Having returned home from the mission field of our churches in Jamaica, we decided to write a few more lines about the work there and what we found. What we wrote last time was written after we had been there barely a week. And little did we know what we would experience there during the weeks we were to labor among the brethren and sisters on that island.
It was not a pleasant final week which we spent there. And we came home deeply saddened and with heavy hearts. One of the young men whom we were privileged to help train for the ministry of God’s Word among the churches with which we were dealing, Rev. Alvin Beckford, we found seriously ill the first week we were there. A week later we found him to be desperately ill and greatly in need of medical care. He was, in fact, in a condition that called for hospitalization instead of being nursed by his mother up -in the hills north and east of Lacovia. On our next visit we found that through the instrumentality of Rev. Nish and Elder Foster he was hospitalized in Black River. We found this out before we had a meeting with the Reading congregation. This congregation is located a short distance north of Lacovia in what, as far as the postal divisions are concerned, is the Reading District of Lacovia; and we noted later on that these brethren and sisters call themselves the Reading Protestant Reformed Church of Jamaica. Late as it was after our meeting, we drove to the Black River Hospital; but Rev. Beckford was under sedation, and we were not able to speak with him. Graciously, though it was near 10 o’clock P.M., they did allow us three minutes of “visit” with him. The next Sunday we looked him up again, though we had to come from Belmont and had to return to that area for the evening service. He was still in a coma. And on Tuesday he left this vale of tears and sorrow for the reward of God’s grace which He gives to His faithful servants. On the afternoon of our last Sunday on the island, February 20, we attended the funeral service in the Reading church, and undersigned preached the sermon, to an audience that filled the church and spilled out around the doors and open windows outside. Members of his congregations at Cave Mt. and Waterworks were there. His fellow ministers with whom he went to our school were there, and their congregations to a great extent also came.
It was a short illness, beginning, we were given to understand; last November or December. It was a short ministry, beginning in 1974 when Rev. C. Hanko preached the ordination sermon, Rev. Heys read the form, and Rev. Elliott ordained him into the ministry of God’s Word in these Jamaican churches. According to the report of Rev. G. Lubbers and elder J.M. Faber, who labored on the island last year, he was just beginning to get the feel of the work and, according to the report, “has blossomed out in his preaching quite remarkably . . . and preached a very good sermon.” Added is also the remark, “His character is most loving, and he is a humble servant. He has a very large store of Psalter numbers in his memory and loves to sing them.” When we broke the news to his congregation at Cave Mt. that he was hospitalized and in very serious condition, Elder Ried made those same remarks that he was a humble and faithful servant.
But it pleased God to end his ministry and to take him away from the two congregations which he was serving. And now each Sunday there are three of the seven churches that will be without the services of an ordained minister of the Word of God. The veteran, Rev. Elliott, is there and, although he is 73 years old, he faithfully trudges up and down those steep mountain roads, rides for hours on hard seats of busses and over bumpy roads; and no doubt will be serving Cave Mt. quite frequently now. It was formerly his congregation, and he still is active in the work. For the rest, there are the three younger ministers who have their own congregations: Rev. Brown, who serves Dias and Fort William; Rev. Williams, who serves Belmont; and Rev. Nish, who is minister of the Reading church in Lacovia. In the churches of the younger ministers we noticed growth .and fruit upon their labours; and we were privileged also to see the Behnont congregation begin to get a suitable place of worship. Synod last June authorized using some of. the restricted funds, that had been collected in our churches for the buildings of the Jamaican churches, for Belmont. All they had was a little hut that consisted of a few bamboo poles stuck in the ground and a roof of dried palm leaves. This did help a bit to keep out the burning sunshine, but it was of no value to shed the heavy rains known to the island. On three occasions our meetings in Belmont were cancelled because of rain, even after hard, rough traveling over two mountain ranges and with gasoline at $1.98 a gallon. Perhaps you say, “Well, why start out then in the rain?” It is not quite that simple. We lived on the northern coast, and Belmont is on the southern coast. In between are all these mountains, ridge after ridge; and although the island is roughly one hundred fifty miles long and fifty miles wide, it can have extremely contrasting weather across it. We can leave in bright sunshine and find Belmont having a torrential rain, or the other way around.
This reminds us of the first cancellation. It poured and poured all day in Montego Bay, about the time the States had all that snow. We debated all day about going that Tuesday night, it looked so hopeless. About four in the afternoon we went down the hill to the Police Station in Coral Gardens (the suburb where we were living) and asked them if they could find out whether it was raining in Belmont. Graciously, the officer got on his short wave radio and called the Bluefields police station. Now Bluefields is one mile from the city of Belmont and about two from where the Belmont bamboo-palm-leaf church stands. That was awfully close. The police at Bluefields responded in a strong clear voice that it was raining heavily. We stayed home, only to learn the next Sunday that they patiently waited for us in a completely dry church and had not had any rain all day! This led up to the next incident. On the last Tuesday that we worked on the island (the very last Tuesday on the island saw us at’ the airport checking in to go home) we left under sunny skies for Waterworks and Belmont. We dropped Elder and Mrs. Faber off at Waterworks for a session of instruction on Infant Baptism. But, part way over, it began to rain in the mountains, and it was raining heavily when they left us to go into the Waterworks church which is a solid building. We told them that most likely we would be back shortly, after finding it impossible to have a session on Holy Matrimony in Belmont. And then it began to pour as we have never seen it in the States as we were on the way to Belmont. As the crow flies over the mountains Belmont is about five miles away. Over the highway, as: the road meanders along the coast line, the map says it is closer to ten miles. But it is a half hour drive. At Bluefields yet it was pouring, but in Belmont it was bone dry and we had an enjoyable meeting. We returned to Waterworks to find that the Fabers wondered why it took us so long to come back and tell them that we also could not meet. In Waterworks, even if the people could have come out through that heavy rain, you could not speak above the noise of the rain on the roof—a corrugated metal roof. So you learn to go, regardless of what the weather is where you are.
But to return to growth in the congregations. One of the evidences is that under the preaching of these ministers there are now two more young men with abilities who desire to learn for the ministry and areeager to have a missionary come and instruct them. Then, too, that funeral service under the leadership of Rev. Nish was the solemn, spiritual meeting that is ought to be. He handled it very ably, and it was so different and such an improvement upon others which we attended on the island. The prayers of the elders and deacons manifest a clearer insight into and grasp of the truths of the Word of God. No, they are not pure in their doctrine and thinking; they are not what one may call strongly Reformed. But there is a desire to learn, a willingness to come and learn, and evidences that they have been taught the truth. You just cannot compare the field with those which we had where the people had a Reformed background, knew the Heidelberg Catechism by heart, had been taught the Reformed Faith from infancy, were drilled in the Westminster Confession, or had through the years pastors who on the whole preached sound doctrine in other churches. Always we must remember where they were when we first began to labor there. Always we have to remember what that greatest of all missionaries, the Apostle Paul, did in the churches where he found evil creep in after his departure. He found gross adultery in Corinth and terrible desecration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. Did he say, Brethren, let us pull out and have nothing to do with these people? He did not. He still called them saints and wrote two lengthy epistles to them. Why? Whey did he not shake the dust off his feet and abandon them? Because they were willing to listen even to his rebukes.
We, on several occasions, rebuked the Jamaican churches in regard to the songs which they sing, and, in our discussion sessions with them, in regard to visiting other churches with strange doctrines, and in regard to infant baptism, holy marriage, and the supporting of those who preach the Word to them. Did they show up in fewer numbers next time? They did not. They asked whether we could come back the next night or for sure next week! After a session on infant baptism, Elder Foster in Reading said, “We did not know that these truths were in the Bible, but in due time God sent these men so that we might also know them.”
Incidentally, and we have not room for more although there is much more to say and write, our labors over the years are bearing fruit, and there is fruit upon the labors of Rev. Lubbers and Elder Faber when they visited last year. Dias is now renting a home for Rev. Brown—the home of the late Rev. Joshua Frame—and paying $40 of the $60 per month rent. They have also a policy to pay their minister 50¢ per member (not family) per month. To us this may seem a little sum, but many of them cannot even bring up that much in cash. But it is all a step in the right direction, and they ought to be encouraged in it. Cave Mt. expressed it audibly, as did Dias, that the Word of God does show them this calling. And they promised to do more. This was after we had our meeting when with them we searched the Scriptures to see what they teach about this matter of supporting their ministers.
What we did not find was that they follow us for bread. Yes, they did ask at times for money for so and so. Rarely, very rarely do we receive a request for self, it is for this poor widow, glasses for this one or that one, etc. And would Belmont (and later Reading when unavoidably by heavy rains we arrived an hour late) sit for an hour waiting for us when we had no bread in our car for them? When we gave no money, and they asked us to come back the next night or for sure next week; when Rev. Williams with a twinkle in his eye said at Belmont, “We pray that God will move Holland’s congregation to let Rev. Heys stay and teach and preach for us another six weeks; when this year we did not give any money; and when over the years they have been refused sums for buildings, etc., and yet they come back, is that for bread?” They pray and thank God that we came to bring them the truth, not bread. Indeed, it is slow, but these brethren and sisters in Jamaica are coming out of the shadows of false doctrines and religions and into the light of the glorious truth that our God has given us.