I recently returned from Guyana where I spent my J-term cross cultural experience (a required part of my theological education). My time there with the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana truly was transformational. Now that may seem a bit like a cliché, for so often people go overseas and recognize that there are struggles and obstacles that the people in these places experience unlike what we face here in the United States. My experience with the people in Guyana showed me something completely different than what I was expecting.
There are plenty of challenges in Guyana—there is no potable water source other than expensive bottled water, their city infrastructure is tenuous at best and poverty is everywhere. To my American eyes, I saw tragedy all around me… hardly the place where I would expect hope and faith to flourish. The people of Guyana surprised me and taught me about how, even in the absence of what we as Americans take for granted, valuable ministry can and does happen.
It was a living example of the difference between a theology of scarcity and a theology of abundance. Walter Brueggeman, a world-renowned Old Testament scholar and a prophetic voice in our time, says that a theology of scarcity says there’s not enough food, water, housing, etc., so hold onto what you have, hoarding it if you must. A theology of abundance, on the other hands, says you always have “enough” so it’s easy to give some of it away.
Partnering with the people of these local parishes in Guyana has transformed my expectations of what can be accomplished with few resources. Their sheer determination not to be defined by their limited circumstances is an inspiration for the true meaning of service and outreach.
I met with the president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana. He said that the annual income for the churchwide organization there is around 5 million Guyanese dollars. The U.S. equivalent would be $25,000 per year. This comes from offerings from a total of only 48 churches, many of which are small rural congregations with only 20 active members and their children. Most of those members live on less than $200 U.S. dollars per month. Can you imagine? And with that money, they support Sunday school curricula, feeding programs for needy children and the homeless, as well as provide leadership training for lay people and potential candidates for public ministry.
It made me wonder who has the greater measure? Who is truly living out the Gospel in their everyday lives?
So, perhaps being a global church means that we don’t have all the answers when it comes to faith and service… perhaps we here in the United States need the lesson in abundance from those who seemingly have so very little.
Jennifer Michael is president of Women of the ELCA for the 2011-2014 triennium. She currently lives in Dubuque, Iowa where she is attending Wartburg Seminary.
Jenny provided the photos used here. The featured image from our home page is of a Sunday School student at Calvary Lutheran Church in Georgetown, Guyana. The top right photo with this post features the local unit of Church Women United in Georgetown. Jenny is pictured, above left, with Jocelyn, the vice president of the Evangelical Lutheran Church Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Guyana.