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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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Region 9 Expedition: the Remote Village of Masekenari

As our long time readers may know, over the past 4 years increased effort has been made to reach the many remote villages in the vast interior of Guyana.  The goal is to preach the entire country at least once and so far about 60 villages have been covered. My brother in Law, Tom Sanches, was assigned to oversee this effort about four years ago and has taken several trips into 54 villages so far. Fortunately I have been able to accompany him on four of these expeditions, and each one has yielded amazing and faith strengthening experiences!
Here are links to some previous Expedition posts:

On September 28th Tom and I left on an expedition that has been in the planning for over three years. The reason it has taken so long to make this trip is due to its extremely remote location, and the expense required in reaching it. The village is called Masekenari but after doing some research we found that it actually has other names like Konashen and Gunns. But since it was taking so long, and the entire Region 9 had all been preached except this one village, Tom started making a more concentrated effort to reach it. Despite the fact that it’s a small village, only around 200 people including children, but our goal is to bear thorough witness! And thanks to Jehovah, the many obstacles that were preventing the trip were removed, and the trip was a huge success!

Before I get too far I would just like to apologize for the length of this post. I tried desperately to condense the story as much as possible but there is just so much that must be told! Feel free to skip around as you see fit, I have added subheadings to make it easier to navigate, otherwise enjoy!

The Obstacles
As I mentioned there were many obstacles, some of which came up just as we were preparing to go, and we almost had to cancel the trip again! One of these was a huge break out of Rioting in the Linden area. The Rioting was so bad that no one could get through to Lethem because they were burning buildings and setting up road blocks. Even if we were able to get through Linden we couldn’t afford it because the Gas prices all sky-rocketed in the area. All of this happened the month before we wanted to leave, and as you can imagine we were feeling very disappointed. Amazingly enough the government was able to clear up all the Rioting and things returned to normal just in time as you will see.
Another Obstacle was transportation. In the past we had been able to use a brother’s Truck (Alton Primus) to reach many of these villages which was both cheaper and more convenient than the other options. But brother Primus was doing maintenance on the truck and it ended up taking much longer to finish and would not be ready in time. So that option was out. The only other option would be to hire someone to give us a ride which could cost anywhere from $200 to $400 USD, and that’s only one way and not including the cost of fuel. Neither of us could afford this so Tom looked into another possibility. It just so happened that the Amerindian people were having their Heritage Celebration which meant that many of them would be traveling to Lethem. So we had Alton check and see if any of them would be willing to give us a ride south.  Alton was able to find the Village leader or Toshou of Parabara, the exact village we needed to get to, and the Toshou agreed to give us a ride south! The only problem would be arranging for transportation back home since Parabara is remote and not many vehicles travel there. Even up until the day we left we weren’t able to secure a sure ride home, so Tom said “We’ll just have to put ourselves in Jehovah’s hands” and see what happens. Worst case scenario, we would have to hike out of Parabara which would take a few days, but as you will see Jehovah had other plans for us.
Aside from all of this there was the problem of the River Levels.  We knew there would be a small window where the rivers were not too high but also not too low. During the rainy season when the rivers are high, no one is able to go far south because there’s no bridge across the Rupununi River. On the other hand if the rivers are too low, no one can reach Masekenari because it’s only accessible by river and the rivers become impassable during the dry season. And of course this year we were having a very unusual rainy season, months longer than it should have been so we kept waiting for the rivers to go down but it wasn’t until about a week before we had to leave that they were low enough!
And on top of all this there were problems with scheduling. Since the trip could take nearly a month we had to make sure that we could both could leave and that it wouldn’t cause too many problems for the congregation.
So you can probably see why this trip kept getting put off, and it almost got postponed again but thankfully with a little work, a little diplomacy, and a lot of Holy Spirit we got it done.
The Location 
Again, this village is extremely remote, and this did cause difficulties in more ways than we expected. The first few legs of our trip would be pretty easy, a two hour ride to Georgetown, then the 14 hour ride down to Lethem which we have taken many times before. There was no problem getting to Lethem thankfully since all the Rioting in Linden had been cleared up. Then from Lethem our plan would be to take a 22 hour Tractor Ride down south to Parabara where we could put into the River. The first River we would put into is called the Kuyuwini River going Northeast. Then we would hit the Essequibo River and take it Southwest right to Masekenari.  We really had no idea how long it would take on the River since we got a variety of estimates. Some people said 5 days, some said 7, and some even said 14 days paddling.  So we were mentally prepared for a few long weeks of being in a canoe and sleeping in the Amazon jungle. And no, there are no roads going to Masekenari, despite what many maps might show. We asked many of the villagers in Lethem about it, and some of them even got our hopes up. When we asked about a road a few people said “Yes, there’s a Road!” In our minds we were thinking “Yay!” but when we asked for more details they said “Yes, you take the road all the way south to Parabara, and then take a boat to Masekenari.”

- - The Red Box shows the area where we traveled - -
- -  Here's a close up of the area we Traveled through. The Yellow line is Travel by Land. The Blue line is Travel by River - -

The Transportation
When we finally got to Lethem we had to go hunting for the village leaders or “Toshaos” of Parabara, and Masekenari. Like I mentioned there were a lot of Amerindians in Lethem at the time because of their annual Heritage celebration, so it was a perfect time to get into contact with leaders from other villages yet to be preached. We asked around for about an hour and finally found the Toshou of Parabara, Paul Martin.  Thankfully Alton had already spoken to Paul and they were planning to take us with them on the Tractor all the way to Parabara. So that was good but we still needed a ride back from Parabara to Lethem. Sadly Paul couldn’t think of any way that he could help us since not many people travel to Parabara, so we left that be for the time.
Then after a little more searching with found the Deputy Toshao of Masekenari, Wachanna. We picked his brain for quite awhile trying to get all the details about how to reach the village. He was very worried about whether we could get there because the rivers were dropping so fast. He said “When the river is low there are many trees and rocks in the way, it makes the travel very punishing” and when an Amerindian says its “Punishing”, there’s no way us Americans could handle it! Plus he wasn’t even sure if we could get a boat within a reasonable amount of time. So we spoke again to Paul from Parabara, and he assured us that we could hire a boat for $60,000 or $300 USD, and that it shouldn’t be hard since there would be other people needing to travel home to Masekenari. So we had transportation from Lethem to Parabara and a round trip from Parabara to Masekenari, but we were still unsure about transportation for our return to Lethem. We were willing to hike back but we desperately wanted to avoid that option since it meant we would have to carry all of our supplies, and we would not know where to get drinking water on the way. Even if we did find a ride for part of the way, it could be very expensive. So we continued praying for Jehovah’s guidance.
We arrived in Lethem on a Saturday and we hoped to get going with the tractor on Monday, but it ended up leaving on Thursday. We were delayed because the tractor trailer got damaged due to all the traveling that was going on. We were frustrated about the delay but it ended up being an answer to our prayers. After working on the Trailer for a day, they realized that the damage was going to cost them more money than they had. So on Tuesday Morning Wachanna came to where we were staying and asked us if we could help pay for the repairs. Tom asked how much, and he said they needed $100 USD to fix it. On these trips people are often asking for money and we can normally find a way out of it, but in this case Tom tried to negotiate with them. Tom explained that we really don’t have extra money and that all of it was going into the expenses for the trip. But he said we would be willing to pay for the repair if they would guarantee us a ride back from Parabara to Lethem. So Wachanna called Paul, the Toshou of Parabara, and he agreed to give us a ride back! This was perfect because it was a lot cheaper than the other option of hiring a truck to give us a ride, plus they said they would work with our schedule since we didn’t know exactly how long the river travel would take. And we didn’t have to worry about hiking back! Hallelujah!
Not long after this Wachanna came back with another request, but this time it was from the Toshao of Masekenari. The Toshao said that normally they would charge visitors $100,000 GYD or $500 USD to come into their village, but since we were “Pastors” they would waive the fee. We thought “Thanks because there’s no way would pay that!” But then Wachanna said that instead of the fee, the Toshao asked if we could just bring a gift of 20 gallons of fuel! Astounded by this, Tom again explained that we have already spent all the money we have just to get to the village and we are bringing a huge gift of 7 boxes of literature. We had no way to get more gas containers and fuel so Tom told Wachanna that all we could do us give them whatever fuel we have left once we reach Masekenari and just paddle home. Wachanna laughed at this and shrugged his shoulders, and we left it at that. So we had yet another item to pray about since paddling home would probably take us over two weeks! We desperately hoped they wouldn’t take our fuel, but we had to prepare ourselves for the possibility and leave it in Jehovah’s hands.

Over Land - Lethem to Parabara
So on Thursday we got on our way to Parabara on the newly repaired tractor trailer. Neither of us were looking forward to this leg of the trip because we knew it would be a terrible ride! For one the tractor is fully loaded with supplies and fuel for the villages of Parabara and Masekenari. Plus there would be 20 other villagers crammed in with us, and the Trailer was only about 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. Plus the trailer has no springs or shocks so we could feel every bump and rock. And this trailer had no canopy or cover, so we would be getting a little crispy in the hot savanna sun. To top it off tractors aren’t known for their incredible speed, especially a heavily loaded tractor, so our top cruising speed would be about 10 miles an hour. The driver told us that we would reach Parabara in about 22 hours, not including a 5 hour sleeping break in between. So we prayed before, and all during this trip for strength, endurance and to keep a positive spirit.
- - Yes, its just a little crowded - -


- - Here's a short Video Clip from our Tractor Ride - -
Or you can view it from Picasa HERE
- - Desperate passengers trying to block the Sun - -
 - - Tom with his custom hat - -
We weren’t able to do a lot of talking while the tractor was moving, since most of our concentration went to bracing ourselves and escaping into our “happy place”. But when we did stop we got to do some preaching and we met a very interested man who was traveling to Parabara with his family, Richard. Richard said that he had gotten so tired of all the bad influences of Lethem, and that he craved more peace. So he moved to Parabara where he enjoyed fishing. While there he met his future wife, and he found in her things a Reasoning book! Since his wife seemed to be done with it he took it and he would read it every day while fishing. He said he loved reading it so much and he wanted more things his family could enjoy. We had some very nice conversations with him and when we got to Parabara we loaded him up with books and magazines.
- - Richard and his wife are on the top Right corner - -

After traveling in the tractor for about 14 hours we finally stopped to rest in a village called Karaudanaw (Sounds like Crowder-Now). We were about to lose our minds from all the tractor travel, so this stop was a huge answer to our prayers! We got about 5 hours sleep that night, and the next day we were treated to some bread and tea from the villagers. They even brought us a few oranges, which marked the start of our Citrus splurge… you’ll understand later.
We got back on the road around 10am, but we woke up at dawn since that’s when they told us we would leave. We learned on this trip that the Amer-Indians are a lot like the Guyanese in their view of time and deadlines, very relaxed! So a regular part of our prayers was to keep patient with their unusual customs. Only about an hour outside the village we got stuck in a huge mud hole and it took about an hour to get out of it!

The Second half of the tractor ride had a lot of Jungle parts which was much cooler and more interesting. They stopped a few times where there was water to drink and bathe. We didn’t drink the water but we had a nice time resting at least. Then around 5pm we finally got to Parabara, but the water was still too high for the tractor to pass through to reach the village. So we unloaded our 40 gallons of fuel, 300 lbs of literature and our bags and re-loaded it into a canoe, or as they call them, Dugouts. The Dugouts are tough but they are very easy to tip over! We tried not to think of how terrible it would be if the dugout flipped and all our literature got soaked. Fortunately it didn’t but we were very nervous the whole time since it was loaded up and riding very low in the water.
- - Parabara Landing and a heavily loaded Dugout! - -
- - Notice the how deep the dugout is riding - -
Once we got to the actual village Tom had a nice reunion with the former Toshao of Parabara named Kufa whom he preached to on a previous trip. Kufa gave us a hearty welcome and gave us some nice orange juice and several grapefruits. A nice addition to our Citrus Splurge! Kufa also arranged for a boat to take us the next morning at 6am, so there was no trouble or delay with getting a boat like we suspected there might be.

- - Parabara Village - -

- - All over Parabara are trees like this! - -

Tom also made a return visit on the Priest of the village, Gerome. When Tom gave a public talk in this village a few years ago, Gerome pleaded with them to stay and become their village “bible teachers”. Tom helped Gerome to see that he could use the new books to learn how to teach better from the bible. Gerome promised to start using them and now Tom had a chance to see how he had progressed. At first Gerome didn’t even recognize Tom, but after a minute his eyes got really big and he exclaimed “Oh, it’s you! You’re back! I’ve been using the books and I’ve changed everything I was doing! I’ve been teaching about Jehovah!” They had a tearful hug and a long encouraging conversation. We thanked Jehovah repeatedly for giving us the spiritual and physical sustenance in this village, keeping us bolstered up despite the difficulties. After eating several oranges and grapefruits we bathed and washed our dusty clothes in the river and prepared for the next leg of our trip!


“In everything let your petitions be made known to God”
By now it was Saturday, and we awoke early to get everything ready for the long trip on the river. Everything was falling into place but I had a personal problem that needed attention. A few years ago I got an infection on my finger that started small but quickly got out of hand. I tried several types of antibiotic creams and even bleach, but nothing worked. Eventually I went to a doctor in Guyana, and he gave me a strong oral antibiotic which cleared it up in a few days. Well I had noticed during our trip that this infection seemed to be coming back again on the same finger but I hoped that it would just go away. Much to my chagrin, bathing in the river seemed to make it much worse and it was getting inflamed and discolored! I prayed fervently about this the night before and asked for some way to treat the infection, but I wondered what I could possibly find in this remote village!
So in the morning I set out after eating and started asking if there was a nurse in the village, since they never have doctors in small villages. I got directions to a house where the nurse (Esbund) lived and found him there eating breakfast. I explained the situation and asked if he had anything for infection. Esbund said that he would check right after he finished eating, so I left him and went back to our resting area. About a half hour later Esbund comes and gives me a small paper packet with some writing on it. After examining it I found inside some pills! Esbund tells me they are antibiotics they received recently for another patient but they ended up not needing them! I immediately thanked Jehovah for providing the medication and prayed that these pills would help the infection so I could have peace of mind for the rest of the trip. I repeatedly thanked Esbund for bringing them and told him that he helped to answer my prayers. I explained why we were there and he asked if I had anything I could give him. I checked in my bag and I found a used bible teach book I was going to use as a personal copy. I offered it to him and he took it and immediately started looking through it. I told him when we got back from our trip to Masekenari I would take more time to explain the book.

- - When we returned to Parabara I was able to have a nice bible study w Esbund.
He chose the chapter on "Why does God allow Suffering" - - 

- - The Pills he gave me - -

Looking back, this personal problem was a small factor when compared to the scope of our trip, but I was touched by how quickly and decisively I received an answer to my prayer. Coincidence or not, the timing and the delivery were perfect, and the medication did the job as I had no more problems with the infection! There were other personal request I made during this trip such as having rain water to drink as opposed to river water, having some fresh fruits to eat, not to get sick like I did on the first trip, and for the entire trip to move along as efficiently as possible so as not to be gone from home longer than scheduled. Again, these were small factors when compared to Jehovah’s objectives, but I am happy to say that all of these requests were answered above and beyond what I expected!

Over Water - Parabara to Masekenari
So after getting my personal problem sorted out I joined Tom and our boat captain down at the river and after bidding farewell to Kufa and his family we started on the next leg of our trip. With us in the boat were Wachanna and his Son, Emmiche our Boat captain, and Me and Tom. We weren’t expecting the boat to be so big but were happy to have the extra space. We hoped to have an aluminum boat since they are better on gas mileage, but we ended up with a 30 foot Dugout. The dugout ended up being a better choice since the river was low and we would have to literally bump and slide our way through half the river. An aluminum boat would be much more susceptible to damage from all the underwater contact, whereas a dugout is very durable. The only downfall of Dugouts is that they are much heavier which decreases gas efficiency, and they are harder to maneuver. Not to mention they leak constantly so we were bailing water the whole time! But after a few hours we got used to picking up a plastic container and scooping water out for a minute or two, after all it gave us something to do!

- - From Left to Right, Wachanna's Son, Me, Tom, Wachanna in Back and Emmiche - -
- - Wachana (Left) Emmiche (Right) - -

Like I mentioned the river was very low, so often there were logs and debris in the river. So Emmiche, our boat captain, would gun the motor and we would ram through the debris! Sometimes we could clear all of it without much trouble, but other times we would get stuck and have to push and pull our way through! After an hour or so we got used to the drill: 1) Identify the upcoming debris. 2) Put away any valuables and secure all clothing. 3) Assume “Debris Clearing positions” (Heads down, feet in the air, brace for impact) 4) Push and pull the boat clear of Logs and branches. 5) Kill and clear out any unwanted passengers (aka Spiders, bugs and other critters)

- - Killing Spiders! Ok, Maybe I'm a little too Excited - -
- - "Bush Rope" Tree. Yes like the kind that Tarzan would swing from - -

- - Here's a Video Clip of Our River Travels - -
Or to view it from Picasa click HERE

After about 6 hours on the Kuyuwini River it started to widen out so we had a smooth trip for the rest of the evening. But around sunset we saw a group of gold miners camped out on the side of the river and they asked us to stop and “chat”. They ended up asking us to deliver some provisions to the Masekenari village since we were headed that way, "A little bag of flour, and a little sugar".
We also learned on this trip that all the oppression and colonization in these countries has forced the Amerindians to develop a “Take what you can get” attitude. So if any foreigners come through to the villages, it’s a green light to “Take, Take, Take” So we agreed ahead of time that we couldn’t say “No” to everyone since it would likely leave a very bad impression on the people. This decision started with paying to fix the tractor and included carrying 400lbs of provisions on our boat. Again, we didn't want to say no to everything, and now we agreed to help these miners out by carrying their provisions too. But the "little" bags of flour and sugar turned out to be 80lb and 50lb bags! Together with some other items they added another 200lbs of weight and it was in the front of the boat which increased the drag quit a lot. But hey, at least we were doing our part for the Amerindian community!

- - The Gold Miners and thier Overloaded boat - -

Along the way we had a few distractions here and there, like when Wachanna would make us top so they could go hunting for a bird called Powice (not sure about spelling) As you may have seen in the pictures Wachanna was holding his 12 gauge shot gun the whole time in the tractor, and we thought maybe he brought it for protection. Little did we know he intended to use it to hunt these small birds also known as "Bush Chickens" and they are a lot like chickens except they can fly. Both Tom and I were very confused at why he would use such a huge gun with expensive ammo to kill such small animal, but that was just his way.

 - - Emmiche was great a building grills and pot holders out of Branches - -

 - - (Right) Getting a little shut-eye - -
- - (left) Our Water and Plenty of Grapefruits! (right) Making gourmet Tuna! - -

On the River at Night
As it started to get dark we were wondering if the captain was planning to keep going, and if so how could we see? It turned out that Wachanna and his son both had Maglite flashlights with brand new batteries, so they worked great for lighting up the way. They also used the flashlights to hunt more Powice and caught about 6 to take back home to Masekenari, we figured maybe they are rare around the village.
As it got really dark we also noticed small glowing red eyes that would light up when light was shone on them. After getting closer we figured out that they were Alligators! (Or Caiman as they are called here) Most of them were small, only about 3-4 feet, but some were pretty big maybe even up to 7 feet long! Thankfully they were very afraid of us and would go under water when we got close so I never really got a picture of one, but you can still see the glowing eyes!

Everything was going great that night until it started to get very windy which means rain! I kept thinking to myself "Of all the days to rain, it's supposed to be the dry season!" but Wachanna said it still rains a little most nights, but a lot less than in the wet season. So we tried to prepare ourselves for the downpour, we put on our ponchos and hats and tucked everything else away under the tarps. Sure enough after a few minutes the rain came fast and hard and we had to stop on the side to get shelter under the trees. Wachanna and Emmiche both jumped out of the boat and looked for cover, but I was thinking "what about all the caiman that we saw on the sides of the river?" I asked Tom and he said to just stay near the boat and Wachanna said they all run from us and only hunt fish and small animals, but I didn't feel very comforted.
- - "Rain Ga Fall" - -
- - (Right) Thats Tom behind me in the Yellow Poncho in Fetal Position - -

 So the rain fell hard for about 30 minutes and then lightened up, so we got back in the boat and continued. Being in the rain wasn't the worst part, it was the Cold! And you are probably thinking "Shouldn't it be hot in the Amazon?" And yes it is quite hot when the sun is out, but at night it gets very cool, especially if you are wet and there is a constant breeze blowing on you. We endured this for about an hour, Tom was next to me bent over in the fetal position he was so cold, and he's never cold so you know it was pretty bad. Then he suddenly gets up, goes up to where some provisions are in front of the boat, crawls under the tarp and sits there! I was thinking "that can't be comfortable but it must be better than freezing to death all night!" So I pulled the tarp up that was behind me and crawled on top of our bags, also in the fetal position. The Tarp was perfect for blocking the wind but it smelled bad underneath and there were still some creepy critters under there from running into the debris. But it was still better than the cold, so I closed my eyes prayed for strength and endurance, and tried to sleep.

I actually did doze off eventually after fighting off a few spiders attracted to my warmth. I awoke when I felt the boat run aground and slowly peered out from under the tarp. Everyone was off the boat and where up the hill where there was a fire and some other river travelers. Tom and I went and joined them where they all huddled around the fire. There were a few families there on their way to Masekenari camping out for the night, and they had a big custom built grill over the fire, with a selection of different fish and iguana eggs cooking. I wasn't hungry but our Amerindian boat mates were helping themselves quite voraciously. I looked around at all the other family sleeping peacefully in their hammocks and I wondered if we would sleep here? Tom had told Emmiche that we wanted to get to the village as fast as possible, so his plan was to go all night on the river. So after warming up and drying off a little we reluctantly got back on the boat and continued on our merry way.

- - From Left to Right - Roasted: Poice, Pirranah, Himara, Iguana Eggs - - 
That was a very rough night but I was able to sleep for maybe 3-4 hours. When I awoke we were on a the Essequibo river! The Essequibo is a much larger river, and that morning it was smooth and glassy. We stopped at a rocky spot, ate some grapefruit and crackers and read the text together. This morning and many other times on these trips we felt overwhelmed by the beauty and peace of Jehovah's creation. It often made us reflect on how life will be in the Paradise when all creation will be at peace and we can fully enjoy traveling anywhere, and without trembling or fear!


- - (left) Tom Shaving after a very long Night  (right) My Breakfast! Granola with Milk - -
- - Tom and I reading the Text after breakfast - -

Compared with the previous night the rest of our travel was pretty uneventful, the only real excitement came when we reached the falls or rapids. These rapids are very wide sections of the Essequibo where the rocks were uncovered by low tide. They didn't pose much of a threat but I really enjoyed the excitement of going up the rapids! Emmiche was very good at finding the best path to take but there were times when the motor was on full and we were barely moving! Once or twice I thought we might starting going backwards, but after maneuvering a bit we made it through. There were five areas with falls and only two of them were very big.

Finally, Masekenari!
Have you ever talked about or planned something for so long that you wonder if it will ever come? Well this was definitely one of those times, after three years of planning and research, six days of travel and a lot of prayer we were finally there! We arrived at the Masekenari landing right before dark. Within about five minutes there were several families gather around to greet us and find out who we were. We greeted everyone and talked for a bit and then started carrying our luggage up to the village. Most of the time these river villages are right on the river, but this was not one of those times. The village was about a 10 minute walk, and it was uphill! And we had around 800lbs of luggage to carry up! And unfortunately, we brought in so many provisions and supplies for the villagers they were very preoccupied getting their own things up. So we were on our own, and after the second trip up the hill we were both "feeling the burn". All we could do was take our time and take lots of breaks in between trips and of course, pray for strength.

Somewhere around the third or fourth trip we met a man named Eleazar who turned out to be the village priest or pastor. He came looking for us because he heard that we were Jehovah's Witnesses and he had one of our magazines. He loved reading the magazine and of course wanted more to read! The only problem was we were both exhausted and drenched with sweat, so Tom offered to give him one of everything in the morning. But Eleazar was insistent and said that he would wait for us to finish. After following for a little while he offered to help us carry some of the boxes of literature for which we were very grateful. While resting Tom looked in one of the open boxes and gave him a Greatest Man book, which he immediately started reading. As we continued up the hill we looked back and Eleazar was just standing there, still reading! When we finally got everything up to our Benab we had a great talk with Eleazar about our plans and our message and Tom loaded him up with books and magazines.

- - All of our Literature - -

That same night we had another visitor, Romel Shoni, who heard we had arrived and he came over to meet us. Romel said that he was leaving in the morning and he didn't want to miss out! He was very excited to get the Bible Story book and he had heard of it before but never received one. He got even more excited when I gave him the Greatest Teacher book and explained how to use it. He said "I'm going to read this tonight with my children!"

Breaking Down Barriers
So you may recall that before we left Lethem, the village Toshao was asking us to bring a "Gift" of 20 gallons of gas. Well now Tom had to go and give him the bad news, and he didn't take it very well. The Toshao, Paul, was very disappointed because he had already told the village that we were bringing the fuel and everyone was excited about it. So Tom tried to explain step by step why we couldn't bring the fuel, and he tried to help him understand that we did bring 7 boxes of literature to give away for free! Plus we would be teaching and studying with everyone in the village. They talked for maybe 30 minutes and Paul listened but he was still a little upset and disappointed but he said "Tomorrow we will meet with the village council and discuss it further" So Tom left it at that and prayed fervently that this misunderstanding wouldn't ruin our whole visit.
Well in the morning Tom and I went up to the Village Bennab and met with the Village Counsel which consisted of the Toshao Paul, the church leader Eleazar and a few other Council Members. Tom was a little worried but the Toshao seemed to be in a much better mood that morning. We found out later that Eleazar has been reading his new books all night and in the morning he had a long talk with the Toshou and gave a great witness for us! So in the meeting Paul basically just had a few questions about what we are teaching and sharing.  After having about an hour conversation with him and the council he stopped us and said "Ok, this all sounds good, so go ahead and preach the village!" We were extremely relived and we thanked Jehovah for again answering our prayers and smoothing over these obstacles.
 - - Masekenari Village - -


Our Place of Residence

- - We each took a side. (Left pic is my hammock) - -

- - Tom trying to do wash but getting a little carried away! - -

 The Preaching

In the past we have enjoyed a great number of encouraging conversations and faith strengthening examples these trips, and this time was no different. We found several in the village, including Eleazar and Paul, who had a strong desire to learn and had many questions about what we were teaching. Then there were others who needed the message to be simplified a great deal so they could understand, but when they did understand it was amazing to see their faces light up with a big smile! And then see them telling others their new found understandings! So the truth benefited everyone whether they were searching for truths or not.

An interesting thing we found in this village is that the council does not allow any alcohol to be brought in! After a conversation with Eleazar he explained that they used to allow alcohol but noticed that the village started to get a lot of “wickedness”. Paul, the Toshao, confirmed this and said “we don’t want to bring any temptation into the village”. And because of this there is very little crime or domestic violence in Masekenari and the people seem to really enjoy it! From what I’ve seen in many other Amerindian villages it does seem that the more access to alcohol there is, the more severe problems are prevailing.
Another interesting discovery we made is that this remote village actually has internet! Before we left Wachanna told us this, but I had to see it to believe. Sure enough at the village office there is a satellite, solar power, and two laptops. When I went in they were browsing on Facebook and chatting with other villages in Wai Wai!  Tom and I both laughed to ourselves and then asked if we could use the computer to send an email to our wives telling them we were still alive. So we were able to share a few experiences with them over the next two days, what a blessing!

A Few Experiences
Bess Bernard               The morning we had the meeting with the Toshao, I noticed a woman come sit nearby and listen to the whole conversation, nodding her head and giving vocal agreements. Tom found her later and spoke briefly and gave her several books including a Bible teach book. Later when I was making a return visit in the area I found her home and asked how she was enjoying the books. She loved them of course and I asked if she would like to have a bible discussion. She quickly ran up stairs into the house and came back with ALL of the books. I explained the purpose of each one and gave special emphasis on the Bible Teach book, that it was a book that could help her to learn and teach. She then opened the book to the chapter on the Last Days and asked if I could explain it to her. So we sat and had a bible study and she was very quick to get every point. I knew she was busy so I asked a few times if she needed to stop, but each time she said “let’s go a little more”. At the end of the study I asked her why she was so interested in this chapter and she said “I want to know what is going to happen and what we should be doing” I commended her for her strong interest in the bible and told her to make sure to come to the public talk we were having that evening. Well, she came, and during the whole talk she had her flashlight looking up the scriptures and taking notes!

 - - Her Collection of Bibles and an old United in Worship Book! - -
- - (Left) After the bible study (Right) Bess bringing her books to study - -
Ramsyran Tume             Another man I spoke to on the second day because he was on the river fishing all day which is common for the men to do. He actually found me and sat in on a study I was having with another man and listened the whole time. After I was finished I asked him if anyone spoke to him yet and he explained that he had been gone. So I went into the usual presentation, emphasizing Jehovah’s name, and to my surprise he knew everything already, even the difference between Jehovah and Jesus! This was very unusual for a person in this village so I had to ask him how he knew so much. He explained that he is actually from a different village further north called Awarwanaw (Pronounced a-war-wan-now) and that the church leader in this village has been teaching about Jehovah! I asked the name of this church leader and he said his name is Charles and that he is an Amerindian but he has the same books that we were sharing. I learned later that some brothers had been into this village briefly but they were asked to leave early by the Toshao who didn’t want them there. But apparently some books were placed and the church leader was now using them! I spoke further with Ramsyran and asked him some questions about what he had learned and most of it was very accurate. At the end of our discussion I told him that when he goes back to Awarwanaw to tell Charles thank you, and to keep up the good work! I was able to verify this story on the way home from Masekenari; I spoke to a man who was also from Awarwanaw and I asked him if he knew who Jehovah is. He said “Yes, he is the creator!” I then asked if he knew Charles and he confirmed that he was the church leader there and that he had some books from us. So, true story.  
- - Ramsyran - -

On all these preaching trips we are simply scattering seed, and a lot has been scattered! We really don’t know how all of the literature will be used and understood after we leave a village, but we are confident that if the people have a good heart condition, Jehovah can guide and move them as he sees fit. And, as in the past, Jehovah may even use spiritual “Babes” to teach his sheep. (Matt 11:25) Whatever it takes to accomplish his will!

Eleazar          As you read earlier Eleazar showed amazing interest right from the very start and we enjoyed several great discussions with him, too many to relate now. But one things that really touched me was his sincere desire to help us spread the message. For one, when Tom asked about giving a public talk, Eleazar recommended the village Benab, but it was getting dark and there were no lights in the Benab. So he went and asked their village electrician to come and install a light right away! When the time came to give the talk, the village was a little slow to arrive so Eleazar went and sounded a horn so people would know to come, and come they did. That night we had over 45 people for the talk, more than Tom and I had ever seen!
Not only that but a few times Eleazar would come and find me while preaching and ask us “Did you find this house over here, or that family over there?” making sure we didn’t miss anyone. He even accompanied me to a few remote houses and listened to the discussion. At another house he offered to translate to an older man who couldn’t speak any English. And often during our discussions he would say things like “We really need more brothers like you to come and teach us” and “I wish you all could stay longer!” 
- - Eleazar is in the Back Right (For some reason I never got a good pic of him) - -

Paul Martin           The village leader, Paul, was a real pleasure to get to know as well after we got all the misunderstandings cleared up. He loved to laugh and tell us stories even though he struggled with English. And it was obvious he had a strong spiritual hunger and a desire for the village to learn more about Jehovah. At the end of the first public talk he gave a long speech for about 5-10 minutes, but he was speaking in Wai Wai so we were wondering if it was something good or bad. When he finished he explained that he was telling the village that “no one was forcing us to come, or paying us, but that we came at our own expense to help preach the gospel.” We were very touched by his heartfelt expression and we commended him for us excellent attitude!
- - After the Second Public Talk. Paul is in the Front Right next to Tom - -

The Long Journey Home - Paddling, Fishing and Camping in the Jungle
After three days in Masekenari the time had come for us to get going back home. The morning we left, Eleazar brought us two huge pineapples and Paul brought a large bag of Oranges! Yay, more fresh citrus fruits! Right up until we left there were people coming by asking for more literature and asking questions about the books. Even while we were waiting at the boat a few came and we had a nice discussion with them from the boat.

- A few that followed us down to the Landing to say goodbye - -

We were a little uneasy about the journey home since we didn’t know how long it would take. As you may recall on the way to this village our boat was very overloaded with provisions and people seemed to keep adding more, so by the time we reached Masekenari we had around 700lbs of extra weight. It wasn’t until our second day that we realized with all that weight, we had used well over half our fuel getting there! We were told that it should only take 18 gallons, but we ended up using 28 gallons, and no one had any extra gas to give us! Emmiche recommended that we buy more fuel but it would cost nearly $15 USD a gallon! So there was no way we could afford that and the only other option would be to go as far as possible with the motor on very low, and then paddle the rest of the way. In our minds we thought paddling wouldn’t be too hard, but we had no idea. For one the boat was huge and heavy, and two we would be paddling UP river. So it would be very very slow, and very hard work, as the Amerindians would say, “Punishing”. Emmiche knew this and he seriously wanted to avoid paddling, so he told us he may be able to find the gold miners again and that they owe him some fuel. 
So we set out with our 12 gallons of gas and cruised along for the whole day at about 14 miles an hour, give or take. The only thing going for us was that we were on the Essequibo and were going down river so that helped a lot. But once we reached the Kuyuwini we would be going up river. We made it all the way down the Essequibo in just 14 hours which was really good, but we only had 2 gallons left! We were very happy when right before dark we found the gold miners boat! They were camping further in the jungle so Emmiche offered to go and find them in the morning. So we camped out that night, in the rain of course, and we only had a small tarp to cover us but thankfully the rain let up by the time we went to sleep.
- - First Night Camping out in the Rain! - -  
- - Emmiche Caught a Tiger fish and it was Delicious! - -
Well, when the miners found us they said all of their fuel was sent in the opposite direction and they had none to give! But they called in by radio and arranged for some fuel to be sent from Parabara. The idea was to meet somewhere in the middle of the Kuyuwini, and since they would be going Down river they should reach us within a day or two. So all we could do was press forward and go as far as we could with our 2 gallons of gas. After it was spent we would be paddling until we met the other boat.
The 2 Gallons lasted longer than we thought, and secretly I was hoping that it would turn out like the loves and the fishes miracle. But of course it did run out right around lunch time. We only had two paddles so Emmiche asked me if I would like him to make me a paddle, and for some strange reason I said “Sure!”
- - Emmiche making me a paddle - -

- - I was a little excited to paddle... in the beggining - -
The hardest thing about the paddling was keeping motivated. It is so slow that sometimes we would look over at the land and we weren’t moving! Tom and I both prayed continually for the strength to keep going, and to stay positive. We camped out again that night, and like the other nights Emmiche fished and cooked, but this night was a special treat, fire roasted Himara! It was delicious and helped me to keep my energy and strength up.

- - Roasted Himara in the middle - -
- - Second Night - -
- - Third Night - -

In the morning we tried to verify with Emmiche that a boat was actually coming because we expected to have seen it by now. He seemed very uncertain and finally admitted that he didn’t really know if they were coming for sure! So that was a blow to our morale since without more fuel we would have at least 3 more days paddling probably more. I prayed specifically that Jehovah would help us to not have to paddle the whole way back and that we could somehow get more fuel. After eating we tried to psych ourselves up and mentally prepare for another day of paddling. We pushed off and paddled for about 30 minutes, until we saw another boat coming toward us. Emmiche exclaimed “Oh! It’s my family!” and they had 14 gallons of fuel with them! We were practically walking on water we were so happy to see them and get the fuel! We unloaded everything off their boat onto ours and then lifted their boat up on top of ours too! We almost fell into the water trying to maneuver the other dugout up on onto ours, but we got it on and went on our way.

- - Could it really be them? - -

- - Yes! And they have Fuel! - -

After paddling for the past day and a half it felt like we were going 100 mph with the motor now. Everything was going great and I started to notice by some familiar landmarks that we were close to Parabara. We got to within about 4 hours out when our motor stopped working. We prayed that it wasn’t serious, but it turned out that the propeller was ruined! It seems that all the extra weight was just too much for this little 15hp motor and it stripped out the propeller. So we were back to paddling! We were close, but without the motor it would still take at least a day to reach Parabara now! I was amazed at what a huge difference it made with and without fuel and a motor. We paddled from 1pm until about 5pm while Emmiche would try to idle the motor on the calm parts which gave us a little extra boost. We went as long as we could until dark and then camped out again, a fourth night. On the fifth day I was really getting tired of being on this river and just wanted the traveling to be finished. We were almost out of fresh water, all the fruit was gone, and our food was getting low. And the last four days had been like an emotional roller coaster with all the ups and downs. So when we finally got to Parabara we took a picture at the landing, and I tried to express with my face the sheer joy and relief of being off the river!

The worst was over but we still had another 22 hour tractor ride ahead of us. But compared to being on the river for five days, this would be nothing! Little did I know that the tractor would also break down! Yes, after going for half the day it was having trouble starting, and by the evening when we reached Karaudanaw the tractor gave out and wouldn’t start. I thanked Jehovah that we didn’t break down in the middle of nowhere, since at least in the village they had a mechanic. The mechanic found that the starter on our tractor was bad and the only way to start it would be a jump start. I was thinking “Well that’s fine as long as we had another tractor around to jump start it, but what if we break down in the middle of nowhere?!” And of course that’s exactly what happened! Since there was no one around our only option was to try a push start, which Tom and I had done many times with Alton’s truck. But this was no pickup truck; this was a huge and heavy tractor! We tried anyway, and even with 6 men pushing and pulling we just could not get it started. Tom told me later that he had been praying all day for some way out of this tractor ride. And just when we were all exhausted and about to give up, another truck came racing up! He offered to help jump start us and then we asked him how far he was going. At first he said Lethem and so we asked “Can we get a ride??” Then he said that he wasn’t really going all the way to Lethem but would be stopping a few hours outside Lethem, at a village called Shulinab. Shulinab is just a few hours away from Lethem, and we figured maybe we could find a ride from there, so we jumped in back of the pickup and off we went! This guy must have been in a huge rush because he was racing along at 40-50 mph! And even though we were all over the back of the truck, we were happy to just be moving fast!
We got to Shulinab in about 3 hours, and Tom recalled that there are normally Witnesses working this village on Wednesdays, and it just so happened to be Wednesday! So he went off to check if they were there, and about half an hour later, there comes brother Donlan with his truck! I about cried I was so happy to see him and he gave me a big bear hug. He said were just in time for their group meeting and we got to sit in with the group! It was such a great feeling to finally be back with our brothers and sisters singing and discussing the bible together! Later Tom and I both admitted that we were fighting back tears we were so happy! What a privilege to be part of a united worldwide brotherhood!

- - The Meeting in Shulinab - -

Looking back I have no doubts that despite all the problems and obstacles, Jehovah was with us every step. Because really, it could have been so much harder than it turned out. The timing was perfect so that the Rivers weren’t too high or too low, and it was right in time to catch the ride with the tractor. And we had just enough money to fix the trailer and get a round trip to Parabara.  And without the tractor we could have been paying hundreds more or perhaps hiking back home. Then even though we ran out of fuel we just happened to go to the gold miners who could contact Parabara and have the fuel sent. Even the fact that they had 14 gallons of fuel was amazing because when we got back to Parabara they said there was no fuel in the village. But a visitor happened to leave 14 gallons with Kufa which was the perfect amount that we needed. Then the tractor breaking down led to us stopping the pickup and getting a ride with him, and he got us to Shulinab right in time to find bro Donlan and attend their meeting! So all of it is really Jehovah working things out, but it’s such an amazing privilege to be a part of it and experience it! I hope after reading this you will get an idea of the joy that comes from preaching in these remote lands and perhaps it will encourage others to look for opportunities to experience Jehovah’s guidance more fully!




  1. Wow! What an amazing story! Feeling heaps of gratitude for your taking the time to journal all of this, not only with words, but with pictures as well! May Jehovah continue to bless the spirit you show!!

  2. Incredible!! Don't you feel like Indiana Jones?? Thank you so much for sharing your experiences...amazing! awesome! Thank you for your wonderful giving spirit, and using your lives to further Jehovah's work. WOW!!!
    Greetings from Willamette Park!

  3. WOW!!! My brother thank you for sharing this experience! This has been encouraging in so many ways. For one, to see the effort that is made to carry the Good News to even the remotest location is a show of love. Jehovah truly wants EVERYONE to have an opportunity to come to know him. Learning that there are ones who are hungering for spiritual truth and recognize Jehovah with just a little bit of instruction is amazing. In addition the personal effort you put into reaching the villages is motivating. Not all of us can do what you have done but it makes me think- can I do where I am serving Jehovah now? What can I do to more fully accomplish my ministry? Thank you and please by all means keep up the good work there. You friends will definitely be in our prayers.

  4. Incredible! Such wonderful experiences. You know Jehovah is with his people, when they put forth such tremendous effort to preach about him and then they see the HUGE result. So encouraging thank you!

  5. You and Tom really had an adventure!! This was such a beautiful experience. I read it, love it, read it again and encourage others to read it. Thank you for taking the time to record it. Looking forward to seeing you and Lara soon.


  6. What a wonderful experience, I could read it over and over again. Thank you so much for your faith strenghtening blog. I hope you continue to provide updates. My wife and I studied with Tom and Michell several years back when we lived on the central coast of California. If anyone can get a message to Tom and Michelle, and let them know that Andy and Daelee Tickell love and miss them very much. We would love to hear from them if possibe.


  7. Hi! my names Jarrett Sherman and Im a Witness from Michigan. I wanted to email u but wasnt able to get it to work. I just got back from a need greater assignment in Hopkins, Belize. Im looking for another place to go and Gayana is standing out to me and possibly my pioneer buddy. I'd really like to talk with u via email. mine is shermanjarrett@gmail.com
    I have a blogspot account to on my trip to belize. feel free to check it out is shermanjarrett.blogspot.com.
    like to hear from you! thanks!

  8. WOWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you SOOOO much for taking the time to share that experience. That was so incredibly encouraging. Keep up the wonderful work.