News From Jamaica

(Editor’s Note: This report represents the personal viewpoint of the writer, and not necessarily that of the Rev. G. Lubbers or that of the Mission Committee. HCH)

Having been privileged to serve the Mission Committee as one of the “emissaries of ’76” to Jamaica, I would like to share with you my personal impressions of the country, “our” churches and the ministers we are supporting. 

We have a commodious “cottage” to live in with large rooms and high ceilings. We are very comfortable with a living room, a dining room, two bedrooms, and a guest room, each with its private bath. This cottage is situated about two miles from downtown Montego Bay, and about the same distance from the airport. This last named fringe benefit is not all on the plus side because the start of the take-off runway is so near that the noise of the huge Jets is so loud that all conversation stops, even to the extent that our table prayers suffer a hiatus at such times. 

We met with the people of “our” churches as often as possible, sometimes on a four-times-a-week basis. These trips are invariably over and in the mountains, making each journey a wearying business. The first four weeks we covered 2500 miles in a Toyota four-door car which takes the twists and turns with dexterity. The rear seat passengers are unwilling subjects of that childhood game of “crack the whip.” When we get home we are honestly tired. The mountain roads have many chuck-holes of varying depths, which after a rain hide an unknown depth until we hit them. It rains almost every afternoon in the mountains while the sky remains clear blue in the north coastal area where we live. When it rains just before church service time there will be no service. The people refrain from venturing out on the slippery trails and paths down the mountain sides. A blind man is a regular attendant in one of the churches, and on some occasions feels his way down with his cane, finding his accustomed seat by the wall and the convenient nail for his hat.

I am also impressed by the fact that all the elders and deacons can lead in public prayer. Even the child that is favored to take up the Sunday School collection is asked to pray for a blessing upon the offering, and does so! The prayer of the elder may turn out to be more personal than representative, but it is based on the awareness that he is a sinner saved by the Blood of The Lamb. I am told that at the beginning of our ministry on the island, the prayer for the forgiveness of sins was totally absent. I believe that our impact upon the theological character of the services has been noteworthy. This is not yet entirely true about the moral character of the people. A mother in a family may be known as Miss so-and-so, while her four children may have four different surnames. The “New Morality” finding acceptance in our country is but the old morality of any heathen country, and in Jamaica as well. It is a way of life just as common place as the bacon-and-egg breakfast is to Americans. 

The membership of some of the churches may be three to six men, five to ten women (all grannies) and from five to forty children. Fathers and mothers are conspicuous by their absence. When the children reach the age of about fourteen they fade from the scene, the girls going to the city to find employment, and becoming the producers of today’s Sunday School children to be brought up by their grannies. The eye-opening aspect of this to me is that there seems to be no stigma attached to this “way of life.” There isn’t any to American’s breakfast preference, is there? To be honest, this is not always the way in “our” churches. In one of them there is an elder who “preaches” in the absence of a minister, whose wife is the song leader, and whose daughter is the Sunday School teacher, while his other children make up one fourth of the Sunday School. 

In the services the ministers have good “eye-contact” with the listeners, who show their obvious agreement with the positive and the negative statements of the preacher with their long drawn out “yeeeees” and “noooo” at the appropriate times. Their “amens” are sometimes heard at inappropriate times due to habit impulses, no doubt. But a speaker in these churches has a splendid rapport with his audience! 

I must tell you about one church’s being investigated because it sought affiliation with “our” churches. This church was visited on a Monday evening, and it had an orchestra of its own. Three men (that’s all there are) play instruments interchangeably. A drum, a snare drum, and a pair of cymbals make up the orchestra. This, accompanied by three lusty voices produce such volume that I wondered if they could drown out our pipe organ at home. While they wait for additional worshippers to arrive they sing their favorite songs interminably—which, to my mind, tends to turn off the minister’s frame of mind from preaching. In that Monday evening service, conducted by Rev. Lubbers, a visiting “prophetess” shouted “Hallelujah, my Lord Jesus!” so loudly and so often that he finally turned to her and said, “Cut it out, you are disturbing the service.” She then stomped out in a huff, giving a next-to-last shout inside the door, and a last shout outside. Such “prophetesses” are rampant on the island and their ambition is to shout down the preaching of the Word of God. On another occasion a woman began to twitch her shoulders, muttering something, and then began to stomp around on the dirt floor between the worshippers. On one of these voyages I stopped her and whispered to her that we did not like such carryings on. Evidently the “influence of the spirit” was not irresistible, for upon my rebuke she stopped her actions. But she, too, did not stay to the end of the service, presumably thwarted in her attempt to harass the preaching of the Word. 

Almost every church has its “church mother” who owns,or has donated the property, and thus “has” the church. She rules with grim determination, even to the extent, in some cases, of appointing elders and deacons, some of which cannot read or write, but can “preach.” 

Am I portraying too dark a picture of the churches under the umbrella of our support? I admit that this picture is quite dark; but—and there is a big but which is so encouraging—the bright side to the Jamaican story, I am convinced, is centered in the four young ministers who have been instructed by the Revs. Lubbers, Hanko, Heys, and M. Hoeksema. Their work brightens the whole picture. These preach the truth of Sovereign Predestination and the accompanying truths that comprise Calvinism. They uncompromisingly preach the Gospel unadulterated with the leaven of Arminianism, unspotted with the false teaching of the “holiness” people which swarm over the island. They boldly preach the full council of God to the best of their ability. They do this against almost insurmountable “odds.” Their arms which have embraced the Truth have again been strengthened by the visit of the “emissaries of ’76.” This is their own testimony, and it also became evident in their appreciation of the solutions to many of their questions and problems that were given them in private consultations. Most of those problems’ were the direct result of their straightforward preaching in the past year. I noticed a remarkable growth in the preaching ability since last year. I believe this was, td a great extent, due to the instruction mailed to them by Rev. Heys, and sermon outlines for them to fill up. The benefit was again evidenced by their earnest pleas to “come again and teach us.” They express need for more of our material of Reformed writings: our periodicals and all our books, and more sermon outline instruction. They love our Psalter songs, which was clearly seen one evening after the Sunday Service when one of them led us in the singing of Psalter numbers for over an hour. The number of the selection, all the verses, and the correct tunes were known by that young Jamaican minister. This all without a book and in the dark. 

The progress of the spiritual growth of the membership of the various churches is harder to gauge than that of the ministers. But because the preaching is sound, and because it truly is the ministry of the Word of God, I believe that the congregations are growing in grace and knowledge. His Word never returns void and is either a savor of life unto life or a savor of death unto death; so we leave the increase to the Holy Spirit. The ministers are well aware of the fact that they can only sow and water, but that they cannot supply the increase. The three younger ministers naturally turn to their eldest colleague who has taken over the father-role, counseling them and encouraging them when they need a boost in morale. They all have much difficulty in reaching their churches. Busses do not run on Sundays, and the mini-busses and taxis sometimes wait for a pay-load before they will start out, so that our men have to urge the drivers to start soon so they can be on time for the service. Even the taxi driver will not take anyone to Mt. Lebanon; the road is so very rough, so the minister must still walk the final four rocky miles. 

The economy of the country is at a very low ebb, depending as they do so much on tourism, with hotels at 10% capacity due to reports of violence in the Kingston area. The poverty of the people must be seen to be believed. I visited one family who was privileged, to own two pet dogs whose leanness was like to that of the lean kine of Pharaoh’s dream. Those dogs must literally eat the crumbs from the master’s table! Extreme poverty is only a few blocks from extreme riches. Hovels and mansions are the prevailing dwellings of the populace. It is no wonder that the prime minister tells the people that he likes Communism because the common people would then fare better. According to the daily papers the country is ripe for it. The government has clamped down entirely on issuing work permits. So it seems that it will be impossible to send a missionary to work here. Emissaries are still acknowledged, and it seems to me that this is the best solution to the problem of helping the people so they may hear the pure preaching of the Word of God. The government, though not yet Communistic, is nevertheless reaching its tentacles of control into all spheres of life, even into church life. None of “our” ministers can obtain a license to marry unless their churches have doors and windows and other requirements. 

Next week we are invited to the wedding of one of the young ministers who is marrying his Sunday School teacher. Then the next week we go home again. Good old U.S.A. here we come!