Dear Brothers and Sisters,
How wonderful it is to be home, back in the States and surrounded with all that is comforting and familiar! Just being in an aircraft and having the wheels touch down on a runway in Miami, Florida, (of all places) proved to be a joy that I never imagined it would be. It is so nice to once more be enveloped in true air-conditioning with a few of my favorite meals under my belt. Now however, I’m faced with the task of writing this letter and sharing my trip with you. And, it truly is a task. Not because of the effort involved, but because of the great desire on my part to present it in such a way that you’ll understand what it meant to me.
Describing various details of a unique experience and then attempting to do so in such a manner that is precise and easy for someone else to understand, is only one of the challenges I’ve encountered during the past two weeks. What an incredible week we had in Guyana! Time has never passed more quickly but the memories that returned with me will last forever.
This year there were quite a few “first-timers” making the trip and by the end of the week we’d been assured that 2003 would go down in history as the “Year of the Sissy.” The weather proved to be milder (extremely hot but not unbearably so), the rainy season didn’t produce an over-abundance of mud and the church building had walls and a drip-free roof. Most advantageous of all, we had suitable bathroom facilities. And when you start counting your blessings in what is considered to be an underdeveloped part of the world, a flushing toilet is very, very near the top of everyone’s list!
We slept and took our meals at the Cara Inn which is a building that belongs to the Russian Embassy. The opportunity of spending a week in such a place provided some very unique experiences. If we stretched our imaginations a bit, some of those moments even became intriguing. The compound is quite large and surrounded by a high wall with a single gate that is guarded twenty-four hours a day. The Russians still maintain a small section of the compound which houses the diplomats and their families that have remained in Guyana.
While at the compound, four of us shared a three room suite. We slept on soft, clean beds every night, we enjoyed what they call air-conditioning (for which we were thankful), we had a shower, a clean restroom and not too many mosquitoes. Every morning we were presented with a wonderful breakfast and at nights an even more incredible dinner would be waiting for us when we returned. The staff could not have been more considerate of our needs.
People waiting to see the doctors.
Each morning would find all twenty-one members of the team packed into one of the two vans that transported us to and from the church building in Canal #2: the Clay Brick Road church of Christ. Only about fourteen miles separated us from our destination but it took almost thirty-five minutes to make the journey. And what an incredible journey! There is something unnatural about driving in the left lane. It proved to be especially so at night. Seeing a pair of shining headlights, thinking they were on the wrong side of the road, heading toward me in “my lane,” is something I don’t think I could ever get used to. Each time a car whizzed by blowing its horn (everyone blew their horns), it took me a few moments to manage to pry my eyes open again and to realize that God - through the driver - (and perhaps even by special intervention at times) - had everything under control. By the end of the second day I finally managed to surrender that control and to focus more attention on my surroundings. While in the country of Guyana, we were in one of those vans on twenty different occasions and each day brought frightening moments of its own. Thankfully, only once in all of those drives did I truly think we would crash. Friday morning on our return trip to the airport, the driver rounded a curve in the road and then slammed onto the brakes so hard that it caused the van to “fish-tail.” We had stopped only a few feet from a small herd of cattle that were coming toward us in - “our lane”! Only seconds after we’d stopped, horns began blowing again and the cattle parted, some passing to our left and some to our right. Eventually, we started up again and the driver pressed the accelerator to the floor in an attempt to make up for the time he seemed to think we’d lost.
Getting accustomed to such transportation proved to be easier than accepting the poverty that most of the people in Guyana live with on a daily basis. Seeing cows and horses, small burros, chickens, dogs and cats walking about anywhere and everywhere they pleased proved to be the norm. Every ditch and canal (there were many) that cut through the countryside flowed with water clouded with mud and debris. Sometimes the stench proved to be what we noticed the most. Even a wide stretch of water like the Demerara River proved to be the same. Because of the high water level at times, the houses are built about ten feet above the ground. They vary in size but in most cases they are extremely small and seem to provide only the basic of needs. Some are built unbelievably close to the road while others set further back with long, wooden walks that cross the muddy ditches. The ones that boasted paint hadn’t seen a new coat of it in years but the number of long, tall television antennas that pointed skyward told us that the outside world had managed to find its way into this poverty-stricken country. Please pray that the Lord will send what they need to hear!
Regardless of the obvious poverty, I never once came in contact with a single person who hadn’t bathed or whose clothes were not spotlessly clean. Somehow, amid all the mud and smelly water, the people possess the desire and pride to present themselves to others in the best way possible. Their kindness and courteousness often prove only to be diminished by their honest and sweet, willing hearts. Most of them are eager to study the Bible and they show a genuine interest in learning about Jesus. Even those who have no such desire are polite about it. They made a special effort to say “good morning” or “good night” (which in Guyana is a greeting not a dismissal), they smiled graciously and always took the time to shake my hand. I felt comfortable and at home, safe and welcomed.
I stayed busy and soon lost track of how many people I studied the Bible with (there were many) but I do remember two special ladies. Of the sixteen souls who accepted God’s truth and were baptized, two of them were very sweet ladies whom the Lord gave me the privilege of meeting. There’s no power in my words, there’s no understanding in my heart to perceive who will or will not obey, and there’s nothing I’ve ever done to deserve to be used by God as He accomplishes His will. He did, however, use me to present the gospel and the two women were baptized. Thank you so much for helping me do that. Each of you took part in the effort to reach across the ocean and to share the gospel with those women. God only knows how many others will follow when they share what they’ve learned. Someone else will water, and the seed, the word of God, will continue to grow and mature.
Once the clinic closed in the afternoons, we would return to the hotel, rest a couple of hours, eat dinner, and then climb into the van for the second trip of the day. Once more we headed back out to the church building on Clay Brick Road to attend the gospel meeting hosted each night by the local congregation. Falling in love with the brethren in Guyana just naturally happened. Their openness and sweet hearts are childlike in so many ways and I couldn’t help but remember the time in scripture when Jesus spoke of becoming like a child. We were all welcomed with love and acceptance from the moment we arrived. On Thursday night when we climbed into the van to leave for the last time, the tears on their faces opened the eyes of my understanding in a way that I know has forever changed me.
That night on our final trip into town, we gave one of our new Christian brothers a lift because he didn’t have a car and he had a long ways to go. As we dropped him off and told him goodbye, I turned around in the seat to be able to see him better. Everyone waved as we drove away. Then, I simply watched as his form grew smaller and smaller. I’m not certain if the distance between us or the tears in my eyes caused my vision to blur. Either way, it happened. I might never see him again - this side of heaven. Yet, as a Christian, I know without a doubt that we will one day meet again. One day, all of us will be together. Such hope and comfort only comes from God through the blood of His son Jesus.
Whether you contributed financially to this trip or through prayer - or perhaps both, I thank you with all my heart. If the Lord wills, I want to go back to Guyana next year and I hope you will be willing to help me again. Until then, please remember the church on Clay Brick Road at Canal #2. Pray that the Lord will keep them safe and that their lights will shine brightly until the day He returns. God bless you.
Read related Team Leader Report (June 7-15, 2003)
Read Jill's Second Time Guyana Experience (2004)
Read of other Team Member Experiences
Link to Guyana Missions Home Page