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Why Guyana?

Good Question!  I'm glad you asked...

...but before I get into the specifics of why Alamo Heights United Methodist Church chose Guyana to concentrate on, I want to answer the more general question, "Why international short term mission trips?"  There are a lot of people, all over the world, who are in great need, including right here in the United States, right here in San Antonio.  First, mission trips are obviously a means for providing funds for necessary building and church supplies.  Second, the personal interaction between the team and the local people creates a link that expresses our love and concern as well as gives hope in places that many times seem hopeless.  And finally, the mission trips remind us, the team members, who we of God's children.  Whether from Alamo Heights in San Antonio, or Georgetown, Guyana, we are all the same.  The only difference is the situations we were born into.  I believe this is much easier to see by traveling to a distant place and getting to know people from very different cultures than our own.

"Why Guyana?"  Honestly, we could have chosen anywhere, but Guyana seemed to be a convenient choice for a few reasons.  First, the Gross National Product of Guyana is smaller than the annual church budget for Alamo Heights UMC.  Obviously Guyana has a need and we have the means to make a very large, very powerful impact on an entire country.  Second, Guyana is the only country in South America, and one of the few developing countries in the Western Hemisphere, that speaks English.  This fact makes it much easier for teams to create that link and build those relationships that show the love and builds the hope.  There is no language barrier to overcome which might otherwise inhibit the personal interactions that are so important for both the locals and the team members.  Finally, we have a close connection with Bill and Diana Upchurch, who are permanent missionaries in Guyana, sent by the United Methodist Church in the United States.  This connection does wonders for easing the natural tensions and worries of the team members.  It's always nice to have someone to guide you through a stressful situation when they know where you have been and what you are going through.

Our group from the young adult singles class from Alamo Heights UMC had the exciting, yet challenging, opportunity to be on the leading edge of our church's mission efforts to Guyana.  Our team was made up of a fairly even mix of women and men with ages ranging from 24 to 35.  We came from an incredible mix of backgrounds and educations including a majority with very strong leadership abilities.  We were the first team from our church to go to Guyana for the purpose of a week long work project and none of us had been on any of the previous exploratory trips.

Because we were the first, we ran into several minor difficulties that prevented us from accomplishing all that we had really hoped to.  We had trouble getting supplies, so there were times when much of the group was just standing around looking for something to do.  We were somewhat unprepared for the amounts of water we required (a lot).  Water was easy to purchase, but we ran out a couple of times early in the week due to bad planning.  We were also unprepared for the amounts of money that each of us would have to pay for various things such as room and board.  Finally, we were not prepared for the schedule we needed to keep, meaning how much time we spend working versus touring and bonding with the local church members.

All of the difficulties mentioned above can be easily taken care of for future groups through better preparation and planning.  We should be able to work with the Guyana church before hand to make arrangements for the necessary supplies for the number of team members going on the trip.  I would also recommend having a leader for each group that has been to Guyana before and perhaps gone through some kind of training from our church.  The leader should be prepared to handle the day-to-day expenses and other organizational needs and should NOT expect to be too involved with the work of the group.  The group members, especially the first-timers, are under enough stress that they should not have to worry about things like money at this point in the trip.

On our trip, we worked for the first three days and did more tourist type things for the last two days.  They are proud of the beauty of their country and do not want us to only see the extreme poverty throughout Georgetown and the other cities.  I do recommend a planned day (but not two) for seeing a part of their country and I highly recommend the Kaieteur Falls trip for anyone that goes to Guyana.  Kaieteur Falls was an incredible sight that seriously affected all of us that went, including one of our group members who accepted Christ for the first time at the site of the falls!  Not at all what any of us planned from the Guyana trip, but obviously an important part of God's plan.

Every evening we spent with at least a small group of the local church members.  I believe that these were, by far, the most important parts of our trip.  We told stories, we sang songs, we danced, and we laughed.  They truly inspired us and I think that we were able touch them in such a way as to give them hope and show them that we, as well as God, care about them.  My hope and my plan is that by us reaching out to help the people of the Guyana Methodist Church, by making that personal connection, they will in turn reach out to the people all around them that are so desperately in need of feeling the love of God and of those around them.

I think Alamo Heights United Methodist Church's decision to build a lasting relationship with Guyana was a good decision that will prove to have powerfully strong affects on the entire country over the course of the next several years.  In addition, I believe it will, as it already has, prove to strengthen the faith of the people of the Guyana Methodist Church as well as the faith of the people of Alamo Heights United Methodist Church.  From this renewed sense of hope and faith, both theirs and ours, will come an endless stream of sparks that will spread the fire of the Word of God throughout Guyana and throughout San Antonio and to the rest of the world.

God bless,

Steve Powell

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