What’s being done in Jamaica?
This question is being raised very often nowadays both by our office bearers and our congregations. It is a good question; it should be raised and by all means demands an answer.
Jamaica is an open door.
It is a joy to be part of a church that has an open door.
Thus it was in Philadelphia when the Spirit spoke to her, “I know thy works: behold I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word and hast not denied my name,” Rev. 3:8. Philadelphia was commended for her lively witness.
Since the terminology “open door” is derived from the letter to the church of Philadelphia, we should examine a moment the implications of this designation. Christ knew the works of this church; they consisted in being faithful to her calling to give testimony to those that were round about her. In her official ministry she sounded forth the true preaching, and her members were moved by the Spirit so that they gave testimony of it in their dealings with others in the city. To be sure this brought opposition, for “those of the synagogue of Satan” had opposed them. Yet Christ reminded this church, “these things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth, and shutteth, and no man openeth.” The church must not be discouraged in her work, God will surely cause His will to be done through her and therefore she must press on with an eye fixed to the “crown.”
It is noteworthy that Philadelphia was small, “Thou hast a little strength.” This tells us that we need not be “big” in order to witness. The little persecuted church that is preserved throughout history is in fact the only church that can and does witness.
We must not forget that the open door is of God! True it is that the church must use every means to find a “field of labor.” Yet through the means of this searching, God directs His church to such a place where there is a willingness to hear and respond to the ministry of the church. This is true of Jamaica. God has directed us to Jamaica and has placed before us the needs of the people there.
And what are we doing about it?
Looking back, we can say with gratitude to God that we have made a good beginning. We have laid the foundation, which is the preaching of the Word of God. It is the truth of the Scriptures that has drawn us to the Jamaican churches and they to us. This becomes so obvious to all who have any dealing with these people. It is a fact that they desire to learn more about the Scriptures and have the confidence that we bring to them the truths of the Word of God. This has occasioned the open door.
Provision for the spiritual needs has been given in different forms. At three different times during the past years a minister and elder labored on the island for different lengths of time. Besides this we have been instructing the ministers and some of the elders via written correspondence courses accompanied by a discussion recorded on tape. This has been done covering the Old Testament and, presently, the New Testament. Every week the Reformed Witness Hour is being sent to them by tape recording.
These efforts have been directed primarily to the ministers of the churches. When our emissaries labored there, they preached to the congregations to be sure, but their weekly time was spent mostly in schooling the ministers, giving them basic instruction in how to use the Bible concordance, making sermon outlines, order of worship, and preaching. This instruction is being well received and progress is being made daily.
In order to do this work, however, one needs certain tools and materials. Psalters and Bibles have been sent to the different churches enabling the people to have these for worship. The ministers have been provided with concordances, sample sermon outlines, study materials, tape recorders and tape, and also copies of our own printed material such as Standard Bearers, Beacon Lights, Sunday School materials, pamphlets, etc. Money has been sent to them to facilitate the return of tapes and correspondence.
Some money has been spent on their building improvements, although most of this is still in the planning stage. When our brethren labored in their midst, assistance was given to help with some of the specific needs of the sick and poor.
It is becoming more and more apparent to the Committee that we stand at an important juncture as far as our work in Jamaica is concerned. The spiritual well being of the churches there demands that we put forth a more concerted effort to increase our work on the field.
One important step in this direction was taken at our meeting of February 14. At that time we adopted a long range plan for Jamaica.
Attaining top priority in the set of directives was the need to increase our work by personal contact through men in the field itself. This involves different aspects. In the broadest sense we should give consideration to calling a man to the office of missionary to work exclusively in Jamaica. In the past our calling of a missionary through First Church has never specified where such a man should work. The Mission Committee and eventually Synod will be giving consideration to this aspect of the calling. In a more limited sense it is recognized that until such a man can be sent to Jamaica to labor full-time, something has to be provided in the interim. Here we face different alternatives, either requesting a congregation to release their minister for a shorter time (a few months) or for a longer period (from one half to an entire year). It stands to reason: the longer the stay on the island the more effective the work.
Personal contact assumes top priority for different reasons. Any instruction can best be given by sitting down and discussing the material together. Correspondence, even via tape recorder, is a long and difficult process. The brethren that are engaged in this work know all too well this fact. Besides this, any re-organization into four main congregations, if this is finally approved by the congregations there, will require personal supervision to make this change as smooth and orderly as possible. We know that there is need for the eventual construction of government approved church buildings in these central locations. If we have a man on the field,—and from this point of view it need not be a minister,—he can supervise the purchase of material and the actual construction of these churches. The entire aspect of meeting the material needs of these people revolves around someone being there and giving them assistance in the name of Christ. If we have someone on the island at the time the used clothing would arrive, such a one could inform the customs officers that it is intended for distribution among the poor and thus we could be sure of gaining entrance duty-free. The distribution could be done according to the individual needs of the people without partiality, since it would be handled by one that is not directly involved. By such personal contact the people who are in need of the mercies of Christ, who require medical attention and who are special objects of charity can be provided for properly.
If we take a long range view, we also stand before the need for training young men for the ministry in the Jamaican churches. The present ministerial leaders are advanced in age, and younger men are naturally more receptive to training. Hence, our long range plan calls for the training of two young men of the island for the ministry. This can be done either by the personal instruction of a missionary working on the island or by taking him to this country and training him in our present grade school along with special training on the side. There presently is such a young man, Uriah Benz who is 15 years old and earnestly desires to come to the states to study for the ministry in order that be can return to the island to labor amongst the churches there. His aged father is failing in health but prays daily that his son may be trained somehow for the ministry. This young man feels he is called and seeks a way to be trained to that end. We have to give sincere consideration to such a young man.
There are other things that have to be considered in our planning. The members of the churches desire to learn the Psalter numbers but are hampered by their inability to either read the words or the music. Already an offer was received from the Hope Heralds to provide tapes of their singing Psalter numbers in such a way that they can be used in leading the Jamaicans in their singing. They are presently taking this project as their own and are raising money for this work.
Since much contact which we have with the Jamaicans is via tape recordings, investigation should be made into the latest portable tape recorders that are on the market, which are reasonably priced, easy to handle since they have cassette tapes, and have battery and A.C. connections, a thing which must be considered since all these groups do not have electricity. The Jamaica committee is also investigating the possibility of broadcasting our Reformed Witness Hour over a radio station on the island. If this could be arranged, there would be need for providing the people with tiny transitory radios; a project that could well be taken on by our Sunday Schools or other groups.
Specific details on much of this will be worked out before Synod and thus presented to Synod for consideration and decision.
From some of these observations, it is hoped that our people will begin to realize that God has given to us an open door in Jamaica. We stand very really before the calling of God what are we going to do with the brethren and sisters there who have so many needs. As we begin to build upon past labors, we realize only too acutely that God calls us to answer His call, “Come over and help us.” God has given to us such a rich heritage of the truth, and others cry out for us to share it with them. God has blessed us materially; just look at our beautiful church buildings and our nicely furnished houses. And what are we going to do for those who seek our help to care for them who are too poor to care for the sick in their own midst?
We have but one answer, we will do all that God enables us to do. We have made a beginning, we must continue to expand in this work. True, we do not have much; we “have a little strength.” God calls us to expend even this little strength upon the needs of His people who cry daily for help. Surely there must be some in our midst who feel compelled to go to Jamaica to work; surely there must be some who will give of their time and wealth to meet the needs of these fellow believers. There have been in the past; we must trust in God that He will provide these needs in the future.
How comforting to the church to hear the words directed to the church of Philadelphia, “I have given to thee an open door, and no man can shut it.”
May God give us ears to hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.