Friday, December 25, 2015

A Surprisingly Moving Account of My Stove Running Out of Gas

Ever have one of those weeks (or several) where you feel as though you're forgetting something very important? You check your to-do list, you call everyone you typically have arrangements with, etc, and you're definitely up to date with everything. And yet, something eludes you.

Then you remember, "Oh yeah, I have that blog some people read. Oh, and I haven't added anything in a month and one day? Yikes."

Or maybe that's just me...

Anyway, apologies for the huge delay. Been really busy, yadda yadda. Here's a quick recap.

"One of these things is not like the other..."

After the departure of the Camachos, Charlie and I had another brother come and stay with us a little while, Shane (something) from Grenada. If you recall my mentioning Kojo several times (my former roommate and COBE in Orealla for a time) Shane had attended the final School for Single Brothers with him. He'd heard much about Orealla so decided it was finally time to come see for himself.

As you can see from the picture, he's quite tall. You could always tell when he was coming up the steps because the entire house would begin to rattle.

After a week with him, it came time for Charlie to depart back for Ohio, thus leaving Shane and I. A few days passed uneventfully until a group of my friends from Hopetown congregation (for more on my time in Hopetown, see any blog post written between 2011-2013) came for a visit. As much as I was looking forward to it, it did present a slight problem seeing as five of them were coming, and I have only a two bedroom house. Which already had two occupants.

The whole gang. L-R: Shane, Jehu, Kepler, Jared, Randy, and Aaron.
After some searching I was able to find a house that would take in three of them, then another two in my house. It would be crowded that way, but it would work.

Unfortunately (that word that always pops up when you're discussing well laid plans) when we were coming into Orealla the boat was having some issues, so we weren't even close to the village when the other hosting household was preparing for bed, so the decision was made to simply have all the guys crash in my house that night.

So instead of a tight squeeze of four people in there, we had an incredibly tight squeeze of seven. Two in each room, plus one on each couch and one in a hammock strung in whatever available spot we could find.

Don't get me wrong though, I'm not at all complaining. It was a ton of fun, especially since I hadn't seen these guys in about two years. Plus they were only there from Friday-Sunday (and wound up just all staying in my house the whole time) so it wasn't for long enough for the cramped space to get uncomfortable.

Finally Sunday came, and all five Hopetown boys left, along with Shane. And thus, for the first time since May, my household is just me. I've never experienced this much quiet before.

Hmmm... brief recap of guests in the 11 months I've had this place. Dustin, Chris and Fern, Dale, Neil, Jake, Gavin, Charlie, Michael, Jonatan, Shane, Aaron, Randy, Jared, Kepler, and Jehu.

16. Not bad.

The only downside to the last burst of guests is the gas for my stove ran out. Which isn't surprising at all, but is a major inconvenience in a place like Orealla where the closest place to replace it is an eight hour ride away. Plus also consider the boats only go twice a week, and that's assuming everything is going well.

So here's what happened with me. I know the man who owns Orealla's largest shop pretty well, and he has his own boat with which to ship in goods, so therefore he makes his own schedule when he goes out. I asked if he could take my empty gas cylinder out and replace it (since he'd offered several times before to do so). He agreed, but was unsure when he would be going out next. So this left me with the question of, where would I get food until then?

Around this same time, in my personal Bible reading I got to Romans 10:11 which says "No one who rests his faith on him will be disappointed." This struck me because almost immediately after, a brother from the congregation came by and said "We were making lunch but accidentally made too much. You want it?" and hands me a box full of already prepared food. I hadn't told them my gas had run out, since I'd just discovered it. But I took the food and was very happy.

Shortly after finishing I began thinking about dinner. What was I going to do about that, since Orealla hasn't got restaurants or anything of the sort. Either you cook on your own or you go hungry, and now I couldn't cook. As I'm thinking this I get a call from a family asking "We're making dinner right now, you want any?"

So I had a fully prepared, free dinner. But of course, I begin wondering about breakfast.

"Inside!!" I hear someone shouting at 5:30 AM, waking me from a peaceful (if perhaps excessive) slumber. I open my front door and see a brother on a bike holding up a box saying "Mom wanted me send this over for you. She made you breakfast."

In case you haven't gotten the gist of where this is heading, this happened for six days. In all that time there was exactly one meal that no one provided for me, but I was still content with the frankly ridiculous amounts of fresh fruit growing in my yard. But what really struck me in all this is that at no point did I tell anyone I was out of cooking gas until after I'd gotten it replaced. No one knew, there was just a sudden outpouring of support. And believe me, missing meals in this place is not a good thing. Considering how much walking is done in the ministry, and anytime in general, you simply cannot get by without three full meals. And at no point did I ever have to worry about if I would get it.

If I may digress briefly, the following verse after the one quoted above is "There is the same Lord over all, who is rich toward all those calling on him." This verse has stuck in my mind a long time, due to a conversation I heard between a missionary and a need-greater who was just starting out.

It went like this: the need-greater was only spending a short time in Guyana because he was concerned about losing his job back in the States. The missionary encouraged him to pretty much just quit and use his savings serving where the need was greater, since that's what the brother was hoping to do someday anyway. Most foreign brothers serving here will simply work in the States, save a bunch of money, then live here as long as they can until they run out of finances. Then they return to the US and find another job and repeat the process.

The need-greater expressed worry about doing that since he would then be unsure where he could find money and work when he returned, then sighed and said sarcastically "If only I just had a rich father I could beg money off of."

The missionary was silent for a moment then read that verse, Romans 10:12. "There is the same Lord over all, who is rich toward all those calling on him." Then after another pause, the missionary asks "So if you would feel confident trusting in a rich human father, then..."

And of course he didn't finish the sentence since he didn't need to. The point was made very well already, and that verse has ever since stuck with me.

Continuing on. After the departure of all my guests came the other thing that's eaten up my time. Our elders also left in order to attend Elder School all the way in the capital, Georgetown. This means that from last Thursday up to next Wednesday all will have to be handled by myself and our other ministerial servant, Mark Herman. So far all's going well and we haven't been horribly stressed out, though we definitely have no spare time to kill.

Which is why after a month and a day, when I finally had two hours with nothing left needing to be done (clean house, clean dishes, public talk prepared for Sunday, Watchtower studied, lunch eaten, dinner already prepared, no guests, no calls or studies scheduled for today) it suddenly dawned on me how long the blog had been neglected, and how I actually have time - and electricity! - with which to update it.

That's right, I said electricity too! The village generator has finally begun working again, as of last night!

I am waaaay more excited about having electricity than any American has been since 1893.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Kingdom Proclaimer VII

This last week I finally got to do something I've longed to do since October of last year: go on a trip with our new congregation boat, the Kingdom Proclaimer VII!

Brief diversion explaining the name: if you read the 2005 Yearbook (which I highly recommend) it tells the history of the preaching work in Guyana, and recounts how many of the territories in the country are only accessible by river. Due to this, a lot of congregations will purchase a boat solely for the purpose of covering these territories. The first of these boats was named Kingdom Proclaimer, which quickly became a thing, leading to nearly every one of these preaching boats getting named in following increments. Kingdom Proclaimer II, III IV, etc.

Which brings us to Orealla's Kingdom Proclaimer VII (I'll be totally honest here, since several congregations do this, we're not 100% sure whether this would VII or VIII, or even IX. So, uh, just roll with it). The attempt to acquire a boat of our own began in October of last year, but finally came to fruition in June. Unfortunately, we couldn't get our engine as well at the same time, so by time everything was set, I had already left to return to the US for a work trip. Therefore, I haven't been able to use this boat. Until now!

Many things can affect the trips, so scheduling can be difficult. navigating the river can be difficult (sand banks build and crumble quickly underneath the water), and so not only must the tide level be just right, you also need a skilled captain to drive.

(Do you drive a boat? Pilot? Steer? Dunno, let's say drive)

Which, again, makes scheduling difficult. Which is why one Thursday morning at 6:30, I get a phone call from our service overseer. "We're going to Siparuta and have space for two more. You and Charlie available?"

Therefore we get dressed and rush to the Kingdom Hall in order to catch the 7 AM meeting for field service. We stockpiled on literature, had a brief meeting, and shuffled down to the riverfront to pile on the boat.

L-R: Alyssa Camacho, Geno Chacon, Dowlan France, and Charlie Brohard.
Not pictured: myself and Jonatan Camacho in front row.
The time it takes to reach Siparuta fluctuates due to a wide variety of factors (see aforementioned sand banks, tricky tides and whatnot), and this morning was a very slow ride with very bumpy waters. Fortunately, we had a cheerful crew who handled it with glee, and within 30-40 minutes reached our destination.

"Sip-aree-do-da, sip-aree yay...."
Considering the lack of territory maps and such, the easiest way to work this village, and keep track of progress, is by dividing it into three distinct areas. The uphill portion of the village, and then two halves of downhill. To the left of the stelling (pictured), and to the right.

Having six people, we divided into three pairs and set about preaching the downhill left portion. Well, two pairs did anyway. Jonatan volunteered to give up his day of door-to-door to accompany me on my studies all day. Which were...

Raymond: I honestly don't remember how much I've talked about Raymond before on this blog, and I enjoy the thought of just rewriting it all from the beginning instead of looking through old posts to find what I've already written. So to start fresh...

Raymond's family was first contacted by Tom Sanches and myself back in September of 2010 during my first ever visit to Orealla and Siparuta. In fact, his was the first house we went to, and he could plainly see we were suffering after the 3 1/2 hour hike though the hills, mud, sand, and whatever else. He and his wife invited us to sit, provided us with food, and listened to us talk at length (you know, once we'd recovered our breath).

Fast forward to Memorial season in 2014. We return to Siparuta, and to that specific house. Since neither of us had been there in so long, we'd quite frankly forgotten everybody we'd talked to before. So we return to Raymond's house, and after a substantial conversation, we suddenly remembered one another based solely off the sound of each other's laughs. After the conversation, Raymond said he had great difficulty understanding the Bible. We remind him that's what the Bible Teach book is for, but he says "No, I can't understand the words in it! My Bible makes no sense! Your gray one though, I understand everything! Can I get one?" He also specifies that his eyes aren't great and asks if there's one with large print. Considering this was mere months after the historic Annual Meeting, the large size Bibles were still a distant dream, especially somewhere as far off as Orealla. But we promised as soon as we came into possession of a large gray Bible, we'd deliver it.

Fast forward again to Memorial season 2015. Tom Sanches had finally gotten ahold of a large Bible (from the first shipment of them sent to Guyana) and had it delivered to Orealla so I could finally (finally!) take it to Raymond. This is pre-Kingdom Proclaimer VII, so our options are rent a boat or walk. Unfortunately, we only had one day's opportunity to go, since Memorial was in a few days and we still had lots to prepare. Therefore, we walked.

The intrepid, mostly barefoot senior citizens, crew!
We reached Siparuta and made a beeline for Raymond's house. Unfortunately, there was no one home. I honestly was incredibly disappointed. A year of waiting, three hours of walking (and trying to keep up with Amerindians, no matter that they were all old enough to be my grandparents, is no easy task), and here NO RAYMOND! Nonetheless, we still went ahead and preached to as much of Siparuta as possible, seeing as we had plenty of invitations. Finally, as we were preparing to begin the arduous walk back, I thought we really ought to check Raymond's house again.

As we approach, we see Raymond approaching from the opposite side! I rush up and begin excitedly talking to him and telling him we've brought his Bible. He stares at me, confusedly, and doesn't seem to remember me or our conversations at all. So I finally just pull out the Bible to show him, and when he sees the gray cover his eyes shoot open and he grabs it out of my hand, suddenly remembering everything. He holds it to his chest and says "Even when I forget what I've prayed for, Jehovah makes sure to remind me."

We talked for as long as we could until the time to leave was absolutely imminent (you do not want to get caught on the Siparuta trail after dark. Plenty safe in daytime, but many animals at night).

Fast forward once more to July of 2015. We visit Siparuta along with three of my friends from the US (Neil Rogenski, Jake Walsh, and Gavin Stallard). Neil goes along with me to Raymond, which we make the first stop of our day. As we approach the house, we see Raymond laying in a hammock, and we call out our greetings. When he sees us he invites us up and says "I was supposed to go out to the jungle to work today, but I told my wife I just really felt like I needed to stay home today. Now I know why!"

We converse at length about the Bible we left him and the features of it he's enjoying, as well as many other spiritual topics. Eventually he tells us "You need to come back and study the Bible with my son Gavin. He learns things very well." He goes on to relate that just the previous day, when church had finished, his son Gavin approached the pastor/minister/etc and asked if he could be permitted to speak before everyone. The pastor agreed, so Gavin goes up and begins explaining to everyone the meaning of Daniel's vision in Daniel chapter 2, and how we know that means God's Kingdom will be a government that will rule over Earth. After it's all finished, Raymond asks Gavin where he learned all of that, to which Gavin replied "In that yellow book the brothers gave you."

So, uh, ripe student there.

Which brings us to this Siparuta visit with Jonatan. Unfortunately, Raymond wasn't home this time, but his wife Mavel was, and we had a great 1 1/2 conversation with her, mostly based on the November magazines. We discussed how religion was becoming full of hypocrisy, and the conversation ended with her asking why we don't start a Kingdom Hall in Siparuta.

Good idea! I think we should take that one to heart...

Wandering about.

The other call we got to was...

James: This was a man which Dustin Reynolds had started calling on during that Memorial 2015 visit, and he asked me to continue on with the interest. So after visiting Mavel, we headed over to James and talked for a good long while. During the visit with Neil I had left my personal Bible with James, so on this visit he had several questions about it. Particularly, the footnotes and cross references. I was astonished at how quick of a student he was. After showing him those two things and the Glossary, he used those with Matthew 28:19 (which was the Scripture we randomly chose to examine footnotes and cross references) and arrived at the conclusion, on his own, that the Holy Spirit is not a person, but rather God's active force. This conversation went on for an hour and a half as well. So therefore, Jonatan and I spent our entire morning on just two studies. A morning well spent.

Since the time had arrived, we arrived at the prearranged spot with the other two pairs to eat lunch. Jonatan and I actually arrived first, and as we were on a bench waiting for the others, I noticed a man standing nearby, who had the look of someone curious who we were, but a bit too shy to approach. Finally I call out to him and begin general conversation, until he finally asked why we were there. So, since we'd just had a meeting part about offering the Teach book, I opted for the direct approach. Right off the bat offered him a Bible study, which he accepted, so we began right there on the bench. He chose the chapter on Family Happiness, which we covered several subheadings until someone else called him away. First I made sure to find where he lives, so I can return next time. And finally, the rest of the group arrived and we had a lovely lunch break.

Time is an illusion. Lunch time doubly so.
We still had a few hours left (taking the boat allows for much more preaching time than walking) so Jonatan and I finally got to do some proper door-to-door. It went like typical Siparuta territory (i.e. half an hour at every single door) until we finally reached our last house. Living there was a woman named Yanet who had begun studying in Suriname and had nearly reached to baptism even, but then had lost contact with Witnesses. She also pleaded with us to start a Kingdom Hall in Siparuta (recurring theme here...) and asked for a wide variety of literature. We reminded her there is always the Kingdom Hall in Orealla, so anytime she can visit there there will also be a meeting she can attend.

She said she'd try that Sunday, and while she personally wasn't able to make it, she ensured her daughter was able to come. And who has made it to each weekend meeting since.

So all in all, I'm a huge fan of Kingdom Proclaimer VII.

More recently, an interesting piece of news is that an MTS grad from Granada will be coming and rooming with me for two weeks. Unfortunately at the same time Jonatan and Alyssa will be returning to New York, which will then also be followed by Charlie Brohard the following week.

Hmm, that's a bit of a bummer. I don't want to end my blog post on a down note.
Here's a pretty guitar!!

That's better. Stay tuned for news of the MTS Granada brother person guy!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Arrival of the Camachos

If you may recall (or not if we've only recently met) two years ago I took a break from Guyana in order to apply to work at Bethel. After a little while, I got accepted to do temporary work at Wallkill in the orchards, which was the absolute best job I've ever had.

While there, I met a brother and sister named Jonatan and Alyssa Camacho, whom I got on very well with. I learned that they had long wanted to serve in another country but lately had been so involved in Bethel work that they hadn't yet gotten an opportunity to travel much. Of course, I told them extensively about my time in Guyana and stories of what I'd experienced and what others had experienced. After I returned to Guyana, I kept in contact with them and told them they should come visit anytime they could.

Fast forward two years later...

After months of planning and preparation, they finally arrived for a one month stay. I met them at the airport with a brother who drives taxi for a living and we brought them down from Georgetown all the way to Corriverton (for visual aid, please see the Guyana map in last month's blog update), but not before showing them some of the nicer sights in the capital. For instance, you get an excellent view of the ocean from there...

"You can taste the ocean! It tastes like... success!" - Direct quote from Jonatan.

We were able to spend a few days in Corriverton with the local congregations there (Skeldon and, naturally, Brighton). This provided both Camachos with an excellent introduction to Guyana, specifically field service. For their first morning, Alyssa spent the day doing territory and studies with a need-greater from Trinidad who's had several years of experience, while Jonatan and I spent the day with Michael Samwaru, a fairly recently baptized local brother who's made tremendous progress in the last four years.

I have to say, seeing new ones reaction to field service in Guyana is one of my favorite things to experience. For the morning, Jonatan started a doorstep study with every single person he talked to, and was able to show the "Why Study the Bible?" video at each home as well (including some of the ones where Michael or I were taking the door). After finishing door-to-door, he proclaimed "My goal was to be able to share the video once! Not at every single house! I think I may stay longer than one month...."

Also, an incredible amount of Caleb & Sophia videos were shown.

After the morning of door-to-door, we embarked on studies. I always enjoy watching how other people conduct studies because it's a remarkable learning experience. The first study was an entire family, including the children, going through the Listen To God and Live Forever brochure. We also visited a 20-something man who was far along in the Bible Teach book, two fleshly brothers in the Listen to God brochure, a teenager in the Keep Yourselves in God's Love book (and whose parents had studied before but gave it up, leaving him alone studying and attending meetings), along with many many others whom I'm quite frankly forgetting now. How on earth Michael keeps up with them all, I have no idea. Organization has never been my forte.

(If you'd like to know how Alyssa's day went, you'll just have to visit her blog: )

That's pretty much how our three days in Corriverton went as we waited on the Orealla boat. Service, studies, meeting, and finally shopping in the Skeldon market for the ever-important hammocks. One simply cannot get by in Orealla (or Guyana at all!) without a hammock. We also met back up with Charlie Brohard, who had been on the coast as well for the last few days.

And took a final opportunity to Skype before heading to
 the interior. Also, Charlie is incapable of getting a
picture taken without mugging.
Which began our joint journey back into Orealla. We very quickly got them settled into life here, with washing in the river, hunting for food on a daily basis (not literally hunting for food. Looking for food. As in... oh never mind, you get the point), and developing calls and studies. And in true Orealla fashion, their first meeting in these parts Charlie had to prepare to substitute Talk 1 on the school, Alyssa talk 2, and Jonatan talk 3.

Welcome to Orealla!

Finally, they began incorporating themselves into the congregation as well. Janet, one of our regular pioneers, is especially good with this. She's had us over on numerous occasions already for meals and such...

Pictured above: A small piece of Janet's family.
Pictured below: Some of the best food you'll ever have. Ever.
So now, one week with these two has passed. Loads of new friends made, loads of amazing food tried, and plenty of studies started. Soon there'll be a trip to Siparuta as well, and maybe some river witnessing. So stay tuned!

And so far we're all still getting along fairly well!

Hmm. Perhaps that photo is slightly more frightening than I'd initially thought....

Saturday, October 17, 2015

2015 Fall Circuit Assembly

If memory serves (which for someone like me, it most rarely does) I last left you all just before it was time for us to head out for our Circuit Assembly. It was an eventful week preceding, as the boat schedule had changed somewhat.

See, the Pioneer Meeting was to be a Friday afternoon. The boat leaving Orealla typically would depart Thursday night and arrive early Friday morning (we're talking 1-2 AM early), so everyone could simply sleep on the boat in their hammocks and awake with the sun and taxis ready to take us wherever we need to go from there.

This seemed such a convenient layout that for our previous circuit pioneer meeting, I left with the Thursday night boat, thinking we could land early Friday and I could go from the docks to a brother's home, shower, change, and continue on to the meeting. Except I forgot to account for public transportation being horribly irregular and unreliable, thus causing me to arrive to the pioneer meeting a mere two minutes prior to its start.

Not wanting a repeat of that, I this time determined I would take the earlier boat, one which left Sunday night instead, giving me a full five days to prepare myself for the meeting. Which is where the former tantalizing "boat schedule had changed" statement comes in to play.

As previously stated, the boat would arrive early and everyone would sleep on the boat. This particular night, however, the boat was carrying on to Suriname, meaning we landed at 2:30 AM and were told we were to disembark. Immediately. Since the boat was carrying on so fast, it didn't have time to... oh, how do you say... dock. So, an 18-inch wide plank was stretched out over the ten foot gap between us and the dock. With a (roughly) 25 foot drop to the water.

Naturally, we were all very careful. We went one at a time as well. Seemed wisest.

Happily though, a brother who lived nearby took us in for the night (morning) and when the sun finally came we breakfasted and moved on to the house where we were to spend the week up until the Assembly.

Time passed well. Field service Tuesday and Wednesday, Thursday a trip to New Amsterdam (if you're not familiar with Guyanese geography, it's the closest place to us to visit an International Bank, and do some good shopping!)

Brief diversion into geography: The red dot on the map is Orealla where we had begun our journey. The boat goes from the red dot (Orealla) up to Corriverton. From there we took a bus to New Amsterdam to visit the bank and all. The home where we were staying, and the location of the Circuit Assembly, were both in between New Amsterdam and Corriverton. Our Circuit is mostly in the region between those two villages as well, but there are at least five congregations over the Berbice river (the one you see next to New Amsterdam).

Continuing on brings us to Friday, day of the Pioneer Meeting. It was beautiful and excellent as usual, though there was a slight impediment to our enjoyment of it. The Assembly was the following day, Saturday, but unfortunately there was a huge school event going on in the same venue Friday, and the volunteers for cleaning couldn't get in until 5 PM. Which meant a whole lot of work in a very short period of time. Thus, immediately upon the pioneer day concluding, most of the pioneers who lived on this side of the river hightailed it over to the Assembly site to begin cleaning as well. Work lasted well into the night, until many people were being employed to do nothing but hold a flashlight so others could see their work. And the amount of garbage we collected and disposed of was astounding!!

There was actually more. We nearly doubled this after.
By about 11 I'd left, though apparently work was done up until midnight. The late night panic, however, was not readily obvious the next morning. Everything looked perfect (even though there was still some paint on the stage drying out).

There were many good interviews, including three from Orealla (seen in the heading image), plus a grand total of nine baptized, out of a total attendance of 1,130.

I must now take this opportunity to apologize on account of not having any good pictures from the assembly itself. I was much too busy. And by "busy" I of course mean "forgetful to remember to take pictures for all those nice people who read this blog and enjoy seeing the pictures of what all is going on".

Suffice it to say, it was a great day, and we continued to enjoy another two days on the coast with more field service and related joviality before we began the journey back to Orealla.

Where I shall be remaining for the next 12 days until I head out again for... a thing. You'll see soon enough.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Update on Orealla

It's been interesting for me to watch the progression of the Orealla congregation. I first ever visited in early September 2010, after I'd been in Guyana only two weeks. I would periodically visit for the following two years, and by October 2013 I was assigned there by the branch. Now that I'm spending all my time there, I decided to sit back and reflect on what had changed since my earliest visit. And I was frankly blown away by it...

For starters, I first attended one of their meetings shortly after the unexpected death of their sole elder, which left the congregation entirely on the shoulders of one ministerial servant, with only one other baptized brother to assist him. Now, we have two elders (one of whom was the aforementioned ministerial servant), plus two ministerial servants and four more qualified baptized brothers.

As for meeting attendance, well.... here's the attendance record from my first meeting there.

Yes. Five. And that 20 that you see represented the best attendance they'd had in months. However in present day, last Sunday we had 63! That's proven to be the average for Sunday meetings, and the lowest we've had for a midweek meeting recently was 30.

The congregation is now up to 31 publishers with 5 regular pioneers and one continuous auxiliary. On top of that, in the month of August we had 16 who participated in auxiliary pioneering.

One obstacle Orealla was facing on my first visit was having a limited territory. The territory itself is huge, but only a small amount is accessible. The rest of it is homes and farms that can be reached by boat on the river, or there is a large population in a village (Siparuta) which can be reached via a 3 hour walk through the jungle. But now, both those problems have been solved with the purchase of...

In case you can't see, that's a small JW ORG printed on each green bench.

This allows us to reach the village of Siparuta easily, and allows access to most of our river territory (we're still at this point testing the boundaries of the boat).

A huge plus of this is that now, instead of visiting the village once a year like we used to, we're visiting twice a month. Not only that, we've received approval from both the Circuit Overseer and the village itself to hold a meeting there once per month. We have yet to implement that due to our upcoming Circuit Assembly (this Saturday!) but stay tuned for updates in the coming weeks.

Of course, not all is perfect. We still deal with apathy from our territory on occasion, we still struggle to find our Bible students at home sometimes... we still have a Hello Kitty clock hanging in our Kingdom Hall...

You thought I was joking, didn't you??

But things are looking up. All in all, it has been an excellent reminder to me of how far the congregation has come, and how much further it can go if we keep putting forth the necessary effort. So, uh, back to work I guess.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Trinidad Branch Tour

Brief history: I started coming to Guyana five years ago (July 2010 being my first time), and for the most part have been making these trips ever since (excluding the time I applied for Bethel and worked there for a little while). Typically my trips ranged from 6-9 months, and each time I ran out of money I would return to Ohio and work to save more money for another trip. This would usually take between 3-4 months depending on how long I intended to stay, and how well I budgeted my money upon arrival.

However, in preparation for this trip back to Guyana, I decided early on to apply Malachi 3:10. "Test me out, please, and see whether I will open to you the floodgates of the heavens" (paraphrasing). So I determined I was going to plan on my longest trip yet. 18 months. And on top of that, I wanted to keep my work trip as short as possible so that I could return to Guyana in enough time to attend our upcoming Circuit Assembly. Therefore, I would need to earn 18 months worth of money in just two months. Now it is worth noting that this would require a larger sum of money than I've ever earned before, and in the shortest work trip I've ever had. Absolutely impossible to do on my own (trust me, I've tried), but I decided to test Jehovah out and see if this was something he would allow to happen for me.

Before I had even left Guyana to begin my work trip, a brother from the United States asked a group of other Americans "Do any of you guys know someone in the U.S who's a painter and is available for a two-week job?"

"Don't tell me," I replied "This job begins at the beginning of August."

"Yeah," he says back "How'd you know?"

"Because I'm a painter and I'm looking for work at that time."

So long story short, between that job (which did in fact pan out very well) and other jobs I picked up in my time back, I earned all the necessary money for an 18-month stay. Along the way, also learned that Charlie Brohard, who'd come down last year, was hoping to return as well for a 3 month stay (don't remember him? Read all about him here!)

Of course, before returning to Guyana I got to make a quick side trip...

If you've ever heard me talk about my time spent at Wallkill Bethel, you've without doubt heard the names Jon and Alyssa Camacho. I'd worked with them and spent pretty much all my spare time with them as well. So it seemed an excellent idea to see them again, seeing as I was going to be flying out of JFK. Therefore, Charlie and I arrived two days early. Sunday morning they picked us up and took us to the Pine Bush NY congregation, which was having the Fiji Branch coordinator as their visiting speaker. I must say, after being so long in Guyana I truly have a difficult time understanding Americans when they speak, so hearing someone from Fiji speaking was a huge improvement in my understanding levels...

After the meeting the Camachos took us along on a hike to a place known as "Breakneck". Terrifying name, awesome hike.

And then, after two days of goofing off, the time came to fly out. Our flight left at 1:50 AM from New York, and by 6:30 AM we were in Trinidad. The awesome part of this is that there was an 8 hour layover there. Okay, that doesn't sound terrific, but I had been wanting to tour the branch there since 2011, so an 8-hour break seemed like the perfect time to finally go do that!

Shortly after 8 AM one of the Bethel workers drove out to the airport and picked us up, took us somewhere for breakfast and showed us around the city, and got us to the branch by 11 in time for our scheduled tour. Not only did we get to meet literally every Bethelite who works there (including visit the offices of each of the branch committee members), we also got invited to eat lunch with them!

How about an onslaught of pictures from Trinidad and the Bethel tour accompanied by brief descriptions and/or snarky quips??

Trinidad, just outside the airport.
Front door/entrance area.
Front desk. And Charlie. Charlie's the one with the mustache.

Kingdom Hall which is built into the branch building. Serves two
congregations, and Monday night Watchtower study for
the Bethel family.
Lunch with the family! It looks empty due to us getting
there early. About a dozen more showed up immediately after.

All in all, an excellent day spent. Finally, by 1 PM, time came for us to go back to the airport and board our final flight, straight from Trinidad to Georgetown Guyana. A brother was waiting to pick us up there as well and drove us (despite having to stop to repair a flat. A minor setback) to the home where we'll be staying until tomorrow when we head into Orealla.

Nearly home. So close.

Friday, August 21, 2015

"This Is a Miracle!" - From June til Now

Allow me to begin with apologies. The blog has remained dormant for several weeks (oh, actually months. Oops) due to some major technical issues with my laptop.

(i.e. It didn't turn on)

However, those issues have now been resolved, and therefore updating can resume! So, here's the three major events that have happened since this blog's near-demise.

Arrival of the Ohio Boys

I have three friends who had been interested in coming down to visit Guyana for a while, so finally on June 3rd they were able to make the trip down.

And Queeneth. Because of course.
The boys from L-R are Jake Walsh from Pennsylvania (okay, so they're not all from Ohio. Whatever), Gavin Stallard from Athens Ohio (my hometown), myself, and Neil Rogenski from Marietta Ohio.

They were able to come and stay for two months in my current congregation, Orealla. Now in case the delay in blog updates has caused you to forget what the situation is here, allow me to remind you of why these guys' presence was a big deal.

Orealla has two elders and two ministerial servants. In addition to them, there's only three other baptized brothers. So obviously, everybody is extremely busy during each meeting. Now when you consider that most of these men spend much of the week working to provide for their families, you probably realize there isn't much support through the week for field service.

Enter Jake and Gavin and Neil. Three qualified baptized brothers, all either ministerial servants or regular pioneers. The first meeting for field service they attended, as the elder finished arranging the groups for service, he paused and had a strange look on his face.

We ask what's wrong, and he says "I don't know who to ask to say prayer for us! There's too many brothers to choose from! This is a miracle!"

So then came their first meeting. The local body of appointed brothers all agreed that we'd give them the first week off so they could settle in. Naturally, by time the meeting came, they were all handling assignments. Between them they read for the the Congregation Bible Study, did Bible Highlights, talk 3, ran mics and adjusted the ones on stage.

Welcome to Orealla guys!

All in all, I think they enjoyed themselves (or so I'm guessing). Many new experiences for them while there! Among them living without running water or electricity in my house, learning to cook the local delicacies (invite them over and make them cook for you!), and traveling by boat to reach our whole territory.

Traveling by boat? You know what that means! Siparuta trip!

Load up a small speedboat with literature, lunch, and as many people as are willing to go, and head down the river for an hour until you come across the next village. Astonishingly, with the group we had, we were able to cover the entire village of 300 homes by noon!

My three favorite experiences from the day: since I've been to the village of Siparuta a few times already, I've accumulated some return visits there, so while the rest of the brothers and sisters worked territory, Neil and I focused solely on reaching my calls. The first was a man named James who had first been contacted by a need-greater the year before, who then took me to meet James so I could follow up on the interest. So this visit, when Neil and I arrived I took him into the Bible Teach book we'd left him and covered a few points. But when we were preparing to go, the man said "I wish I could understand the Bible." Naturally I talk about how the Teach book can help to understand it, but he replies "No, the words in it. When you read out of your Bible, I understood what it was saying, but mine I can't understand at all." He brings out a King James and shows it to us. He then adds "Do you have any of those Bibles you can give me? The gray ones you have?" I pause for a moment before reply "Well..... the only one I have is this one. But, um, if you really want one..." Before I finish speaking the Bible is out of my hands and in his.

Don't worry, I'll be visiting again as soon as I can.

The second experience from the day was a pleasant surprise. As we were walking towards another of my calls, we passed the village library. I remembered having gone in there nearly five years before during my visit to Siparuta (read all about it here!) I distinctly remember going in and leaving a variety of literature, primarily a Bible Teach book. I wondered, might it still be....?


So seeing that was a huge deal for me. Never thought I'd be finding results of my effort, still, five years on.

Which leads us to the third, and best, experience.

Brief back story: Memorial season of 2014 we went to Siparuta to invite everyone to Memorial. During that trip, we met a man named Raymond who expressed a desire for one of our "gray Bibles" as well, preferably one with large print. These are in very short supply in Guyana, so we promised him he'd get one, but warned it may take a while.

Fast forward to March 2015. After the incredibly long delay, we made it back to Siparuta with a large print, revised New World Translation. Raymond's house is the first we visit, but are very disappointed to see no one's home. So we set out for a normal Siparuta preaching day, but as we're wrapping up and ready to head back home to Orealla, I decide to visit Raymond's house once more. As we're still walking up to his house, he approaches from another direction. I say hello and begin reminding him of our previous visit. He looks confused, but I press on, even pulling out the Bible and showing him. He still looks confused, but as I open the Bible and show him the large print, his eyes shoot open and he gets a large smile. He grabs the Bible out of my hands, hugs it to his chest, and says "Even when I forget what I've prayed for, Jehovah reminds me."

Fast forward to June 2015, the visit I've been speaking of. Neil and I approach Raymond's house once more, and see him laying in a hammock on his porch. He sees us and invites us up. After talking with him a while, he told us "I was supposed to go out to the bush today for work, but this morning I just didn't feel like going. I had a strong desire to just stay at home. Now I know why."

We talked a lot and built on what the brothers had discussed the first time, and what I had talked with him about the last time. He and his wife are fervently using Jehovah's name now, and his wife has asked for another Bible because hers doesn't use his name as much.

He also asked for someone to come and study regularly with them, but especially his 21 year old son. His son had apparently asked to speak in their church the previous day, so the church allowed him. Raymond said "He went up and began explaining the Scriptures in such a way that we'd never heard before. It was clear and made sense and we could tell it was the truth. We asked after where he'd gotten all this information from, and he told me it was in that little yellow book you'd given us."
So things are going really well with him, along with the four other studies I've been visiting on each trip. Things are looking up for Siparuta.

Boarding the boat to leave Siparuta :'(
Nice hat though!!
 The remaining two months with the guys was pretty much that. Busy in the congregation, learning to adjust to no running water and barely functional electric, going on studies and whatnot. Need-greater life.

Which brings us to the second major event.

Historic Guyana Convention

July 10-12 saw Guyana enjoying their first Regional Convention with video screens!

No pic of the screen yet. I'm going for "dramatic buildup"!
There was some (what's the word?) kerfuffle prior to the convention setup. For several years we've held all our assemblies and conventions at the same location, Kennard Memorial Turf Club. Suddenly, a mere week before convention began, Kennard's backed out on us. Fortunately the committee was able to quickly find another suitable venue for our convention. The only downside of this is that since this venue hadn't been used by the Witnesses for a very long time, certain aspects of the site weren't up to standards. To counter this, we spent three entire days doing convention cleaning, doing everything from repainting all the benches to building entirely new restrooms.

And, I dunno, leaning? Not sure.
Nice hat again!
Of course, all the effort was worthwhile, and the convention went off beautifully. Especially the incorporation of the video displays!

And apologies for some of the pictures being washed out. My phone
(especially the camera) was also beginning to poop out around this time.
The most tragic part came three days after the assembly. Reason being that three days later I left Guyana to return to the U.S. to work and earn money for another trip back to Guyana. Which brings us to major event #3!

Back to the United States

Since being back in the States (which has been just over one month now) I've been in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Virginia. Hey, you go where there's work.

The most substantial part of my time in the States has been in Virginia taking part in a huge college apartment painting job. A crew of 15 or so all huddled in a brother's basement and spent two straight weeks of 15 hour workdays painting. Basically we woke up, went to work, and went to bed. For two weeks straight. My back has never hurt so much in my life.

Yes, I'm a wimp. Deal with it.

Nice basement though! But no hats.... :(

Then there's been about two weeks spent at my parent's house in Ohio, doing any other assorted odd jobs I can find in the area. And some general goofing off with my family as well...

In my home, there is just one law: Silly hats ONLY!!

Including some Guyanese cooking classes from me to my mother. So far it's all turned out well.

Cook-up rice, mango curry with chicken, and cassava bread.

Aaaaand of course the biggest project of all. Fixing this laptop.

Piece of cake!

But all in all, decent trip back to the States. And short too, since just yesterday I bought my ticket back home! I'll be flying out September 21st/22nd, just in time for our next assembly on October 10th!

There may or may not be another update before then. We'll see how it goes.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Teaching Amerindians

* Warning: Few photos in this blog entry *

Witnessing in a territory like Orealla is very unique. For one thing, the village itself is fairly small, so we can work the entire village during the Circuit Overseer's visit (we do have more territory, but Orealla village gets worked most frequently). But despite how much this village gets worked, you still get an incredible response from the people. Literally every single door you can place magazines, and the only times people will turn down a Bible Study is if they're not usually home (working on the river or any such thing) or if they're already studying the Bible with another church or another Witness.

So if that's the response, what challenges are there if any?

Simple: language and culture barrier. We'll take the language barrier first...

It may sound strange to say that seeing as they speak English just like we do. But the way they learned it makes it unusual. See, this village originally spoke Arawak, but over time they were taught English by missionaries and whatnot. But rather than learning English from scratch, they mostly learned word-for-word substitutions, so their sentence structure is typically the same as Arawak, and additionally if there was not a word for a certain thing in Arawak, they wouldn't learn the English version.

So take for example Psalms 37:11. Pretty commonly used in the ministry, and mostly self-explanatory right? Now here, when we shared that verse we assumed "exquisite" would be a word maybe they weren't familiar with so we would explain it (I say "We" because around the time I was discovering this we had Dustin Reynolds and Zandile with us as well, so we were all experiencing this together). But we noticed over and over that people still weren't understanding what the scripture meant.

What we eventually realized was the problem was the word "delight". That was a word most of them had never encountered before in their lives. We asked them why no one had ever brought that up, and it's because they're so used to English literature using words and phrases they're not accustomed to that they don't bother bringing it up anymore.

So this left us with a problem. How do you explain "delight" to someone?

Dustin had the best answer. "Imagine the happiest you've ever been in your life," he'd tell them "Maybe it's the day you got married. Maybe it's when your first child was born, or you built your own house, anything. Think of that." When he could tell they'd definitely begun picturing that moment, he added "Now imagine being even happier than that."

Without fail, that did the trick.

But now we come to what was the second problem in teaching Amerindians. The culture barrier. To illustrate how this can be a problem, I'll continue using Psalm 37:11....

So we've covered the language barrier explaining "exquisite delight", but what about "in the abundance of peace"? They know what peace is, but here's the culture barrier... they already live in peace. They know peace as being the absence of war and crime and hatred. But they live in Orealla! A place with an absence of war and crime and hatred. They feel so secure here that many homes don't have locks. Some don't even have four walls!

So the scripture you're reading to them is about happy people leaving in peaceful conditions on Earth. Isn't that what they're already doing? There's the culture barrier. What do they have to be in fear of?

Wild animals, that's what.

So while I grew up sharing Psalm 37:11 with people and emphasizing that we won't be in fear of men, in Orealla you must focus on it in a different way. Here's what (again) Dustin came up with to explain that verse in terms that's meaningful to them.

"Would you just decide to suddenly walk out into the jungle? Alone? Without carrying a cutlass, or a bow, or anything like that?"


"Why not?"

"The jaguars would get to me if I walked too far away from the village." (other answers have been snakes, tigers, boar, etc. All of which keep far away from the village, don't worry. Just in case you, say. happen to have a son preparing to come here or something)

Dustin continues "But that's what this verse is telling you. There will be a time, on this very Earth, when you can just jump up and say 'Hey, I want to walk to Kwakwani!' And you can just up and go. You won't need to worry about any wild animals attacking you. You won't need to worry about troubling any snakes. You won't even need to take a mosquito netting. Because this verse is promising you that. We will have peace."

Of course, I still have lots of learning to do. In an assignment like this, you must always keep aware of the need to continue learning from the people you're around just as much as they're learning from you.