Missionary work is exhausting, difficult and sometimes even dangerous. It can also be great fun.
That's what eight area youth discovered in March during a mission trip to Guyana, South America. About 30 members of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church of Lanham left the comforts of home and family March 14 to continue an ongoing relationship with Rev. Doodnauth Singh of Goshen Baptist Church, located along the Essequibo River. The community of Goshen is accessible only by boat, so life vests and motion sickness pills are a must.
Although this was Mt. Calvary's fourth trip to Guyana, it was the first visit for the young people. (Just getting on a plane was a new experience for one teen-ager.)
"Our church is mission-minded, so we wanted to expose our youth to the mission field in a place where we'd already established a relationship," said Worldwide Ministry Director Barbara Davis. Several Prince George's County churches, she said, including the Church of the Great Commission and First Baptist Church of Glenarden, have established outreach ministries with Guyana churches in response to the great need for evangelism and services.
"We're hoping some of our youth will think about becoming full-time missionaries by seeing the great need in the world," added Davis, an experienced traveler who's also led trips to Africa. "It's also an opportunity for them to see how God has blessed them in the United States."
Missionary work isn't some outdated calling. Today's churches need pilots, doctors, teachers and other professionals who are willing to spread the gospel and improve the quality of life in various parts of the world, Davis said. Mt. Calvary's mission team, for example, included a doctor and a nurse who discussed a range of health issues at a local clinic in Guyana. Venturing off to visit another culture 5,000 miles away gave the teens a rare opportunity to share their talents and leadership skills with others and get acquainted with a different part of the world.
For all their enthusiasm, however, the youth needed a day or two to adapt to life in a Goshen campsite, which is operated by the Baptist Convention. Going on the mission field meant no microwaves, no McDonald's and no warm showers. Bouncing along the river in a 22-foot motorboat was exhilarating to some, frightening to others. And a few of the youth experienced symptoms of the traveler's bug including diarrhea and vomiting brought on by heat, unfamiliar food and mild dehydration caused by drinking too many passion-fruit flavored sodas instead of water.
But once they settled in, the teens began to make themselves at home. Their week began on Monday with a prayer walk, which gave the young people a chance to exercise, view their natural surroundings and see how Goshen residents live. As they walked along a pathway near the campsite, they got a close-up look at dilapidated wooden houses on stilts and children and adults bathing and doing laundry in the river. Later that morning, the youth performed a puppet show for elementary school students, then took off in a motorboat under a brilliant sky to visit a high school in the town of Bartica. There they performed a skit and conducted a workshop on using dance for praise and worship.
On Tuesday, the teens walked 20 minutes along the river to a health clinic. Serving as the front office staff, they took patients' pulses, weight and medical information. As the teens focused on physical health, Rev. Quintin Few addressed the patients' spiritual well-being, delivering a brief message to a group of Goshen young people who had crowded into the four-room building out of curiosity.
"I liked working in the clinic best because I was more focused on helping people rather than on the heat," said Chantal Miles, 17, of Landover Hills. "We got to talk and have fun with the patients." And after spending the morning in comfortable hospital scrubs, Marquiesha Purvis, 13, decided she wants to pursue a career in nursing or obstetrics.
On Wednesday a few of the young women on the youth team practiced a dance routine with a group of local girls while the rest of the team participated in a basketball workshop near the health clinic.
Overall, the teens demonstrated great talent and compassion, and showed that they could positively represent themselves, their parents and their church even in South America.
One evening toward the end of their visit, the teens had a chance to relax at the end of a 152-foot pier that stretched into the river. While gazing up at constellations they never see back home in Maryland, the young people fell in love with Guyana and decided they wanted to come back and continue their mission work.
So with lots of tears and promises to return, the teens climbed aboard a motorboat for the last time on Thursday and headed back up the river. They made a pit stop in Barbados on Friday before returning home to Maryland March 22.
"Our teens assimilated into the culture, shared the gospel and got involved with area young people without any direction from the adults," Davis said. "We came down here to do ministry, and we received ministering as well. It makes you feel as though you're doing something to the glory of God."
By Albert H. Lee