Reflections from Guyana

It’s not often that one gets a chance to reflect on his life over the last quarter of a century, but that’s exactly

Welcome Back
The airport had not changed much in 26 years.

what’s going on with me while I am here in Guyana. Guyana was the first country I ever visited outside the U.S. I came here with another pastor in 1989, right before my move to pastor a church in Orlando, Florida. It was a difficult trip – it still ranks among my three toughest journeys – mostly due to the conditions here then, along with my own inexperience as a traveler.

In 1989, Guyana was only 23 years old as a country, having broken away from England and changing its name from British Guyana to Guyana. Guyana means ‘land of many waters’ in the local language and it is appropriately named. It has four major rivers, all of which empty into the Atlantic Ocean on Guyana's coastline. Every one of the four are a muddy brown, and all are quite large at their mouth. I remember taking many ferries and water taxis when I was last here. Now they have built bridges and everyone has a car. When I was here in 1989, transportation was difficult. Now the vehicles whiz by on the road outside my guest house, where I am staying with my friends, Pastor Ovid Schultz and his wife Ukline.

Guyana Sunset
Guyana Sunset

In 1989, I don’t think I had electricity for an entire day for the 17 days I was here. We had to fetch water from a backyard tank to flush or bathe. Food was scarce and the mosquitoes were vicious. I spoke 17 times while

Cane Juice
Time for some refreshment!

I was here and never had electricity during any meeting. I did not bring earplugs or bug spray – that tells you how “green” I was – so I didn’t get much sleep. I had no idea roosters can begin crowing at midnight, and my roommate snored like a chain saw. One night I recorded him snoring and when I played it back to him, he denied it was him on the recording.

Today I am enjoying all the comforts of home. I am staying in a home built by a

House
The Home Where I am Staying

Guyanese couple who live in New York. They plan on retiring to this home in a few years. I am lying on the bed under a ceiling fan. My host transports me in a minivan. The electricity has gone off not once. I am eating all kinds of fruits and veggies – I think we call it organic in the States – and I am losing weight for all the right reasons.

As we drive around, there are still many scenes I remember from 1989. What’s more, Guyana reminds me a lot of my experience in Africa. There are animals grazing on the

Church Bldg 2
Balm of Gilead Church Built by the Members

side of the road. People drive with their horns and not their brakes. The sun is scorching. The rains come unannounced and end quickly. The people walk to where they are going and use parasols to protect from the sun’s rays. Children all have school uniforms and Toyota vans stop to pick up passengers who stand along the side of the road, waiting to go to market or school or church.

And church services remind me of Africa, too. The worship is enthusiastic and vibrant. The accents are thick, but English words can be identified just enough to enter into worship. The buildings are built for the tropics with metal roofs, windows that open for maximum breeze and concrete block construction seems to hold the cool of the night and the heat of the day in place long after either are gone.

Lucius
Pastor Lucius Bruyning, My First Host

I visited with the pastor and his wife who hosted me 26 years ago. They now live in a town called New Amsterdam (the Dutch once “owned” Guyana before the British did). It was special to see Lucius and Esther, who are now running an orphanage as well as pastoring a church. It brought back fond memories of their gracious hospitality as they tolerated my silly questions and awkward attempts to minister in a foreign land.

Since 1989, I have accomplished a few things, one of which is figuring out how to

Marlon and Ovid
Marlon Fraser (center) Owner of the School and Pastor Ovid

travel well and minister in cross-cultural situations. I have written books, launched media programs, taught at the university level, made a few church transitions, came in and out of pastoral situations, and earned my Doctor  of Ministry. I have awakened every morning thanking God for his faithfulness over the last 26 years. I have made many mistakes during that time, but one constant that has kept me going during the last quarter of a century is my trust in the Lord. He has brought me a mighty long way, and I am ever so grateful.

I have told the Lord I will go another 26 years if that’s what He wants, but I know I may not have that much time. Therefore I am dedicated to making every day count, much as I have done for the previous 26 years. It has been nice to return to Guyana with something to say, and I have had the chance to say it here to government staff, a hospital team, a church and an evening school. My hosts believe I will be back soon, and I am open to that possibility.

Speaking of my hosts, I would not be here if it wasn’t for the friendship and devotion of my friend since 1989, Ovid Schultz and his wife Ukline. Ovid has been a faithful friend over the years, diligent to stay in touch with me whenever he came to the States. We have spent a lot of time together over the years and our friendship has survived the test of time and distance. I am here to celebrate the ninth anniversary for the church that Ovid founded in 2006, Balm in Gilead Ministries in Village No. 30 in East Berbice. I have done my purpose seminar over two nights and Sunday I spoke in the church ninth anniversary celebration. Thank you, Ovid, for your encouragement over the years. I trust we will have many more years to enjoy our relationship, but of course that is in God’s hands.

Tuesday School
I am introduced at night school by the head, Marlon Fraser.

I will close with this thought. What could you do if you had a 25-year plan for your life? How much could you accomplish for Him? It doesn’t matter if you are 80 years of age right now, if you had a 25-year plan, you would certainly accomplish some of it before you go home. And who knows, God may give you the entire 25 years! If He does that, you will be glad you started now to make those years count to the maximum.

Thank You, Lord, for bringing me back. Thanking you for taking me forward since 1989. My life is yours; I owe you big time. Whatever you want me to do, whether here, in Africa or anywhere else, I am glad to do it, for my Lord and my Friend, who has sustained me all these years. I am a blessed man and this week has allowed me to reflect on just how blessed I am. Now it’s time to start planning and living my next 26 years.


Israel 2012

1 IsraelTime is running out for those who would like to go to Israel this coming May.  I am attaching the brochure below, but if you are even remotely interested, I need to hear now so I can have the airline save space. The dates are May 19-29.  Drop me an email at johnstanko@gmail.com or respond to this post as soon as possible, and then consider joining me for the trip of a lifetime!

Download ACAC Israel Brochure 2012


Coming to Zimbabwe

1 Zim 5 CompsAfter a four-year break, I am coming back to Zimbabwe on November 26 to work with Pastor Evan Mawarire and His Generation Church.  I will be speaking at His Blueprint Purpose all week until December 4, and will have two one-day seminars, one on Wednesday, November 30 and another on Saturday, December 3.  The Wednesday 1 Zim Conferenceseminar will be my seminar, The Five Competencies of Global Leaders. The Saturday seminar wiil be Getting Your Life Back on Track: A Study of Purpose and Goals.  I am attaching the fliers for the conference and Wednesday seminar.  If you live in Zimbabwe, you can call the church for more info or to register. 

I can't wait to get back and reconnect with all my friends and a country that I love.  It's been too long. 


I Told You BA Had Problems

I had written in the past about my dislike for British Airways due to their arrogance and poor service. I was taken to task by some because of service problems with American airlines, something I have also acknowledged. Often when you are American and you criticize another country, the issue isn't whether or not you are correct. The issue becomes that you are an American and automatically perceived as arrogant, or that you are portraying America as the standard of excellence. I am an American and I know I am influenced by American culture and thinking. Yet I never try to hold my country as the standard. BA's service is bad because it is bad, not because it is British. Come to think of it, US Airways' service is also bad because it is bad, even though they are an American company.

Well, now a commission in the UK has recommended that BA sell off their ownership in UK airports since their monopoly has contributed to their abysmal service. You can read the article here. Aha! I knew I knew what I knew. BA still ranks in my mind as one of the worst airlines to fly and I am delighted to see someone put forth ideas for how they can improve. BA is too good of a company and too important to the world of travel for this situation to persist and I applaud the UK commission for having the courage to say so.

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Go On Through

Every time I come to Africa, I bring the maximum alloted weight for my luggage.  Then I stop in Johannesburg for a day or two.  When I resume my itinerary, the airlines always charge me extra for excess weight.  I have fussed and argued with them, stating my case that they allowed me to bring it in at no extra charge.  Why would they then charge me extra to take it to my final destination?  The last time the man looked at me and handed me a sheet with a number for consumer complaints.  I called and the number wasn't working.

So yesterday as I prepared for my trip to Harare, I decided that it wasn't worth the aggravation.  They were going to charge me, I am doing God's work, it's not my money but His, so I refused to even think about it.  I got to the airport in plenty of time to check in, pay my excess and try to get the seat I wanted.  When I put the luggage on the scale, the woman asked me where I was traveling from.  When I said, "The States," she said, "Go on through."  She waived the extra fee!

This is a great example of the issues of trust and faith that I have been dealing with the last few years.  How often I have been in a similar situation, fretting and worrying over the outcome.  Then I have seen God intervene and I found that all my fretting was for nothing.  It was a waste of energy and time.  What's more, it evidenced my lack of faith in God's ability to take care of me and the things that pertain to my work.  I know the truth of Psalm 138:8a in the New American Standard translation, but don't always walk it out:  "The Lord will accomplish what concerns me."

Does this mean I will never be charged excess weight fees again?  I hope so, but I doubt it. What it does mean, however, is that when I am, God is in control and there's no need for me to get uptight.  So here I am in Harare, I have unpacked all my stuff, and I'm ready for a busy four-week stay.  Hopefully, I will be able to apply the faith lesson with which my trip began when the woman said, "Go on through." 

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Mrs. Stanko, Where Is Your Husband?

To help my wife answer the question she gets regularly, "Where is your husband?," I am posting my new itinerary for all to see (and to help her keep track of where I am):

  • January 9-11 -- Seattle, Washington
  • January 11-12 -- San Francisco
  • January 13-18 -- Temecula, California
  • January 18-19 -- Dallas, Texas
  • January 19-26 -- West Palm Beach, Florida
  • January 28-30 -- Johannesburg, South Africa
  • January 30-February 25 -- Harare, Zimbabwe

If you're in these areas and would like a personal purpose appointment, please write and let me know.

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The Lion King

LionkingLast night, I went to see the show The Lion King here in London. It was the fourth time I saw the show, having seen it twice in New York and once in Toronto. The opening scene and the first scene after intermission are worth the admission price alone. And the music is grand, featuring such songs as Circle of Life and Can You Feel The Love Tonight. The theme is timeless, with a villain and a troubled hero who comes to his senses and wins his kingdom and the girl, rather lioness. Reports are that 30 million people around the world have seen the show. I hope you are one of them.

The Lion King isn't simply a show. It's an experience. Having been to Africa many times, I always feel like I am back there when I hear the music and watch the scenes unfold.

Tomorrow I am off to Pittsburgh, leaving London via London City Airport. I have never flown out of that airport and didn't even know it existed until earlier this year. I fly to Amsterdam, then to Detroit and on to Pittsburgh. Then this Thursday my wife and I head down to Florida for our Christmas holiday with her family.

I expect big crowds in the airports as travelers make their way home for the holidays. My wife and I will drive down to Florida, just to spend the time together and to be able to take presents and food to our family gathering. I hope you have a special week as you prepare for the holidays ahead.

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The Uncommon Cold

I was speaking with a woman in Johannesburg the other day and at the end of our conversation she sneezed. It was only then that I realized that she had a cold. She had what I call a dignified cold. I was sitting across from her and I was manifesting what I call an undignified cold.

I have never had a dignified cold. When I get a cold, it is a always a messy, traumatic experience. Everyone within earshot hears me and thinks, "It sounds like that man either has a cold or the plague. In either case, I had better stay away from him." I have tried everything I know to do to stop a cold, but to no avail. I've consumed massive quantities of vitamin C, taken nose drops, and sat in a hot tub until the sweat poured. If I take any medication that stops my uncontrollable drainage, my cold only reappears 10 days later to resume its southbound flow.

Of course, this can be embarassing, for when I least expect it, fluid won't just come from my nose; it will literally fall from my nose. I almost have to go around wearing a handkerchief, let alone carry one. And the morning coughing! The other morning when I awakened, I began my morning cough routine. How bad was it?

People in the hotel across the street from the one I was staying in called over to ask if we could keep the noise down. The police came hearing the noise, thinking that there was unauthorized construction going on inside the building. The people in the room next to me called the front desk to complain that I must have a large dog in the room and they thought that no pets were allowed. The front desk finally called and kindly asked me to do what I was doing poolside. The pool must have been low and needed filled.

Then there's the experience of flying when I have a cold. That makes it even more of an experience. The air pressure in the cabin serves to gather all the congestion in my head into one big ball, about the size of my brain. I know it's this big, because it clogs both my ears at the same time. When I first get off a plane in this condition, I see people's lips moving, but I have no idea what they are saying. And I can hear my own voice inside my head and it sounds like I'm screaming. Yet everyone asks me to repeat what I just said, so I must be whispering externally and shouting internally.

I can never remember how the old adage goes, whether you should "feed a cold and starve a fever" or "starve a cold and feed a fever." So I try to starve and feed my cold at the same time. But as I said, nothing ever works. I've just learned to go on about my business, but to cover my desk and workplace with plastic to protect those items that aren't waterproof.

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My Times

I have not been able to post anything the last few days from Harare. It is the rainy season and we've had some bad storms, knocking out power. Then there have been problems with the email services and I came down with a cold last week, draining my energy. (It's no fun being sick on the road.)

I have been meditating on one verse the last few weeks: "My times are in your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me. Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love" (Psalm 31:15-16). A few weeks ago, I was the in the backseat of a car heading to Louisiana. The driver looked down for his cell phone and just that quickly the car moved onto the shoulder of the road while we were traveling at 75 miles per hour. For just a split second, he struggled to regain control, which he did, and we proceeded to our destination.

Then just yesterday, I was driving to the airport to catch my flight for Johannesburg. Suddenly a young man ran out of nowhere and tried to break into my car. I was able to escape, but not before he broke out the back window. I was safe, my "stuff" was intact, and the window can easily be replaced.

I am aware of these two instances where the Lord protected and "saved" me and I am thankful. But how many other things has He "saved" me from that I am not even aware of? I would think there have been plenty. So I have been thanking God not only for His protection that I know of but also for His protection, the occasions of which are known only to Him.

These events haven't put fear in my heart, but they have certainly given me perspective. My mother is 89 years of age, and I hope I live to be that old! But tomorrow may be my last day. I want to continue to make the most of the opportunities I have to be effective and productive, but all the while I want to have a proper perspective: "My times are in His hands." What a good place for them to be!

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Back To Civilization

I arrived in Zimbabwe last week and almost immediately went off to a resort in an area near Nyanga, about three hours outside of Harare, the capital city. The drive is beautiful, eventually taking you through and to an area of magnificent rock formations. When I see those formations, with some large rocks precariously perched on top of others, I know that the flood in Noah's time must have put them there. Of course, I am sure many scientists and geologists would disagree with me! There wasn't a lot of traffic because there isn't much fuel in the country due to the economic crisis.

I met with the leadership team of Hear the Word Ministries for two days after we arrived in an area called Juliasdale. We started our mornings at 6:30 am and ended them with dinner around 9 pm on both days! The only break during the day was for lunch. That may sound like a grueling schedule, but I have to admit that I enjoy meetings like that--especially if we are getting something accomplished. And we did make a lot of progress, discussing issues like vision, mission, and structure for the Ministry that now employs 200 people.

(It was an interesting sidenote that we did not have any cell phone coverage or access to email for the time we were away. I have to admit that it was a nice break.)

Hear the Word Ministries, under the leadership of Pastors Tom and Bonnie Deuschle, is a dynamic organization that is involved in church planting, education, business training, music production and much more. There aren't many other organizations like it in the world that I know of. I come here often because there are so many interesting projects to work on, and because I love the people of Zimbabwe.

Pastors Tom and Bonnie give me a "shopping list" when I come and I go to work. My main emphasis is identifying new talent for the multifaceted work they are doing and providing Pastors Tom and Bonnie with another set of eyes and ears, giving them feedback on what I see and some suggestions of how to do what they are doing more effectively.

I will always be grateful to Pastors Tom and Bonnie for the faith they have had in me and the purpose message. I know that I am difficult to work with at times. I am direct, sarcastic, and aggressive, and my humor, which I use to stay focused, engaged and to defuse tension, can be a bit much. But they have looked past my weaknesses to try and mine the "gold" that may be there in my experience and purpose. And they almost always try to focus my time on my strengths, which I would like to think are as pronounced as my weaknesses. So now I am here to work for two more weeks before I am off to London and then home to the States in time for Christmas. I'll keep you updated on my work here and will give you more information on Hear the Word in the coming weeks.

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