Thursday, May 25, 2017

"Live No Longer for Themselves"

In our midweek meeting recently, we watched the video together about two Witnesses looking back on decisions they made and how their lives turned out because of it. One giving up a football career, the other a career as an opera singer. In the course of the video, the sister quoted 2 Corinthians 5:15.

"And he died for all so that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up."

Fairly familiar verse. Read it multiple times, heard it quoted even more. Now I'll be perfectly honest, I never gave it much thought. For one, I have no marketable skill that would lead someone to offer me a multi-million dollar contract, so no worries there. But more than that, I felt like I was already doing a pretty good job of applying this verse. When I was 18 I moved to where the need was greater, spent some time at Bethel, and I have no goals of a career in the world, pretty much no possessions, and pretty much no money. So what's the worry?

(Aside from the horrific lack of humility this line of thinking reveals in me, which is definitely something I'll have to give attention to soon)

"I believe this book has some excellent advice for you about that. Let me find that section..."


As the video played at the meeting and the words of the verse were popped up on the big screen, a small piece of that scripture stuck in my mind.

"Live no longer for themselves."

It occurred to me that the way we live involved a lot more than what we do for work. Throughout the rest of that part (and meeting) those words kept nagging at me, so when I got home I decided to do some reading about them. Looking 2 Corinthians 5:15 up in the Watchtower Library led me to the May 15, 2010 Watchtower. Towards the end of that magazine there's an article titled "Sow to the Spirit and Reach Out". In the article they discuss the verse in question over two paragraphs. Here's a brief piece with the most relevance to my sudden rant.

"Meditating on the love Christ has for people stirs up gratitude within us. As a result, we realize that it would be most unfitting for us to keep on ‘sowing with a view to the flesh’ by pursuing selfish goals..."

Perfect, I thought, I'm avoiding selfish goals! (Argh, there's that humility thing again) But the paragraph isn't finished yet.

"... and living largely to gratify ourselves."

There's the problem. Even though I'm serving where the need is greater, this made me consider how much time I'm actually spending doing what I should be doing, versus how much time I'm basically just goofing off doing whatever I feel like.

Case in point: I recently finished reading an 897 page novel ... for the third time. The day I finished it, I was home and laying in a hammock, despite the fact that it was one of my regular service days. I opted to stay home because I'd made my time for the month, and chose to just relax instead.

It's worth noting I wasn't stressed out or overworked or anything of the sort. Obviously relaxation is important, but I wasn't seeking much needed R&R. This was just laziness.

"Siiiiiigh ... for shame Josh. For shame."


I realized this was in fact much worse than I'd anticipated as I thought about how much work I'd put into preparing for that meeting we just had, and specifically the part with that video. Sure, I read through all the material, but did I really take the time to make sure I understood it and could apply it to myself? Clearly not, as I didn't even watch the video. I reasoned to myself I'd seen it when it first came out, seen it a second time when we had a Kingdom Ministry part about it, and seen it a third time when I watched it at Jeff Guess' house. Instead, I willfully chose to skip watching it in preparation for that meeting, and rather watched a Spencer Tracy movie I'd been hoping to see for some time.

Obviously I'm not saying all recreation is bad, but I'm realizing I need to re-examine how much time I'm spending living for me, doing stuff just because I think it sounds fun.

And also work some more on that humility thing, clearly.

"Get your act together. Yeesh."

Friday, April 28, 2017

"Do All Things for the Sake of the Good News"



"Do all things for the sake of the good news, in order to share it with others". This is the phrase that kept running through my head as I held my hands against the floor of the boat, desperately trying to stave off the leak that had suddenly sprung as we hurtled down the Courantyne river in the midst of a heavy rainstorm.

Perhaps I should explain.

After the fantastic assembly we had a few weeks ago (an assembly which three of my Bible students were able to attend) we had to immediately return to Orealla to begin setting up for the Memorial. Both Memorials, in fact, as we have two villages in our territory which are separated by a great distance. This makes it incredibly difficult for people from the other village to attend in Orealla, so we've finally come to the conclusion that it's better for us to bring a Memorial to them.

Better. Not easier.

Due to the manner of the boat schedules, we had less than a week to set up for these two events. Thankfully, we'd known long in advance that this time crunch would come, so we were able to get a lot sorted ahead of time. The venue for Memorial in the next village had already been reserved, we already had the decorations and things put together, we still have a mobile sound system on hand from last year when my parents came to help us out with it, so all that was sorted. It looked like perhaps we'd have an easy time preparing.

Until, of course, the Saturday before.

In technical terms, this is known as a big boo-boo.
With three days to spare before Memorial, the Orealla sound system suffered what we chose to call a "total existence failure". This came as a shock to precisely no one, as this sound system has been on death's door for the better part of four years now, held together only by twine, duct tape, Geno's mad MacGyver skills, and holy spirit. Finally, however, it reached a point of inoperability.

This naturally led to a mad dash of phone calls, texts, emails, etc, to each and every person we could think of who may possibly have anything to lend us. Computer speakers would've sufficed for us. Thankfully, a solution was found. A brother from somewhere (so I don't actually know the guy, apologies) had a subwoofer and two computer speakers he was willing to lend us. The only slight downside was there were no more boats until Monday night, meaning Sunday at meeting we simply did without a sound system.

"Ground control to Major Tom ..."
"Josh! What's going on in there!"
"Just testing out the new system."

Side note: this congregation can carry a tune super well. I mean, sure, North Athens is louder, but still...

So that wrapped up our exciting endeavor of the Orealla sound system. Which leads us to the excitement in Siparuta.

Memorial this year was of course Tuesday, so Monday we went over in order to ensure everyone had gotten invitations and to set up for the venue. Last year we'd used the Health Centre (yes, British spelling), but this year we'd been offered use of the largest school in the village. There was, um, a lot of cleaning needing done.

Before ...
... and after.

Naturally we set everything up and began testing. Except one little issue. Now this sound system wasn't working. We ran through everything, and soon realized it was the microphone. It seemed to have just completely given up. The amp and speakers were working fine, just this one mic. Unfortunately, we didn't have a replacement, and the plug on it wasn't a standard microphone plug, rather being the same size and build as a headphone jack. We returned to Orealla that afternoon and very quickly set about the same routine of calling, texting, and emailing everyone we could trying to find a replacement. This was exceptionally more panicked though, since perhaps you'll recall the boat would be leaving for Orealla that afternoon. Just in case we couldn't get anything, we set about building our own microphone. Yes, you read that right. We built a mic.

Necessity is the mother of invention.
In case it's not readily obvious, what you're looking at here is a six inch piece of PVC pipe with a mic cover on the front, with an old pair of earbuds stuffed inside, taped shut. Why earbuds work as a mic, I don't know. This isn't even one of those earbuds with a mic built into it. Just ordinary earbuds. Still baffled by it. But hey, it worked!

Thankfully we didn't have to use this, as shortly after someone who lived nearby the dock in Skeldon found a suitable mic and sent it down to us.

Finally, the day came. A brother from New Amsterdam came in Monday night to give our Memorial talk in Orealla (and to deliver the mic and sound system), leaving a group of six of us to travel over to Siparuta Tuesday morning to finalize preparations for Memorial there.

Loading up K-Pro, as Joel Freeman from New Amsterdam sees us off.
4 of 6
5 of 6. I'm 6. In case that wasn't obvious.

All was going well on the journey, until all of a sudden a hole appeared in the front of the boat and water began shooting through the opening and spraying us in the face. At first we had a good laugh at the spray, but then the hole began to get noticeably bigger. And water began pouring in more quickly. Really quickly. We were too far from Orealla to turn back, too far from Siparuta to continue, but it would be senseless to pull over and land on one of the islands since we had no tools to patch the hole, and there's no phone signal in that part of the river.

Having nothing else to do, I pulled a handkerchief out and stuffed it over the hole, and held it as tightly as I could. Sherine (the sister in the back row) began bailing as fast as possible. Naturally, the weather chose this exact time to begin pouring buckets of rain on us.

Normally the trip to Siparuta takes us 15-20 minutes in our boat, but the leak necessitated our traveling at a lower speed to avoid undue pressure on the front of the boat, which likely would've widened the hole. All told, it took nearly an hour to reach. Just as the village finally came in view, I turned around to everyone else and said something to the effect of "Once we get off the boat, this is all going to be really hilarious."

No one laughed. Or smiled. Or agreed.

Anyway, we made it alive, though considerably wet and cranky. We were able to dry off and finish setting up for Memorial.

Guyana has a thing about curtains. Still confused by that.

With a few hours to spare, we set about changing into our meeting clothes. While doing this, I realized something...

Shower? Shower.

I think it's a good sign you've been in the jungle too long when you see a shower that has three walls and no door, and is overgrown with weeds, and you think "Oh awesome! Running water!"

Anyway, we all got cleaned up and ready in plenty of time. Memorial was amazing, having a grand total of 33 attending by the end. Orealla as well set a  new personal record with 117, bringing us to 150 total between the two venues.

After all this was done and finished, we had ourselves a lovely congregation outing at the end of the week. We traveled out to the furthest edge of the village for a bush cook/swim day/etc.




And I finally found someone who is a worthy match of my football skills.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Have "Plenty to Do in the Work of the Lord"




If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may have lately noticed something seems amiss. The complete and utter lack of updates for 2017 so far. I do apologize for this, but I have my reasons.

(pauses and looks back at older blog posts, and fully realizes how much has happened since last update)

Wow. This is worse than I thought.

Alright, let's start with February. Two brothers arrived to help out with Memorial this year, Tyrell and Kaleb Schuetz from Nebraska. They each have extensive Bethel service under their belt and were up for a new challenge, so through a variety of contacts they wound up with Guyana as an option and were assigned to Orealla by the branch.

And before you ask, no, I have no good pictures of them.


We had a few weeks of little activity, which allowed them to get settled and familiarize themselves with the routine of life in a place like this. However, the busyness level quickly upped its game. Since I (still) haven't much time to go into it, here's a brief rundown.

From March 5 to 12 we were preparing for Circuit Overseer visit (LOTS to do, especially when the labor is being split between just four brothers), then from 14th to 19th was the actual visit, which naturally included a Siparuta trip.

A tiny portion of the group that day.

An interesting aspect of this visit was the support in field service. Wednesday we had 18 in ministry, Thursday (Siparuta day) was 20, Friday was 25, and Saturday was 34. Considering we have 33 publishers, I'd say the congregation is doing well. Particularly notable for me was that at pioneer meeting we had 15 people, which is more than we had at my first meeting in Orealla.

Finally, Sunday for the final talk, the attendance was 82, which is more than we've had for any meeting outside of Memorials.

As soon as overseer had left, we moved on to preparing for our Circuit Assembly, which is going to be held April 2. Considering how unreliable boats are in and out of the village (and the fact that they'll only go twice a week at best) many of us choose to leave an entire week in advance so as not to miss our opportunities to get out. This would've left us heading out exactly one week after the CO visit finished. Obviously this causes some stress as we must find a source of lodging for the whole week, on top of having money to get food and travel and all that, on top of getting all our Bible studies done early. So all this we're expecting. What we weren't expecting ...


Letters to Russia.


This whole campaign presented a major problem for Guyana, as the cost of sending just one envelope to Russia is equivalent of $55 USD. On top of that, in order to get them delivered in time, we would have to send them out by Sunday. Yes, that same Sunday. So with very little time left, what would we do? Just write one letter and have the whole Kingdom Hall sign it on the back?

Our parent branch in Trinidad had a much better idea. If we could get all our letters to the literature depot in Guyana, they would mail everything in bulk, free of charge for us. As long as we got them there by Sunday (or at the very, very latest, Monday noon). This led to some very, very rapid work in writing, printing, sorting letters, and on and on. All told, Orealla congregation was able to piece together 92 letters to ship out. And all in time to catch the Sunday night boat and get our stuff to the branch by Monday at noon.

"Dear Russian People, why are your addresses such a pain to write?"

As we were doing all this we heard the boats arriving, giving us less than one hour to reach home, pack up, and catch them out for the night. Needless to say, when we get back home, there's going to be an incredibly insane amount of house cleaning to do.

I am not looking forward to next Monday.

Anyway, we finally reached out this morning, and we're now preparing to sleep until our assembly on Sunday. I'm very happy to say that three of my studies are contemplating coming out for it, with one having made definite plans and arrangements to get out here for it. Will report back when we see how it goes.

His son Lucas, overjoyed that they get to come to the Assembly!


Friday, January 27, 2017

"Beg the Master to Send Out Workers"

Bit of a long winded introduction. I'll get to the meat of the story eventually.

It's been an inescapable fact for a very long time that congregations in Guyana don't have nearly enough support. Even in the heavily populated, city areas, congregations are struggling for help. The further out you get from there, the more sparse the help is. Naturally, any help is quickly snatched up and assigned.

However, this obviously means that for those of us further into the interior, the search for help is even more difficult. The current standing of the Orealla congregation is two elders and two ministerial servants, which is head and shoulders the best it's ever had. So on top of trying to manage one congregation, we're attempting to hold meetings and get a group started in another village (Siparuta) three hours away from us, which adds quite a burden in the workload and the travel time.

Of course, we're far from alone in this. Across the river from us in Suriname is the Apoera congregation, which has three elders and no servants, who are handling Dutch and English meetings, on top of also having distant territories (Washabo) to work in and maintain.

But, yeah, you already know this. Why bring this up again?

Because we've recently learned there's yet another village much, much further down the river, which is larger than Orealla, Siparuta, Apoera, and Washabo combined. So not only is there a vast unworked territory, this one will come with certain challenges.

For one, when I say it's much further down the river, I really mean it. Last estimate I heard was it would take one week of traveling just to get to it, and it isn't simply paddling a canoe down the river. There's waterfalls and jagged rocks along the way, which leads to having to carry the boat over huge tracts of land.

Two, since it is so isolated, there's basically no technological development. Electricity, running water, etc. So anyone going there would have to be a bit of a trooper to not only get there, but deal with living conditions while there.

Three (and this is likely the single biggest obstacle), they don't speak English. Or Dutch. They seem to use an undocumented indigenous language, which one brother in Apoera has attempted to learn bits and pieces of, but is having slow going of it.

So then, before any progress can be made at all there, Orealla and Apoera will need about three more appointed brothers each to stabilize the congregations. Then about three more pioneers each to get meetings rolling in those nearby-ish territories. Then on top of that, a big batch of people able to deal with moving into an isolated area and learning an unknown tongue.

Now, let's get one thing clear. I am not recommending that some of you pile up a boat and head down to this village to get things started. There's a method to dealing with this madness, and the local branch offices know how to handle it. What I am recommending is Matthew 9:38. "Beg the Master of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest."

Because seriously, we need it.



Caveat: some details in this blog may be inaccurate, seeing as I have never visited this village, and likely won't for a good many years, or even decades. But my point stands, regardless.