Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Guyana - December, 2006

December 12, 2006

Greetings from Guyana!

“Tamesh” is a five-year-old boy who attends Nativity Lutheran Church in Crabwood Creek, one of the four congregations I serve here in Guyana. Crabwood Creek is a challenging environment, where economic poverty is the norm, drug trafficking is prevalent, and violent crime is common. However, even in the midst of this difficult setting, nothing seems to dim Tamesh’s energetic spirit and creative personality.

An example…

One Sunday morning I was delivering a sermon and I couldn’t help but notice Tamesh in the second row, sitting directly in front of the pulpit, beginning to take his shirt off. I thought, “Well…it’s Guyana, we’re on the equator, and it’s hot. It won’t be a big deal.” Then, Tamesh began to take his sandals off. Again, I thought: “Sandals? Not a big deal. No one will mind.” Then, Tamesh proceeded to take off his pants and underwear, until he was completely naked. It was at this point that I stopped the sermon to ask what was going on (…I wondered if he felt compelled to perform a rendition of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden!). Tamesh simply responded: “Pastor Brian, it’s hot in here! I can’t listen to you when it’s hot like this! I’ve got to cool off!” The congregation busted into laughter! Never before had I experienced a naked five year-old sitting in front of the pulpit in the second row (Luther Seminary’s preaching courses never prepared me for that)! Nevertheless, I suppose there is a first time for everything.

Some would say children like Tamesh are a disruption on Sunday mornings, but thankfully, the members of Nativity Lutheran in Crabwood Creek have a faithful understanding of God’s love, and they see Tamesh for what he truly is: a Child of God and a blessing to us all. In the midst of hardships and struggles in Crabwood Creek, Tamesh’s periodic moments of unruly behavior has a way of reminding us all that God has a wonderful sense of humor and an amazingly profound love for all people, regardless of how well behaved they are, and regardless of whether or not they have clothes on! Tamesh is far from perfect (…and God knows I’ve disciplined him quite a few times!), but no matter what he says or does, he will always be welcome in our congregation, and the love of Jesus will never leave his side (But I must say, I do hope he will learn to keep his clothes on!).

For Kristen and I, we use this “turn of the calendar time” as a period to reflect and consider the various blessings of past, present, and future. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas as a new “family of two”, we offer God thanks for bringing us together in marriage, protecting us, and showering us with blessings among these wonderful people of Guyana. Also, as we get ready to turn the calendar to 2007, we consider the future and contemplate where God is leading us and how we may faithfully answer God’s Calling in our day-to-day lives. And of course, in the midst of considering past and future we always try to give thanks and be mindful of the present, for each day we are surrounded with numerous reminders of God’s goodness. We have each other, we have wonderful family and caring friends, we have a great setting surrounded by hospitable and compassionate people, and most of all, we have a God who continues to provide us with both comfort and challenge each day in our lives together.

What amazes me about the Christmas Season is that we all celebrate in such different ways and in various parts of the world, yet the true message of Christmas knows no boundaries and stay true in all places. While I am sure your Christmas celebration will be quite different than Tamesh from Crabwood Creek, what I do know is that just as God watches over him each day, God will continue to pour blessings in your life and provide you with everything you need. Christmas can mean numerous things to different types of people, but no matter what, I pray that it will be a time for you to give thanks for the past, consider the future, and also stay mindful of the blessings of the present.

As always, Kristen and I thank you for the ongoing prayers and support. We wish we could accurately express just how much it means to know that you are thinking of us, praying for us, and wishing us well. We always look forward to the next opportunity to thank you all face-to-face!

With peace and love during this season of Christmas!


Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Dec. 6, 2006

Walking out the back door and surveying the foliage around our home, I see things springing to life. The fragrance hits my nose and it causes me to search for the source of origin. As I make the stroll around the house and the compound I see that the mango tree is still bearing what appears to be the last of its fruit. However, just as its cycle is nearly ceasing, I see the guava tree has sprung to life, the lime and (sour) cherry trees following suit and some beautiful purple flowering bushes popping with both color and fragrance along the fence line. The beginning of the rainy season is upon us and with it comes a flurry of growth and activity.

This December month can parallel that surge in activity as we prepare and celebrate the Christmas season. With that in mind and anticipating all the many things that lay ahead, we along with the intern pastor and her husband took the opportunity to get away for a few days as if ‘the calm before the storm’. After finishing what is known as Harvest Sunday (right before Thanksgiving) in the church decorated and embellished with sugar cane, palms, flowers and other eye capturing plants the weather in the tropics affords, we headed to Georgetown. We spent our lovely Thanksgiving holiday getting our papers “in order” with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Port Authority and Passport/Visa offices, among others, before spending a quiet evening together sans turkey, mashed potatoes, pies and the like. Brian and I opted for something with more of a cooling effect vs. the warm and fuzziness a traditional Thanksgiving dinner would bring. Turkey, no…but time with a loved one, yes…

We were met in the capital by our friends and the flurry of activity was now underway in our search for relaxation and the natural beauty of the land. After enduring the torrential 4 hour morning downpour we navigated around donkey carts, honking horns, stalls and vendors displaying goods and looking for patrons, reggae and soca Christmas tunes blaring on a mobile cart/store, and many more sense tickling scenes on our way to the back of Starbroek market. The first leg of our trip was on the water taxi boat across the mouth of the Demerara River on the Atlantic to the Vreed en Hoop stelling. As you move away from the market and look back you feel as if an ant with the many large ships, cargo boats and industrial barges coming into and leaving the capital port. We then made our next leg of the journey with a vehicle to the Parika Stelling which sits on the Essequibo River. After we gathered food stuffs from the stalls of vendors we pushed on to our second boat ride which would take us south on the river for the approximate hour trip to Shanklands. Here we were provided the much needed quiet, secluded (river accessible only) peacefulness and connection to the flora and fauna we desired. Our own little lodge quarters were overlooking the river on the bluff with the rooms open to the air and a porch offering the epitome of serenity. As we finished preparing our evening meal and began eating with the watercolor beauty of sunset on the horizon we were very loudly interrupted. Upon closer look we found the culprits of this noise. The toucans perched high in the trees were having a discussion about the happenings of their day, along with many other species of rainforest birds and animals the area offers. Who said it was only a Fruit Loops thing?! Before heading on to our next destination, we spent the next day hiking many miles through the dense, peaceful forests. The afternoon hike provided not only an escape from the midday heat with shielding canopy, but high up in the trees we were able to enjoy the acrobatic tree top antics of a group of monkeys checking on the growing fruits.

After cooling off with an afternoon kayak around a few of the close by islands on the river we were picked up and taken the few miles to nearby Bartica (meaning Red Earth) known as the gateway to the interior (via the rivers) as it is where the Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cayuni Rivers split and go their separate routes. Bartica and its cool breezes, relaxing beachfront and warm hospitality were wonderful. One of the best things about this location is how quickly you can get out of the few blocks of “town”, up and down the hills and into the forest. Along with some Peace Corps friends in the area, we took a wonderfully adventurous hike for much of one day where our rest was a small, remote 100 yard beach. Upon completion of this day of activity we decided we needed fuel and headed to the simple, small, outside Brazilian eating establishment. Wonderful food and conversation was shared while taking in this different area of Guyana where no one knows who we are and what we are doing in the country (kind of nice to be somewhat anonymous).

We concluded our few days in Bartica and headed to the stelling to see the availability of a boat and were fortunate one left quite quickly upon arrival. We left the dock and reflected on the last few days, took in the scenery and enjoyed the cool breeze as we made our way back to the capital city. We spent the night in Georgetown and then made the journey back to our home. After 6 hours filled with driving, the barge, and then more driving we finally made it home and stepped out on our veranda and overlooked the setting sun and Suriname across the river once again.

Even as the travel can be challenging and somewhat taxing in Guyana, we were so blessed with this opportunity to get away for a few days before the flux of activity is in full swing with the Christmas season. As you go about all of your own preparations for the holiday season, just take the time to reflect on what this season is all about and the wonderful gift of time spent with family and friends. You all remain in our hearts and prayers this season.

Blessings to you and Happy Holidays!