Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Guyana - May

“Deliver my breakfast from evil”

It was early on a Wednesday morning when I heard a voice calling from the front gate. “Pastor, Pastor. Are you there?” I stepped to my bedroom window, answered the young woman, and asked what I could do to help. She yelled out, “Pastor, Pastor! Aunty Ruby refuses to eat breakfast. I need you to come and speak with her. I need you right away!” After taking a moment to calm her, I promised to come as quickly as possible.

Aunty Ruby (who gave me permission to share this story) is an elderly member of Nativity Lutheran Church in Crabwood Creek, one of the four congregations I serve here in Guyana. Those walking the dirt paths of Crabwood Creek observe glimpses of natural beauty in the form of palm trees, flowering plants, and bountiful fruit trees. However, one is also confronted with frequent reminders of neglect, such as plastic bottles and broken glass on the roadside, a multitude of sickly stray animals, and countless malnourished children walking the streets when supposed to be in school. It is within this difficult setting that Aunty Ruby has lived a great portion of her life. I visit her frequently, for I know that each day brings new struggles and increased need to receive comfort and consolation.

When I arrived at Aunty Ruby’s house, she was hunched over her chair, hands on her head, crying, and bursting with tears. She was wearing the blue dress and white sandals I see her in almost every day. I leaned over, placed my hand on her shoulder, and asked what was going on. With tears pouring down her face at a steady pace, she wiped her eyes and proceeded to confess, “Pastor, my neighbor cast a spell on my food. She cast a spell. She hates me! She’s always hated me! She put evil sprits in all my food. The food and the drink! I can’t eat. If I eat I will get the evil spirits. I can’t eat. I can’t.”

As a small-town central Wisconsin native, the topic of evil spirits placed upon one’s breakfast was not a topic of conversation I was raised with (…I cannot ever recall any of my relatives complaining of evil spirits in their pancakes!). And because of my Midwestern upbringing, my first instinct on that Wednesday morning was to roll my eyes and disregard Aunty Ruby’s fears. However, because I have lived and served in this Guyanese culture for a significant amount of time, I knew that invalidating Aunty Ruby’s concerns would not be helpful. Over the years I’ve learned that genuine care requires walking alongside others in their day-to-day lives and struggles, even if it all seems confusing, foreign, uncomfortable, and totally unfamiliar. And so, while the fears of demons, spells, and evil spirits placed on breakfast food might still be a bit strange to me, I am called to comfort people such as Aunty Ruby through the midst of these concerns, doing my best to provide encouragement, compassion, and Good News in the name of our common and loving God.

After taking some time to listen to Aunty Ruby and hear more about her predicament, I proceeded to tell her that the neighbor’s evil spell had no power over her, and that the love of God would certainly protect her from any negative energy being placed around her. I reminded her that faith removes fear, I repeated Jesus’ instruction to pray for one’s enemies, and after hesitating for a moment, I told her that if God’s armor of protection is placed upon people, why should the “shield of faith” not also extend to people’s breakfast! Aunty Ruby looked at me with a confused stare, she eventually smiled, laughed, and after I pushed her plate and drinking glass in front of her, she proceeded to enjoy breakfast – the first time she had eaten in days.

As a pastor in Guyana, sometimes my days are filled with “classic” responsibilities such as: leading Bible study, teaching classes, writing sermons and various speeches, preparing for worship, counseling and visiting various homes. Yet, other days (probably most days) are filled with experiences unfamiliar to many North American clergy, such as: painting fences, fishing with parish members, helping to fix donkey carts, pouring cement, walking muddy roads, searching with neighbors for a lost cow or horse, and of course, bringing new meaning to the concept of praying for one’s food. Through it all, while I continue to get surprised and caught off guard, make mistakes, and come across things that I have yet to fully understand, each day brings new learning and fresh opportunities to share God’s love through both words and actions.

Ultimately, I pray that as Kristen and I have learned so much from being around such wonderful people as Aunty Ruby, that all who hear of our experiences many also be enriched. I pray that as we share more about what God is “up to” here in Guyana that all who hear make take a deeper look inside themselves, a wider gaze at the world, and continue to find ways to accompany our brothers and sisters around the world in this awesome journey of life.

Kristen and I continue to thank you for the amazing outpouring of love and support shown throughout of time serving in Guyana. We love you, and we look forward to the next opportunity to thank you in person.

With peace and love,

Brian