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!

If you want to be notified of any updates by email, submit your email in the box in the column to the right. Or your can "Follow" this blog by clicking the "Join this Site" Button just a little further down on the right. This helps us know who is reading and commenting! Thanks so much and Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Detour to Warwick

So upon returning home last June we were getting into our usual routine of finding work and unpacking our things and it was going really well! Lara was able to get her old job back within the first week and I got some work from old clients. Then a few weeks later I got a call in the middle of the day from the Volunteer Desk in Brooklyn Bethel. They asked if we were back from Guyana yet and would be available for temping assignments. So I said yes and to update our file and to let us know anytime if they needed help. And the brother says "Well, we actually have a new opening for workers starting August 9th if you are available?" So I'm thinking, sure I could go for a few weeks since Lara had her job back. So I asked if they are calling just for me or if my wife could come too? The brother says "Well if you come alone then you could stay for up to 4 weeks, but if your wife can come too then you could both stay for 6 weeks." So that was the start of our new adventure into the world of Theocratic Construction!


Upon Arriving at Tuxedo we really had no idea what to expect really. We knew we would be in Plumbing, and that our stay would be six weeks but that was about it. We figured we would be staying at Tuxedo since we had heard it was finished but it turned out to be much smaller than we thought. Tuxedo can hold around 150-200 people but the current work crew for Warwick is around 1400! So finding adequate housing for all the workers has been a difficult feat. To do so the GB has made arrangements with several hotels nearby, RV parks and has even purchased apartment complexes in order to meet the demand! It is truly remarkable to see how far the brothers have gone in order to keep the workers comfortable.

"Welcome to the Plumbing Department"

We were assigned to a Comfort Inn about 20 minutes from Tuxedo in a town called Goshen. We were a little disappointed that we wouldn't be enjoying the bethel atmosphere staying so far away but this Hotel has turned out to be a mini Bethel all on its own! There are so many temp workers living here right now, some for as long as 3 months. So every day we are meeting new friends from all over the US, and they all have great stories and experiences to share. Every morning we meet in the lobby to catch our shuttle which leaves about 6AM.

The Hotel Lobby at 6am


I had served for three weeks at Paterson, but this would be the first time for Lara doing Temp work at Bethel. Needless to say she was nervous not having any background in construction and going into such a Major Construction project. But after Orientation on Sunday most of her fears were removed, as there are at least 10 other couples that arrived the same week as us. Many of the sisters also have little or no construction experience but  they are willing to give their all! I was also worried that my skills as a plumber would be too limited since I mostly work on residential plumbing, but again there are many others like me, and several that we have met in the plumbing crew that received all of thier experience from serving at Warwick and Tuxedo! So, as always, Jehovah will train his workers to accomplish the tasks at hand.

Safety Training

When I went to Paterson I went through a brief class about an hour long in Safety Training, mostly about common sense things, and how to put out fires. The Safety Training for Warwick is slightly more intense. They make it clear that this is not ordinary Bethel Service. We were being prepared to step onto a very serious construction site. The training started around 12:30 and went until about 5pm, and covered things like Mandatory Safety Equipment, Job Hazard Assessment, Fall Prevention and Arrest Systems, Material Safety Data and Heavy Machinery Awareness. So yeah it was a lot to take in, but the brothers did a great job of making it enjoyable and encouraging.

Training to use Fall Protection

We came in with a large group of new recruits. About 75 just in one week!

Around the end one of the overseers gave a small local needs part encouraging all to consider extending their stay if possible. It would not be an easy assignment and many would get tired, but he reminded us that we would be helping to build the final home for the last of Christ's Brothers before ascending to their heavenly positions. There were some very powerful and sobering statements made, the kind that give you goose bumps for a moment, and at the end the room was filled with applause. Lara and I were very excited at the prospect of serving full time at bethel, and already we have heard many full time workers tell us that thier initial assignment was 6 weeks also. So when asking how long we are serving they often say "Yeah, 6 weeks to Life"

The Schedule

As always the Bethel schedule is very intense, even more so for the Warwick project since there is added travel time commuting to and from the hotel. So for us our midweek day starts at about 5:00a getting ready to catch the shuttle to Tuxedo at 6:00a. We arrive at Tuxedo about 6:30 and wait for morning worship to start at 7:00a. A big difference between working at Warwick compared to Bethel is instead of arriving for Morning Worship dressed in meeting clothes we go in our work Clothes! It's a kick to look out across the tables and see nothing but Florescent Orange and Yellow shirts and Vests.

Then about 7:30 we leave Tuxedo with our hard hats and safety equipment in hand. We get loaded into what look like Prison Buses and enjoy the 10 minute ride up the Warwick site. On the way up I am reminded of the trips we have taken up to the mountains to camp around Mt Hood, it's really a beautiful drive! Work starts around 8:00am and goes until Lunch at 12:00pm. There are dinning facilities on the Warwick site so there's no need to ride back down to Tuxedo. Then work again from 1:00pm to 4:45pm and Supper is served back at Tuxedo at 5:00pm. We jump on a shuttle back to our Hotel in Goshen around 5:20pm and arrive at the Hotel 30 minutes later. We rest up and get ready to repeat it the next day!

The Lake on the Walk up to Warwick from the Bus

The Project

We were specifically asked not to post pictures of the Warwick site online, but there are some very interesting facts that we learned about how the project is being carried out. For one we were surprised to find that Not all the contractors are Jehovah's witnesses. There is a group of hired contractors that are working on the major construction of the high rise walls and elevator shafts. This work is extremely high risk and there just aren't enough brothers available who have been trained in this type of work to meet the demand. Even if some could be recruited, they would have to train additional brothers to help, which would add to the danger for all. But we were also very interested to learn that these outside workers have been hired based on a very strict contract, namely No Swearing and No Harassing Sisters. If they do not follow these rules they will forfeit thier contract and lose thier jobs.

Amazingly several of these men have expressed a heartfelt appreciation for our work and a desire to learn more about the bible. One Contractor expressed that his life seemed empty before coming to work at Warwick. All he had was work and the fight club he would attend on weekends. But after meeting the brothers he now feels at peace coming to the job site and has agreed to a bible study.

On another occasion a brother wanted to share the new Warwick Update Video with some of the hired contractors and as he was showing it, several others heard what it was and came off the bus to see it too. By the time they were finished there was a large group of men all excitedly watching the video together!

We also learned some interesting facts of how the brothers are trying to keep the Warwick Complex eco-friendly. Some of these have been mentioned already in some of the video updates, such as the "live" roofing and recycled lumber. Another interesting method that is being used is called Geo-thermal cooling. It involved drilling 200 foot holes into the ground about 6" wide and then running pipes down into them. The idea is that instead of using refrigeration to cool heated water, the hot water is channeled into one of these pipe lines into the ground which will quickly cool the water more naturally and with much less energy than most cooling systems.

And as with most Bethel Experiences, it has been a joy to get to know hundreds of different Brothers and Sisters from all over the US and other countries as well! The overall spirit of the work site is so peaceful and refreshing it hardly seems like work, and the days just fly by. If you haven't applied already we would highly recommend applying for Temporary Bethel Service, even if you don't have a particular skill! The main thing is a willingness to work and a self sacrificing spirit. We have met brothers and sisters of all ages and with all kinds of backgrounds, many of which do not have a background in construction of any kind. We also notice that the duration of the visits vary anywhere from a week to 6 months. We hope this post has been informational and encouraging and we will try to follow up with more updates soon!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seldom, Seldom Worked Territory

Black Bush Highway during the rice farming Season.

Hello there to all our readers! As we return home from Guyana for the third time we would just like to thank everyone for your support and for reading the blog! Time seems to fly by so fast while we are in Guyana that we seldom get to post as much as we would like to. Also we prefer not to bore everyone with the mundane activities of our daily life, so we mostly post about events or preaching trips. This last 8 months hasn't had too many of those but we have had a sort of "New" territory opened up to us that we hadn't really been able to explore as much as we would have liked to the past. The main reason it's "New" for Us is because the area is difficult to reach and cultivate unless you have your own transportation. It's not impossible, but we just found it very daunting until recently. You see we finally purchased a vehicle! A friend of ours was selling his motorbike that previously belonged to another pioneer sister, and since it was still in good condition and selling for about half the normal price, we grabbed it!

Our New Ride!

So, now equipped with some wheels, we were able to venture out faster, further and longer than we ever could previously. One of the areas that we ventured was a remote rice farming community in the back-country area of our territory. This area is called Black Bush Polder, and is split up into four major parts along one main road, each having about a few thousand persons per section.

Our Main Territory is Outlined in Red, Black Bush is in Yellow

Now keep in mind that there is already a huge need in the particular part of Guyana that we live. This area is called East Berbice, and our congregations portion of Berbice that is barely covered once a year. Just driving through the territory would take about an hour. The need is so great that you can literally study with as many people as you like, before we left Guyana this year, Lara and I had about 30 studies between the two of us. So you can easily stay busy in just the more regularly worked part of our territory, but Black Bush for quite some time, was only getting covered about once every 2-3 years. Since the arrival of a Special Pioneer couple and a few new Local Pioneers stepping up, that figure has increased to being worked every 1-2 years. But that is still a more recent development. 2013 was the First Year ever that we were even able to cover Black Bush during  the memorial Campaign. This was made possible because our neighboring congregation sent 30 publishers to help us. This is just to give you an idea of what kind of need there is in Black Bush.

Brothers and Sisters from the Skeldon Congregation helping out for the Memorial Campaign!

Get ready to do some walking in Black Bush!

Testing the Waters

We were also very excited to be able to attend a Meeting arranged in a part of Black Bush for the first time in 10 years. Our special pioneer couple were getting such a great response in one section called Yakasari (One of the Four Communities in Black Bush) that they decided to try and hold a meeting and see how many could attend. They did this because the majority of their students were unable to make the 40 minute trip to reach our Kingdom Hall, but many had a keen desire to go to meeting. Also when a territory is large it's not uncommon to hold meetings in more than one location.

So the brothers arranged to hold a meeting on a Sunday Afternoon after our Morning meeting. Right after meeting, everyone that could loaded up into a few buses, one brother even loaned us his sound equipment so that we could have microphones. The best location the brothers could find was a classroom in one of the schools. We got everything set up and eagerly waited to see how many would turn up. Slowly but surely the students and even some new-comers began to trickle in and take a seat. By the start of the meeting we had about 25 in attendance, not including publishers! Brother Joseph (The special) gave the public talk on Jehovah's name, and Tom Sanches conducted the Watchtower. Amazingly several in the audience gave comments after the figured out it was an audience discussion. At the end brother Joseph gave the group a warm welcome to join us again at our next meeting, and to continue with or to start to study the bible.

Richard giving the Talk

 An Unlikely Student

Another nice experience we had was with a young woman named Nadira (Pronounced Na-Deer-Ah). When Lara first met her she described Nadira as a very melancholy and shy teenager, barely looking up to make eye contact. But Lara noticed that the girl seemed very interested in, and appreciative of the message she was sharing. So when we both came back the next time we were happy to find Nadira and her father (Christendoff) was home too. So we started with a discussion of the magazines Lara left, but slowly Christendoff began to explain that they were having a lot of turmoil in their home because of Nadira's Sister, Indira (Pronounced In-Deer-Ah). Apparently in the last few weeks Indira had been verbally abusing both of them repeatedly every day, often without any provocation. We were surprised to hear this since the girl looks just as sweet as can be, but this was causing both of them a lot of emotional pain since these tantrums seemed to have started out of nowhere. Christendoff explained that he was trying hard as a single parent to raise the girls well and provide for them ever since their Mother left them for another man some years ago (Not uncommon in Guyana). About this time Christendoff started weeping uncontrollably out of frustration and had to go into the house. While he was gone we started sharing some scriptures with Nadira trying to console her and after a while Christendoff came back out. He told us that he decided to just leave Indira alone, and not try to talk with her anymore since talking seemed to cause more problems. We read him (Prov 25:11) and tried to help them see that communication is very important to heal emotional wounds. But the timing of when to try to talk is important, to wait for a time when everyone is relaxed. We also explained that Indira may be struggling with an emotional / mental disability which is not unusual during the teenage growth period.  Before we left we promised to come back and give them some literature on Families and Teenagers. They both thanked us repeatedly and walked us out to the road.

In the next few weeks things seemed to calm down a bit, and Lara invited Nadira to the convention. She didn't seem interested in going since she is so shy and rarely ever leaves the house, let alone Black Bush. To get to the convention she would have to take a 20 minute taxi ride, so that was a little overwhelming for her. But she said she would think about it and let us know. Then the night before convention Lara gets a text from Nadira saying that she wants to come to Convention! Lara did her happy dance, and then explained to Nadira how to get there. The next day we saved seats for her, but were amazed to see both Nadira and her Sister Indira came too! They could only stay for the first half of the session, but they said they loved it and really enjoyed the music too. This was a very pleasant surprise since normally it takes a long time to get our bible studies to come to meetings and conventions. In the months to follow Nadira continued to study regularly and even came to memorial too!


 Lost and Found

We had an interesting experience with a man named James who we used to study with a few years back. James was a great student, very smart and really enjoyed learning. In fact the first time we spoke with him he adamantly stated that none of the other churches were willing to show him anything from the bible except for Jehovah's witnesses. The biggest problem he had was his struggle with alcohol as he was often intoxicated when we would come by.  He was making some progress but sadly he ended up moving some distance away so we turned him over to a brother in the next congregation. So it had been a few years since we saw him last, but one day in Black Bush we were riding out to study and we heard someone calling my name. I looked around and saw it was a man in an excavator and as I got closer I saw it was James! He said he had seen us ridding around the last few weeks but couldn't get our attention. I asked him how he had been doing and he explained that he studied for a few months but then his work schedule got really hectic so he stopped. He recently started working in black Bush, cleaning out the trenches, but the job had long hours so he was rarely home. So I offered to come find him once a week and study with him on his lunch break. He agreed and described what part he would be working the next week since he moved around a lot.

So the next week I called his phone and he told me today he was in the far back-dam area.  So I rode the bike as far as I could and then walked the rest of the way. I finally found him and by that time his lunch was nearly over so we had a brief discussion and I gave him the most recent magazines. We continued doing this over a few weeks, but eventually he was working so deep in the back-dam that I couldn't find him. So I gave his number to a brother that lives close by him and from what I've heard he has started up is study again.

So Black bush has been a very enjoyable addition to our Ministry, and we look forward to seeing what other gems we find there!

You can barely see the excavator at the end of this path


Monday, April 21, 2014

Memorial in Kwakwani

So at the assembly last month we received a special invitation from an old friend to attend their memorial. The congregation is in a mining town called Kwakwani just about 4-5 hours into the interior. Over the years this congregation has had a number of special pioneers assigned to it, but even now there are only two elders taking care of this congregation and the two other groups about an hour away. This year one of the elders was assigned to handle the memorial for one of the groups in the town of Ituni, and the other elder would be gone attending  in the BSSB, so Kwakwani would be very shorthanded. So our friend Joshua Dorris, who served in Kwakwani for 5 years as a special, mentioned that he would be traveling there to give the memorial talk and that we were welcome to come along also!

Joshua is on the Left, and Joel on the Right is his former Pioneer Partner, currently assigned in Kwakwani

On a map, the route we took to Kwakwani appears to be a very round about way, but there just aren't any direct routes to get there. The Berbice river does eventually go there but some say it would take about 3 days even with a large boat motor, and even then the gas would be very expensive. It just goes to show how dense and undeveloped the interior of Guyana is.
Our Bus going to Kwakwani from Linden

The Buses going down are normally packed with Supplies

We had often heard of Kwakwani before, especially from Joshua, since the town is remote with a large territory, but it still has a lot of "luxuries", like stable electricity, water, a variety of groceries, and even internet! The only problem we had was that the road was often impassable in the winter time, and we would have to leave every three months to renew our visas. But apparently the road has been improved and buses travel there every day now! 

This Part of the Road was quite smooth since its more dry.
Abandoned Bauxite mine on the way to Kwakwani 

 Logging is also big in Kwakwani

The Ministry

Something that makes Kwakwani unique is its population. It has around 5000 people but instead of Amerindians, the people there are primarily African Guyanese, and they are all very Devout Christians. So Josh was telling us that you really have to know your bible well and have strong lines of reasoning since almost everyone is very familiar with the bible. This leads to a very enjoyable ministry since most everyone is willing to have an in depth discussion with you, and you are able to really hone your teaching skills.
For example, one bible student who was traveling back to Kwakwani on a different bus, came by the house looking for one of the brothers. She had apparently had a very long conversation with the bus driver on several topics, like the meaning of Sheol / Gehenna , the immortal soul, and Trinity. We told her the brothers would be gone for a few days but we offered to answer any questions she might have about the conversation. So she sat down and explained the whole conversation that she had in detail. After listening we found she had very good reasoning points even the she is only a student! For about an hour afterward we had a nice conversation and answered a few questions she had.
We have noticed some on the east coast also have good bible understanding, but only about 30-40 percent, since the rest are either illiterate, rarely read their bible, or are Hindu and know very little about the  bible. So needless to say Kwakwani would bring a very different experience in the ministry, but sadly we only had three days there, so we are making plans to return for longer and really experience what it has to offer.

Sunday Meeting
Walking to Meeting in the Rain!

 Memorial Preparations

This was a very exciting Memorial to attend, simply because we both got to have such a huge share in the preparations. Even though the congregation only has about 20 publishers, the brothers we expecting about 100 to attend! This meant we would have to set up an overflow seating area outside, since the kingdom hall would only fit around 60. So after we helped clean out the kingdom hall, Josh came with a large 30 x 30 foot canopy, along with some large wooden supports to help hold it up.
Kwakwani has a brand new Kingdom Hall thanks to the KH Construction Program.

Setting up the Canopy
Making an extension cord for the Generator. Lethermans Rock!

The Emblems

We also got to help with the emblems which was pretty fun. The brother had already prepared the wine which was made from a berry called Jamun (Sounds like Jamoon) If you taste Jamun by itself it has a sweet flavor initially followed by a very dry tart flavor. The Guyanese love to make Jamun wine which they ferment in a bucket for about month. They normally add a lot of sugar to offset the tartness, but for the memorial wine there would be no sugar. We had even tried making some recently but it didn't ferment right and turned sour.

Jamun Berries. Yes it Will Stain!
We also got to make the unleavened bread for the first time which was not as easy as we thought it would be. The first attempt didn't go so well as the mixture was too dry and it was really hard to roll it out even. So we called my sister and she recommended using more water, then after rolling it out using a bowl to cut out a circle shape. We baked the "unleavened tortillas" on a flat skillet called a Towa, and it worked out really well! 

First attempt on the left. Improved method on the right.
After Sundown
The time arrived for Memorial finally, but of course right about the same time it started to rain! Unlike the rain on the coast which pours down for a few minutes and then finishes, this rain stuck around for over an hour, and it was heavy! Walking to the Kingdom hall in the rain was fun but we were in for more fun once we got there. The tarp on the outside of the hall was still up, but now all the rain was catching in the middle creating a large pool of water. So every ten minutes we had to use a broom and push the tarp up to let the rain empty out. On top of that we also had to set up all of the chairs on the outside of the hall, and set up the emblems, all the while trying to meet and greet everyone as they arrived. As usual we were thinking "Only in Guyana..."

This Pic is bad but it gives an idea of how much water was collecting

I was the chairman for the meeting so I got ready to go up on stage and begin when I noticed that one of the speakers was not in place. Since there would be people outside the hall, Josh wanted the speakers pointing outside the building so everyone could hear, perfectly reasonable. But it was now time to start so I told another brother to quickly move the speaker. So I made my announcements and we are singing the opening song, when I see Josh signaling me to come back to him. I gave him a gesture like "Really? Come off stage Now?", and he signaled again. So I ran back to him and he explained that they needed my height to reach the speaker and move it. I laughed and quickly jumped on a chair to take the speaker off the wall. I got it moved just in time to run back on stage and offer prayer. Again I was thinking "Only in Guyana..." lol.
Josh gave an excellent talk and was able to really adapt it well to the community there since he had served there for so long. You could tell from his mannerisms and tone that he was speaking to the congregation as you would to a really close friend, very warm and enthusiastic.

The time for the passing of the emblems came and everything went well with the bread, but not so well with the wine. In the front row a family had arrived late along with their children and baby. The baby was moving around a lot and of course right when the wine came to them the baby kicked and the wine went everywhere! Thankfully the mother held on to the glass and being in the front row no one got wine on them. But there were two glasses thankfully so I grabbed the other one and continued to the rest of the group without any further spills.

The total count for this memorial was 113! And at the other location in Ituni they had 50 in attendance with only four publishers! So the potential for growth in these areas is very apparent.

After the memorial we also had a nice time talking with several of the new comers. They all enjoyed it and some had several questions. I talked with one man named Godfrey who was just passing through the area for work, but he said that he always tries to find the witnesses wherever he goes, and he never misses memorial. He was very adamant about his stand against idolatry and false worship since apparently he had seen a lot of "Obia work", aka black magic. But he moves around so much that he hasn't been able to have a bible study, so I gave him a bible teach book, and told him to ask the witnesses for a bible next since Kwakwani was out.

So it was a very memorable memorial to say the least and we look forward to our next trip there hopefully soon!