There may have been a time when, as churches, we had difficulty in applying Jesus’ words to Judas Iscariot in John 12:8, “The poor always ye have with you. . . .” Congregations build up charity funds and the deacons have little work besides collecting, keeping track of the money contributed, and paying a few bills of the church here and there. We have no poor, is the cry. Our deacons have no work, is the complaint.
Yet Jesus also said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” Acts 20:35. Do we not have this opportunity of giving? Is this great blessedness denied us in this day of wealth and prosperity? Where is the blessed giver today? And where do we have opportunity even to become a blessed giver? The State takes care of the poor and puts the deacons out of business. Men would rather run and look to the welfare organization than to Christ in His deacons for help. And although the collections are still taken, half-heartedly perhaps, and the funds grow; we bestow them upon ourselves, our “needy” causes of school and church and give them back to ourselves. We assure ourselves meanwhile that we are doing works of charity.
But we would call the attention of our congregations to the fact, and make no attempt to hide it, that since our covenant God has given us an open door on the island of Jamaica, and brought across our pathway brethren and sisters in the Lord, who have learned to love and enjoy the Reformed faith and cry for it, pleading for more instruction, drinking it in as a dry and thirsty land absorbs the refreshing rain, He has also shown us that we do always have the poor with us.
Our collection plates are passed around, and the bills threaten to fall off the’ filled plate, and on occasions do have to be picked up from off the floor to which they have fallen. Compare this with a collection “plate,” as we saw them on the island, into which a pence, a three pence, a sixpence or a shilling (14C in our money) has been cast; and because of dire poverty and a willing heart to give, the change is made right there out of the collection plate from a six to a three pence coin. And then listen to the prayers, offered up to the Giver of every good and perfect gift, after the offering has been taken.” Lord, bless those that gave, and bless also those who had nothing to give.” Are we ever in that position that we have nothing to give? There are such among those with whom our churches are dealing on the island of Jamaica.
Life there is simple and hard. Luxuries are not unknown but unattained. They can be seen in the resort areas, and more emphatically even than we see them as a rule in the areas where we live here in the States. The contrast is so emphatic! The brethren on the island know the nicer things of life FROM AFAR! And we could list the areas where there is definite and a crying need. We would show that the poor we also have with us among these brethren and sisters in Christ.
There is the matter of food. And although the island is covered with what appears to be fruit growing wild, all this belongs to some one and is not just there for the picking. Rev. Elliott laid out for us, while on one of our tours with him across the island, that the people on their little pieces of land raise what they can of yams or bananas or even ackee, the National fruit of Jamaica. They pay the bus fare to go to the market in the largest city near by. They rent a stall and pay the fee for the right to sell. The heat and humidity spoil their offerings before it can be sold—for you have the other side as well, that although others are hungry and would buy, they have not the few pennies required—and then they must pay the bus fare back home, their business venture a total loss and resulting in a poorer state than before their venture. And this happens not once in a life time but so very frequently. You can understand then the prayer, “. . . . and bless those who have nothing to give. . . .” This also explains why, before you can enter the “supermarket” to buy your groceries, you will be met by a half dozen men, women or children trying to sell you a pineapple, a few mangoes, a bunch of bananas, or perhaps some colorful decorative plant that grows so abundantly on the island. With pleading eyes, with eagerness to earn a few pennies they approach you. No one starves on the island, but so many go to bed with an empty and hungry stomach, Food is everywhere to be seen; it is not for everyone to enjoy. Particularly meat is a rare item for these brethren and sisters in the Lord.
There is also that crying need for medical services and for proper eye examination and corrective lenses. A physician up in the hills is an unknown luxury. We have a picture of a sign tacked up on the tree half way up Porters Mountain, where Rev. Ruddock and his family live, that expresses the situation rather clearly. The sign reads: District Midwife. Two words that explain the whole situation! And the ruptured navels of so many children—pathetic sights actually—give mute evidence of the competence of these midwives. Get sick with a serious ailment up in the hills and you may wait for death, as was the case with a deacon in the Westmoreland district, until we supplied the funds to get, his kidney infection treated in the hospital, and rejoiced to see him in church with us a month later. There again, even if the doctors were there, there is no money to obtain their services. And glasses that do more damage than good to the eye are picked up in the Woolworth Store (O yes, there is a Five and Ten Cent Store there) because there are no funds for eye examination and fitted corrective lenses. Failing eyesight is a very common occurrence; and in the dimness of the unlit churches as well as in broad daylight, we have seen them strain with their books a little more than a nose’s length away to catch a glimpse of the printed page.
There is the matter of clothing and the matter of their church buildings. Shipments of clothing were sent at least three times, but the need is great, and we urge all those who intend to visit the island to take an extra suitcase along filled with used or new summer clothing wherewith to gladden the hearts of these needy and. to help them with these necessities of life. And as soon as possible other shipments of clothing should be sent, or monies to buy the necessary clothing for them.
The buildings are not only in need of repair to keep out the rain and to make them somewhat more comfortable—and the seats are very crude in some instances and very uncomfortable—but rebuilding is becoming a government requirement. The window openings must have glass; the doorways must have doors; and the whole building must be brought up to a standard set by the government, or the group will not be recognized, the marriages performed in that congregation will not be considered legal, the baptisms will not be valid in the eyes of the government. These churches have been inspected by the police, will continue to be under inspection, and we have a calling to help these brethren and sisters in getting their buildings up to specifications. Let us remember this when the four collections per year are taken in our churches exactly for these buildings and their repair.
There is also another area that is becoming more urgent of our attention and is extremely important. Many in this area may have heard the tape of the young man of fifteen years of age, the son of the deacon at the Santa Cruz church, who recited the first Lord’s Day of the Catechism from memory on the tape. He desires greatly to learn for the ministry of the Word in their churches and needs help financially for his schooling. He has entered high school now, passing his examination and so attaining his scholarship (without any financial support). In Jamaica education, and certainly not on the secondary level, is not yet compulsory due to the fact that they have not yet built enough schools. Entrance is then on the basis of ability to learn; and a nominal tuition fee is charged. This young man should be helped since he has shown the scholastic ability, greatly desires to prepare for the ministry, and can be trained and taught by us to serve these brethren and sisters in Jamaica well with the rich heritage of truth which is ours. We did send part of a collection taken at one of the reports on the work of Jamaica, which it was our privilege to give in and for our Mid-Western churches. But more is needed for this year and next and till his education is completed, either completely on the island or supplemented with training in our seminary.
We have just, in our country, spent thousands upon thousands of dollars for Christmas presents that will all go up in smoke; and many of them already are ready to be discarded as broken and soiled. Have we not a little for such a glorious and important work of supporting one training for preaching the gospel of Christ and feeding the souls of God’s people with the bread of life?
The eighth commandment. is negative in its form and forbids us to take away from the neighbor, be he needy or not. The Heidelberg Catechism expresses the positive form when it declares that it is our duty to labor faithfully, “so that I may be able to relieve the poor.” Here is our calling as well as not to rob the neighbor of his goods. And these needy we have with us. Our attention has been called from time to time to their needs. And let us then remember that to give is more blessed than to receive. What they will receive from us will benefit them much—in this life. But at death they will lose all that which men have given them here below. But what we have given them will bring us a blessing that abides forever in the new Jerusalem. What we receive from men perishes, and we with it. What we give to men receives a reward of grace in an everlasting inheritance.
Thou shalt not steal! But may you be that blessed giver who receives from the living God a reward in His kingdom.