Mr. Doezema is secretary of the Domestic Mission Committee and of First Church’s Jamaica Mission Committee.

In looking back over the years they spent on the island of Jamaica, the Bruinsmas will undoubtedly be able to recall many good times. Just as surely, they’ll remember times of stress. Ups and downs there were. In fact, Rev. Bruinsma himself has characterized his work in Jamaican missions as an “emotional roller coaster.” Hurricane Gilbert, methinks, would have to be put on the down side. And the kind of stress which belonged to the days which followed must have energized the feeling of loneliness which for the missionary family must normally be just beneath the level of consciousness.

If there is one thing that Rev. Bruinsma brought repeatedly to the attention of the Mission Committee and the calling church it is this, that the need of a co-laborer in our Jamaican mission field is a critical one. Both the nature and the scope of the work are such that, for one thing, one man cannot alone do justice to it all, and, for another, the burden of it resting on a single pair of shoulders wears a man down. We have been afforded evidence for the truth of that . . . twice—i.e., from both of our missionaries to Jamaica.

Not that our churches have heretofore failed to recognize that. Our past two Synods have in fact made provision for the calling of a second missionary to the island. And, prior to that, the Mission Committee and First Church were instructed to try to secure the service of “a retired minister or a minister loaned from one of our churches” as either a full-time or part-time assistant to the missionary. Except for a six-month period in ’85-’86, when the calling church released her own pastor to labor for awhile in Jamaica, our efforts have thus far been to no avail. So, Rev. Bruinsma has labored on, for five and a half years, alone.

Maybe it takes a hurricane to impress on the minds of us on the home front the reality of that aloneness. You will recall that Gilbert struck the island on Monday afternoon and evening, September 12. Telephone service was immediately disrupted, so there was no way to learn how the missionary family had fared. From the media we were able to learn only this much, that the devastation was great, and that it was island-wide. But how about the Bruinsmas? Had they suffered injury? Was their home still intact? Did they need help? And. . . who knows how long it would be before telephone communication would be restored to the island?

When the Mission Committee met on Thursday of that week, there was one consideration which outweighed any other, and that was this, that the Bruinsmas were on that island “alone.” It seemed to us therefore that it was incumbent on us, not to sit and wait to learn from them whether or not they needed help, but rather to take the initiative ourselves, and go down there just as soon as we could get a flight to Montego Bay. Accordingly, Rev. Joostens and Mr. Clare Prince, both of whom would be well able to find their way through the island if main roads were not everywhere passable, headed for Jamaica the very next morning.

It was on the strength of their report, updated later by telephone calls from Rev. Bruinsma, that we decided to ask our churches to take collections for “hurricane relief” for our people in Jamaica, and, further, to send three able-bodied men to the island to help with the necessary reconstruction.

For financial assistance, we did not have to ask twice; for our people responded quickly to the announcement of that need. Within a matter of days we had $10,000 with which to begin working; and when it was all over, our churches, mission stations, sister-churches, and young people’s organizations had contributed no less than $28,610.21! We were, needless to say, overwhelmed.

The spirit which motivated that kind of generosity is perhaps best exemplified in a letter which accompanied the gift from one of the two Evangelical Reformed Churches of Singapore. We trust that our good friend Rev. Mahtani will not object to our use of it here:

7th November 1988

To the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica.

Through the First Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Dearly beloved brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ,

Greetings to you from the faraway island of Singapore. We greet you with love and with sympathy, in the name of our gracious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Who cares for His flock, and even gave His own life for His beloved people.

We heard about the disaster which you and your people are enduring after the hurricane that swept your part of the world. We do not know exactly how much suffering you are undergoing, but we have reason to believe that you are in great need. Beloved, our greatest need is the Bread of Life which cometh from above, and when we have that need fulfilled, then we have comfort in life and in death, in peace and in prosperity. But especially in times of pain and death and sorrow and afflictions, we need to be patient and to look to our heavenly Father. He has allowed this “evil” to come upon you only because He has a good purpose for His beloved people in your land. We are confident that our faithful God will give you grace to endure and even to be thankful to Him through all this. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.” Although our pain and our poverty is sometimes very great, it is incomparable to the glory chat awaits us. Do remember that, and look for that.

Our Lord has taught us that in the body of Christ when one suffers, we all suffer together. We feel for you at this time, and we pray for you too. But the people have also expressed their willingness to help you, and therefore we are enclosing a gift which we hope will be of help to you at this time. Since we have never corresponded with you directly, we are sending this gift to you through the First Protestant Reformed Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Beloved in the Lord, the day will come when all our tears will be wiped away, and all sorrow, all mourning, shall flee away. For that we must wait for the new heavens and the new earth. Let us all cry out: Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Let us have eyes to see Him coming, even in the disasters, being sent all around the world as sure signs of His return. But until He comes, and His coming is as a thief in the night, we do not know when, let us be faithful, and let us contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints.

We will continue to pray for you, but we ask also that you remember us in your prayers. We also are a young church in Singapore and we continue to face many struggles and trials. But we know our God is with us and He will provide. Therefore we send this letter to encourage you and to remind you that there are knees bowing before God’s throne of grace, and hands joining together to help you who are in need. God bless you.

In His love,

w.s. Pastor Mahtani,

Moderator of Session,

Covenant Evangelical Reformed Church

The relief effort has not yet been completed. That might seem at least passing strange, since the hurricane occurred already four months ago. But the fact that help remains yet to be given only illustrates the carefulness of Rev. Bruinsma’s use of the funds available. He did not, for example, simply distribute money among the needy. In fact, he gave no money at all. He provided food—as it was needed. He bought materials—as they were needed. And, while the carpenters did build some houses, they left some of the work for the Jamaicans themselves. Further, since there were legal questions about the property of Cairn Curran (where the church was “blown flat”) Rev. Bruinsma has provided as yet nothing more than a tarp, to meet the minimum immediate need. Once the legal questions are resolved, provision will be made for construction of something more substantial. And the point is that there is money yet remaining to do that. When, at length, we finish, it seems that there will be neither surplus nor persisting, pressing need. That’s truly remarkable. We cannot escape the conclusion that we are not dealing here simply withour money. Through the liberality of our people the Lord has provided for the needs in our Jamaican mission field.

As far as manpower is concerned we really didn’t have to ask even once. Offers to give freely, not now of one’s money but of time and expertise in the field, came from various quarters, unsolicited. Two of the men who volunteered were carpenters by profession (Marve Faber, an elder from First Church, and Ed Hekstra, a deacon from Southeast), and another was a farmer who had had carpentry experience (Doug Lubbers, from Byron Center). As it turned out, a happier combination would have been hard to find. The three men left on October 24, with all of their gear, for two weeks of hard work in Jamaica.

Mr. Hekstra kept a daily diary. And he was willing also to share it with us, in order that we might in turn be able to pass on to you something of the flavor of the work that was done in Jamaica on our behalf. It seems that the typical day started at 6 AM or very shortly thereafter. After a hearty breakfast served by Mrs. Bruinsma, the four men would be on their way, hoping to get some work done before the sun was high in the sky. Not that they were stopped by the heat. Afternoon temperatures averaged in the mid to upper nineties, and the humidity was high; but, when the men were on the job, they kept right on working—even in the rain, which was an almost daily occurrence, for about an hour in the afternoon. “The people, I think, thought we were a little crazy,” writes Ed in his diary, “the way we worked and sang in the rain.”

Apparently the men were often frustrated, in their attempt to get an early start, by the casual approach the Jamaicans take to service of customers. The fact that places of business didn’t open till 9:00 AM was bad enough. But soon enough the three Americans learned that “the hardware store is no True Value, and the lumber yard is no Erb” (references, of course, to businesses in the U.S.). Going to the hardware store “to pick up louvers and glass for Sister Swearing’s house (was) another experience in ‘You’re first in line’ Jamaican style. 45 minutes!” And, of the window repairs in Dias church he writes, “What a joke. The window panes and glass are cut out of square and the putty we used to put it in was not very good. Even so, we replace 9 pieces . . . .” They found that “it takes time and patience to get daily needs in this country, and (that it’s) not the way it is back home where we go to the appropriate store and quickly get something.”

All was not frustration however. Once they got the materials they made short work of what the Jamaicans would have seen to be ambitious undertakings, In Beeston Spring, for example, a lady had lost her house in the storm. When the carpenters from the States arrived on the scene, “a crowd of 25 to 30 showed up to watch us build a Jamaican home American style. There was snickering and laughter going on as we started, but their eyes got bigger and they showed us a little more respect when they saw the house put up in less than two hours’ time, complete with siding, window openings, doorways, and rafters . . . . It was a fun job.”

The crew started working on Tuesday. According to the diary, Saturday noon was “the first time we actually sit down and take a half-hour for lunch.” They were all, by this time, “dragging and feeling tired.” And they decided to share part of Mary’s sandwiches of sardines on hard dough bread with “the pig tied up to the side of the church.” They worked on for two and a half hours and then drove home to “pick up the kids and head for Bluefield Beach to swim and shower in the natural flowing spring. It feels good to be clean.” Supper served by Mary that night was curried chicken with rice and peas. It was, according to the diary, delicious; but “we also tell her of our feeling toward sardine sandwiches.” After supper “we sit on the veranda and look up at the stars. We see at least 10-15 falling stars. We talk about spiritual things mostly.”

During their stay on the island the men did some work also at Cave Mountain. From Cave Mt., writes Ed, “looking down to the Caribbean and looking toward Sav-La-Mar are million dollar views.” “It seems so ironic,” he adds, “that people so poor and secluded have such a view for free, when we back home pay thousands of dollars for the view of a man-made lake and neighbors all around. It also hits me as to how little these people need to survive, and how much we think we need just to get by.”

They also worked in Beeston Spring, where they received a good deal of help from men in the neighborhood. They built there another house. Ed observed that “the man whose house it was, was very grateful for all that we had done for him and his wife. We could tell by the look in the eyes of the people, that they were very thankful for what we had done for them in the church. Each day we are here I feel more strongly that our mission field here is not a dead mission field. I really feel that they are brothers and sisters in Christ with us. And that the land they live in makes it hard for us back home, myself included, to understand why these people cannot fend for themselves.”

When it came time, finally, to leave the island, Ed says, they were “anxious to get home, but grateful for the opportunity to do what we did for the people and the churches. Each of us I think would consider doing it again. We left with a better understanding of the people, our churches, mission work, and Jamaica. The work to be done here is great. And the mission field is legitimate. It will miss the work of Rev. Bruinsma when he leaves. The people, I feel, need a strong leader, a person they can come to. And they will miss him when he leaves. They love him and he loves them. You can see it when the people greet him. The mission will need the prayers of our people for them and Rev. Bruinsma as he prepares to leave.”

To Mr. Marve Faber, Mr. Ed Hekstra, and Mr. Doug Lubbers we express our deep appreciation for an important work well done and a lasting impression left in the lives and the hearts of the Jamaican people among whom we have labored for these many years.

Where do we go from here—that is the question, the question with which First Church and the Mission Committee must struggle in the months to come. We are of course duly cognizant of the minister shortage in our churches. At the same time, we understand well that mission work is not optional for the church of Christ. It’s an obligation assigned, personally, by the King of the church. Not, missions if and when it’s convenient, or missions if and when there seems to be sufficient manpower and financial resources . . . but, simply, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations . . .” (Matt. 28:19).

The question therefore, for us, is not whether, butwhere? The legitimacy of Jamaica as a mission field can not be open to question. Further, that we have these many years been given an “open door” in Jamaica should also be beyond dispute—for the Lord gave us missionaries to serve there . . . with fruit.

But, where do we go from here? There is without a doubt work to be done in Jamaica. There’s work to be done in the little “Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica” in the hills. And, according to Rev. Bruinsma, the “possibility of expanded labor is great”—that is, outside of the hills, among the middle class, in the cities. But is the “door” remaining open there for us? At this point we do not know the leading of the Lord. Will He give us two missionaries for Jamaica? . . . a missionary with an assistant? . . . a missionary alone? . . . or no missionary at all? As Mission Committee and calling church we may continue to extend calls; but ultimately it is of course the Lord who assigns and who sends. The answers to our calls will therefore speak powerfully concerning the position of the “door” as it relates to our own continued involvement in Jamaican missions.

Meanwhile, Rev. James Slopsema and Mr. Dan Pastoor, chairmen of the Domestic Mission Committee and First Church’s Jamaica Mission Committee, respectively, plan to leave for Jamaica, D.V., on January 18, to spend a couple of weeks with Rev. Bruinsma in Jamaica, evaluating the field in light of the changing circumstances. Difficult decisions will no doubt have to be made with regard to our continued labors on this little island. Our prayer is that the Lord will give us wisdom to make wise decisions—i.e., decisions that are in accord with His will and therefore in the best interests of our churches and of the cause of missions as we have been privileged to be busy in it. “Brethren, pray for us” (I Thess. 5:25).