It’s always rewarding to see how faithfully God has led us in the past...
Another Native Son
There are many ways to become a pioneer.
By Gibson Caesar (with Lael Caesar)
For the first 10 years of my life I was a little boy in a little village on a big plain: the magnificent, wide-open, undulating plains of Venezuela’s Gran Sabana in South America’s northern region.
My name is Gibson Caesar. I am one of the original inhabitants of my region: Taurepan, Akawaio. Pemon-speaking Amerindians inhabit a land of splendid beauty shared with Spanish-speaking Venezuelans, English-speaking Guyanese, and Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. Many of us speak all those European languages and several of our own as well.
Our land features dramatic ancient rock formations called tepuis (or tepuys) that suddenly rise from the savannah floor in awe-inspiring isolation from one another. They make for spectacular waterfalls, one of which, Ayuantepui, is the source of Angel Falls, at 979 meters (3,212 feet) the world’s tallest waterfall, with one uninterrupted plunge of 807 meters (2,648 feet). Its river, the Gauja, is but one of the area’s wild rushing currents that sweep over these falls.
The indigenous word “Guayana” (“Guyana”) goes far in explaining the lush profusion of this (at times) inaccessible interior. Its meaning, “land of many waters,” describes the fertility of hinterland earth in Guyana, Surinam, Cayenne, Venezuela, and Brazil. The deep jungles of these lands have provided exotic flora and fauna for many of the world’s zoos.
My own Taurepan-speaking relatives still freely move across the fluid international borders at the base of Mount Roraima, where Brazil, Venezuela, and Guyana’s borders meet. For me, as a 10-year-old, moving from the land of my birth to Guyana would give me a new land, language, name, and life.
Paruima, Waramadong, Georgetown
Paruima is an indigenous Amerindian village across the Guyanese border where the Seventh-day Adventists operated a school, with Riley Caesar as teacher. School drew me there. But within a short time teacher Riley and his wife, Lucy, drew me further in. They took me into their home and gave me their name. I could not know then how big a step this was into God’s future for me.
Two years later, in 1948, we moved to the village of Waramadong, where my dad served as teacher in the Waramadong school. But Daddy Caesar soon realized that his firstborn son needed more schooling than he could get in hinterland Akawaio villages. So after about two years in Waramadong, he sent me to Guyana’s capital city of Georgetown. By then he was not as lonely as he had been when he took me in as his first son.
Now there were four kids: me, 14 years old; Val, 4; with Theron and Lael trailing behind. And though there were no Adventist schools in Georgetown in 1950, there was an Adventist headmaster. Daddy Caesar entrusted me into Bruce Dummett’s care.
Coming of Age
Georgetown was still not enough for my thirst for learning, or Daddy’s dreams for me. So after being there three months, I sailed across the Caribbean Sea to Caribbean Training College on the island of Trinidad, where my teacher-parents, Riley and Lucy Caesar, had themselves been trained.
I spent three years in that school, learning to fill Daddy’s shoes. For that was just what the Lord had destined me to do: return home to make history for my native people.
When Daddy Caesar was transferred to Guyana’s Essequibo Coast to take up pastoral duties, I took his place in Waramadong. At just 17 years old, I became the first indigenous teacher in Adventism’s history of my people in Guyana.
Back in my school days at Daddy Caesar’s Waramadong school there was a girl named Anita. She was one year my junior. Her dad, William Frederick Kenswil, traveled a bit. So for reasons of her stability, he let her spend much of her time in the care of Pastor and Mrs. Roy Brooks, missionaries living and teaching in the village of Paruima.
Mr. Kenswil paid his daughter weekly visits in Paruima, but one day when she was 13, he decided to have her come visit him instead: “You are growing up my daughter,” he said. “You need to find a good husband . . . Gibson, perhaps, or someone like him.” It was the only father-daughter conversation of that kind she would ever have with her dad. He died that same week.
Far away in Trinidad, I was doing my own thinking: “I have nobody,” I told myself. The solution would be to write to Mrs. Brooks. I did, and told her to keep Anita for me.
But life isn’t always that simple. After I came home to teach, I found myself aware of more than one charming, Christian young woman in my world. I kept thinking of Esther, who liked me a lot, and of Anita at Pastor Brooks’ home away in Georgetown.
One day I made up my mind to go see Anita. It was enough. A week later Pastor Brooks brought Anita to Waramadong to join us in marriage, March 18, 1954—me and my old schoolmate; the girl whose father, when she was 13, had encouraged her to think of me just days before he died; the girl I had asked Sister Brooks to keep for me.
Amazing, isn’t it, or at least amusing, that none of us ever thought of asking Anita what she thought of all this? Blessedly for me, Anita was in full agreement with having me as her life companion.
I taught for seven years in Waramadong, the last six of them with Anita at my side as teacher and loving wife. Later we moved to Kako, some eight hours away, to open a new school. Kako put all my capacity as a leader to the test. God helped me persuade the village community to join me in doing it all. We built everything from classroom blackboard, to school furniture, to the schoolhouse itself.
Life After Kako
I did many things in life after Kako. There was mining, logging, and many years of work in agriculture. Daddy and Mommy’s preparation, and my years at Waramadong and Kako, stood me in good stead.
Beginning at the Mon Repos School of Agriculture in 1973, I served as a career educator, teaching in eight of my people’s communities, places with musical Amerindian names like Paruima, Waramadong, Kamarang, Kako, Jawalla [in the Upper Mazaruni], Imbaimadai, Chinauyen, and Philippi. Anita left teaching to become a certified midwife. From her base in Waramadong she worked from 1973 to 2001, and earned the astonishing record of never losing a baby through 28 years of midwifery in Guyana’s hinterland.
But my history-making years at Waramadong and Kako will never be forgotten. God has been good to this little boy who wandered across an international border to find his family and purpose in life. Life has had its sorrows along with its joys. But I am thankful that God let us see seven of our children, three girls and four boys, grow to adulthood and do very well.
Considering their success, the growth of Adventist education among Guyana’s historic Davis Indian community, and the way God has led throughout my life, I shall always be grateful for the privilege He granted me of being the pioneer in the Christian education of my people.
Across the next border in heaven’s promised land my children and students and I will all learn from Jesus in the school of eternity.