South America

             Guyana Mission Trips 2005 and 2006

Sophia Church

sophia church of god
we had visited congregations in need -- i had heard that the Sophia congregation was the church with the most challenges, the one we could help immediately. i don't know what i expected, but what i saw was not what my mind had imagined.

we had followed the paved roads until they ended, but the houses continued. we continued down little dirt roads even though it was obvious the sewage ditches had ceased--the houses still continued, with matching little outhouses. we continued down ever narrowing dirt roads into a larger community missing the array of utility wires we had grown accustomed to seeing in Georgetown. we were in Sophia, a new community scheduled to receive water, sewage, and power lines soon.

our guiding pastor told the driver to stop. even he was confused, "here?" he asked. "right here," pastor Ronda Abrams said with a laugh. (she said before the dirt roads came she would have to walk from the city into this community, and usually ended up quite muddy before she arrived to lead the new congregation there.)

we got out to cross a little make shift bridge to walk through a pasture that was in the middle of this community. this pasture was to be a roadway soon. we went to the end of the pasture road and turned right down a similar pasture road. then we came to the church building...thankfully the Church is the people, not the structure -- because the structure was in need

the church house had to be moved because it was too close to the coming progress. in the moving, it suffered additional structural damage. the walls were separating from the floors, there were increasing gaps in the walls. once inside, there were little ants scurrying along the floor also trying to avoid the holes. a strange little nest of strange tiny wasps was being constructed in the middle of the roof. two long benches lined the back wall, while a short bench lined the adjoining wall next to the doorway. a table and pulpit were at the front, and we were in the church house

in our amazement, Pastor Ronda went down the pasture road without our notice. she returned with church members from the community who came in with crystal glasses, sandwiches, and homemade passion fruit and mango juice. they came with smiles and served us in the heat--humbling our hearts. we were the ones that had so much to give, yet we were the ones receiving.

we're planning to return to Sophia -- we're planning to give toward purchasing their lot and another (what will form one corner of a main intersection in this community); and to give toward the materials needed to build a new multi-purpose community centered church. we're planning to return and help supply some of the labor.

would you like to join us? we can be partners in something great for the Kingdom of Light to dispel the darkness in this new community.

missional partnership
Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others
                                    ~ Philippians 2:4

(this is a challenge to my pastoral colleagues in the Church of God)

Let me just say at the top that I think the Project Link initiative is a great vision. But great vision is only a reality with great execution of the strategy. Project Link, as I understand it, calls for each church to get involved relationally with a mission, missionary, and/or international work. Now that project link has been launched, it is up to all of our churches to get involved somewhere.

Our church’s vision before I arrived as pastor was “Touching the World for Christ,” but we were not currently touching any part of the world relationally. We have recently set a future goal for that vision: to be relationally involved with some work or missionary on every continent. That’s a big goal and a bigger vision for a little congregation of 75. But as it has been said, “the way you eat an elephant is one bite at a time.”

Our first “bite,” was making contact with the national leaders in Guyana. We were warmly greeted by Rev. Colin and Carla Edghill at the North American Convention, as they were excited about our interest. We were invited to come, and come quickly – God was in it and he made the way for us. As I’ve just written in Alison’s testimony entitled “Risk & Reward,” God also was faithful to get her involved as well, as one of our lay-leaders.

This initial trip is what all of our churches need to be planning to do in the next 6 months. God can make the way for each pastor or lay-leader to visit the country, the missionary, the work that God lays on your heart. I believe that such initial trips are critical for the success of the Project Link vision.

Through the initial trip, each church becomes accountable. Whoever you visit has now seen you face to face. You have seen their part of the harvest field and other believers have seen you. They’re going to be counting on you to pray for them, support them, and return.

Through the initial trip, you receive a burden. You know the people, you know the obstacles, you realize what you and your church could do. You begin to hurt for what hurts them, and you begin to pray for God to use you and your church as part of the answer to their prayers.

Through the initial trip, your church becomes invested. Many of your congregation will give to make the initial trip happen. They will be sowing financial seeds and seeds of prayer, and they’re going to be looking for their return on their investment--not only what happened on the initial trip, but what’s next? When are you going back? What can we do until we get back? You’re able to bring back pictures, video, and other items to help communicate the culture and needs to your own congregation.

Finally, through the initial trip, new vision is born. During our time and prayer with the churches in Guyana, we not only talked about current vision which included the creation of a Ministry Training School (a discussion begun with Bishop Milton Grannum), helping the newest congregation build a building, and repairs to existing congregations. We also talked about future visits from Guyana to Alabama to help us in our part of the Harvest field, as well as partnering together to go and bless another work in another nation together.

Pastors, Project Link falls to each of us to lead our churches to get involved in the lives and ministries abroad. I know there is so much need here in the wake of Hurricaine Katrina, but our partnerships abroad are not just a one-way street. As we gave to the churches in Guyana, they continually sought to comfort us in prayer and some even gave financially to support the victims of Katrina. We all are blessed as we bless through missional partnerships—that can be the beauty of Project Link.

risk & reward
we had been looking to get personally involved in the lives and ministries of another country for the past two years, before we had learned about the Project Link initiative. being the son of a Guyanese of mother, and grandson of former missionaries to Guyana, i suggested Guyana. this past summer, while attending the North American Convention in Anderson, i was able to connect with and begin a relationship with Rev. Colin and Carla Edghill, the new national leaders for the Church of God in Guyana. they quickly invited us to come in September to meet the other pastors and churches and to learn first hand how we may be able to partner together. we agreed that if the Lord was in it, we would be there.

one of the great joys of preaching is watching your congregation understand what you’re saying – but it’s truly exciting when you see someone live out the message. as lead pastor of Sixth Avenue Church of God (Decatur, AL), i’ve often taught, “great testimonies are the result of great risks.” Alison now has a great testimony.

the Lord quickly made the way for my wife and i through the generosity of friends and family. when Alison saw the information of our coming trip and heard what we were doing, she immediately said, “I’m going!” Alison received encouragement, but also a few “reality checks.” what about school? what about work? and as a newly wed, where are you going to find the money?

Alison went and spoke to her teachers, they would excuse her from classes. Alison went and talked to her boss. he gave her the time off—then he handed her the bonus check that all the employees were to receive that day – more than half the cost of the trip! all she needed now were some vaccinations and the passport.

we all sent in our applications and documents for our passports with plenty of time before the trip. my wife and i received our passports about a week and a half before the trip. one week before the trip, Alison received a letter stating that as a newlywed with a name change, she would need additional applications and documents that were not originally requested. disappointed, but not giving up, she collected her information and sent in the additional applications next day mail with a check for expedited service to our regional office. The next morning, Friday, August 26, she talked to her contact that he had indeed received everything at the regional office in New Orleans.

later that day, we learned that New Orleans was being evacuated because of Hurricane Katrina. as we watched the news reports of the following destruction that weekend, we felt Alison’s chances of going to Guyana were also being destroyed.

on Monday, Alison called trying to find out what was happening to her application. Apparently her information was entered into the computers, but not sure where her documentation may be. Someone told her she could just drive down to Miami and get a passport from that office, not realizing how far it is from north Alabama to Miami. The next day, her husband Grant was told that the Miami office had a reputation of being really efficient with passports. while in their home that night, they told me these things about the Miami office, and i said, “well you know, we do have a little more than a 4 hour layover in Miami on the way to Guyana. i wonder if they could forward everything there for us to pick up, that would give them an extra day to put or two to put everything together.” Alison was a little encouraged and was ready to try.

“No,” was the first answer Alison received to our bizarre request on Wednesday, August 31. Disappointed again, but undeterred, she called back. This time, the representative said, “yeah, that’ll work. I’ll do it right now.” Alison hung up not knowing what would happen. Thirty minutes later, the Miami office called her and said, “we have all your information. bring new forms of documentation when you arrive in Miami, come to the third floor of the federal building and ask for Nancy.”

Alison packed her bags and prepared to fly out with us early Friday, September 2. she was taking a flight to a city she had never been to, with the hopes of catching a taxi (which she had never done), to find a building she had never seen, to find a lady she had never met, to get her passport done in less than 3 hours so that she could continue her journey to be her church’s first lay-representative to Guyana. “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26)

we arrived in Miami, caught that taxi – but the address we had was wrong and we were spending precious time driving in circles. we got out of the cab, asked for directions, hopped on the Metro Mover, found the building, went to third floor, to the first window and asked for Nancy.

“I’m sorry, but Nancy’s no longer handling those cases. Fill out this form and get back in line,” the receptionist said. Two hours and fifteen minutes to go and we just hit another road block. Alison, visibly frustrated took the form to the back of the line, sat on the floor and filled out the paper as we sat in the crowded waiting room to pray and wonder what would happen. when she got to the front of the line and turned in her form, they told her they would call her by name in a few minutes. Two hours to go, and nothing certain, all we could do was wait.

with one hour to go before needing to head back to the airport, we urged Alison back to the window to ask how much longer. as she approached the window, her name was called. Alison gave all of her documentation, and began to wait again. Alison was called back to the window to pick up her passport right on time – with one hour to go before our connecting flight.

we caught another cab back to the airport, rushed in to find our connecting airline ticket counter more than full. we looked frantically for our flight number but were unable to find anything. then we heard a man for the counter yell out, “anyone else for BIWI flight 431?” i yelled back to him and he said, “you better get up here if you want to catch that flight.” we were ushered ahead of the crowd and checked in with just enough time to run down the concourse, through security and to our gate in time for boarding. Alison was getting on a plane to Guyana.

on September 9, just like the disciples sent in His name, she returned full of joy.


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