After spending three months in the United States speaking at various Lutheran congregations and visiting with family and friends, Kristen and I arrived back on the shores of Guyana on October 24th. While our luggage did not appear until later the next evening (…frustrating!), we eventually made our way down the public road back to our home in Skeldon. Amazingly, it almost felt as if we never left! The furniture was in place, the entire home was clean (…thanks to a church member who spent the day washing it up!), and all the phones and other small appliances were working perfectly. The only evidence that we were away was the sign on the front gate, which read: “Welcome Home”! All in all, while the heat was difficult to adjust back to, and the travel a bit exhausting, it was indeed great to be back.
Oddly enough, Kristen and my first order of business upon arrival in Guyana was to inform everyone of our upcoming departure. In a sense, we had to wave “hello” with one hand, and immediately start signaling “good-bye” with the other. Due to some discussions that took place between us and the ELCA Global Mission, we had to share the news of our upcoming re-assignment to a new position in a new country.
Starting in January, Kristen and I will be coordinating a new Young Adults in Global Mission Program, which will be based in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The Young Adults in Global Mission Program (YAGM) offers international service opportunities to young adults of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) between the ages of 19-30 who are willing to share their gifts, receive the gifts of others, participate in communities of learning and service, and live at a subsistence level to help meet needs worldwide. Through a variety of experiences, YAGM volunteers will learn a great deal about their faith, all while building meaningful relationships in a cross-class/cross-cultural setting. As Country Coordinators, Kristen and I will be responsible for oversight and facilitation of the program, as well as providing direction and support for the Young Adult volunteers. This position has both administrative and spiritual roles. As you can imagine, we are honored to have been selected for this important assignment, and we are extremely excited for all there is to come.
Of course, while we are thrilled for the new opportunities ahead of us, we know that leaving Guyana will be extremely difficult.
Both Kristen and I have spent nearly three and a half years of our lives in this place. I first arrived as a seminary intern, and Kristen first stepped into Guyana as a United States Peace Corps volunteer. We have each lived in two separate towns, have met numerous wonderful people, and we have learned a great deal about faith and life. And on a personal level, this is the place that we were reunited in such an amazing way, which eventually led to our wedding in Wisconsin last year. For so many reasons, Guyana will always have a special place in our hearts, and we will never forget the gracious people we have met and the amazing experiences we have shared.
From now until December 18th, Kristen and I will be fully engaged in one of the most important aspects of mission work: empowering people and lifting them up in order to take on new leadership roles. From the beginning of our service here we felt the need to “work ourselves out of a job”, and now that we are preparing for departure, we must literally do just that. I am working alongside the Emmanuel Lutheran Parish and its leaders, while Kristen is fully engaged in transitioning the Lutheran Camp and Retreat Centre into its new direction. Thankfully, the empowerment process began years ago, so we fully believe that our local counterparts will be more than capable to take on our responsibilities after we leave. The organizations in which we serve have thrived for a long time before we ever got here, which is why we know they will continue to be successful long after we leave.
In addition to planning, we are also trying to spend as much time as we can with our local friends before we leave. What I find amazing about all of this is that, while just a few years ago I had no idea where Guyana even was, now I am preparing to leave not only knowing about Guyana, but feeling personally connected to so many wonderful Guyanese people. I could list so many names! There are elderly men who have provided guidance, young boys and girls who have kept our youthful spirits alive, and of course, there are numerous elderly women who have kept us sharp and well fed! We have been welcomed here as one of their own, which is why they are treating our departure as if someone from the family is going away. While I am deeply touched to feel such love, it hurts to walk away from those whom care for us. Clearly, no matter where God leads us into the future, we will always hold these wonderful people dear in our hearts.
Kristen and I ask for your continued thoughts and prayers as we enter into this important time of transition. We will be back in the United States on December 18th, and we are planning to be in South Africa during the first weeks of January. We ask that you would pray for our friends here in Guyana, as well as for the friends we look forward to making in South Africa.
I look forward to being in touch.
With peace and love,