Foreign Missions: Jamaica

With considerable hesitation and trepidation I fulfill the request to write about our work in Jamaica. The writer has never been in Jamaica, though he has served on the mission committee for many years and presently is its chairman. For the latter reasons he was asked to write this article. 

Much might be written about our mission work in Jamaica. Of necessity, this article must only briefly present the history of this work and some comments upon the work itself. 

One first finds reference to Jamaican mission work in our Acts of Synod of 1962. The mission committee reported to Synod on their contacts with a certain Rev. H. Morally from London, England. This man had heard the broadcasts of the Reformed Witness Hour over Transworld Radio. He wrote to request that our churches take over certain churches in Jamaica over which he claimed authority. Though the mission committee soon lost contact with this man, this contact became the means of reaching others in Jamaica. Soon the mission committee was working with three ministers in Jamaica: Revs. Elliott, Ruddock, and Frame. Of these three ministers, Rev. Frame passed away and Rev. Ruddock left the churches with which we were working. 

Other ministers are now working in that field. There is Rev. Brown, Rev. Nish, and Rev. Williams. These three young men were trained by Rev. G. Lubbers when he served on the island as missionary of our churches. (A fourth young man, Rev. Beckford, who was also trained by Rev. Lubbers, began serving one of the churches but died shortly after entering the ministry.) 

Part of the history of our labors on this mission field must include many men who served as emissaries— some for longer, others for shorter periods of times. Elders H. Meulenberg and H. Zwak were the first, but were followed by other ministers and elders and deacons. Rev. J. Heys and Rev. C. Hanko spent much time there. Revs. Woudenberg, Harbach, Bekkering, and Joostens spent time there. Then there were various elders including Mr. J.M. Faber, Mr. C. Prince, and Mr. Feenstra who were there. Several deacons from Hudsonville spent time there. All of these men, whether in greater or lesser degrees, contributed much to this work. 

Perhaps some I have missed. Many indeed contributed to this work over the years. But it was one man, Rev. G. Lubbers, who spent several years in Jamaica as our missionary. For him and his faithful wife, those were trying but blessed years. There were frustrations—because of the government and because of the problems in the field itself. Rev. Lubbers spent much time preparing the four young men to take over the leadership in the churches. He did also much teaching and preaching. 

One thing became evident in the labors of Rev. G. Lubbers. There was too much work and too much pressure for one man to handle. Rev. Lubbers tried to handle the wide diversity of labors there: he had to serve as the diaconate; he was the confidant of many; he was minister as well as “professor.” All this was too much to ask of one man. 

Labors have continued since Rev. Lubbers left the field. These labors have not always been as consistent and well-organized as they ought to have been. Yet, work has been done. This has been through the emissaries who have been sent. It has been done through tape programs, first begun by Revs. J. Heys and C. Hanko, and now continued by Rev. B. Woudenberg. 

The question often asked is whether we have a mission field in Jamaica or not. As I have been privileged to observe this work over the years, I can but conclude that the answer must be, “Yes.” There are indeed questions and problems with the work, but they are of such a nature that indicates God would have us to continue to labor. If the problems there involved the lack of interest or desire to hear the Word, one could “shake the dust from his feet.” Or, on the other hand, if those with whom we labored all understood and knew the truths of Scripture, and walked according to these, there would be no need of our continued labor. But where there is the evident desire to hear and learn, though there be also questions of doctrine and walk which must be constantly faced, there the work must continue. 

There have been problems with a work of this nature. Some of the problems involve ourselves and our manner of working a field such as Jamaica. Decisions must be made as to what should be done, when, and how. Obviously, there are differences of opinion. There have been questions concerning the relationship between the calling church and the mission committee as to the responsibilities for supervising the work. 

Other problems in the work involve the field itself. First, one must deal with a foreign government which has a legal system different from ours, and different rules and regulations. There is the question whether the government requires of a missionary a “work permit” to be on the island. There have arisen questions concerning duty charged when bringing in used clothing for the needy of the churches. It is difficult to determine with certainty the laws regarding property that the churches may properly secure their own buildings. So it goes. It seems that the government there often works in maddeningly slow ways. For foreigners to learn to deal with such a government is a great difficulty. 

There are problems related to culture on the island. The people of Jamaica speak English. Yet they speak their own dialect which is at times difficult or impossible for U.S. citizens to understand. These also have their own mannerisms and expressions which are foreign to us. Misunderstandings can often arise. What we might present as personal suggestions, the Jamaicans may regard as solemn promise. 

The grinding poverty of the island is also a problem. This creates difficulties for a missionary who works under these circumstances. On the one hand, it would seem extremely difficult for a missionary and family to try to live on their level of poverty. All this can create misunderstanding. 

Besides, there is always the question about help for the poor. By our standards, almost all of these people would be at the very bottom level of poverty. Yet, though one can be very sympathetic towards their needs and physical situation, it is impossible probably and inadvisable surely to try to raise their standard of living. The people there are part of a culture, part of another nation. To attempt to elevate some above others in the island would only create far more problems than it would solve. Those who have labored in other poverty-stricken areas as missionaries have almost invariably warned-against trying to raise the standard of living by pouring funds into the area. The church is there not to change their standard of living, but to present the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

This is not to say that there is no need for benevolence. There are instances where the terrible poverty makes it impossible to obtain what seems to be essential medical assistance. In the past, assistance has been given; and doubtlessly there will be a need for this in the future. 

Other problems arise because of the human nature each possesses. The mission committee, the emissaries, and now the calling church, repeatedly must handle problems which arise between individuals, between minister and congregation, etc. This is not unique to Jamaica, of course. But there we are called to help—though usually no one is on the scene to provide the immediate assistance so often necessary. 

There are also sins rather unique to that area. Legal marriage has not always been regarded as important. Children born out of wedlock were common- and acceptable in the society there. In some cases there were old heathen practices, carried over from Africa, which continued. We have often been troubled by the presence of such sins. 

On the other hand, the Jamaicans are shocked by the loose morals of our own country: the scanty dress and other similar practices which are observed in the tourists. 

Problems arise because of the low educational levels in Jamaica. There are many things which we take for granted in our own country but which are not always found there: ability to read; availability and the means to obtain books. 

Many of the above problems of the field have been mentioned through the past years. I repeat them not to point out that we have no field of work in Jamaica—but that we do have such a field. If there were no problems, if there was no need—we would have no place on that island. But where there is such a need for assistance and guidance, and where there is the willingness and readiness to listen and learn, where there is such thankfulness for the instruction given—there we have a necessary place and an open door. Let us not complain about these problems, but view them as the urgent reason for faithful labors there. 

What must be done then to help? First, and not least, there must be continued effort to train and guide them through use of taped instruction and contact by emissaries. Our last Synod provided for some of this in its decision that two ministers or a minister and elder ought to go there for a period of two or three months. It is always difficult to work out the details for such labor, but that ought to continue. 

Secondly, it would appear that the most reasonable way of continuing the work in Jamaica would be to call a missionary to serve there again. In that case it would appear also reasonable that he have assistance: either by having a second missionary also called to serve there, or else that emissaries regularly go to assist him. 

Two other factors enter this picture. First, the tasks and responsibilities of such a missionary would have to be defined. There ought to be no misunderstanding as to what he is called to do. Secondly, the Synod faces the difficult decisions concerning what might be called “priorities.” We have a calling to continue our work on the home mission field. We presently have commitments in Singapore. This mission work requires both manpower and financing. Decisions are not easy to make. Yet the pressing urgency of the tasks in Jamaica remains. Soon, Synod might have to decide that the requirements of the field in Jamaica demand the calling again of a missionary to serve there. Pray that God may also guide the churches to make these significant decisions to His glory and the profit of the Church.