Wednesday, August 17, 2022



I came across an interesting word a while ago, "Hiraeth." It's a Welsh word that has been translated in a small variety of ways, one of them being "Nostalgia for a home you can never return to."

For the last nine years, Orealla has been home. That's a third of my life, and most of my adult life. Throughout that time there have been gradual changes, obviously, but it has remained essentially the same place.

When the Covid lockdowns began, they brought the first massive upheaval I had experienced here. The meetings and ministry changed in such drastic ways that we're still struggling to get our in-person meetings back to what they were before. But the greatest change has been with the people. Through death or people simply leaving the truth, we lost about 20% of our congregation. Some of these I talked about on this blog before, such as when Vincent Miguel died days before the Memorial. Others I have not talked about, usually because I had no idea what to say about it. But getting back to Orealla and feeling the difference, I've finally figured out what to say.

Among our losses in the last two years was Mark Herman. I met him just two weeks into my first Guyana trip. In those days meeting attendance was very low, sometimes just five showing. Mark was always one of them, despite needing to be brought in a wheelchair or wheelbarrow. When Public Witnessing carts were first sent to Guyana, the branch ensured the first one was sent in for Orealla so that Mark could use it and more freely share in the ministry. He immediately signed up to auxiliary pioneer and put the cart to use. By time 2020 hit, he was serving as an elder, attended Pioneer School, and had his life story published in the Watchtower.

Then a few weeks ago I got a message that he had died. He was 36. The funeral had Zoom connected, and so many people came it filled us to capacity and more were trying to get in. I had no idea this man who rarely left his village had so many friends and had had such an impact on so many people's lives.

In his life story linked above, he repeatedly talks about the death of those close to him and what a large effect it had on his life. I often wonder if he ever suspected his own death would have a similar effect on the rest of us.

Coming back to Orealla and finally getting an in-person in the Kingdom Hall here (my first since 2019) had the unmistakable feeling of being back home, but there being something huge missing. I found myself getting lost in my notes during a talk because I kept staring at the empty spots where Mark and Vincent normally sat. This was home, but somehow not the same one I had left.

The entire week since I've been thinking of the Apostle John. Specifically his time on Patmos and afterward. When he began his service, he had an incredible circle of friends. He had a central scope of work, and a home base to work from. But by time Patmos and Revelation came, his friends were long gone. Jerusalem was gone. His scope of responsibility had grown unbelievably large. The attitude of his fellow Christians would have been changing as the apostasy neared. His understanding (or assumption) of what the near future held would have changed more times than I can count. And I wonder how often he too experienced hiraeth. A longing for that familiar home he once had that he could never get back to.

But here's the point: even if he did experience that, what did he do about it? He did his job. He accepted whatever direction he got and kept moving. Even under imprisonment he took extensive notes of the vision he was receiving, and after release still devoted himself to writing to the congregations and to recording the life of Jesus. The circumstances around him changed more than I can comprehend, but he maintained the zeal and obedience he'd had when things were familiar. And though he could never have returned to the familiar, many of the changes he saw were for the better.

So what should I be doing? Accepting the change, good and bad. Be grateful for the happy memories I have from before, and look for the positive in the new ones.

Case in point: my new house, pictured at the start of this entry. I finally get a home with running water inside.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

An Elaborate Attempt to Get Life Back to Normal


 "Apart from me you can do nothing at all." - John 15:5

As you have possibly noticed, this blog has been pretty inactive since last September. The last entry ended with me saying that I was in the US and still joining my congregation on Zoom for service and meetings, and that I "should be able to continue to do so until I'm able to physically return to Guyana (which will be when? Who knows. Covid cases in the US and Guyana both are going up, so we'll see how things pan out)."

 Turned out the answer was it would be August 3rd. Many things got in the way, including (but not limited to) Covid cases in Guyana skyrocketing briefly, two of my flights getting cancelled, my visa running out, Guyana getting labelled a "Do Not Visit" destination, and so forth. Every day when I looked at flights again it seemed like the headlines were always an airline cancelling or delaying thousands of flights and passengers getting stranded at airports throughout the world. This is all well and good though, since being in the pandemic era, my physical location didn't really matter too much. But then in-person meetings started back up, public witnessing began going again, and I have many many return visits and studies that I simply was never able to contact through the phone and who I really wanted to get back to.

Ultimately though, I couldn't figure out whether this endless hassle of trying to get back was a casualty of world events, or if I was in effect getting hit on the head and told it was time to just up and leave Guyana. Around this same time I was doing Memorial Bible reading, and I came across the verse mentioned above. Now, while this verse is not necessarily related directly to what I was experiencing at the time (if you want a correct explanation and context, see here and here and here and here instead) it did have the effect of making me pause and consider: how much of those failing plans were me trying to work out for myself what to do?

So I decided to give it another go. But first, I was going to very thoroughly pray about it. I was going to very thoroughly lay out my plans for return. I was going to ask for clear answers as to what was happening and how I should respond. Then the process of making plans began.

First thing you'll notice when making plans to travel from Ohio to Guyana is that it is hardly going to be a pleasant trip. Many available options involve swapping airports or sitting in Miami for 23 hours. The other option is a short flight from one place to another, to another, to another, to another, which only seemed like it would increase the opportunities for a flight to get cancelled on me. I finally found a sequence of flights that seemed like a reasonable balance between number of flights and duration of layovers (with the added bonus of getting to spend a few days with friends in Arizona) and put the plan into motion.

6 AM meeting with my congregation on Zoom. Time zones are my enemy.

I was still positively terrified of everything that could go wrong, but there was only one way to test out whether I should still attempt going back, so I went ahead and tried it. August 1st was the date for my leg of flights leading to Guyana, and the fear hadn't really passed. The fear that my life had turned into an enormous Jenga tower and something was going to come along and kick it over. But that morning I took a look at the Daily Text and saw something interesting:

"Apart from me you can do nothing at all." - John 15:5

It's startling how helpful that reminder can be. So off we went to the airport. And two interesting things happened.

1. Everything that could possibly go wrong did. Flights delayed? Yes. Lost baggage? Of course. Visa trouble? Absolutely.

2. Everything went fine. As in, I still made it here. We were super late, the total flight took from Monday 7:00 pm until Wednesday 1:30 am, but I made it back. Everything that could've possibly inconvenienced me is what occurred. Nothing that could have ruined the trip did.

Obviously I have still have many outstanding questions. I'm still in the capital of Guyana trying to figure out what will happen to my visa and if I'll be able stay longer than the 3 months they gave me. Many of those prayers are still unanswered. But clearly I have no reason to worry. I'm not going to rely on myself. I'm going to keep moving ahead in whatever seems to be the right way, and then respond to direction or answers to prayers when they come.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Enthusiasm and Joy


Enthusiasm and joy are two qualities that I've never needed to work too hard at. Compared to other qualities I need, they come rather naturally to me. These two things have definitely been a huge aid in staying positive and enjoying the assignment I've had for the last 11 years. But as it turns out, as naturally as they come, my internal sources of joy and enthusiasm are not limitless.

Prior to lockdown, it was obviously easier. Constantly seeing the others in my congregation, getting out and walking house to house past rivers and hills, and so on. It kept me on an easy high plane of enthusiasm, even when it got physically tiring. But after more than a year of quarantine, those feelings certainly took a major hit. More and more it felt as though I was exerting maximum effort for minimal payoff. This didn't come immediately.

At first, everything was great for me in lockdown. Life became easier, I had more free time, and I could delve into study projects and hobbies and all sorts of things I hadn't had time for previously. But slowly as we've adapted and returned to certain standards and practices we had before, the workload increased back to its former level. Unfortunately, while the workload returned to normal, the things I used to relax and rebuild my enthusiasm/joy levels did not return.

Now in the previous blog entry, I shared the main things I've been using to maintain sanity, namely study projects. But even as essential as those have been, you can't realistically study constantly. Your brain needs a break. More often than not, I found myself just staring at a wall trying to determine what to do that wouldn't feel like too much of a burden to attempt. Simply put, I couldn't think of anything to do. It felt almost like a building pressure valve that simply wouldn't open. Happily, even though I personally couldn't find a solution, one was handed to me.

After a stretch of several months with no good news whatsoever, the floodgates opened. In the span of just three weeks we got a new elder and an incredible four new regular pioneers. Immediately our field service groups felt reinvigorated and my personal workload diminished. This means for a relatively small congregation of just 42 (yes, 42 publishers) we have 4 elders, 1 ministerial servant, and 12 pioneers, which is possibly the highest ratio I have ever witnessed.

This development also reminded me of something important. Instead of looking at myself the entire time, examine the congregation I'm with. After an honest look, I realized I cannot help but be impressed by the people I'm surrounded with. Among this small group of 42, we have people who've helped with Kingdom Hall and Assembly Hall construction, served at Bethel, been Special Pioneers, helped with Warwick construction, attended SKE, instructed Pioneer School, done seldom worked and unassigned territory trips, had their life story in the Watchtower, and had their pictures shown at Annual Meeting. Suddenly what felt like being on a sinking ship became an airplane taking off. It became more and more obvious it makes no sense for me to feel unproductive just because I can't go walking up hills anymore. The congregation is growing faster than ever and our territory assignment is still incredibly productive.

Though I think my shoes are grateful for the vacation.


Due to financial reasons (aka I was out of money) I had to take advantage of a window of opportunity and leave Guyana and go back to the US for work (see opening pic for the lovely backyard). But thanks to the Zoom connection we worked out, I'm still able to be part of my assigned congregation for meetings and field service, and should be able to continue to do so until I'm able to physically return to Guyana (which will be when? Who knows. Covid cases in the US and Guyana both are going up, so we'll see how things pan out).

But no matter where I am, I can stay busy. Is my boredom still there at times? Of course it is. But is it possible for me to experience enthusiasm and joy despite that? Of course it is.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

1+ Year of Lockdown

The quarantine in Orealla began on April 2, 2020, and from then to now I've been out of the village exactly once. As you can likely imagine, this has been a jarring adjustment for me as I formerly was in the habit of traveling out once per month. While my local circumstances are not nearly as bad as some have been experiencing, being stuck in Orealla over long periods definitely comes along with its own set of issues.

For example, electricity only comes on from 5pm - 10pm each day (and even then, sometimes it's less, or not at all) meaning in the middle of the day when the sun is at full intensity, there is no relief. During rainy season when the place cools off this is no problem, but during dry season, like now, my house is fully capable of hitting 130 degrees Fahrenheit inside.

Fun fact: a reasonably cooked steak has an internal temperature of 145 degrees.

Another major issue here is the lack of reliable internet. There is a government provided wifi, which works perfectly well 20% of the time. I'm also able to use mobile data, but you can imagine how quickly something like a Zoom call burns through that. So between the excessive heat, isolation, and slight stress at having to scrupulously time my Zoom calls so I don't wipe out all my data, what do I do to deal with it?

Simple. Study projects. So, so many study projects.

Many people have questioned me in the past why I still prefer paper copies of books when I have the exact same publications on my laptop and phone. And the answer is simple. If power doesn't come on for three days straight, and I can't use the solar panel on my house because we haven't had sunshine in a week, the laptop and phone are toast. But that 1989 Awake bound volume? It has a date with me, my hammock, and the jug of coffee that just finished brewing. Bonus of this arrangement: when the phone is dead, nobody can call me and interrupt the reading.

(and using the 1989 Awake bound volume wasn't a random choice. That year the magazine had an epic 24 part series on the history of false religion and it is amazing and you should quit reading this blog and go read that series instead:

Happily I have been slowly building a network of people who are choosing study projects as the best way to use their time, and that has been a huge aid as well. Binging study projects is great, but sometimes you need to embark on a long monologue to someone about what you've been reading, and lately the monkeys in my neighborhood have simply not been as attentive as they used to be.

Another major helping aid has been the frequent appearance of barrels being sent to me from overseas. For a while in the lockdown, getting food was a major problem. Sometimes because food was scarce, other times because I couldn't get to the bank to get money out of my account so I could buy the food that was available. So I'm sure you can see how getting a 55 gallon barrel full of bacon and other things would help out quite a bit.

(Yes, there was things other than bacon. No, I don't recall exactly what they were. Once you see dozens of boxes of preserved bacon, everything else kinda becomes a haze)

This should last three or four whole days!

Oh, and the other very, very important thing consuming my time: writing songs about literally every account in the Bible. My goal is to one day have the entire thing converted into songs. Bible: The Musical if you will. While that may sound ridiculous (which it is) it does work wonders in helping you remember things. I now have all the kings of Judah and Israel memorized thanks to a very strange song that I wrote in about twenty minutes during a day of exceptional pandemic fatigue.

(Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Abijah, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Queen Athaliah, Jehoash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, Manasseh, Amon, Josiah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, Zedekiah. Without checking a written record. Huzzah! Thank you Appendix A6, and also the karaoke version of Yakko's World I found one day and revised the lyrics to!)

Obviously I have no idea how much longer quarantine and such will last, especially as things have recently taken a turn for the worse in Guyana. So if anyone has ideas for study projects, please send them along. And I highly recommend you try some for yourself. It'll do you wonders.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Memorial 2021

For the last several blog entries, the majority of the space has been dedicated to the various difficulties we've encountered with trying to handle meetings, field service, etc. So for this entry, I'd like to tell you about how all that work has paid off even better than we could've expected. And since this is in a written form and not a conversation, I'm going to take you the long way around to it.

A particular challenge with the pandemic is that many need-greaters were out of the country when everything shut down and restrictions were put in place. Happily with meetings moving over to Zoom and so forth, they were able to remain with their congregations, but getting back to their return visits and Bible studies proved a challenge. Lots of people in Guyana don't have internet connections, so therefore how can a publisher in the US/England/Trinidad stay in contact with them? International calling isn't really an option considering the cost and the sheer amount of minutes that would be used. Zoom does have a feature to call a phone number and be connected to the meeting, but the number you call is a US number and therefore doesn't do us any good.

Due to this problem, we began working with a network of need-greaters to find a way around this, and we did at last work out a marvelous system to allow someone in another country to join Zoom, and then we (locally in Guyana) call their return visits and patch them together. I won't go into the details because it's long and complicated, but suffice it to say we found a workable system and everyone was happy.

The more we used this system, the more it nagged at some of our minds. Here's why:

I've talked at length about how in Orealla we use phones for our meetings due to even rarer internet than most of Guyana, and the internet we do have we pay based off how much we use. Problem with phone meetings is the signal is bad and the more phones we have on the conference call, the more beeps we get during the meeting. But some in Orealla had internet. Is there a way we can adapt this overseas publisher return visit system to our meetings here?

The breaking point came during a meeting where we had so many phones tied in that we would get 10 beeps every 15 seconds. We couldn't hear anything. It was time to change how we connected our meetings. So we did a test. We calculated exactly how much data it would take to connect to an audio only Zoom meeting, and then called every single household in the congregation with a smartphone and asked if they would be willing to try it. About half the congregation had smartphones and data. We set up a Zoom room and had them join, and then we connected the other half of the congregation by phone like normal.

The result? Massive success. Clearer sound than we'd ever had, and fewer beeps (sometimes no beeps at all for, again, reasons that take too long to explain).

With every passing week, more people began budgeting data for meetings and making the switch over to Zoom, which has had the extra bonus of freeing up space on the telephone conference call so we could have more interested ones listening in (because yes, we had to turn people away from the meetings before this due to not having space on the limited size conference call). Our average meeting attendance continues to climb and so far shows little sign of slowing down. The special talk had an attendance of at least 89, more than double our 42 publisher count. Our goal became, for the Memorial, to get all publishers on Zoom so we'd have the phones completely free for interested ones without internet or Zoom or whatnot.

Plans were going great. Everything in place.

Then the day before the Memorial, during a seemingly normal day of field service, I got a text message that one of the brothers in our congregation died.

As I heard other publishers talking in the background on their call, I stared at the phone dumbfounded. I read it about ten times over because I was sure I had misread something. Finally I responded asking for clarification. It couldn't be. This brother was 40 years old. He had no real medical problems. He had a wife and three children between the ages of 17 and 10. He was the picture of health. Turns out an accident had killed him that morning.

We had already experienced trying to organize a funeral in the middle of the lockdown. But this was the day before the Memorial. How do you prioritize?

The man's wife and children gave us the answer. They focused on the Memorial. They were going to address everything else later. They made the bread, got the wine, prepared their home, and that morning watched the Morning Worship video. They invited some of their relatives, who attended.

And what a Memorial. With the Zoom/phone linkup we got 149 in attendance, more than we've had for some of our circuit assemblies. And while every Memorial talk is meaningful, this one was more so than ever for us. 

Sunday morning we began working out the arrangements for the funeral. Monday the family was in field service again. Tuesday I realized the deceased man's father was scheduled for talk at our midweek meeting, so I called him to offer to find a substitute for it. He refused, and Thursday he gave the talk as assigned. Saturday was the funeral and the family strictly adhered to the Covid protocols locally put in place, and made sure all attendees did too. So many wanted to attend that we had to make the Zoom feature available for that as well, and so many came that it filled up our room.

The brother who died was my neighbor in a literal sense. He also did more than anyone else around (myself included) to make sure my home kept well stocked with food and essential supplies during the most difficult parts of lockdown. And someday he'll be delighted to learn his family and congregation made sure to focus more on the death of Jesus than on him. He was that kind of guy.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Out With the Old, in With the New


You may remember five full years ago I moved out of the Kingdom Hall's attached house and into a different one nearby (pictured above). After a half decade, it has come time to move out, and very very hastily as well.

Note to landlords: if you want to keep your tenants, don't raise the rent 150% overnight.

Can't complain though. The house provided me a place, as well as the Circuit Assembly guests we would constantly get, plus a never ending stream of roommates and house guests. Seriously. I got up to 70 people passing through my place before I just quit counting.

But of course, needing to immediately move raises the obvious question. Move to where? Well, by the strangest coincidence (Coincidence? I think not!) one brother needed to move out of Orealla to another village just three weeks prior, leaving behind a fully furnished home. So here's a few of the perks:

1. The person we're renting from is now a Witness instead of someone from the field

2. Our neighbors (on both sides!) are now also Witnesses, as opposed to a police station and a church

3. This house is not on stilts like the previous one, but rather has a complete downstairs and upstairs (seen in the picture below)

Could it use a coat of paint? Yes, but let's not be hasty.

4. One of those neighbors has a freezer and lets us make use of it!

5. We can still access the village wifi from here, which has even allowed me to use Zoom on occasion!

6. This one has a toilet (outhouse) already. At the last house we didn't get one until a full year had passed.

Plus, it is magnificent to get a little further away from the center of town. When I first came here seven years ago it was practically Mayberry, no crime, no disturbance, whatsoever. Now the level of crime has increased somewhat, people are less trustworthy, and Orealla is even jumping on the bandwagon of civil unrest.

It was bound to happen eventually.

In case anyone is worrying about my health and how the village is doing because of the line about how the toshao (village captain) has been handling Covid, you have nothing to fear. The protest is that he's being too restrictive. As far as keeping covid at bay, we're all doing fine.

So in summary, getting away from all that and further into the bush surrounded by JW neighbors, with semi-reliable wifi has been amazing. And don't even get me started on the yard. Instead of a tiny square of grass surrounded by dirt roads, we have this...

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Pause and Reset

 One of my favorite ways of passing time is rewatching Gilead Graduation programs, and one of the points that stuck out to me more than any other is to, quote, "pause and reset." The advice was specifically in regard to getting away from devices and the digital world, and instead taking some time to meditate on creation, and how doing this will help your mental state.

I have long loathed cell phones, so in general this was easy advice for me to follow. Especially living in a place like Orealla where I only get electricity a few hours a day, it kind of forces you to separate from the devices and do something else.

This, however, has recently become a challenge. Whereas before I spent almost all day outside, routinely walking 5+ miles a day for Bible studies alone, now we're being told to spend our time indoors. As for devices? They're inescapable now. For field service, I've written already about how letter writing is not really an option for us, so it is all telephone witnessing. So there's something like 2.5 hours per day on my phone already. Add another hour for studies and we're at 3.5. Now consider that, even prior to lockdown, getting our literature on time was a hassle, so you can imagine quarantine has made that even more difficult, meaning for the most part all meeting preparation is done using our phones instead of paper copies. Then meetings themselves requires everyone being tied in over the phone. Not to mention shepherding calls, Convention and assembly are watched on my laptop.

Now allow me to make one thing absolutely clear. I am not complaining about these things being available, because without them there's no way we could ever get by or find another way to maintain meetings/service. What I am saying is that the switch has been absolutely jarring for me, and has made me more reliant on the electricity than I ever was before.

So recently in my habitual rewatching of Gilead Grads, I came across the advice once more to "pause and reset," and I will admit my first reaction was the laugh at the advice to give devices a break. How can that be done? It can't.

Or at least that was my first thought. When I thought about it realistically though, it became more clear. The advice was never to give up technology entirely, it never has been. Just put it down sometimes when you aren't in need of it. Go outside and observe creation. If you can't go outside, find another way to observe it.

I'll be honest here, I have no idea how easy or difficult of a thing this is for most of you. I have experienced exactly one location since all this began, so I'm not going to pretend to be qualified to tell you how to adapt to your circumstances. But I can tell you how I've been able to.

Thankfully I live next to a river. It's close enough to my house that I can go to it daily while still "sheltering in place," and without coming in contact with other people. At first I would go to it primarily to swim, do laundry, etc. But it dawned on me that that's a terrible waste of an extraordinary privilege. It is the absolute best opportunity to put down the phone (after service is over) and get away from it. And you know what? It is easy. It's amazing how quickly my mind wanders and how quickly I lose track of time. I have never once missed a vital phone call or an imperative text message. And it feels so much better to get back home to a few messages waiting for me, rather than to be sitting next to the phone and feeling it constantly vibrate throughout the day.

And that electricity I've come to rely on so much? If it doesn't come on when it's supposed to (which is, er, about three times a week) it no longer feels like the end of the world. Go sit on a dock and stare at the water, or the sky, or the sunset, or whatever there may be that day.

Sometimes I sit and think. Sometimes, I just sit.

So again, I have no idea what each of you, with your unique circumstances, are able to do. But I definitely recommend you give it a try. Find a way to pause and reset. Doing so makes the time you're able to spend with other people through devices so much better.