As you may have heard, in July we were faced with a dilemma of how to stay legal in the country of Guyana. Originally the government had an agreement with the branch committee that a set number of foreign witnesses would be allowed to stay in the country without having to extend their visas. It seemed to be more of a verbal agreement but in July they reduced the number allowed by about half. So suddenly a lot of foreigners were searching for an alternate way to stay in the country. And since the powers that be weren’t giving any visa extensions our only option was to leave the country and re-enter so as to obtain a new stamp in our passport. Our hopes were that when we did re-enter, we would get the max three-month allowance. But since it had only been a few weeks no one knew for sure if this alternative would work.
The sudden decrease in the foreigner allowance was thought to be due to minor civil unrest, likely because of the up coming election and increased pressure on the Witnesses because of their political neutrality. And on top of it we heard a bad report from one brother who tried to cross the boarder to Brazil for his extension and nearly got arrested for overstaying. His advice to us was “Don’t expect it will be easy!”
So needless to say, tensions were rising.
So because there were so many unknowns and because of opposition / aggravation from the immigrations offices, the Branch advised us to try re-entering the country as tourists, since anyone who had tried to apply for an extensions as Jehovah’s witnesses were automatically rejected without even being considered. So until things “Cooled Down” we would try not to invoke more opposition while still trying to remain in the country.
We realized the high possibility that we would have to leave Guyana, and it was devastating to contemplate. We prayed to Jehovah unceasingly and did a lot of research on opposition and found strength and determination in this.
Our first step was to go to the capitol of Guyana, Georgetown, to the Suriname Embassy to apply for visas to go to Suriname. The only option for American’s was a 3-year visa at $100 US a person. However, when we applied they had given us 5-year visas. So that was a good sign.
The next step was getting to Suriname and finding accommodations we could afford. We had been told estimates that were very high, and we didn’t imagine how we could afford to do this every 3 months, which would be required to stay legal in Guyana. Again we prayed and pleaded for Jehovah’s direction and help.
Very soon a family in our congregation arranged for us to stay with some of their family not far from the border in Suriname. The sister’s husband would even pick us up at the ferry crossing! What a blessing from Jehovah this family turned out to be!
We were anxious about the trip since its Guyana and nothing runs smoothly and its always a guessing game and what, when and where to do anything. When we got to the ferry crossing we had to meet with Guyana immigration officers separately. Because we had been on waiting list to receive extended visas we did not actually have an extension stamp in our passport. We only had the original 3 month stamp from when we came to Guyana a year ago. So to a lone immigration officer, who has all the authority, it could appear we had been illegal in Guyana for 9 months! Because of this we were prepared to be interrogated, or at least heavily questioned. The immigration officer I went to didn’t ask any questions. The immigration officer Mike went to had a very different attitude and wanted to know why we had stayed so long past our visa. Mike calmly explained we had applied for extended visas (we had a letter as evidence) and just recently found out we were denied. The officer repeatedly asked why we didn’t have an extension and why we had been in Guyana for almost year without it. Thankfully after a lot of repeating and supplication to Jeh, he let us leave for the ferry to Suriname.
We then met up with our ride and traveled to their modest and clean home. We met our dear sister who fed us well and enthusiastically told us all about Suriname and the work of our fellow witnesses there.
- - Here's the house that we stayed in - -
We learned that Surname is a lot different from Guyana in language. In Guyana just about everyone speaks english or some form of it, but in Suriname there are several major ethic groups, and unlike Guyana, each of these seemed to keep thier own language! The official Language is Dutch but there are many others such as Hindi, Portuguese, Chinese, Javanese and a Native Bush Language, which is in the process of being translated for literature. She even taught us some Dutch words and phrases!
Good day – Gooie middag (sounds like “koya madok”)
Good night- Gooie navond (sounds like “koya nafin”)
My name is- Mijn naam is (sounds like “mane nam is”)
We are Jehovah’s Witnesses – Wij zijn Jehovah getuigen (sounds like “way zane Yahovah ketoyken”)
Saturday – Zatendag
Sunday – Zondag
- - Dutch Magazines - -
We stayed one night and the sister’s husband brought us back to the ferry the next morning.
We were both so nervous that we couldn’t eat breakfast. Our fate to stay here or not would be decided today! The drive to the ferry took about 40mins. The entire time I prayed. I recounted to Jehovah all the ways we had seen his support. From the preparations of moving here to other difficulties of being here, every time we saw without a doubt Jehovah’s unfailing support. I also reminded myself that every so-called trauma we have experienced in recent years allowed us to strengthen our faith and endurance. By the time we reached the ferry I was no longer nervous. I felt at peace and was confident that Jehovah would help us no matter what happened.
We crossed the river and ran up to the building to get our stamps. As we got to the building an immigrations officer stepped in our path- the same officer that had given Mike a hard time the day before. He spoke to us as if he were god and told us “This time, Leave Guyana when you are supposed to.” My heart rate increased at his threat.
Finally it was our turn to get stamped. The officer asked how long we would be in Guyana; we asked "What is the longest we can stay?" He replied, “How long do you want to stay?” So we told him at least three months, and light heartedly added how much we loved in here!… etc. He replied “You say you like it in Guyana?” to which we replied enthusiastically “Yes!” He seemed to be in a good mood and proceeded with his stamping. We both thanked him and walked away while trying to discreetly check how many months he gave us, and there is was, the three-month stamp! As we walked away I was dazed at the simplicity of it all and thanked Jehovah over and over again in silent prayer.
- - Say Cheeese! - -
So thanks to Jehovah, our trip couldn’t have gone any smoother or been any cheaper. Looking back it was stressful to go through, but like all the other trials, it turned out to be another way to put Jehovah to the test and strengthen our faith in him. While we were going through it we joked that it was a strange feeling to be opposed by the authorities. And it helped us to slightly better understand what many other witnesses had been through in so many other countries who were and still are under ban. Its made us even more determined not to take for granted any periods of peace that we have, and to use this time to Slave for Jehovah and for each other.