Monday, June 12, 2006

Guyana - June, 2006

One of my responsibilities here in Guyana includes serving as Director of the Lutheran Camp & Retreat Centre – a site that receives guests from both inside and outside of the country. The Camp Centre hosts a variety of groups, which allows me to serve alongside medical teams, construction workers, musicians, government officials, athletes, and an assortment of other organizations. Each group is filled with unique talents and abilities, which provides an opportunity to witness amazing deeds through amazing people.

When visitors from the United States arrive at the Lutheran Camp & Retreat Centre, some have their own “activity programs” in place, which means all I am asked to do is “house and feed” (…sometimes I feel like an ordained hotel manager!). However, request that I personally facilitate their experience – which is always great fun! I treasure the opportunity to lead people through the twists and turns of Guyanese life, and not only that – I am always amazed at how people react to “third world” living. There are times when people manage the cultural differences smoothly, but there are others who experience large amounts of difficulty (…I once had a young man go crazy because he couldn’t watch college football!). All in all, the cross-cultural experience is meaningful and worthwhile for all involved. Visitors leave Guyana with a new appreciation of life, and the locals are left with a new sense of hope and unity.

While I considered explaining what actually happens when I facilitate a group’s experience, I figured it would be worthwhile to hear from someone who actually visited the Lutheran Camp and Retreat Centre. And so, I decided to share a small portion of a sermon from Alena Lamarito, a pastoral intern from Christ the King Lutheran Church in Miami, Florida. Alena helped lead a team in Guyana last month, and as you will soon read, she enjoyed a wonderful experience while walking alongside the people of Guyana.

The following is a small piece of what Alena had to say about her experience:

Early on in our trip we went fishing with a man named, “Washer”. Washer took us out on his boat for a morning of sardine fishing. We were all happy to see on the front of the boat, “in God we trust,” because in a boat that small and in a River that big, it was a good reminder of our dependence on God. As the nets were cast out and the fish were frightened by the pounding of our sticks on the water we laughed together and we established relationships with one another knowing that we were connected in God’s love.

Later on, we went over to Mrs. Cotes’ house. She is the oldest member of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Skeldon, right next door to the Lutheran Camp and Retreat Center. Mrs. Cotes has a bad foot, but she never uses it as an excuse to miss church, she just leaves extra early in the morning to get to church on time as she walks with her cane. She told us of how much she loves her church and how she wishes everyone would sing really loud and with more enthusiasm. We laughed with Mrs. Cotes and her sisters. As we left her house the last time, she told me that she didn’t know if she would ever see me in Guyana again because she wasn’t sure how much longer she would be alive, but we reassured one another that ultimately we would see one another again.

As we were walking toward the Camp Center, she yelled off of the veranda, “I love you!” and we all just about cried as we waved and told her we loved her too.

Mr. Jagessar, typically known as “Jaggy”, lives behind the Camp Center across the field. Although he is retired and has really bad knees, there is no keeping him down. He is always very active making sure everything with the church is running efficiently. We visited Jaggy at his house where he showed us all of the amazing things he has made out of wood and also brass.

We spent some time painting the fence with Jaggy over at Nativity Lutheran Church in Crabwood Creek, and although we left him to go feast with a lady named “Auntie Berta”, he stayed behind to finish the first coat of paint. Jaggy really enjoyed having us around and was sure to see us off when we left Skeldon for Georgetown, reminding us to keep in touch with him.

I could go on with the stories for hours!

Alena and the Miami group enjoyed a wonderful experience. Why? I believe it’s because they grasped the true meaning of “accompaniment” – which is essential when visiting a foreign culture. To “accompany” is to “walk alongside” in companionship – and the goal of accompaniment is to build meaningful relationships throughout the journey. The Miami group displayed “accompaniment” because, although they certainly did their share of giving, they also received a great deal. They “accompanied” the people of Guyana. They gave. They received. They taught. They learned. They experienced life as the Guyanese do, living as they live and learning as they learn – and because of it all – they were blessed with an amazing experience they will never forget.

If you would like to walk alongside people of a different culture – and learn a great deal in the process – today I am giving you an open invitation to visit Guyana and stay at the Lutheran Camp & Retreat Centre. While we do not offer luxurious beaches, fancy restaurants, or high-class hotels, what we do offer is a genuine opportunity to connect with God through the beautiful people and places of Guyana. You won’t see any movie stars, and you certainly won’t visit large-scale shopping malls – but you will certainly grow in your faith – with a deeper understanding of God, yourself, the world, and God’s place for you in this world.

As always, thank you for the ongoing prayers and support – let me know when you’d like to visit!

With peace and love,