Welcome to Michael and Lara's Ministry Updates from Guyana! (AKA "Mike and Lara" AKA Myk-en-Lara" :-) We Love to keep in touch with all our family and friends, but its difficult when we are so far away, and our internet here is not so reliable. So we will post our experiences and pictures on this site for everyone!

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Homeward Bound

Well the time has come! Time to return to the “Old stomping grounds” the “Rat Race” and the Land where Coffee is not just a “Hot Beverage” it’s a Life Sustaining Fuel! Yes we are returning home to Portland, Oregon after over a year here in Guyana. The feelings are definitely bitter sweet as we have made a number of new friends many of whom we consider as close as family. And life just seems so much simpler here, but we are also very excited to enjoy so many things we have gone without!

As some may recall, we had made it a goal to try to stay until spring of 2011, although Lara has an old back injury that is acting up quite severely, and it has greatly limited her activity. We have exhausted the medical options available here in Guyana, and home therapy wont fix the cause of the pain. Thankfully by way of referral we have found a witness doctor in Venezuela who has an amazing range of expertise, and has done a lot to help other pioneers like us. He has even offered for us to stay with him in his home for free while he gives Lara and me Treatment! So we will be leaving for Venezuela on October 4th. He says the Treatment may take between two or three weeks, and he is certain that he can help. Even if he cant fix her back we are sure that he can give a detailed diagnosis to help us in finding a solution when we return home. So when we do get back in the states Lara may still need a surgery to fix the problem, but thankfully the surgery we would be pursuing is very common and non-Invasive.

Of course the human tendency would be to view this situation as a set back, but instead we are simply viewing it as a temporary change in assignment. Regardless of where we go we will stay active in our ministry and in the congregation. There’s no reverse for us, only forward, even if the pace and scenery changes a little.

Otherwise our ultimate plan is to stay in the full time service, where the need is great. And since things are going so well in Guyana, we are planning to come back here at least once more. There are still so many areas in this country that have a huge need and we have been collecting several leads for when we get back.

Until then we will need to work and save up again, so I will be looking for leads on work of any kind. On that note, I would greatly appreciate any direction on actual Jobs that may be available. Naturally we are pursuing a number of options on our own, but since we are part of such a huge Brotherhood, it can’t hurt to put the word out and see what happens. We are viewing this as yet another way to put Jehovah to the test. I specialize in Plumbing construction and maintenance but I am willing to do work in any field where there’s a need. Also the work doesn’t have to be full time or part time, or even exceed one day. We are very flexible!
Lara hopes to be able to work as well, but much will depend on how successful the treatment goes in Venezuela. We will make sure to keep you all posted either way.

When we get back to the states we will spend a few weeks in Salem with Lara’s family, then we will move to Portland around December. It seems most practical for finding work there. Interestingly not long after we had made our plans to return home and we started praying about places to stay, a Family sent an email and lovingly offered us a room in their home! We hadn’t even mentioned to anyone that we would be returning early! So we accepted their offer and will be staying with them initially. Also, after talking with the elders in the area we plan to attend the Woodlawn Congregation in North Portland, at least initially. Transportation and Field ministry had a large bearing, as it will be a lot easier if we attend the congregation close to where we will live.

Before we leave we decided to hold a small sale here in Guyana, just to make some extra money. The items consisted of mostly clothing, shoes, and tools and other miscellaneous items. My sister, Michelle Sanches, added many items to the sale as well.

Holding this sale has been a strange experience! You see, “yard sales” are unheard of here. If you want to sell something you almost have to set up a permanent shop or at least travel to the market and set up a stand there. But we decided to give it a try and sell some things in front of our house. So I made a Sale sign out of wood, about 3 feet tall that clearly states there is a sale and lists some of the items for sale. It ‘s free standing and can be read from both directions. Despite this sophisticated sign, many of the locals do not understand what is for sale. Several stop to ask if the house is for sale? The first couple of days few people stopped. So Michelle and Lara played “cheer leaders” at the road screaming at people “Come to the Sale” Come in! Come Inside!” That helped a lot.

Word about the sale eventually got around the villages, but there was still a lot of confusion. Many thought that it was a permanent shop and that we would be continually ordering new stock of items. So they would ask “Ya getin any ting mar comin in?”

Also, we have to show them all the items; even going so far as to suggest what clothes would look good on them or fit well (Can you imagine doing that at a yard sale in the USA?!?) Otherwise, many just walk in and don’t really see what is for sale, despite the nice display. It’s been a lot of work. Since at least half the items are Michelle’s, she has been helping a great deal. Also a young pioneer sister from our congregation, Shemeniel Adams, has kindly come over for several of the days to help out. And even Joshua Westfall from Ohio, who has been in the area the last few weeks. We were also able to do a lot of witnessing to those who came, which was very encouraging for Lara since she had been unable to go in the ministry for weeks. Michelle even had a name badge, “Do you know who Jehovah is?”

- - Shemeniel (Left) Michelle  (Right) And yes thats a bra on her head... - -

So all in all we have had an amazing, life altering experience here. When we first planned to come to Guyana we didn’t even know if we would be able to survive in a third world country! And we thought that after three months we might need to run back home! But low and behold, we not only survived, but we thrived. We were worried about our health, but ironically we are in much better shape now than we were before. Aside from Lara’s childhood injury that is acting up of course.

To illustrate the experience here, it has been a lot like getting a cast taken off. You know, like if you had a broken bone and you had to wear a cast for a month or so. Well, at first the cast would seem uncomfortable, but after a few weeks you get used to it, and eventually it gives you a sense of security or stability. You might even start to feel dependent on it. Of course eventually the cast needs to come off, and if you’re like me, getting it off may bring some stress or even anxiety. “What will it feel like? How will it look?” It might even hurt at first, and have limited motion. But in time you get the range of motion back and the pain goes away. And soon you are able to do so much more than you could. Free of Restriction or Constraint.

This is a lot like how we feel about our time here. It wasn’t easy at first, but after a while, we suddenly realized all that we had been missing out on. We were aware of our own restrictions but this was like going from a crawl to a gallop. This is not to say the only way to expand or grow spiritually is by moving to a different country. Only that for us it was the opportunity that got us free from the rut we were in. There are of course many other ways to expand and become more fruitful, many of which are often mentioned at assemblies and conventions. But Satan does a great job of putting up barriers and restrictions. And some of these restrictions may simply be in our minds. Like feelings of inadequacy or emotional fatigue, or even just fear of the unknown. I for one often struggle with a strong desire for routine, and a dislike of any change. So you can imagine my feelings about leaving the country!
But Jehovah knows us better than we do, and he can make up for any limitations. If we let him. We are often told to “Taste and see that Jehovah is Good”. Well, we are here to say that we have tasted, and he is Delicious!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Guyana 2010 District Convention

So it’s that time again already! It’s hard to believe that we’ve been here a year already and its time again for the district convention. I’m sure most of you have already had your conventions but sadly we had a long wait this year. Still, it was worth it!

This year would be a little different than last year in a few ways. Aside from it being a different theme this year, the brothers tried but were unable to get the same venue. So we had to settle for one farther away and with much less seating. Another difference is that this year we have been blessed with a great deal of thunder and rainstorms! So add that to a cricket field with poor drainage and you have a very wet and swampy venue.

But thankfully here Guyana the old adage held true, “Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way!” So with a little creativity and a lot of help, the brothers were able to turn what could have been a very messy convention into one that was more than suitable, and as always, would bring praise to Jehovah.

The preparations started on Tuesday morning with basic cleaning, and in the afternoon quite a few more showed up to help with the more serious work of setting up the stage and building platforms undercover for people to sit.

- - Michelle Cleaning - -

- - "Super Boy" Doin a great Job - -

- - Setting Up Stage - -

- - Josh Westfall (Left) Working Hard after Just Ariving on a Red-Eye Flight the day before! - -

There was also a great deal of mud that has washed in underneath the bleachers. A large army of sisters came together and were able to thoroughly clean it all out! Next to the bleachers there was also a large covered area that the brothers wanted to use for extra seating but we had to clear out a lot of wood and a huge metal roller. It probably weighed 2 tons but with 20 brothers on it we rolled it out of the way with little effort.

One of the biggest problems was creating suitable pathways for people to walk on. Although it looked solid, the ground was very slushy and wet. So the brothers were able to find some very long 2x12 boards built bridges between the bleachers. They also built a long bridge to reach the stage, which was stationed in the middle of the muddy field. This seemed very cleaver to us foreigners but keep in mind, most Guyanese cant leave their houses without crossing some kind of plank or wooden bridge. This idea is used everywhere!

- - Walking the Plank! - -

So now everyone could reach the stage and seating without having to walk in the mud, but there was still the problem of the drama. The stage would not be near big enough for the drama, and normally it would be played out right in front of the stage. But as mentioned, the ground was a mess, so the brothers had several truckloads of sand brought in on Thursday to create mud free areas to walk on. Yes the sand got everywhere but it was much much better than getting mud everywhere! They also spread the sand over a large area to set up overflow seating under two large tents.

- - How Close can you get to the Baptism Pool? - -

- - With Very Narrow Walkways Traffic Jams were very Common - -

So it was a situation that was bringing dread to many but the problems were solved quickly and efficiently. When the time came for the convention everything proceeded smoothly, and the rain even stopped! It only rained once during lunchtime on Saturday.

- - Me and Josh Dorris from Kwakwani. A New and Remote Congregation in a Remote part of Guyana. He's the only Brother in the Cong and he's Begging for Help! - -

- - Us and the Primus family. If You've been reading this Blog, Alton (Far Right) is the one that has led several Preaching Expeditions in the Vast interior of Guyana - -

Attending our convention were a few families that had made a four-day journey from Lethem to be there. As I mentioned previously there has been a great deal of rain here in Guyana, and even more in the interior where Lethem is. So the many miles of dirt road into the interior were constantly being washed out. This had made transportation very difficult, and nearly impossible for the average person trying to get out of Lethem. But these eight brothers and sisters were determined not to miss the convention this year. The group included the Primus family, the Spencer Family and one other sister. Despite the odds they started searching for anyone that could get them there. They did find one person but he kept delaying the trip for a whole week. Keep in mind these families had to travel and stay in Lethem while waiting for the truck to leave, but their homes are about 14 miles outside the city. So while they were waiting for this truck all of their crops were rotting away and they lost most of them. This is a huge sacrifice as their crops are their livelihood.

Sadly the truck driver delayed for too long and they couldn’t make it to the first convention. Their only hope now was to make it to the Second convention, which was comming up next the week. So they made their arrangements again for the following week and were able to find a truck last minute who was leaving on Monday out of Lethem. The road was in terrible shape and at some spots everyone had to get out of the truck and walk along a riverbank to get across. One sister even fell into the river at one point but she was ok. At other parts the road was so soft that brother Primus had to walk ahead of the truck, in the rain and check for holes in the road.

As the road led deeper into the jungle they came to a steep decline where two other bush trucks were stuck in the mud. These are very large and heavy trucks, one was across the road blocking it and another just behind. They worked together and tried to pull the first truck out of the way but as they were pulling it, the second truck slid down and got stuck next to the first one. So now there were no trucks left to pull with! By this time it was getting dark so they slung up hammocks in the back of the truck to sleep. Alton noticed that the sisters were tired and feeling discouraged since everything was going wrong. So Alton started telling them stories of preaching expeditions they had been on with even worse conditions. He explained that they always found a way out, and that Jehovah would help them get out of this problem too. Eventually they all dropped off to sleep.

In the morning they woke up early and Re-evaluated the situation. Without another truck their only hope was to try to dig out the first truck and hope the tires could get some traction to move. So the brothers started digging, but not long after starting they heard another truck coming up the road. It was a heavy road grater! In less than an hour it pulled all three of the trucks out of the ditch and they were on their way again!

- - Bush Truck - -

After a few more hours of driving they reached the ferry crossing. Everyone was very hungry at this point after almost two full days of travel. Alton remembered craving some Boiled Fish, and after they crossed the river the rest stop there happened to have Boiled Fish! Yum! So they all ate and slept there for the night.

- - Ferry Crossing - -

The rest of the trip went fairly smooth compared to the beginning; they started early on Wednesday and drove the entire day. Since they were only half-way through the entire trip it was unlikely they would make it to Georgetown by dark. And the driver said normally he never made it all the way to Georgetown from the ferry in one day. But for some reason this time everything moved along so smoothly that they arrived to the branch that evening! Of course all the brothers and sisters were such a mess from riding on the back of the bush truck down muddy roads for four days. (Keep in mind that the dirt on the way to lethem is very red and gets everywhere!) They had only a few changes of clothes and all of them were soiled. As you may know the JW Branches have a strict dress code for visitors, so the families felt so embarrassed that they didn’t want to come in! But the branch overseer, brother Hinds, came out and brought them in. He said they had visitors from out of the country using the spare room right now or else he would have them go up and stay. So Alton asked if they had a hose outside that they could use to clean up with. (Keep in mind, many families in Lethem are accustomed to washing in rivers or under a tap, but they have nothing, like the tiled showers in the Branch, with steaming hot water!) Brother Hinds exclaimed “No! You can use my room to wash up!” This seemed like too much to these brothers and they refused to go up. But after a lot of insisting they gave in and went up to the rooms. Alton said he wasn’t used to the fancy showers “with all these different buttons!” and he almost burned himself when the hot water came on! After they all finished one sister offered to put their clothes in the washing machine. Again they didn’t understand what she meant, so the sister took them around showed them. Alton laughed and said “You should have thrown us all in THIS machine to wash us!” They all got a kick out of that.

So the eight visitors from Lethem got to attend all three days of the Convention and they were amazed at the Drama on Sunday, at how much it reminded them of their situation. They had to abandon their business for weeks and lost a lot of money from it. They had to leave short notice to finally catch the truck and could hardly bring anything with them, not even food! Plus they had worries about whether to give up and go back home, or to keep going. But in the end they were certain they made the right choice. And they felt that it was only by Jehovah that they were successful.

- - Families from Lethem - -

It was nice to hear for the last talk of the convention some experiences related. And one of them was about Eight brothers and sisters from the distant village of Lethem, who traveled Four Days to be at the convention. After the experience there was a hearty applause, and after the session everyone came over to meet them and give encouragement. It really is a privilege to hear about the amazing dedication and faith so many show in getting to the meetings and assemblies, and it always makes us pause and ask ourselves, “How much do I really value these provisions from Jehovah?” “Would I be willing to sacrifice that much to be in attendance?”

- - Trash Compactor? In Guyana we Burn our Garbage! - -

- - Ladder? Did I say the Guyanese are Inovative? - -

- - Drama Characters - -