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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Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Visit to the “Land of Many Tongues”

So our time in Guyana had run out again, due to the increasingly annoying three-month visa limitation. This restriction has become much more of a hindrance lately and has grown to include the majority of the foreign Need-Greaters in Guyana. When we had first arrived in Guyana in the summer of 2009, the branch was allowed to sponsor and extend the visas of 100 foreign witnesses, but in spring of 2010 it was sharply reduced to 50. So that number was just about enough to cover the Missionaries, and Elders that were serving in the 45 congregation of Guyana. Sadly around July this year another letter was sent out to all those sponsored indicating that the number had again been decreased to a mere 20! So many have recently been thrown into a very insecure situation and have been uncertain how best to proceed. Thankfully none of us are alone in this work, and with the combined research and efforts of our brothers and sisters here, many have been able to successfully handle this situation.

First of all, we have steadily been hearing good reports from those that have decided to continue serving in Guyana by simply crossing the nearest border, staying for a few nights and then re-entering Guyana. This has method has been suggested both by the Branch and by the Authorities at the Ministry of Home affairs. By doing this the majority have been able to get consecutive three month visas as needed. And Secondly, since this border crossing is becoming more common now, many of the friends in our Neighboring countries have worked together to lighten the load of crossing the boarder. Many have opened their homes to these ones, providing food and shelter, and meanwhile enjoying a joyful interchange of encouragement from other lands!

- - Map of Suriname - -
We went as far as Paramaribo this time but the first time we just stopped in Nickerie.

This was the experience that we recently had on our border crossing into Suriname. This would be the second visit that we’ve made and this time we were even able to arrange for a stay at the Suriname Bethel! Of course it was a beautiful branch as all Bethels are but this time we were very surprised at how multilingual everyone at the branch was. We were quite prepared to have to struggle to communicate with our Dutch speaking brothers and sisters, but right from the start the sister at the front desk went into an elaborate explanation of how almost everyone in Suriname speaks at least two languages and many speak three or more! She explained that in school the formal language taught is Dutch, but from an early age the children are also taught some English. Then in day-to-day life most people speak a Creole language called Sranan Tongo, which is Dutch for “Suriname Tongue”. On our first visit to Surname we heard of this language and we assumed that it was just a Dutch Slang or Creole, but it is actually a mix a various languages and it is very different from Dutch.

- - On the Left is Dutch - On the Right is Sranan Tongo - -
Notice that a few words are taken from the Dutch Language

Origin of "Sranan Tongo" Language

Here’s a brief history of how it was formed: When Suriname (Dutch Guyana at the time) was being colonized there were various slaves brought in, some from Africa, much the same as the British were doing. But the big difference from the British is the Dutch were very Strict with the Slaves and would not allow them to speak Dutch, whereas the British attempted to teach their slaves English. So this explains why there are so many more languages in Surname and Guyana is primarily English based. But the problem of communication arose during colonization of Suriname since there were so many languages, even the slaves from different African tribes could not communicate with each other. So a sort of Pidgin or Creole Language was formed which was English based but also has influence from Portuguese, Dutch, and African languages. And since it was spoken only in Suriname it was named “Suriname Tongue”.

Amazingly, apart from this there are other Creole Languages that are spoken only in Suriname like a Hindi / Dutch Creole called Sarnami. There’s also a Bush Language called Saramacan which has strong influences from the Native Tribes of Suriname. So the brothers and sisters at the Branch have their work cut out for them since they have to coordinate with NY in translating any new literature into these languages. This includes new releases and Magazines. Interestingly at the 2011 Convention of Suriname they just released a New World Translation bible in the “Sranan Tongo”. This was a huge feat since the language is mostly verbal and most are not used to reading it.

 - - Some of the Many other Languages Spoken in Suriname - -

- - Closely Related to the Saramaccaan People are the Aukaan people - -
They speak the same tongue but have a stronger African Influence

- - Suriname Bethel - -

- - Morning Worship - -
We Love to attend the morning worship when we visit Bethel, sadly this time the talks were in dutch, but afterward we enjoyed some nice conversations with various members of the family.

- - Check out the amazing lunch we had, "Chicken Loaf w/ Potatoes and Salad"
We also got loaded up on Fruits, its amazing how much fruit the Bethelites eat! - -

- - Our Accomodations =D - -

- - Some of the old Printing and Translating Equipment - -
- - In the 80's all the printing was transfered from Suriname to Germany. - -
Apparently it is much cheaper to print and ship from Germany, than from NY.

The Bethel Family

As you can see Suriname has a very diverse and rich culture, but we especially enjoyed getting to know the various members of the Bethel Family! Many of them are members of the translating team, including our tour guide who explained to us all about the history. From Childhood she was able to get a very unique perspective of Suriname since her father was a traveling overseer. She not only did she get to visit virtually all of the country, she also learned many of the local languages and even Spanish and Portuguese!

We also met a very kind couple, the Van Marl’s who invited us over for refreshments after Monday Family Worship. He is from Suriname and his wife is originally from Holland. We learned that they are involved in the sign language work, but much like Guyana, very few have learned the formal sign language, so their efforts concentrate on teaching people an “Unofficial” Dutch Sign Language in order to communicate.

- - Van Marl's - -

On our last night at the Bethel we were invited by the Struiken’s (Pronounced Stroy-ken) to come over for dinner but sadly Lara got a very bad migraine and we had to cancel. So instead the couple decided to pick up dinner for us and bring it over! We were so touched by their loving kindness, and on top of that another couple left on our door an amazing fruit that looked like a grapefruit but it was the size of a Cantelope!

- - This is the Food that the brothers brought over for us,
Delicious Chow Mein! And a Giant Grapefruit! - -
(We think they meant to write "SAFE Trip")

- - Yes, It tastes as good as it looks! - -

- - Struikens - -

Before we left the branch we got a chance to go into the capital city of Paramaribo! We were very excited to see the city since so many before us have raved about it being very “modern and clean”, and we viewed it as a chance to get some hard-to-find items that we needed back home. After traveling all over Guyana, we felt fairly capable of handling the travel from the branch to Paramaribo, which was only 30 minutes away, but things got very complicated very quickly. For one thing, unlike Guyana, which has only one main road which will take you just about anywhere, Suriname has a network of bus routes which go various locations. So in order to get anywhere you have to know the number of the bus and where to catch it. Thankfully a brother was able to get us to the correct bus stop and away we went!

- - They use real buses here as opposed to the "Mini Buses" in Guyana. - -
- - These are Much Slower though. =) - -

As we got closer to the city we started to get a bit disillusioned as the scenery was nothing spectacular, pretty much like Guyana, but with a lot more Chinese shops all along the way. These shops are huge and are pretty much like the “Wal-Marts” of Suriname carrying all the same items, but nothing we needed.

Eventually we noticed things looking a bit more populated, and we realized that we were now In Paramaribo. But we had no idea where to get off, as we kept expecting to see some kind of obvious city center, but everything looked the same! So thankfully Lara had done some research beforehand and got the name of the place we wanted to go which was called Onafhankelijkheidsplein, (No that’s not a Typo) which is Dutch for Independence Square, I have no idea how to pronounce it! So we spoke to a lady next to us and asked if she spoke English. She said she spoke a little bit, and we simply showed her the paper with the name of the place we wanted to go since we couldn’t even say it! She said she could help us get there and she ended up passing her stop and staying with us the whole way! It was quite nice when we reached to more historical part of Suriname which has some of the original buildings from Colonization period. The Highlight was visiting the 400 year old Fort Zeelandia!
Fort Zeelandia

- - On the Right is a Chamber used to Torture former Prisoners - -

Government Buildings

 Parliment Buildings

Other than that the day was pretty uneventful and a little disappointing since we didn’t find any of the items we needed but we did get to have a nice Lunch at a restaurant called Spanhoek Terras. It seemed very popular with the Tourist who were almost entirely from Holland. Lara kept commenting on how strange it was too see these white people walking around all over the place, since its very uncommon in Guyana to see any tourists at all.

- - Dinner: Cheeseburger w/ fries and Chicken Pita Sandwhich - -

So the time came to leave the “Big City” and we began our search for the bus that brought us in but of course everything started looking the same. The only reason we could find our way around at all was because we found an affordable map at a gas station. So after wandering around for awhile, trying to remember the number of the bus that we came in on, we decided to try and ask for help. It took a few tries to find someone that spoke enough English to understand us, and eventually we did find a nice man who enthusiastically told us which bus we needed. He kept saying “Pay Kah Way” “Pay Kah Way”, and we though maybe he meant that was the name of the bus. But I told him to write down the number of the bus and he wrote “P K W” which in Dutch is pronounced “Pay Kah Way”! So we finally figured out the number of the bus, now had to find it. So armed with our map and our handy pronunciation of Dutch letters we finally got back to where we needed to be.
On our way back home we stopped at the border town of New Nickerie and were able to stay a night with a wonderful couple, the Goolsarrans. This family has taken in several other need-greaters who have needed to cross the border, showing an incredible spirit of hospitality. We had a great time getting to know them better and they kept telling us that next time we would have to stay longer so they could have a gathering and go in service with us. We went to meeting that night and they wanted us to at least have a chance to get to know a special pioneer couple who are assigned to the English congregation there in Nickerie, Leon and Camille Doornbosch.

- - Meeting at New Nikerie -  No Jackets? - -

- - On the Left is the Doornbosch's and the right the Goolsarran's - -
- - Dinner: Pancakes and Chicken! - -

Making trips like these is not always easy as it does add an extra financial burden, and somewhat reduces the amount of time we are able to stay in our assignment. However as stated in the intro we view them as a precious opportunity to expand our appreciation of our international brotherhood. Even though we hear about the love of our brothers from our magazines and studies, experiencing it really serves to solidify in our minds that this is the truth. There's no other religion that has this same kind of love and hospitality amongst its members!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guyana District Convention 2011

This will be the third District convention we have attended in Guyana, and its always a treat to enjoy the Caribbean flavor of the conventions here!

For those who have visited our blog in the past you might be familiar with the less than ideal venues here in Guyana. 2010 was one of the worst that many can remember, mainly because it was a poorly drained cricket field and it was a very rainy month. So the brothers had to do a lot of work to make the area more usable. For one they built a series of wood bridges across the lakes of mud between seating areas and to reach the stage, also they brought several truck loads of sand in order to make other areas more solid. In the end everything worked out great, even the weather cooperated! To read more click HERE.

- - Last Years Venue...Nice... =) - -


Thankfully this year we were blessed with a venue that was like luxury compared to last year! The brothers found a horse racing track that has been keep in very good condition. The grounds were dry, the bleachers were clean and freshly painted, and it even had a building in front of the bleachers that would work perfectly for a stage. (Normally every year the brothers have to spend hundreds to rent a portable metal platform on which they would build the stage, but not this year!)
But above all our favorite feature of this site was the amazing breeze! Since it faces the ocean at only a few hundred miles away, there was a constant strong breeze the entire time.

On top of all that, the owner of the venue was so impressed by Jehovah’s witnesses that he agreed to let us use the venue free of charge! The brothers were so appreciative that they offered to do some painting and other maintenance work as a payment.

So the week before the convention we did all the cleaning work which took very little time and was finished in one morning. Then the next few days were devoted to setting up the stage, which got a new paint job inside and out. Our local carpenters did some structural repairs to the stairs and even build a second staircase on the back for easier access. As usual they purchased sheets of plywood and secured it to the front of the stage so they can paint the stage using the theme colors of the convention. This year was purple with pink to match the colors on the programs.

- - This existing building made the stage set up a lot easier! - -

- - The brothers added an extra staircase on the side for easier access - -

  Along with the light work load, Lara and I also had an easy time reaching the convention this year, seeing as how it was literally right around the corner from us! It was about a 15 minute walk to reach it from our house, so ahead of time the brothers asked if we would be willing to give accommodations to some of the friends from distant Oreala. It would take a full day to reach the convention for them, and they are very poor so they would often require a place to stay from anyone in the area.

So we agreed to accommodate two people, an old great grandmother, and her great grand daughter. The daughter was very quiet, which is usual for most Amer-Indians. But the Grandmother was a huge talker and an amazing story teller! I struggled the whole time to understand her since she had a very strong Guyanese accent, plus when we would ask her to repeat something or asked a question she could never understand us as she was stone deaf! Yet somehow her great granddaughter was able to communicate with her, go figure. So we mostly listened and nodded out heads while she told us her life story.

- - Lara helping the old Grandmother back to our house - -
All in all we had a great time getting to know them better, from the Grandmothers stories we found that she grew up very poor and worked very hard her whole life. This is typical for the older generation of Guyana, since most of the more modern provisions were unavailable, especially in remote areas.

She was very intrigued by our food so she told us some stories about the various foods that she had to eat. Like one time a few years ago, a Guyanese brother traveled to their village and stayed with them, and she said she loved him because he would eat just about anything and love it! She said one day they found a wild monkey and she was going to get rid of it but the brother said “no don’t throw it away!” She said “You want it??” He said “Yes, I’ll eat it if you prepare it!” So she cooked it up with different spices, seasonings and vegetables and served it to him and he loved it! We were amazed to find out later that we knew the brother, he is currently a special pioneer in another distant village. And he happened to be at the convention so we just had to verify this story. When we asked him about what the auntie told us he looked stunned, and he said “yes, in my younger years I did a lot of crazy things” .

Side Note: It would seem that the Guyanese have stomachs of steel because many will eat just about anything, for example one day we were in a taxi and the passenger asked him to stop at one of the little stands along the road that sell snacks and get some food for his kids for dinner. So he pulled up the stand like it was a drive though McDonald's and told the lady what he wanted. So she grabs a few clear cups and fills them with what looks like some kind of soup. He then has his son get out and collect the “soup”. As they bring the “soup” into the car we cant help but notice that each of them has some vegetables and a chicken foot sticking out of it! And they are just eating this soup like it’s the most delicious thing in the world, the man even picks out the chicken foot and puts the whole thing in his mouth! Doesn’t spit out anything! So Lara and I are struggling not to laugh out loud, but I cant help but to ask them what they are eating. The man says “Dis heea sous you know... ya want it?” I declined and asked him if he said its called “Sous?” He said yes, and that its like chicken soup. So there you go.

 - - Look close for the chicken foot! - -

Lara was happy to have two of her bible students come to the convention, one of which came to all three days for the whole session! After she came to Friday, she went home so excited she talked it up the whole night to her husband and he decided to come on Saturday! This was quite a feat, considering he hadn’t been to any Christian church in years since he hated the Baptist style meetings, with all the yelling and clapping that goes on. So he was very impressed by the calm and dignified spirit at the convention and has started to listen in on his wife’s study more regularly.


I would say that the experiences are what make the conventions so distinct here and give it the local flavor that we have come to love so much. Here are a few that stood out to us.

This first one isn’t really an experience but more like a demonstration with the mother that’s trying to stay calm when the daughter takes an angry tone of voice with her. For those of you in the states that remember this demo, you might have noticed the extreme tone and volume of the daughters voice as she screams at her mother. We learned from the first outburst and the second time we quickly covered our ears.

So we wondered what to expect from the Guyana version of this demo, and we were pleasantly surprised by the respectful tone of the daughter this time. Afterward we related to others that in Guyana children wouldn’t dare raise their voice to their parents, for fear of death, lol.

Another experience was given by one of our local elders who has a severe disability, Brother Lekraj. The experience was about coping with disabilities and health problems. Everyone in the audience listened closely as our brother related the many difficulties he deals with. For one he has only partial use of his legs, which were severely damaged when we was run over by a tractor as a child. So now that he’s getting close to 60 years old he has a great deal of pain from the muscle and bone damage. He also struggles with stomach ulcers since he has to take so much medication for his pain. So he was asked what he does to keep strong spiritually, and he explained that he tries to never miss any of the meetings even though it’s always a trial to get out to the road and find transportation to the Kingdom hall and back. He said by keeping regular at meetings and service it keeps his hope alive of the Paradise where he will have a healthy body and legs and will finally be able to walk without crutches!

One other experience was about a young brother who was dealing with persecution in school. In schools here they have the flag salute like many countries, but the problem here is if children disobey, some of the teachers will beat them! So one day the brother was standing during the flag salute and the teacher notices he is not saluting. So she tells him twice to salute, and both times he refuses. The third time she grabs and stick and threatens to beat him with it. So he quickly prayed for courage and again refused to salute. So the teacher grabs him by the arm and takes him to the Head Masters office. She tells the head master that the child is disobeying her and the he should be beaten. The teacher again turns to the brother and says “Why did you not listen to me when I spoke to you!?” The brother again prays for courage and explains that the bible forbids him to worship anyone or anything other than Jehovah God. Thankfully in response to this the head master sent him home for the day and did not beat him.

- - There were 11 baptized and a peak attendance of over 1200 - -

Drama Pictures


 - - Yes those are feather dusters - -



As usual no Convention would be complete without a Need-Greater Party, and since we lived so close we got to have it at our house! Michelle helped a lot since we were a little overwhelmed doing it for the first time, but everyone chipped in generously with food and drinks.

We really enjoy having these gatherings since for one thing, its a chance for us all to see everyone! Since the congregations are so spread out (Often 10-20 miles apart) we rarely see other need-greaters unless they have a car or we travel to their KH. Plus we just love to hear about all the experiences everyone is having in their local territory and the experiences of all the New need greaters. How they got here, what they had to do to get here, and how Jehovah helped them.
- Yes this was the silly group pic - -

- - Michelle even prepared a game to play called "Name that Tune" but JW style. - -