Saturday, May 23, 2009

Guyanese Culture

Occasionally I visit other blogs from those serving in the West Indies Mission. I found this great post. It is very similar to Tobago in many ways. I hope it adds insight for you.

Thanks, Sister (and Elder) Langford (CES missionaries in Guyana) for letting me share your post.

Guyanese Culture

Our friend, Ron, asked us what cultural differences got in the way of our missionary work. There are many cultural differences and they stopped getting in the way as we learned what they were and adjusted our attitude.

This is an English speaking mission, but – they don’t speak the English we are used to. They pronounce words differently (vege-tah-ble, define-eyet-ly, cha-rack-ter traits, byes for boys), they use different expressions (walk with a lunch, collect the pen from he) and their use of pronouns is maddening (they don’t use him, her, our – they use he, she, we. (We brought she with we.). And they don’t use the past tense.

Our humor goes right over their heads and many times, in the classroom, I will try to use an example or an expression and they don’t get it. We decided over a year ago that we don’t belong in the classroom with the kids. Even the lesson manual has things that are incomprehensible to the Guyanese. There was a picture of a bicycle with training wheels. No Guyanese child has a bicycle. A bicycle is a luxury that adults have. It is a major form of transportation.

Time was very hard to get used to. A church activity will be announced to start at 3 pm and it doesn’t start until 5 or 6 or 7. We couldn’t figure that out, until we realized how travel impacts the people. If they have to do any preparing for the activity, decorating, cooking, rehearsing, they have to do it before the event on the day of the event. It costs too much money to take transportation to the church building more than once. This has led to a mentality of we’ll get there when we get there and we’ll start when we are ready. The branch presidents are finally getting sacrament meeting started within 5 minutes of the time. That is a major achievement.

They can’t seem to get home teaching and visiting teaching going. Transportation is one of the hindrances. The people are very poor. They have to use public transportation for everything. (Usually, our car is the only car parked in front of the church) They work long hours for very little money. Building relationships and friendships can be tricky. In Bush Lot Branch, everyone in town knows or is related to everyone else. Relationships are built in. In Garden Park Branch, people don’t know each other and have to make friends at church. Sometimes, the friendships don’t come. We have gone through a year of massive numbers of baptisms. They come in to the church faster than they can be absorbed. The branch leadership is changed often. All of this works against fellowshipping. These new Saints have trouble with hurt feelings and pride. They have trouble with accepting leadership and leadership changes. When they are offended, they leave and then we have to try to get them back. Our job is to train teachers how to teach and to get the young people into classes where they can learn the doctrine and principles of the gospel. We are hoping that we can have a generation of young people who will be able to lead the church without offense.

There are great cultural differences in the people. There are three cultures: East Indians who have either Moslem or Hindu backgrounds and an indentured servant history, negroes who have a background of slavery and who gather to various Christian churches, and Amerindians who have come in from the jungle and flock to the LDS church. There is a prejudice among them that is similar to the prejudice we experienced in the US before Martin Luther King. We are working very hard to promote unity among the saints.

We are competing with the school system here, the way early morning classes compete with athletics and band in the US. Right now, attendance at seminary has dropped. The CXC exams are looming. Everything depends on passing CXC in different subjects. The younger kids are competing for places in secondary schools. The private schools have scholarships for really high scores. The secondary students take the exam at 16. Passing the exam sends them out into the world to get a job or to the University of Guyana. Not passing the exam means staying in school for another year and hoping to pass the next year or getting a menial job. The problem for us is, the older kids begin studying for the exams early. Many take “extra lessons” before school and after school. The older kids who are studying don’t put seminary as a priority. The younger kids are also affected by exams. Their teachers put all of their time and energy into the kids who are writing the exams, so the younger kids are given double assignments before the exams so that they won’t miss anything because their teachers are occupied with the exam takers. They don’t come to seminary because they have double homework.

The Guyanese people are very polite. If you call on them at home, they will invite you in. You take off your shoes and they seat you on their best chairs. They want to give you refreshments and knowing that we can’t eat their food or drink their fruit punches, they offer a glass of soda pop. They will tell you what they think you want to hear. If you ask them to come to seminary or institute, they respond that they will “defineyetly “be there, however, they don’t come. Responsibility is a problem. Some of our teachers have not shown up for class. They have had good excuses, but they didn’t call anyone and left the students standing outside a locked gate. With transportation as expensive as it is, we get a little vexed (another Guyanese word) about it. They have discovered that we are here to help and can call us even in the middle of the night and we will help. They are so polite, they don’t want us vexed and the problem is beginning to resolve itself.

Have things changed since we have been here? Probably, not much, but we have changed. We are more flexible, tolerant and have changed our expectations. We hope that is what the Lord wanted when he sent us here. The first and most important convert to the church is yourself. Everyone, absolutely everyone, should have this experience at some time in their lives. Thanks, Ron, for giving us the opportunity to think about it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

One Year Mark

We have now been serving a mission for the Lord in the West Indies for a year. We have both experienced personal growth in several areas as we have tried to mold ourselves to our picture of a senior couple. We have had angels go before us as we have traveled the roads of Trinidad and Tobago. The spirit guides us in much of what we do even though we don’t always recognize it at the time. Our testimonies have strengthen and deepened.

We served for four months in the mission office located in Valsayn, Trinidad before we were transferred to Tobago. While in Trinidad we observed the preparation for the formation of the Port of Spain, Trinidad Stake. We have watched our little branch in Tobago grow from around 20 to nearly 60 since we came here at the end of September. We have met people who have had spiritual dreams that have led them to accept the gospel. Some who have spiritual dreams (that we understand because of our understanding of the gospel) have not yet come to the realization of the true meaning of those dreams. We continue to hope they will listen to the Spirit and gain an understating of what the Lord is trying to teach them.

Some here on the island of Tobago still think the Church is a “cult” and they don’t comprehend the magnitude of the Church because all they have seen is our humble little building on top of the Green Grocer. Many have heard and believe the usual negative things about the Church. That is one of our jobs, to preach the truth, and dispel the lies put forth by Satan.

Seminary was started in November. There are six students who are eligible to attend; five have attended and two or three will receive a certificate of completion. We have started most of the young women on Personal Progress even though we are still on a two-hour block and don’t have an official YW class. The Primary children age 8-11 are working on their Faith in God even though we have only a one-hour Primary. It is exciting to see them devour the programs and complete the tasks. We go to their homes to help each one complete their goals. We are worried one 13 year old will complete her YW requirements long before she turns 18 and she will have nothing to do!

One of our Mission Goals is to baptize and develop enough priesthood leadership to have a three-hour block before we go home. Of course, we need a new building before that can happen. We don’t have a branch clerk or the computer to complete the tasks, so we must hand carry all donations and membership information to the mission office in Trinidad. It is, at best, a slow process but we can measure growth since we have been here.

We are going to find it hard to leave our “new grandchildren” as we have come to love the people here even more that we expected. They have good hearts and they love the Lord.

These girls love seminary. They come early and we talk about Personal Progress.

Antonia loves to carry my bag to the car and then we have to pry her out of the trunk.

Lesa and Curvis Gonzales are awesome. We met them in Trinidad before they were baptized. We are so glad they moved to Tobago, to Curvis's hometown.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


We picked up Elder Jones at 8:15 am and took him to his new apartment. We then came back and picked up Elder Barton at 10:00 to take him to the airport to go to his new assignment in Trinidad.

It is goodbye to Elder Barton until we see him at Zone Conference in June. He will be in Prince's Town for the next six weeks.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

May Zone Conference

Elder Ross, Elder Barton, Elder Jarvis, Sister Ross

We had a great Zone Conference at the mission home. We will be losing Elder Barton at the next transfer on May 13. We have had him for 5 transfers in Tobago. We first met him when he was right from the MTC and assigned to the Port of Spain Branch. We were impressed how quickly he adapted to the role of a missionary. We will miss him. He was Elder Jarvis's trainer.

Elder Ross taking a break. Brother Jasper dropped by for a few minutes and I had to take a picture of his T shirt.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Yes! To Personal Progress

Sister Ross, Adelline Wiltshire, Janelle Burgess, Antonia Williams, Natalie Wiltshire, Linda Frankie

I am amazed how well the girls are doing with their Personal Progress. Three of the young women are reading the Book of Mormon to complete the project for the newest value, Virtue. Two of the girls have completed 6 value experiences already. They love the small journal books.

I ordered the YW torch pendants for each of them. When I gave them out on Tuesday, they said, “We all need to wear them on Sunday”, sure enough they did, hence the picture. We usually check on our families during the week to see how they are doing. I am thinking I will meet with them once a week during the summer and do Personal Progress activities to keep them motivated. It is good for them to have an opportunity to mingle with each other as much as possible.

I also ordered the Primary Faith in God booklets, which I have given to one of the boys and three of the girls. Isaac is so excited to have something similar to his sisters that he can work on. We dropped by his home on Saturday and helped him complete one of his requirements. He turns 12 this coming November and can’t wait to have the priesthood.

The youth are ready for the three hour block. We just need to find some leaders for them to soar.

Amanda Villafana is on the right. She is turning 11 soon.

Natalie Williams is 10.

Isaac Wiltshire and Nikita Williams are both 11.

Attendance at our two hour block is so erratic. Last week we had 20 people in attendance and 40 people this week. Last week (for the first time) we had no children in attendance that were Primary age. So we didn’t hold Primary and Lesa and I attended the Sunday school class. This week, we had 12 children Primary age and two wandering around who were under three. We have no facility for a nursery, so they are supposed to stay with their parents.

It was an interesting fast and testimony meeting. Everyone doesn’t quite understand the purpose and content of a testimony yet. We had someone say how thankful she was for fast offerings, then sing us a song that wasn’t in the hymn book. We had three people get up and tell faith promoting stories and/or stories that were funny, but not a real testimony. There were some real testimonies sprinkled in that should help them understand the true meaning of a testimony. We are now seeing the Primary children getting up and sharing a brief but, excellent testimony. We actually ran over today because two people decided they needed to speak even though Elder Ross was in the process of announcing the closing hymn.