Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Big Ol' Batch of New People

If you had once told me that the most productive territory I would ever work would actually be a small village that gets worked every two weeks, I never would've believed you. Surely if you cover a territory that often you'll find all the possible interested people within a few weeks right? And then everyone else would just gradually grow to hate you and your visits, right?

Nope! Orealla and the neighboring village Siparuta continue to be the most productive territories I've ever done in my life. This has never been better evidenced than what happened in the last two weeks.

For starters, a longtime Bible study named Florine recently was appointed an unbaptized publisher, and then her daughter received approval for the same thing the next week. They went out in service for the first time ever two Saturdays ago.

Chelesa and Florine Herman
The timing of this was good, as three days later our Circuit Overseer arrived, so they were able to work along with he and his wife repeatedly through the week, including going along to Siparuta for a trip (seen in opening picture).

Pictured: Everybody, sleepy.

Along with the two of them, Florine's son Deon has spent several months now studying with a brother and he's begun making progress. In fact, he just received his first Bible reading assignment for a midweek meeting!

As if all that wasn't enough, there's a considerably long and complicated story involving one of my studies I'd like to share.

I believe I've mentioned Lorenzo before. This man in the village has a daughter named Shania who had begun studying, attending meetings, became publisher, gave talks, etc. Lorenzo came to the meeting when Shania had her first talk, but we didn't see him after that. So one day as we're passing by their house in service, I stop and ask Lorenzo if he's ever thought about studying the Bible. He says "Yes, but scheduling it is really difficult for me. Tell you what, if I come to your meetings on Sunday, could we just study right after meeting is over?"

Brilliant idea, I thought.

So we've been doing this for a few months now, and he, his wife, and their baby son now make it to all the weekend meetings and a lot of the midweek ones as well.

On top of this, I learned that Lorenzo has been preaching to his younger brother Brandon, so finally Brandon asks me if he can study too. On the very first study after we finish, Brandon asks if he can get JW Library so he can prepare for the meetings. He also asks if he's allowed to comment on Sunday.

This study went on for two weeks before this same Circuit Overseer visit, so I thought it fitting to bring CO along on the study. After an hour we finish, and someone from the congregation was passing by and asked me a question, so I walk over to talk with her. When I return, the CO has the Jehovah's Will brochure (I haven't given Brandon yet since we ran out. Don't worry, this oversight will be corrected soon!) and is showing Brandon what are elders, ministerial servants, pioneers, etc. As we walk away from the study, I ask the CO why he chose that piece in particular, since there's lots of other things that come before it. He replies "Brandon asked if he has to finish the Bible Teach book before he can get baptized. I told him no, but he would still have to finish the book. Then he started asking me what he can do in the congregation afterwards."

On top of all this, Brandon also told me and his older brother Lorenzo are now preaching to the next younger brother, and have convinced him to study too. This is on top of their youngest brother (aged 9) attending meetings with their mother, and another older brother who's already a Witness in Skeldon congregation. Five down, one more to go!

Another fun event during CO visit is naturally the aforementioned Siparuta trip. Since we've gotten the boat, it's opened up the opportunity to go to many people who never could've made it before. This was true for Mark Herman, who's been handicapped since age 8, and Ruth Hendricks who suffered a stroke about fifteen years ago. Just bring along a cart, and they get to have a share in the day too!

In the wheelchair is Mark, and standing next to him in the red is Ruth. Now, in the picture you'll see an older woman leaning on a cane to listen to Mark. This is Granny Genevieve, who is almost completely immobile. However, she knows Mark and Ruth from years back, and when she heard those two had made the effort to come the entire 3 hour trip to visit, she decided she was going to put forth the effort to walk over to see them. So the sister standing to the right in the pink shirt (Mark's mother Fiona) helped her up, and walked with her over to cart so Granny Genevieve could see Mark and Ruth. After a few minutes, Genevieve asks "So when will you build a Kingdom Hall over here so I can come to your meetings?"

The remainder of the CO visit went very well, with the Sunday meeting having an attendance somewhere in the range of 71-78. After meeting, there was a congregation day at the beach, which eventually resulted in the CO playing cricket with all the children in the hall.

*insert Chariots of Fire theme song*

Lots of progress to be made in the days ahead. As usual, stay tuned.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Return to Apoera!

I'm not sure if you've read every single preceding blog post, so here's a quick catch-up for you regarding necessary information in understanding this blog post. Neighboring us in Suriname is an English speaking village and congregation named Apoera which I had visited once before, three years ago, by taking a 3-day long vacation, then visiting the Kingdom Hall there to deliver a public talk. At the time, this was a very rare thing.

Since then we've gotten a congregation boat which allows us to trade speakers with some regularity. This last Sunday was my turn to finally visit again.

Okay, I think you're all caught up.

Every three months we trade a speaker, but since the boat holds six (and Apoera has almost the exact same model, so they also fit six) we take this opportunity to bring along other brothers and sisters who may not get an opportunity to visit other congregations very often. Keeps it fun, every trip is a different crew. Well, besides Geno. Geno is boat captain. So he always goes.

Mathaus, my front row partner for the trip.
L-R: Anita Sarius (Mathaus' aunt), Geno Chacon, David Herman (newly baptized brother from Assembly post), and Janet Hendricks (Mathaus' grandmother and my fellow Pioneer School classmate)

The trip is supposed to take about 1 1/2 hours down the river, but water was rather rough that morning, so it wound up taking closer to 2 1/2 hours to reach. Happily though, we'd left early enough that we still had plenty of time. Geno does not mess around. Meeting at 10 AM? Alright, we're leaving at 4:45 AM!

What, you thought I was joking?

Part of the reason for this is that Suriname is one hour ahead of us, so when we leave at 5 AM, travel for 2 1/2 hours, that means we've really arrived at 8:30 AM.

Apoera's convenient dock.

Even then that leaves us an hour and a half, but the trip isn't quite finished. After the time spent in the boat on the river... still not quite to the final destination.

"Um, Geno? I think you took us to the Ohio University campus."

From here you must catch a car to then drive you to the Kingdom Hall. Fortunately, even though the village is large enough to have cars, it's still small enough that everyone knows where everything is.

There's a reason we only do this once every three months.

So after that, we make it to the Kingdom Hall/missionary home, where they kindly let us shower, change, eat breakfast, etc and prepare for meeting. Yes, change there. No way you want to wear your meeting clothes during that trip.

With more than an hour to spare, we have a leisurely time eating and gaffing with our host, and slowly people begin trickling in to meeting.

I can't think of a good caption. My sassiness has run out.

Over time, this trickle becomes a deluge. If you read my entry on my first Apoera visit, you saw that at that meeting the attendance was around eighteen or so. This meeting, they hit 92!

After meeting, we went to the home of a couple who was sent here after graduating the former version of SKE (Bible School for Christian Evangelizer Couple Ministerial Bible School School?) who lived, conveniently, next door. After about two hours of conversation, I realized the brother there owns a guitar and harmonica. Aaaaand all conversation from me ceased.

Upbuilding, encouraging spiritual conversation.
"An effervescing elephant / With tiny eyes and great big trunk"
"Um, Josh, could you pipe down?"

After several more hours of this, we determined it was time to go. Unfortunately, almost as soon as we decided this, rain hit, and hit hard. You may have noticed in the pictures that our boat doesn't have a cover on it, so we opted to wait it out. By time we finally got to Orealla, the sun was just about to set, but by golly we made it!

So now in the next three months Lennox Johnston goes again, then McKenzie, which means I get to go again in... August. Phooey.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Moving Where the Need is Greater

One frequent email you'll receive when writing a need greater blog is people seeking advice on how they can do the same thing. It also seems if you google, searching for blogs by need-greaters, nearly every single one has a page telling people how they can do it.

Honestly, that surprises me a little. Our publications are jam packed with suggestions that are way better than any of us could ever give you. Obviously I'm not here to supersede those publications or claim I can give suggestions more helpful that what's already been published. My blog is just to share experiences I have and have seen others enjoy. If you're interested in this lifestyle, here's where to look.

Publications Index, link to every need-greater related article
Online Library, results for search "Where Need Great"

By far though, the #1 question I get is about how you can support yourself as a need-greater. People seem to want specific advice on how to maintain employment, either online or via coming and going from native country to overseas assignment. To which I say, again, view these links.

Experiences of need-greaters in Tahiti, Benin, Taiwan, Dominican Republic, Brazil, the Philippines, and Mexico.

And if that isn't sufficient, read these.

Matthew 6:32-33
Psalm 37:25
Psalm 94:14
Hebrews 13:5b

Consider too, Romans 8:25. Naturally this verse is usually applied to far distant promises, but it can just as well apply to the immediate future. Maybe you don't see where your next paycheck is coming from. Maybe you don't see where your next meal is coming from. But you know what? You don't need to worry. This verse is used in the Insight book under the heading "Hope". A few excerpts...

"Hope is indispensable to the Christian. It accompanies joy, peace, and power of holy spirit ... It enables the Christian to endure with rejoicing, no matter what the conditions may be ... It is closely allied with the greatest quality, love, for one having the true love of God will also have hope in all of God's promises."

Take a few minutes/hours/days and give these a read. Even if you don't plan on moving where the need is greater, you'll at least get better reading out of those articles than you could ever get from this blog.

Of course, feel free to continue reading this too. But at the end of the day, all I can really offer you is a poll.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nothing Stops the Assembly!

Assembly time. Never an easy prospect in Guyana, despite how excited we always get for it. Never has that been more readily apparent than this last assembly we had. Here's the story, beginning last Thursday...

Thursday-Saturday: A group of four need-greaters from the Rosignol congregation were coming into Orealla for a visit. Their plan was come in Thursday, stay until Sunday, then travel back out and have a week to get everything ready for assembly that following weekend. But you know that expression "Best laid plans of mice and men".

They arrive fine and have a wonderful weekend. They get to visit all the sights in Orealla, go in the field ministry, have meals with lots of the local families, not get eaten by piranha, etc. All was perfect.

Sunday: One of the brothers delivered an excellent part for us Sunday morning, after which we took lunch with Sis Hendricks and her family. Then off to pack to catch the evening boat out so we'd have a week to prepare for assembly.

However, as we walk out of the house towards the docks, we see a local brother standing in the path with a worried look on his face. We ask what's wrong, and he says "Go take a look."

We reached near the dock to find it packed. Absolutely packed, with no space to even get on the dock. Literally into the hundreds of people waiting there. See, that weekend was what is called "Heritage Day", wherein gobs of tourists travel into Amerindian regions to see and experience those lifestyles. And it so happened that this was the night all those tourists were traveling out. Three boats arrive, fill up, and depart, and there are still people waiting to go out. All the local Witness families and myself turn to the four visiting need-greaters and tell them it looks like they're stuck in Orealla. Happily though, one of the other men in the village tells us he'll be shipping lumber out tomorrow, and we can catch a ride on his boat. Huzzah!

Monday: We arrive at the docks with our luggage and hammocks in tow (always have a hammock when traveling in Guyana). A sinking feeling begins in the pit of my stomach as I see the boat. Packed so full with lumber there is no space to get inside. The captain sees us standing there with our hammocks ready and quickly shouts "No passengers!"

At this point, we're beginning to get rather uncomfortable, as the visitors had brought enough money for the weekend, not for a prolonged stay in the village. Additionally, they had numerous responsibilities to take care of before the assembly began. On top of that, I had also run out of money (having only exactly enough to pay boat fare and get a bus to my bank to draw out more cash), which meant I was unable to call the brother whose home I would be staying in and tell him why I wasn't there.

Happily though, one of the other men in the village tells us he'll be shipping lumber out tomorrow on a different boat, and we can catch a ride with that one. Huzzah!

Tuesday: 6 AM I awake to the sound of someone calling. It's the boat captain from yesterday telling me the boat has been delayed. The people shipping out lumber need to get tags from the Guyana Forestry Commission before they can take logs out of the reservation. Happily though, I'm told it'll be done before the day is through, and we can leave Wednesday.

Wednesday: 6 AM I awake to sound of someone calling. It's the boat captain from yesterday telling me the boat has been delayed. The tags have arrived, but now they're having trouble with the tractor that pulls the lumber out of the jungle. Happily though, I'm told it should finish by tonight and we can leave Thursday morning.

Thursday: Do I really need to say it?

Additionally, Thursday is the only day that there's a specific boat (Neil Boat) that always runs, so we're guaranteed to get out. However, those dreams are crushed when we're told Neil has canceled his regular Thursday run.

Despondent and out of ideas, myself and one of the visitors go for a swim way out at Chalk Hill beach. As we're there swimming, we see afar off on the river a boat approaching. Neil Boat! We scream, jump out of the water and run back to the dock (about 30-45 minutes) and reach just after the boat does. Still dripping I run to the captain and ask "Going Skeldon tonight??" He replies "8:30 tonight."

We continue our run back to the Kingdom Hall, where we have now had our bags packed and waiting since Sunday afternoon. After alerting the others, we grab the bags and sling our hammocks up on the boat to save our places. Then we stay seated on the boat, refusing to leave.

Quickly too, the entire congregation arrives. As they're putting up the hammocks, I ask why we heard Neil had canceled, only to see him arrive after all. The reply?

"Neil says he canceled, but then heard the Jehovah's Witnesses needed to get to an assembly, so he came out to get us."

Friday: We land Skeldon about 5:30 AM, upon which myself and another brother named David Herman immediately grab our bags and head to the home of the brother who's taking us in. Fortunately the brother is already awake and lets us in his house, so we quickly unpack and begin the extensive task of ironing (those suits were packed up inside suitcases from Sunday evening to Friday morning. I'm still trying to get the wrinkles out). We do haircuts, shower, change, and then leave for New Amsterdam. I had to be there at 1:30 for pioneer seminar before assembly and David had shopping to do, as he was getting baptized the following day but didn't have the proper clothes for it (this is what we had originally planned to do from Sunday-Thursday, assuming we had made it out to the coast early). Plus the very very important trip to the bank.

Thankfully, we were able to arrive early enough to not only visit bank and do the shopping, but even take a relaxing hour long lunch, after which I left for seminar while David went to visit a relative who lives nearby.

To put this all in perspective, we traveled from the red dot (Orealla) to New Amsterdam in the space of eight hours, by boat, by foot, by bus, and by car, a distance of about 140 miles.

Of course, the pioneer seminar was amazing. Not just because of the information shared there, but also because of who was there. You see, last year's seminar we had four pioneers from Orealla. This time, we had nine. That "Could You Try It For One Year?" part was quite effective.

Saturday: Morning of the assembly. I could use all this space to talk about the parts and the illustrations and everything, but eventually most of you will get these same talks (or already have), so instead I'm going to tell you about three different people there.

David Herman - As already mentioned, my travel partner for this trip was David, a 16 year old brother in Orealla. He had formerly had a reputation as being Orealla's bad boy, the one who would bully others and all manner of things. Eventually though his family suffered a tragedy, and it served as a wake-up call of sorts for him. Since then he's applied himself in the congregation, in personal study, and has (as of last month) started three Bible studies, one of which is with his former school teacher Percy, who had been impressed with the changes David had made, and wanted to know what the cause was.

So finally at this assembly, he was able to get baptized, and then spent most of last night talking with me and our host about pioneer service and qualifying to serve as a ministerial servant. So looking good!

Tiffany - I don't know her last name. Apologies. Tiffany is a 12 year old girl who was born in Orealla. Her mother had started studying the Bible, but her teacher noticed Tiffany sitting in, so eventually offered her a study as well, which she accepted. Despite having been invited to meetings, Tiffany was never able to make it as her mother was still attending a church.

Here's where we reach an interesting problem. Orealla has no high school, since the government deemed the population as being too small and wouldn't fund a high school, so when students reach a certain age they take a test, and based off their scores, they get sent out to the coastal area to attend high school. In general, the better your scores, the further from Orealla you get sent. A regrettable situation, but all the Witness children will actually request to be sent to the Skeldon schools, as those are the closest ones to Orealla, and in turn, to their families.

Tiffany and her parents are not Witnesses, so she got sent very far away.

Which is why I was struck with shock when, after the assembly, I'm standing by the cleaning desk asking about something, and I turn to my right and see Tiffany there bringing back a mop and bucket.

"Tiffany?" I ask. Before she can reply, one of the sisters I went to pioneer school with runs up, grabs her, and jokingly says "No! She's my student now! You can't have her back!"

It turns out Tiffany was sent to a school that's right nearby the New Amsterdam Kingdom Hall. This sister immediately latched on to her, began studying, and now that her mother isn't around, Tiffany has begun attending the meetings. And was at the assembly, helping clean up afterwards!

Tenisha - Brighton congregation seems to get all the best Bible students. Enter Tenisha. When she was first contacted by Jehovah's Witnesses, she said before she studied the Bible, she wanted to have it be proven that the Bible was true. Her request was to study the most difficult and complicated piece of the Bible, reasoning that if the hardest part of it could have been proven right, it would have to be from God.

So, they studied the Daniel's prophecy book.

I got to sit in on her study on a few occasions. The first time, the study began with "So when we left off on our last study, you were asking how it is that in Daniel 8:25 Jehovah, the Most High, could be called a Prince..."

Me, while sitting in on the study, uselessly.

After going through the entire book and becoming thoroughly convinced of the Bible's authenticity, they began a study in the Bible Teach book. And from there, Tenisha showed no signs of slowing down, despite facing increasing persecution from her family along the way, even after receiving threats of being kicked out of the house. I'm told from just the fourth study, she had already set regular pioneering as a future goal.

Tenisha with her Bible teacher, just before becoming an unbaptized publisher.

... and tackling her first set of householders in the ministry!

Until finally, at this last assembly, she too got baptized along with David and six others. Man, the next two pioneer schools are going to be great!

David on left, Tenisha in the middle with blue cap, and six others whom I do not know but are probably every bit as awesome.

The moral of the story: sometimes getting to the assembly is tough. Sometimes, as one of the speakers said, we must make literal sacrifices. But go anyway. It's worth it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pain and Gain

You know how oftentimes something bad will happen to you, but in the end it turns out to have been for the best?

Yeah, so that happened. We had been having a wonderful day in Siparuta, finding our studies and sharing the Comfort Awake! magazine with everyone. After the long day we finally reached back to Orealla, and I was greatly looking forward to being able to sit and relax at home, but I remembered I had a Bible study scheduled. And it was uphill, about a half hour walk away from where I was. So I decide to be faithful and begun the long trudge up.

I reach my call, and he isn't home. Pout. But then I recall I had another call nearby whom I hadn't gotten home in a long time, so I go to visit him on a whim. And he's home! So we sit and have a lovely discussion, and I feel my walk was worth it.

Here's where the story takes a turn.

See, I really enjoy walking barefoot, and will often take off my shoes when walking home from service.

I also don't usually pay close attention to where I'm walking.

And Orealla has lots of tiny little stumps barely sticking up out of the sand.

As I walk along, wrapped in my own thoughts, a sudden painful cracking sensation wracks my foot. Specifically, the long toe next to the big one.

Of course, I'm still faced with a 30+ minute walk home, so I hobble along best I can. It's a more throbbing sensation than pain, so I figure no big deal at first. The next morning, however...

I awake from sleep to the horrifying revelation that my long toe has swollen to the same size as the big toe. I step out of bed and experience an immense amount of pain as the foot hits the floor. Now I begin to suspect more than a simple bruise or stubbed toe.

Naturally I hobble along to the Health Centre (Orealla's version of a hospital. And yes, they use the British spelling) where they examine it and say "It's probably broken. Come back in a few days if it still hurts."

The plus side of Guyana: at the hospitals, at least you don't have to wait in line to be woefully disappointed. In America, you have to wait at least an hour and a half before the hospital can disappoint you.

As I hobble and wince home, a neighbor notices my stance and asks about it. I give him the full story (along with some choice words about the quality of health care pretty much everywhere) and he says "Go ahead and wait at home. I'll bring something for you."

In a few minutes he comes by with a lemon, a knife, and gauze. I'll be honest, it's a rather terrifying sight. What he says they'll do is cut the lemon in half and cook it, then put the halves on top and on bottom of your foot, wrap them in gauze to stay, and it'll remove all the pain.

My foot went on to have a successful career in bank robberies.

IT WORKS. Pain was gone. Eventually I took it off since I was going to take a shower. By time I got out the pain was so much that if someone had offered to sever my toe I'd happily accept. But I get back upstairs and re-wrap the foot, and I felt fine.

Here's the only problem. I was scheduled to give the public talk on Sunday, and we didn't have time to reschedule or anything, so I asked what to do, since the one thing everyone said to not do is wear shoes. So the elders say "Give the talk barefoot." So ... I did.

Blue shirt, orange tie, green suit? Perfectly acceptable.

Let's take a closer look there...

All brothers: Eat your hearts out
I must say though, the outpouring of support was ridiculous. Every meal I had at least two families providing my food. I assumed all I would accomplish for a week or two was reading books while lying in a hammock. Before I could easily walk again, I had covered just two pages because I was getting so many visitors.

As soon as I was able to walk again I got a call from a brother in Skeldon. A need-greater named Ken was wanting a good place to fish, so every single person told him Orealla. They asked if this brother could stay with me, so I say sure. His first day out, this happens.

Look at that proud fatherly stare.

In case you're not up on South American breeds of fish, this is what is known as a "Pi-ry" by the locals. To most others, it is called Piranha. It is also worth noting that nearly everyone who saw this claimed it is the largest one they've ever seen. So kudos to Ken for getting it out of our river!

Breakfast the next morning was delicious.

"Alas poor Yorick. I knew him Horatio."

Before I finish, some have asked why I haven't yet shared anything from my recent Pioneer School class. My main reason for this is that as far as material, the point of Pioneer School is that you hear the material when you go. Nearly everything else I would have to share from it would be various inside jokes that would take an unnecessary amount of time to explain. Perhaps eventually I could piece together some amusing anecdotes. But for now, allow me to at least share the class photo.

I'm the one that's white.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Circuit Overseer Visit and Other Assorted Happenings

This last week was our Circuit Overseer visit. Not only that, but it was our final visit with our current C.O. and his wife.

While of course the entire week is exciting and all, I primarily want to focus on (what else?) our trip to Siparuta. Typically when we go we use K-Pro (or Kingdom Proclaimer VII, the congregation boat) but that only has six seats. Fine for a typical service group, which is usually between four and six, but not for the group we get during CO visit. This last Thursday when we went, we had an astounding 20 out of our 34 publishers. Our circuit overseer looked at us and said "You're gonna need a bigger boat." Then he shot an oxygen tank in a shark's mouth.

Wait, maybe I'm remembering that wrong.

We had anticipated the large group and rented the use of a second boat ahead of time. Fortunately one of our pioneer sisters has a generous father who also has a speedboat twice the size of K-Pro, which he offered to let us use for the entire day on the sole condition that we pay him for the gas we used.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water ... oh wait, it still is.

Pictured: Sister West, Geno, David, Brother West
Not pictured: Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Bruce

You're gonna need an adequately sized boat.

So thus, 6:30 Thursday morning, the group gathers on the landing in front of the Kingdom Hall and begins filling up the boats. We took 20 people, a public witnessing cart, and all the literature and lunches we could carry. After a trip over exceptionally choppy waters we arrived safely and quickly made groups and dispersed. By 11:30 AM we had managed to cover the whole village, which left us a long and leisurely afternoon in which to do return visits and Bible studies.

If you've read this blog before, you know Raymond was my top priority. We got him home and talked for about 45 minutes, during which I invited him to the talk on Sunday. He said that he and his wife almost never travel outside the village, but he said "My two sons will be in Orealla next Saturday and Sunday. I'll tell them when they get home that they need to go to the Kingdom Hall."

He's told me repeatedly about the interest his sons have, but I have yet to be able to meet them. While asking about them, I asked which church they attend in the village. He said "My wife and I go to the Pentecostal church and my sons go to the New Life Ministry church, but all of us are Jehovah's Witnesses."

So first off, yay. Secondly, looks like we have some stuff to talk about.

I've also been able to get a really good study going with a young man in the village named Trevon. He had wanted to go to the Memorial but didn't get a chance to, but then a week later he visited the cart while my parents were working it and he recognized them. He grabbed a Bible Teach book and requested a study, which I've now been able to get to four times.

We also met a very young girl named Anisa. Actually, we had first met her weeks earlier on the big boat traveling back after convention. She was uncharacteristically outgoing and spent the whole seven hour ride back talking with myself, Geno, and a few others. When she told me she lived in Siparuta I promised I'd have a book for her to read. Fast forward to this last Thursday. As I was preparing to leave I was thinking in the back of my mind "Bring Bible Story book in case we find where Anisa lives." Which I remembered. The trouble is, I thought to save myself having to carry it around everywhere, I'd leave it in the cart with Mark.

You see where this is going...

"What? Me? Place your literature? Nooooo..."

Just as we're about to head back to where the cart is located so we can eat lunch, we find Anisa! She's heading the same way, so she walks with us. We reach the cart and.... nothing. Book has been taken and placed.

"Tee hee!"

So instead I promise to bring another one the next time we come. Well, Anisa is having none of it. I told her she'd get a book to read and by golly was she getting one! So in between bites of lunch, I find her a Listen to God brochure and begin showing her through it and talking about the pictures and the Scriptures in it and everything.

As this is happening, I notice one of the sisters in the congregation come over and sit next to us. I ask what she's doing and she says "I'm auxiliary pioneering. I want to keep my time going during lunch." So, fine, pretty good idea. Unfortunately she said it loud enough that everyone else heard, and pretty soon everybody was sitting around. Anisa looks up confusedly and says "Do they all have books for me too?"

This picture contains 0% Anisa. Just to spare you from the most disappointing game of Where's Waldo ever.

Finally by about 4 PM we've finished with our calls and headed back to Orealla. Friday was of course service again, and in the afternoon I got to take West with me on some Bible studies.

Well, more accurately, I was supposed to take West on studies. Turned out to be just one. Lorenzo.

Ooooooooh I just realized I have yet to tell you about Lorenzo! So, if you follow my Instagram page (official motto: 1 out of every 5 guaranteed to be good!) you probably have seen a photo of a new and young sister named Shania who just kinda started coming to meetings and was an unbaptized publisher before anyone knew it. So anyway, Lorenzo is Shania's father. He came to the meeting when Shania was being a householder for a talk for the first time, so naturally I talk with him there. Find out he would actually be interested in a study so I try to establish a time to go by and start that. He says "I'm never sure when I'm working or not so it's hard to say. How about I'll just come to your meetings whenever I can, and we'll study after the meeting?"

Kinda brilliant plan actually. Why do I never think of things like that?

The following Sunday he comes to meeting, and almost immediately after he comes up to me and asks when we begin. We sit down in front and go over Lesson 1 in the Good News brochure, cover the whole thing. When we finish, I look at the clock and say "That took us about fifteen minutes. Is it okay if we take that long again next week?"

He says "No, I don't think so. We should do half an hour."

Since then he's missed one meeting, and we've begun covering the brochure "Who Are Doing Jehovah's Will Today" as well.

I forgot how this story got started. *looks back through blog draft* Ah yes! After the one meeting he missed, I asked if I could come to his house Friday so we could catch up, and he was enthusiastic about that. The plan was for West and myself to go by him and another study that afternoon. Long story short, we only got to Lorenzo. We had a good long study, and though we ran out of time to get to the other one, I learned that he was busy and wasn't home anyway. So it all worked out!

Aaaaanyway, throughout the entire week we had amazing turnouts for ministry. Wednesday was 23, Thursday 20, Friday 18, and Saturday 32. Sunday for meeting we had a record breaking 84 in attendance (including Lorenzo and his wife with their infant son, for whom they had bought a tiny dress shirt), the largest we've had for anything outside of Memorial. Pretty soon we'll need to knock out the back wall of the Kingdom Hall so we can fit everyone.

Sunday night we had a going away party of sorts for the Wests. They'll be here for Pioneer School next week (to which I'm going!!), then visiting one more congregation before moving on to the new assignment. There were some truly awe inspiring things that happened at that gathering, but were in fact so awe inspiring that I cannot discuss them until I have pictures to back up my story. So stay tuned.


Before concluding, I have a long winded story to tell. A few days before the overseer arrived, I had run out of money. More specifically, run out of cash. I still had enough in the bank, but due to no cash I had no way to get to the bank. I wasn't too concerned though. I had everything I needed already - rent was paid, light bill paid, phone had credit, etc. All I was concerned about was food. But considering my experiences here before, even this wasn't too concerning. I just prayed and told Jehovah that for this next week, I was going to have to depend on him for food.

I looked around my house and realized I still had a pretty good supply of food. Rice, chick peas, and cassava bread. Not the kind of thing I'd normally eat on its own, but hey, it'd work.

Three days later I ran out. I began wondering what to do when someone came by with food. It was enough for lunch and dinner. Then came Siparuta. Three people brought me lunch. After we got back, someone offered to make me dinner. After eating that, someone else came by with dinner. They were there though when someone else offered me dinner. After accepting it I asked why they'd brought me food when they had just heard somebody else offer the same. They shrugged, said "I don't know" and left.

In case you're not used to these stories already, this kept up until yesterday. What happened yesterday, specifically? Well, at this point I started wondering how I'd get out to Pioneer School. Food is awesome, but it doesn't buy me boat passage. Well, three people, at various times, gave me a combined $11,000 GYD ($55 U.S.) which easily covers my passage, gets me to the bank, and lets me buy my own food until then.

Now in case you're wondering "But Josh, aren't all the people there kinda poor? And you're taking all their food?" True, that is true. But you think they'd be generous to a fellow Witness and not have Jehovah pay them back too?

I say this because a boat came in just before our meeting tonight with over 500 pounds of rice, plus sugar, flour, and other foodstuffs, with the instructions that it be distributed to the Orealla Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses. None of us sent for this. None of us asked anybody for this (no human anyway), and I don't think any of us know who sent this. Nonetheless, we all now have so much food that we spent a few hours after our meeting hauling wheelbarrows full of food to different brothers and sisters homes.

The Imitate Their Faith book tonight was about Peter trusting Jesus and getting so many fish his boat began to sink. Just gonna mention that.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

2016 Regional Convention

As a general rule when writing this blog, I try to strike a balance between upbuilding experiences and a realistic look at some of the difficulties you'll experience with this kind of life and service.

And, as it turns out, the conventions.

Our regional convention for this year was held July 1-3, and was (as is the custom) from a Friday to Sunday. The only downside with this arrangement is that when you're leaving Orealla, the boats only run Sunday night or Thursday night. So you have two options: (1) You can leave Thursday, land on the coast early Friday morning, and go straight to the convention site while carrying all your luggage and without having gotten a decent night of sleep, or (2) You can leave the previous Sunday and find somewhere to stay for the entire week, and then travel back to Orealla the Monday after convention is over.

I personally prefer option 2.

So on June 26th, several of us traveled out to a variety of places to spend the week at. It was a very pleasant boat ride, since the boat is usually shipping out a large amount of fresh fruits that will be sold on the coast.

If you could smell this right now, you would never again know sorrow.
After passing a lovely night sleeping next to several piles of these, we landed the following morning at 7. The whole Orealla crew had breakfast together at our preferred spot at which point we parted ways. Myself and a younger brother named David were going to spend the week with a fairly new(ish) brother in the Brighton congregation, who also happily has two spare bedrooms.

We were able to spend the week mostly helping with cleaning work at the site. Guyana doesn't have an assembly hall or any permanent place for these, so of course we wind up renting somewhere, usually a cricket grounds or such. Obviously, this results in a lot of work to make it suitable for an assembly. Among the usual work to do (sweeping, mopping, collecting garbage) there's things you never have to do at an assembly hall. For instance, removing gum off of chairs. And seeing as this is Guyana, what is the preferred tool for gum removal?

Expect this to be a recurring image.

Plus then there's the sound equipment, stage construction, and video stuff that needs setting up for the genuinely impressive show that gets put on at convention these days.

MacGyver would be proud...
This is where I was stationed throughout the convention. See, the system had been thoroughly tested on Thursday afternoon to ensure everything would work. The big screen worked, the sound worked, the videos played without interruption. 'Twas awe inspiring.

But then there's that nasty disclaimer I gave you at the beginning....

Friday morning. Excitement is buzzing for the assembly. Over a thousand people gathered together. And no video.

As we scramble to sort it out, the first few speakers do an admirable job of covering for the video's absence.

Finally it turns out there's not sufficient power supply, so two men (employees of the company providing the screen and equipment) hustle out to start up a generator that's standing by. After some starts and stops, the generator fires up. They're able to use it to provide half the required electricity, and the screen begins showing clearly.

Good. Settled. Done.

Oh. No audio.

Bear with me here, because I'm not 100% on the cause, but I think what happened is that the generator firing on and off for a few minutes caused various power surges that fried and/or meddled with the channels on the mixer being used (again, not 100% on the details so this could be complete hogwash), so we had to hastily replace the cables so as to allow the audio to work properly. Once it got running proper, all went great. And since we'd missed a few of the videos for the morning, the Circuit Overseer decided to have us play them during the lunch break so everyone could still see them.

Happily, that was the end of the troubles.

The remainder of the convention carried on as they're expected to. Catching up with loads of friends, meeting new ones... and occasionally running into someone you had seen from a great distance six years ago and randomly snapped a photo of because you really liked his hat!

My hero.
This pic was from July 2010, and just Friday as my eyes were scanning the crowd, I saw this most extraordinary hat again and had an immediate flashback. Naturally, I had to rush up and meet this man. I tried stealing his hat too, but his reflexes were much too fast.

Saturday morning and afternoon were fantastic too, but I can't divulge why without spoiling it for everyone. However, we also had a great Saturday night, as myself and David and Michael were asked to assist with site security. Joining us with this was Kojo, my former roommate from several years ago. Let's see.... several hours by ourselves in a large venue... what to do? Answer, ROCK! With, um, acoustic guitars. And one harmonica.

"Old pirates yes they rob I / Sold I to the merchant ships"
Doing this does tend to cause one to be rather sleepy during the program the next day. But happily, there's plenty to keep you awake during convention.

("ASSYRIANS! AT THE GAAAATE!!!" Don't worry, no spoilers. You've seen the preview already)

Ditto on Sunday. Great, won't talk about why specifically, but was very glad about the weather. All throughout the morning and afternoon we had some storm clouds gathering. Not like an assortment of darkish clouds. I mean a full on approaching apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster storm. Pure black skies with incredible wind gusts. Thankfully, weather held right up until the final amen. Almost immediately afterward....

Ah yes, the obligatory convention flash flood.
Okay, I can't really call this a problem per se, seeing as this came at the end of the program. Essentially this just caused the shoes of some of us to get wet. And also led to single greatest post-cleaning job I've ever seen...

Of course I'm thrilled about a job that involves being barefoot,
hiking up one's trousers, and slogging through mud puddles.

But naturally, despite the handful of issues, all was handled admirably and we still got a great convention out of it. Two personal highlights for me: (1) some from Siparuta were able to make it out (specifically Yanet, whom you can read more about in the entry about our last Memorial) and (2) the aforementioned two company employees. You see, this is the second time we've used this company to provide the equipment for convention. Last year, the guys showed up to set up, then left to sleep/chill/otherwise not be at the convention site. This year, something different happened.

They had already left to do their sleep/chill/otherwise by time the program was beginning on Friday morning. But when we realized the screen wasn't working, they quickly returned and fixed the issue (as seen above). Once this happened, they were taking no chances. One of them rooted himself in a seat and stayed there throughout the entire program. At first his eyes were focused solely on the large screen and camera equipment, but over time his gaze shifted. Began looking directly at the speaker, following along with my Bible, standing for the songs and prayer, and finally applauding at the end of the day.

When the program was over, he mentioned to me that in two weeks he's going to Georgetown to do the same for the convention there. He seemed quite happy about that.

So when everything began failing first day, I was worried that no good would come of it. Turns out I was wrong.

Summary: Great convention. Now back at Michael's and preparing to go to sleep, then suddenly realizing I ought to blog eventually. Which I've done. So now to bed.

"This blog is mine. It belongs to me. This blog, that is to say, my blog, is as it were, mine. This blog that is, is mine. The next thing I will write is my blog.





The blog, by J. Westfall. Mister, brackets brackets. This is my blog. Ahem."

Saturday, June 11, 2016

A Day With Hendricks

Every now and again, after a hectic period of Memorial preparations, assembly preparations, visitors, studies, Siparuta trips, and all of that, it's nice to just take a day where nothing happens quickly whatsoever. Thankfully I got a day like that a little while back.

(some of you have already heard the first piece of this story, but there's more, don't worry)

On Thursday morning, only myself and another brother who is aged 19 showed up for field service. Since our congregation had recently finished working the whole territory, it was time to start back over again. We called the service overseer and he told us to pick whichever piece of the village we wanted to start the territory cycle over again. The younger brother and I discussed this briefly and eventually decided to work the furthest piece of our village. Since there's no vehicles in Orealla, all our territory is reached on foot, so it made sense for us to tackle the area that's an hour walk away, so then the nearer pieces could be worked when the rest of the congregation is out.

After we make this decision and begin to head out, one more person shows up. Sister Hendricks, who is a regular pioneer and nearing 80 years old. The brother and I looked at each other and had a moment of agreement. We couldn't ask her to march out with us to the way far out reaches (commonly called "over the creek"), so we said "We can work anywhere. Is there any place you would like to go?"

Her immediate reply: "Let's go over the creek. I haven't been there in a little while."

So we head out, and cover all of the furthest houses in that region. Along the way, we also meet several people from (the Dutch speaking) Suriname who were visiting the village, and without hesitation she pulls out a collection of Dutch literature she has and begins sharing it with all of them. Also started a study with one.

After the morning, we begin the long walk back home. Along the way she tells us about many different older customs, things her parents and grandparents had taught them. Such as how to recognize different types of trees from quite a long way away.

The larch. The... larch.

When we had nearly made it back, Sister Hendricks asked if I could help her with some of her farming work that afternoon. Since the village itself has only a set amount of space, and most of that is used for houses and such, most of the farming is done uphill and further out into the jungle, where each person can apply for their own plot of farmland. What she was needing help with this day was taking some of the very small plants she'd been tending in her yard and transplanting them to the larger farm that she had up hill.

"Yo tree. You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"

Despite having almost no skill in such a field (edit: just caught the pun) I agreed to go along, together with her grandson Matthaus. And I must say, I really enjoy their gardening style.

No gloves. No watering can. No shovels. In fact, only one tool to speak of. Specifically, a cutlass.

Right, as in "Arrgh! Landlubbers! Hand over your gold!"

It seems with this one tool, you can dig the hole, tear out all other roots and plantlike substances, bury the new plant, cover it back over, kill all nearby snakes, and finish the entire day with zero dirt on your hands. Hendricks in fact went out to farm still in her service outfit. By the end of the day, she still looked presentable enough to go on studies.

I, on the other hand...

We finished up surprisingly quickly though. Mostly because she's super fast and didn't need me there at all (I think my sole contribution was pushing the wheelbarrow up the hill for her). And from there, I carried on home, happily identifying many different types of trees from quite a long way away.

The larch. The... larch.