Saturday, November 26, 2005

Guyana - November, 2005

I receive a lot of questions. Whether it is face-to-face conversation or over the phone or Internet, I am always fascinated by both the amount – as well as the diversity – of questions I receive.

When I visit people in the local community, some ask why I came to Guyana in the first place (“Did you get in trouble? Are you hiding?”) or why I wanted to be a Lutheran pastor (“Who would want to do such a thing?”). Some ask why I go running in the mornings, others ask if I play soccer or cricket, and some ask if I have ever met Oprah or Judge Judy. Numerous people ask about my family, some wonder about Wisconsin (“Isn’t that next to New York?”) and of course – some ask whether or not I would consider marrying their daughter or niece! All in all, the Guyanese are great at numerous things – and flooding the Lutheran pastor with questions is definitely one of them!

The questions I receive from across the ocean are equally entertaining. People seem to be quite curious about Guyana! Some ask about Guyanese weather (“Is it really that hot?”), the food (“Has anyone heard of a Big Mac or Whopper?”), sports (“How does cricket actually work?”), and clothing (“How can you live without The Gap or Banana Republic?”), while others are more interested in the church, Caribbean worship hymns, or ongoing community projects (“Pastor, are you still building bathrooms all the time?”). Several people wonder about the local music and dancing, and of course, I have friends that seem most interested in the South American beaches!

All in all, as I speak with the local people and communicate with friends and family abroad, it is wonderful to receive the variety of questions, for each one reveals a great deal about the person asking the questions! Each individual is interested in different things, and through it all, I am reminded that just as I receive a mass diversity of questions, I am blessed with a mass diversity of friends!

However, amidst all the diversity, I do find some striking commonalities. I am extremely blessed, for if I took a survey of all the questions I receive, surely one of the most frequent would be, “How can I help?” I am thankful for those who wish to offer assistance – for it makes a tremendous difference in all that we are trying to do with the churches. And thus, in order to answer this most frequently asked question, I want to use this month’s newsletter to share how you – no matter where or who you are – can assist with what is happening here in Guyana.

The first thing you can do is PRAY. Now I understand full well that some who read my letters are not “spiritual” people, for many of my friends spend more time brushing teeth than praying, and some see the dentist more often than they see their pastor! Nevertheless, I want you all to know that prayer makes a huge difference. Personally, I doubt if I will ever truly understand how prayer works, but what I do know is that – through the mysterious power of God – prayer does work! And so, when you think of all that is happening here – please know that prayer makes a huge difference. And so, before you do anything else – please pray and ask God to guide and strengthen the ministry taking place in Guyana.

Secondly, COMMUNICATION is a major source of assistance and inspiration. I absolutely love sharing the various stories about life in Guyana, but also, I love hearing from you and learning about all that is happening in your life. And so, please do not hesitate to contact me and let me know how you are doing! With the onset of the information age and our access to technology, there is no excuse not to stay in touch. We can all communicate quickly and effectively, so please do not hesitate to E-Mail, phone, or write letters. There are many days when a simple note makes a huge difference.

Third, many of you have offered to CONTRIBUTE financially. As you might imagine, financial contributions are always welcome (…unless you are a South American drug lord looking for favors…), for they always make a significant difference. As Director of the Lutheran Camp and Retreat Centre and pastor of the Emmanuel Parish, we are always striving to improve facilities and provide new opportunities for the people. (For example, we want to build a new basketball court in the coming months, and we need help!) And so, if you are interested in making a contribution, please contact me directly or inform the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – Division for Global Mission. Each contribution, no matter how big or small, can make a significant impact.

And so, please keep the questions coming – and I promise to respond as best I can! I appreciate all the love and support that has been provided thus far, and I look forward to many great things to come.

May God bless you always.

With peace and love,


Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Nov. 8, 2005

The afternoon is closing in as I can see the watercolor
sunset overhead, the temperatures cool down and I see all
the people around me practicing soccer, cricket and track &
field. I have just finished soccer practice and am in the
process of taking off my gear when I hear the familiar
“miss…miss Kristen”. I look and see one of my young
students who is simply running and playing with other
children at the sports club grounds. I see, just as many
children do, she was trying to catch my every attention,
looking over consistently to see if I am watching her play
while a wave accompanies every eye contact. The only thing
is this young child is very small for her age and is always
lagging behind, sometimes falling down and a little ‘rough
around the edges’ as you may say. Unfortunately, this very
special student of mine was born HIV+ and is currently an
orphaned child who, without antiretrovirals, is nearing the
end of her life. But all I can do is smile, watch her play
and give her the attention she is looking for. I go to
leave and as I do I hear her voice behind me and see her
beaconing me over with her hand. As I lean into hear what
she is to say, this precious child wraps her arms around my
neck, gives me a big kiss on the lips and then runs off as
she just wants to tell me she loved me and to have a good day!
I was left without words to express how much love I felt at that
moment from this child whom I have taken special attention
to who really truly nearing the end of a challenging life.
As I previously mentioned, I had the opportunity to write a
grant for funds available through the President’s Emergency
Plan for AIDS/HIV Relif (PEPFAR). I, along with a couple of
my Peace Corps cohort, put together a grant to use puppets
and a puppet theatre for the primary and secondary schools
in our region (28 shows total) for an antidiscrimination
and informational skit pertaining to HIV and AIDS. We felt
that with all they hear about this topic, it becomes
monotonous to hear it in the same way and we felt this was
a way to get the message across in a unique fashion. So,
after getting the grant approved, we got to work. Using
locals we made and designed a huge theatre, ordered puppets
from a company in the US (Puppets on the Peir, San
Fransisco), wrote scripts, trained secondary school health
club students, and made our performance dates. After many
months of preparation we were finally ready. We rode from
school to school with this huge theatre in the back of
truck for the months of September and October and were
known as the puppet crew all around the region. What a
success this was as the kids sat attentively for the 25
minute performance and were able to answer some very direct
questions at the end of the show. The t-shirts we had
designed and made for the grant had the slogan: “My friend
with AIDS is still my friend”, and it came off wonderfully.
I was asked to give a couple of talks and presentations
about the grant already and we have been asked to do some
around the country. Due to our already busy schedules, I am
not sure if it will happen, but maybe into the future.
The beginning of the school year is also known as sports
time where all the schools train and compete in a series of
track and field competitions. I am not sure if it would be
the same as you would recognize as we have to be quite
creative about our facilities and equipment. The track is
just the grass field they paint, hardly anyone wears shoes
and the pit for jumping and such are just a pile of sand.
However, through it all it is unbelievable the talent and
the excitement it brings. One of the funniest parts for me
over the month during training was that the “lanes” had cow
manure in them and we were always jumping over it as we
came to varying parts of the track. Along that same lines,
the kids enjoyed running the cows, sheep, chickens and dogs
off the “track” before we practiced. Simply priceless!
Somehow, it seems quite normal to me…
All my best, kristen