Teacher with Children Singing in Jonestown, Guyana
Our choices and decisions go hand-in-hand. As adolescents, our parents, friends, teachers, coaches, favorite TV or film personality, and the individuals we connect most with all play important roles in the choices we make. When we become adults, our goals and priorities can supersede all other considerations when making our choices.
In my article, “Teaching in a Remote Forest Region in Guyana” (posted on November 13), I shared my experience of my decision to teach in Mabaruma, a remote administrative township in Guyana’s northwestern rainforest region. That year, while the jungle closed in around me and news of my words and actions travelled by word-of-mouth along the arteries and veins of its river system, over one thousand American settlers faced their own entrapment just fifteen miles away, as the bird flies, across the jungle canopy.
The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project – Jonestown – was the haven of the American Church’s founder and leader, the Reverend Jim Jones. Pressures from defectors of the Church and concerned relatives in California forced Jim Jones to make desperate choices. He prepared his followers for “revolutionary suicide.”
The adults and families that made the choice to become members of the Peoples Temple Church, then headquartered in California, did so with the sincere desire to make a positive change in their lives and to make a difference in their communities. Unknowingly, they had put their trust in a charismatic and megalomaniac who promoted himself as a Messiah.
Among the 916 victims of the Jonestown mass-murder-suicide were 276 children. The youngest children were the first to receive the cyanide-laced, grape-flavored Flavor Aid. Reverend Jim Jones knew that, once the children were dead, their parents would follow them to “the other side.”
As parents, we have the responsibility of making choices for the well-being and development of our young children. When parents make bad choices, their children also suffer the consequences. My sons, then two and four years old, had no say in the decision their father and I made to migrate to Brazil. When my marriage disintegrated in Brazil, four years later, my sons also shared the pain and loss resulting from their father’s choice to return to our homeland, Guyana.
We all make choices that set us on particular paths in our lives. We do not always make the right choices. When we err, we have three choices: go back to the last crossroad and choose another direction; continue on the same roadway; or turn at the crossroad ahead. Inaction is not a choice. It is denial, defeat, death of the soul.
The 276 American children that died in Jonestown had none of these choices.