MEMORIES AND MUSINGS OF JAMAICA
You travel in a somewhat southeasterly direction in Jamaica along the famous tourist sight known as Bamboo Avenue as you approach a place called Lacovia. Through the bamboo arches you view the expansive fields of cane on the background of the near range of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the farther range of the Figuerro Mountains. The terrain at Lacovia is somewhat swampy. When it rains, you wonder whether the road is in the swamp or the swamp in the road! Off the famous highway, where few, if any, tourists ever go, there is a small church which calls itself Protestant Reformed Church, of the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica. Sunlight filters down through a palm-fronded roof, nature’s own glittering stained-glass effect. The congregation crowds itself into the shaded area, for it is swelteringly hot, even in a practically open-air church. In the afternoon, a cooling rain falls. Then the palm fronds must be shaken out a bit and the wet cement floor swept for the evening service. Still the minister of the Word may expect throughout the service a gentle baptism from the dewy roof overhead. He may also expect mosquito attack and bombardment by hordes of exotic beetles. Beyond the glow of gasoline lantern, in the darkness outside, he may have an invisible, unknown audience, too shy to enter the structure. Inside, you meet friendly, dignified brethren, full of the joy of the Lord. Among them are a goodly number of men who encourage elders, deacons, and congregation with their presence.
This is a beautiful sight to see, for the church is not a pile of odd-pieced or broken lumber, but the body, of which Christ is the Head, of believers and their seed. That the true church consists of believers and their seed simply means that the church is made up of parents and. their children. Naturally, the word “children” in this connection is not limited to either the one sex or the other, but includes both, having in mind both sons and daughters. Just as naturally, the word “parents” is not limited to mothers; it includes fathers. “The promise is unto you and to your children,” said Peter, addressing the church at Pentecost. That is, the promise is to you believers and your seed; it is to you believing parents and your children; it is to fathers and mothers together with their children, “and to all that are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:39). The Lord has always established His covenant with believers and their seed. “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). You see that this everlasting covenant was made with Abraham and his seed, with the father, and, in him, the mother, for the two are one flesh; and with the children, as many as the Lord our God shall call.
Off a rather southerly highway just outside of Cambridge, one may walk a little lane, up a rise, across railroad tracks, then ascend a rocky, slippery, muddy hill under broad-leafed trees. From farther uphill, out of sight, the familiar strains of “Jesus Loves Me” float down to us. A nicer welcome could hardly have been planned as the voices of Jamaican children at Sunday school reach us from a tiny shelter nestled among banana trees. The children repeat the first seven articles of the Canons of Dordt, Head I, from memory. Our missionary explains to the Jamaican brethren the difference between Sunday Schools and Catechism classes. The Jamaican churches are learning what is better than mere Sunday Schools. These have been a rather ineffective attempt to reach parents through the children. Better than Sunday School, it must be learned, is the Family Bible School, where there are classes for all ages, including adults, a men’s class, a women’s class, and classes for young people. A good family Bible school will have for one of its determined .and continued purposes the teaching of all the children it can. Yet this must not be the main outward thrust of either the church or its Bible school. Its main outreach must be to adults, specifically to parents. The core of the Family Bible School is not the children, but the parents. The church’s viewpoint, then, must be that of a Family Bible School. The school must be family centered, the parents forming the key-stone of the school. Where parents are born in or converted to God’s covenant, the children will be given a Christian training, brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Then the parents will teach their children to memorize the Scripture and its doctrine. They will encourage the children to attend church every time its doors are open and to take in all the instruction the church provides. Then, as the children grow older, there will also be young people in the church. As it is, “Sunday School” is entered at a certain young age, beginners or primary, and left before or at adolescence. When Sunday School is over, the children, as it were, scatter to the winds. They do not, as a rule, remain for attendance at church. As for the young people, they, generally, have attended neither Sunday School nor church since reaching their teens. The church becomes devoid of young people. It soon consists of only small. children and grandparents. The “Sunday School” is then a useless appendage. It does not contribute to the church, but rather detracts and leads from the church. Conceivably, it would be different with the Family Sabbath Bible School. The aim of the latter would be to bring also the young people under deep conviction of sin, to real, practical reformation of conduct, and, in place of idleness, worldly amusement, and vain diversions, to great delight in the Word of God and, prayer.
Coral Gardens is a fast-developing residential area of rich and upper middle class dwellings nestled in the foothills east of Montego Bay. The neighborhood boasts a property overlooking the blue sea known as Cinema City, a movie sound stage fallen into disuse. Nearby the ring of builder’s hammers is heard. It somewhat sets the beat for a bit of Jamaican song. As we eavesdrop, we may hear such words as,
I will walk with Jesus on the golden shore. . .
I will walk alone—I will never look back.
This draws an “amen” from the listener’s breast, who is, indeed, walking alone, yet not alone (John 16:32), and who resolutely purposes never to look back on his way to “the golden shore.”
On the same road a happy black traveler is met, a Haitian; but that is not why he is a stranger and a pilgrim. It is because he, too, is bound for the Heavenly City. As to language, we are total strangers, for he speaks French;—and his name is French, Antoine Pierre. In heart we are not strangers, for while he sings hit in French, we do in English, “No one ever cared for me like Jesus.” He seems to sing it with the sincerity of personal experience. He was converted out of Haitian voodooism.
Jamaicans can sing in ear-splitting fashion. Then only snatches of song reach you. “. . .Peter preach the gospel, too!” Indeed, he did! and he maintained that the gospel is “also a more sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed!” Then later, “What a wonderful thing to be free from sin!” Agreed! That is the Christian’s hope and aim. But as he is now, can he sing it, or even think it, without committing sin? Undoubtedly, many a time the song ought to die on his lips as he smites the breast, his heart, that desperately wicked heart, which led his eyes, and feet, too, into sin. Then with downcast eyes, which in itself speaks much, pray, “God be merciful to me the sinner.” Another line of song is caught, “Moses never know Thy name.” No, not quite. Delete the “n” from never” and you have the truth. The idea latent in the song must stem from a wrong understanding of Exodus 6:3, according to which Moses, also Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were deemed ignorant of the name Jehovah, that name only being for the fast time revealed at that point in Moses’ history. But that text need not be taken as a negative declarative statement, “by My name Jehovah was I notknown to them!” It may be understood as a rhetorical question: “by My name Jehovah was I not known to them?” Reference is to much more than intellectual knowledge, but also to that experiential knowledge of His name whereby we live in loving communion with God, as in, “if we follow on to know the Lord” (i.e., Jehovah, Hosea 6:3). The singing of diminutive “gospel choruses” may go on for another half hour with no more than six different numbers used due to the fact that each one may be sung as many as eight or nine times over. “Jesus is a way-maker.” Whereas the one just previous, uncorrected, sounds like Russellism, this one sounds more like Christian Science. For Jesus is neither a way-maker, nor a way-shower. He is The Way! Like “Beautiful Isle of Somewhere”, some songs ought to be dropped.
Good group singing may be enjoyed as an opportunity for socializing, but among Christians it ought to provide for more than emotional release or a bit of entertainment. Especially in congregational singing, the aim is true worship of God in spirit and in truth, not only with the heart, but “with the understanding also” (I Cor. 14:15, 20). Singing has a great place in Jamaican life. That’s as it should be. They are, for the most part, a happy people. It is only natural that a happy nature should frequently break out into song. It was a great honor to visit our mission field in Jamaica. Next to the honor of preaching the Word on the island, another honor was my pleasure there, and that in connection with a singing incident. It was after one of the Tuesday Bible study classes of students and ministers. Traveling along the road by car, five ministers—three black and two white—broke out heartily into song, singing from beginning to end, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” It was an honor to be one of that five. To sing that hymn in the company of our missionary and of three Jamaican ministers was quite an honor!