Good Day, Guyana

Staff member Fiona Payne brings the message of hope to Georgetown.

By Amber Kinneer   |  1 August 2011
image-fiona-with-alicia-465x280 Fiona, on left, often meets with women through volunteer work at hospitals. Photos by Tom Mills

Dawn simmers on the horizon as Fiona Payne stands at her stove, stirring a pot of chicken fried rice. Before her children, husband or neighbors wake, Fiona packs 4 lunches and prepares dinner.

“I like it when everyone can lick their fingers when they’re finished eating my food,” she says, “because it was so good.”

After cleaning up, Fiona and her husband, Jomo, help their sons, Jorrel, 4, and Jorryn, 6, dress for school and pile into their maroon Toyota sedan. Rain falls steadily.

Avoiding muddy holes -- large enough to swallow multiple car tires -- Jomo maneuvers their only vehicle onto the main paved road. Their sons sit tall in school uniforms, bouncing along for the 20-minute drive eastward to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana.

Slightly smaller than Idaho, Guyana sits on the northeastern edge of South America, bordering the Atlantic Ocean.

Exhaust fumes drift through Fiona’s open window as the car maneuvers through rush-hour traffic. They pass stray cows, horse-drawn carts used for hauling and sugar-cane fields.

Minutes into the commute, Jorryn reminds Fiona, “Mommy, we didn’t pray.”  She chuckles, placing her hand on her husband’s arm.

“He’s keeping us in line,” she says. They pray together and sing a few songs about Jesus.

As they enter the city, empty bottles, remnants of fruit and shriveled plastic scatter across street corners.

After dropping off the boys at school, Jomo taxis his bride to Guyana’s Campus Crusade for Christ headquarters where she serves as a staff member with the ministry to business professionals, Priority Associates.

Dodging a puddle, Fiona steps her black, worn high heels across the driveway and enters the office space in the lower level of a 2-story home.

Shaking her umbrella off from the morning shower, she greets the office manager, Shondell Thomas, with a hug and slides her 5 foot frame onto an office chair. When she is not serving at church, her mornings are typically reserved for helping Shondell with administrative needs and upkeep for Fiona’s ministry.

As noon approaches, she phones a friend to get a ride to Georgetown Hospital where she leads the Tuesday lunch-hour Bible study.

Utilizing her associate degree in pharmacy, Fiona volunteers at the hospital pharmacy, trusting God for miracles, new relationships and to see women surrender their lives to Him.

Over the past 2 years, Fiona has become close with many pharmacy technicians, doctors, nurses and hospital staff, including Alicia Duncan -- a front-desk clerk. Fiona greets Alicia, speaking through the protective glass surrounding the front desk.

Alicia steps out as chatty nurses wearing green- and flower-patterned scrubs walk up to hug Fiona. Together the women cross the waiting room to a small office space with 2 desks, a sink and microwave.

Arranging themselves in a cramped circle, the women fix their attention on Fiona for 35 minutes of their lunch break. Sitting in her chair, feet barely touching the ground, Fiona holds an open Bible and group study guide in her lap.

An ambulance pulls into the alley and she uses the disruptive moment to crack a quick joke about the noise. Moments later relative silence returns and discussion continues. Today they are talking about sin.

Fiona has led the Tuesday Bible study for more than a year. The women are dedicated and want to learn more about the Bible and God’s promises. Fiona has seen a change in the women’s behavior, attitude and language toward one another.

“They may not see the change, but I do,” she says.

She’s even challenged Alicia to lead another hospital Bible study on Wednesdays.

Fiona ends the meeting in prayer to mutters of, “Yes, Lord Jesus,” in thick Guyanese accent, Guyana being the only country in South America with English as the official language.

Fiona spent 8 years working at the local university in campus ministry before moving her focus to professionals.

“You could witness to anything that moves,” Fiona says of campus ministry.

However, with professionals -- in the hospital or pharmacy -- it’s not that easy. She can’t simply approach a doctor filling out a prescription and initiate a conversation about God. Doing so would disrupt work, so Fiona must set up weekend, after-work or lunch appointments to start those conversations.

However, Fiona and Alicia periodically visit the hospital wards to pray with patients and tell them how Christ has changed them.

“People need to hear the truth about Christ,” Alicia says, “why He came, why He died.”

Standing beside the bed of 27-year old Ashanti Fortune, in the hospital ward, Fiona is comfortable. Ashanti is waiting to have surgery.

Fellow patients lie sprawled nearby on beds with rusted frames. They methodically swat at flies with pieces of clothing or handkerchiefs.

Fiona looks at Ashanti and reads the Four Spiritual Laws booklet, an evangelistic tool that explains how to become a Christian. Sitting cross-legged, covered with blankets from the waist down, Ashanti listens carefully.

Fiona asks, “Do you believe God loves you?”

Ashanti looks up, “Yes, sometimes I wonder if He has a plan, especially like now when I’m in here,” as she gestures around her.

Wearing a light-pink nightgown with smiling cartoon animals on the front, Ashanti flips the page to read the prayer.

Gently, Fiona asks, “Would you like to pray?”

Ashanti nods. Fiona reads the prayer aloud while Ashanti silently prays along: “Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be. Amen.”

“Of all the staff members, Fiona is aggressive and an initiator about evangelism,” says Joe Johnson, who leads Campus Crusade in Guyana. “She takes every chance she gets to tell someone about Christ.”

Fiona wants to make Christ known. Her actions are mere expressions of what is happening inside -- a natural outflow of Christ’s love.

An hour later, outside the hospital, clouds sweep away from Guyana’s northern coast on the Atlantic Ocean, revealing sunlight and less-muddy paths for Fiona to walk a few blocks to Jorryn and Jorrel’s school.

The day is winding down. As sunlight peeks in and out, Fiona’s mind calculates tasks she has yet to finish.

At the school, Fiona watches her boys romp on the playground while she speaks with their teacher. Jomo picks them up when he finishes work.

Many leaders and fellow ministry workers praise Fiona as one who schedules time wisely and has a grasp on her limitations. Yet, sometimes Fiona becomes overwhelmed and questions her ministry, time-management skills or future plans.

One time she locked herself in the bathroom, asking God, Is this still what You have for me? What do I do next? In these times, Fiona senses God leading her to pray or reflect on a Bible verse.

“If I’m at the end of my rope, God is always there to show me where to go next,” she says. If she becomes weary in ministry, she asks God if she should quit.

“He hasn’t told me to move on,” Fiona says.

These times help reassure her that God is at work, and she can continue forward. Challenges only bring her closer to the Lord.

Later, dinner dishes are put away, fingers licked clean and children tucked in bed. As Fiona and Jomo sit close on their couch, resting and chatting about their day, rain returns, pounding the roof.

Tomorrow’s sunrise awaits.