At this writing we are on the largest of those islands in the Caribbean Sea which formerly were called the British West Indies. And although we are only 90 miles from the southern border of Cuba and some 400 miles from Miami and the southern coast of Florida, we are in an entirely different country with an entirely different way of life.
Christianity and the church has come to this island, even as the prophecy was given in Psalm 72:10, “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.” Of this we are also reminded in the versification found in our Psalter,
“The desert lands to Him shall bow,
And all the islands of the sea;
And kings with gifts shall pay their vow,
His enemies shall bend the knee.”
From out of Asia and the land of Palestine Christianity spread into Europe, and then from- Tarshish (Spain and those regions) it spread over the ocean to all of its islands. North and South America may be in this sense called islands. From the viewpoint of the Old Testament psalmist, who considered Spain to be the end of the world, — and so did all men till Columbus proved the world to be round — anything beyond the western shores of Europe was an island of the sea that stretched out into the unknown regions beyond the eye of man. In due process of time the truth of God’s Word came to this island, and sincere children of God are to be found upon it; and faith in Christ is definitely here.
However, one makes a serious mistake if one thinks that an island isolated in the sea, far removed from the mainland of not only Asia but also of Europe and of America, is cut off from false doctrines and from evil practices. Nothing is farther from the truth. A marked development of sin, and not a “common grace” restraint of sin, may be noted here after a short absence of only two years. The change is simply unbelievable. Gone especially is the Sabbath observance and reverence that characterized this island of the sea. Far more rapidly than in the communities where in the States our churches are found has the quietness and holiness of the Sabbath disappeared to be replaced by the most open desecration and indifference.
Before we had been on the island a week we were also alerted to the fact that the “God is dead!” heresy had also lifted up its proud head here, and the blasphemous statement was well known in these parts. We heard the Jamaican Chorus which was designed to counteract this vile doctrine in song. The song which we heard was this:
“Don’t try to tell me that God is dead,
He woke me up this morning.
Don’t try to tell me. It is no lie
He lives within my heart.
He opened up my blinded eye
And set me on my way.
Don’t try to tell me that God is dead,
I just talked with Him today.”
As to the work, we may report that Elder Zwak and undersigned have been kept busy and will be able to judge the fruits of our labors better at a later date. We would like to review somewhat our calendar with you and point out a few incidents to keep you informed of what is being done.
After 3 hours and 46 minutes of flying time from Chicago’s O’Hare Field, we arrived safely and on time at the Montego Bay airport and were greeted there by Rev. Frame and his “son”, Rev. Ruddock, and Elder Ritchie, who had driven in from Lucea that morning. After arranging for the car which we rented for the duration of our stay here, we obtained lodging for the night. We had spoken for a cottage which we planned to rent, but it was occupied until Thursday noon. On Wednesday we travelled to Lucea with a view to the service there that evening at First Hill, and we began to get our legs and feet and backs in shape for the very necessary hill climbing that this work demands. There is a reason why all these churches are so far of the beaten path and so frequently perched high on a hill. It is a matter of finances, and the lower lots are far more expensive. For the strong, muscular legs of the Jamaicans these hills present no problem.
That evening, June 28, we preached to a very attentive audience, choosing for our text the words of the psalmist in Psalm 89:15, “Blessed is the people that know the joyful sound: they shall walk; O Lord, in the light of thy countenance.” And we have reason to believe that this congregation at Lucea, First Hill, not only heard the joyful sound but also knows it.
On Thursday we returned to Montego Bay and settled in our place of residence, unpacked our clothing and bought our groceries in quite a different “Super Market” from what is our usual custom. It took longer as well, since we had to look carefully at each item with its marking in pounds, shillings and pence. As far as canned goods is concerned, the difference is not too great, many American brands being found on the shelf. Fruit, of course, is abundant and by nature sweet because it is tree ripened.
On Friday we went to visit the church at Mt. Salem, which is a suburb of Montego Bay, and here it is that we began to hold our classes of instruction for the ministers in the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica. We also travelled up into the hills and into the interior of the island to Latium (pronounced “Lashum.” And, by the way, Lucea is pronounced “Lucy,” and Jamaica has only three syllables and is properly pronounced as “Ja-may-ca”) and were refreshed with glasses of coconut “jell,” or water, as we call it, supplied by Elder Spence and his wife. Saturday, of course, was spent in preparing for preaching twice in Rev. Frame’s churches.
We say, churches, because in the morning we had a service in Lucea, First Hill Church, and in late afternoon one at Johnsontown, which is one mile east of Lucea. The climb up to this church, although a little shorter than at Lucea, is as far as the last part is concerned much steeper. The text of the morning’s sermon was Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” And in Johnsontown, where we went after a hurried lunch of sandwiches which we had taken along, the text of the sermon was II peter 3:9, “For the Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any (of us) should perish, but that all (of us) should come to repentance.”
The following Sunday — after a service Tuesday night (Fourth of July in the States, but here just another day) at Mt. Salem and Wednesday night at Latium — we preached in Cambridge, which is one of Rev. Elliott’s churches and Sunday, the 16th of July, we had three services, a morning and late afternoon service at Friendship-Hill, which is Rev. Ruddock’s church, and an evening service at Mt. Salem. As to that Fourth of July service at Mt. Salem, the preaching did not begin till 10:30 that night. Time on this island is simply something to ignore! It is judged—or misjudged— by the position of the sun, and watches and clocks are a rare item among the people with whom we deal.
That first Sunday we arrived in time to get in on the closing of the Sunday School and we heard the children recite their memory verse which was Matthew 18:3, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” We were quite interested in listening as Rev. Frame drilled with questions until he got his answers. “What must happen before we can believe? What must be there before we can be converted?” At last he got his answer, “We must be born again.”
At Friendship Hill we heard a rather cute way of saying the truth that we are saved by grace and not by works, that we cannot save ourselves and must rely wholly on Christ. The statement in the peculiar, short way of the Jamaicans to express themselves is this, “Self is failure!”
“School” is being held every week and the “students” give evidence of eagerness to learn, although the heat is no help, nor the humidity, nor the noise —we intend to change the place of meeting this week —and the Reformed faith is so different from all that they have heard and been taught before. God’s Spirit must apply it and give light and understanding. We depend upon Him for fruit upon our labors. But we at the moment do believe that the truth which we emphasize every school day is not only understood but received by faith, namely, that God is GOD; and all our doctrine must declare this or we are not in harmony with the testimony of Scripture. We strive to teach and show that all five points of Calvinism say this and that this is what we must always say in all of our preaching.