The emissaries to Jamaica have submitted an official report of their findings which will appear in the Agenda of Synod and which will be made known to our membership. But I would like to tell you of my personal first-time-visit to that tropical island.
We left Grand Rapids on April 15 with traces of snow still on the ground, changed planes in Chicago and deplaned in Montego Bay in 86 degree weather. In coastal parts of the country, the sun shone every day of our stay. Showers were the usual afternoon fare in the mountains. The temperatures remained between 72 and 86 degrees; not muggy, and with the constant northeast trade winds fanning the north coast in the daylight hours. Although the official tourist season was over, there were still quite a few white visitors from many other climes. The airport is very busy all afternoon and evening as English, Canadian and American Jets unloaded and loaded passengers and freight.
The country is very lush and mountainous, and is literally covered with bananas, mangos, oranges, or antiques, breadfruit, grapefruit and many other food trees. To me it seemed that breadfruit and bananas must be available to anyone who cared to pick them. They grow all over the roads. There are beautiful valleys between the mountains with lush pastures dotted with well-fed cattle. One of the valleys reminded me of the Hudsonville lowlands. We even saw a huge onion field! Irrigation ditches furnish the necessary water for some of the crops. These also serve as bathtubs and laundry tubs for many of the natives.
The tropical climate probably contributes to the general lassitude of the people. If one needs a rest (and can afford the exorbitant rental and food prices) this is the place to get it. No one—just no one, is in a hurry. The only exception might be the country road drivers. But even this type of driving takes no more exertion than pressure on the gas pedal. In general, all are standing around waiting for tomorrow. Standing or sitting furnishes the exercise for today; tomorrow more of the same. That lassitude is evidenced even in the life of the children. In three week’s time I saw but three children playing skip-rope, and that takes a minimum of three. They too, stand around doing absolutely nothing. The city streets, in contrast, are teeming with cars and pedestrians, the latter going probably to another standing place. Goods of all kinds are carried about on the people’s heads. Baskets of fruit, boxes of who-knows-what, cases of soft drinks, whole bunches of bananas, lumber and every conceivable burden that must be conveyed from place to place are cleverly balanced atop the head. One must see it to believe that a ten-quart pail full of water can be so balanced. One sees it on the mountain roads when the children are sent to fetch the free-government-supplied stuff from the roadside water pipes. What is more unstable than that commodity to carry in such a fashion!
The city streets are lined with open shops with one counter and shelves behind it. Each shop usually sells one commodity to the exclusion of any other. There are a few supermarkets run by the wealthier merchants, usually Chinese. Alongside of shops there are myriads of self-employed vendors of all sorts; their businesses set up at the curbs wherever they may expect to snare a customer. Grocery prices are very high: eggs, $1.30; Butter, $1.30; Hamburg, $1.25; and other items are comparable to that. The average wage is very low; the banana field workers recently raised wage is $5.00 per day.
The mountain roads had been described to me, but cannot be fully appreciated until one has driven them. Narrow, twisty and full of rocks and/or chuck-holes. The insane drivers had also been described to me, but one has to see them too, to believe the tales. They must all be fatalists, for their total unconcern for pedestrians, cars, goats or cattle around the next blind curve can only be understood in that light. And the left-side-of-the-road driving, legal in that land, only adds to the confusion of the right-side-driver from the States. After driving over 1,200 miles over those roads, and climbing the steep, stony and muddy paths up and down to the churches, I had a much greater appreciation of the stamina of Rev. and Mrs. Lubbers and the other ministers and their wives who made the weekly rounds. Even the footpaths have hairpin curves! If the theory of evolution were true, one would find all the mountaineers to have one leg longer than the other to stand on an even keel. It might be handy at that! And now that I have again told you about the roads full of people, goats and cows (and even one huge pig in the main street of one city) you still have to see it to believe.
“How about the church buildings?” you ask. Some are of concrete blocks and floors; some are of wood with wooden, stone or dirt floors. Some are partly board and zinc construction, no more than “huts in a banana patch.” One, Belmont, has but one wall, made of upright bamboo poles with four bamboo comer posts and a pole ceiling covered sparsely with palm fronds which allow the sun’s rays to filter through and the rams to pour through. Can you imagine worshipping in such a meeting place with dirt floor and narrow boards for seats, with no backrest? We did it and listened to a sermon that was as Reformed as we are accustomed to hear home in Jerusalem. Personally, I enjoyed the communion of saints in the open-air “church” as well as I do in my home church with its carpeting and opera style seats. Of course, when it rains in Belmont, at church time, the congregation cannot meet. Their need for materials to construct a concrete block building is urgent. We can furnish them these things as we did in other places.
We found the people enthusiastically receiving the preaching of the Word. True, they are not yet founded in the Reformed faith as we are who have been brought up in it from our infancy; but that faith is being set forth before them by the ministers in varying degrees. I was especially struck by the childlike faith of the people. The primary requisite of any Christian to receive the simple teachings of Scripture was found in those congregations which we visited. The majority of worshippers literally hung on the words of the minister, even to the extent of joining him when he quoted the more familiar Scriptural texts. They like to sing the songs of Zion. They use the Psalters in the main. But when they sing from their collection of gospel hymns, they are still in need of supervision as to the doctrinal content of their favorites. I would not want to carry over into our worship services their habit of audibly agreeing with the statements of their ministers and their occasional “amens when especially pleased with individual utterances. Neither would I try to regulate their services by introducing into their services our strictly on-time regimen and our silent agreement with the sermon we hear. Nor would I want to exchange our pipe organ accompaniment with their guitar, tambourine and hand-clapping substitute that some of them have. But in their humble “churches” and in those remote mountain hide-a-ways, it is not a bit incongruous. I rather enjoyed it.
The Mission Committee’s official report suggests to Synod that a missionary be called to work there. That decision has been endorsed by my experience. There is yet much work to be done there. The people need, and are willing to receive sound doctrinal preaching. The four young ministers can be helped in their work to a great extent. They have done extremely well with the seminary training they have received. But post-graduate work would be of great help. They need to be encouraged to work with the children, for, as one of them said, “The future is in the children for they are tomorrow’s church.” They are already assimilating the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism. We heard a class recite the answers to the 33rd and 34th questions of that confession, and we silently wished that our Sunday School children could do as well.
Back home again when I hear my minister pray for the saints in the isles of the sea, and for the gathering of the Church from every tribe, nation and tongue, I can give them faces; I know some of them.