Amerindian Faith-Active, Alive and Attractive!
Greetings from Guyana!
As was mentioned in an earlier post, I’m doing my Long experiment/placement in the Interior of Guyana among the Amerindians (The Indigenous people). The village is named St. Ignatius, the presbytery is opposite a Church named St. Ignatius and the school that I’m helping out in, is named St. Ignatius. From the naming structure alone, you can gather that the Jesuits have made a tremendous contribution to the people in this part of the country. The mission in the Interior began a little over 100 years ago, and is still going strong thanks to the faith of the people and the many Jesuits and dedicated missionaries who have kept the flame burning.
My days are kept extremely full and are divided between an Education project run by two Jesuit scholastics (Stefan- British province and Medino-a Guyanese!), work in the parishes of the area, and general domestic related work since we have a huge yard that needs a lot of work and consists of some chickens and a few honey bees.
A support structure for education was identified by the Jesuits as a way to help pupils studying at the St. Ignatius Secondary School, who come from the many Amerindian villages. Classes are held for students in the village in Maths, English and Science subjects on a few afternoons a week to help them prepare for the annual Caribbean examinations. Passing these examinations is essential for these students in getting a job or pursuing higher education. We’ve also started recently to go nightly (7pm-9pm) to the school dormitory to help the children there who are away from home, to study more efficiently.
The secondary school also unfortunately doesn’t have a librarian so we take turns every day operating the school library during school hours. I’ve always had a stereotype of a library and librarians being boring, but surprisingly, I’ve found that this is the most interesting part of my day. While many of the students come just to borrow books or to study, others like chatting with a stranger (me) about the books they’ve read, their teachers, subjects or dreams for the future.
Another aspect of the project is giving computer classes to young children to teach them the basics in typing and word processing. Our small computer room is always filled during the week since most of the students have no access to a computer or would have to pay a lot of money to use one at an internet cafe.
Carpentry classes (thankfully not by any of us Jesuits) are given in our compound to those students interested. The busy week, ends on Saturday when our Church library is opened so that anyone in the village can borrow books- and it’s so heavily used that a librarian had to be employed.
So, that’s about it for the Education Project.
The remainder of our time is devoted to “Church” work. This part of my placement has been the most exciting. The Church is literally a second home for many of the young adults and children. My day starts with the ringing of the Church bell (usually rung by Stefan) at 5am and Mass at 6am. It’s inspiring and motivating to see that 90% of the congregation every morning is below the age of 25. The youths lead Morning Prayer on Monday mornings and read and serve at Mass every day.
I’ve mainly been helping out with music ministry, a few catechism classes and the youth ministry in the Church. As soon as school is over, children come to play volleyball, football or basketball. Although it’s demanding at times for us who live here, I’ve found it’s good to have the kids around. I’ve done a confirmation retreat for some young people and as of now I’ve attended 3 confirmations in the last week.
My feeling is that the Church here is energetic, alive and growing. I can’t help wondering if maybe the absence of the latest gadgets and entertainment is responsible for the creativity, enthusiasm and faith I’ve seen in this community. They live simply and love warmly. One wonderful practice is that at the end of Mass everyone shakes hands and greets each other for a while, no one is in a hurry to go off.
This has been a wonderful boost to my faith. Many may worry about the faith of the Church in other parts of the world but the fire here is testimony that good things can happen despite challenges. 2 Priests look after 16 communities across great distances and yet serve the people effectively. My hope is that I will take a small spark with me wherever I go. Is the Church here likely to die anytime soon? No! Amerindian faith is alive, active and attractive!