but only He offered them --and us-- a way to also take care of the bad things we all do; He also came many years before the men they spoke of, and He said He was the only way humans could come to God (John 14:6). The Guyanese readily accept the concept of personal, individual guilt (something our American culture shuns), but many struggle, because of their cultural background, with believing that Jesus is the only one they need.
One gentleman I studied with became a Christian. Many others encouraged me, and many remain in my heart and prayers as I think of how firmly they believe in God in the middle of third-world poverty and daily difficulties. Everyone was gracious and interesting to talk to, and I learned much about the Guyanese culture. Personal appearance and good manners are prized in Guyana; every morning as we walked into the clinic, everyone in the line said, “Good morning,” and we were greeted with handshakes and “Good night” upon arriving at the building in the evening.
Our medical and eye team saw 1,010 people, and 20 people became Christians during the four days that we held the clinic. The BBC is currently filming a documentary about Guyana, which will focus on the government -- specifically, how it functions “with so few resources,” as one of the crew said. (Our work is carried on by permission of the Ministry of Health in Guyana.) The BBC guys observed us one day and then filmed the entire next day -- clinic and church included. We’re hoping to be able to see that documentary when it airs next year.
Thanks again for all the help in supporting me to go on this trip. I love to travel to new places and to talk to people about being a Christian, and the whole experience helped me be more serious about my responsibility given in 1 Peter 3:15: But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
Read related Team Leader Report (June 5-13, 2004)
Read Jill Roberts' Second Time Guyana Experience (2004)
Read of other Team Member Experiences
Link to Guyana Missions Home Page