The question has often been raised, How did our churches come into contact with this field of mission endeavor in Jamaica? Therefore I shall try to acquaint you briefly with the first contacts that were made and the further developments that followed.
It was in July of 1961 that a certain Rev. H.N. Morally wrote a letter in response to the broadcast of the Reformed Wikess Hour over Trans-world Radio in England. This letter was addressed to the First Protestant Ref. Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, informing us that the Rev. H.N. Morally was a minister of the Gospel who had labored in Jamaica, but was now residing in England. He added that he was the founder of various churches on the island, and, having listened to our broadcasts over Trans-world Radio, he would like to know more about our churches. He asked for full particulars about our doctrinal standards and worship, and stated that he was interested in this because he sought to affiliate the churches of Jamaica with some responsible denomination that was sound in faith and walk.
This letter set off a rapid exchange of correspondence between England and America, and soon also between Jamaica and America. Another of pieces of literature, including our doctrinal standards and Church Order, were sent to Rev, Morally, and a goodly supply of literature was sent to ministers and evangelists on the island. Soon Rev. Morally informed us that he agreed perfectly with all that, he had read. In fact, a letter followed shortly afterward with these contents: “Greetings in Jesus’ Name. I should appreciate hearing from you re our churches in Jamaica co-laboring with your denomination. I have heard from Rev. Thompson in Jamaica that he replied to your letter. I am eager to see that the work be pushed without delay. Please let me know the decision of your Mission Board in this matter and how soon could they send a man out there to visit the fields or to reside there and to work in cooperation with our workers there, etc., etc . . . . Accept my dearest Christian love and do please reply quickly. Please also state what help your Board will decide to give to these churches in Jamaica, etc. Awaiting your reply, Yours in Christian service, Henry Morally.”
Thereupon the Mission Board requested Rev. Morally to supply us with some more information concerning himself and the churches of which he spoke. The Board asked him whether he could come to meet with them on his return to Jamaica; whether he could give us names and addresses of other churches on the island, in case we should decide to send someone there to investigate the field at some future date; and finally, whether he could furnish the Board with additional information as to his doctrinal and confessional background, as well as of the churches he had established. The response to this request revealed that there were some sixteen churches on the island, including about two hundred families, which were seeking affiliation with our denomination, and that Rev. Morally did not intend to return to the island unless he were supported financially by some group like ours. Once more he insisted, as did those who were corresponding with the Board from Jamaica, that this work on the island should be taken over at once. Either we should send a missionary of our own, or we should make it possible for Rev. Morally to return to the island and represent us there. The result was that the Mission Board virtually decided to drop the entire venture because of the shortage of ministers in our churches and the expense that would be incurred in this work. Rev. Morally was advised that he could only enter into the ministry in our churches according to the rules and regulations established by our Church Order, that we did not have a man available for the work on the island, and that no further action could be taken until the Synod of 1962 should decide to carry on the work and make funds available for it.
It was with a certain amount of reluctance that the Mission Board came to this decision, because they felt that they were closing the door to a possible field of mission endeavor. And yet they realized that the circumstances were such that nothing else could be done at the time. To their surprise, there were those in Jamaica who insisted that we continue to correspond with them even though any further action must wait until after Synod had met. At this time Rev. J.E. Frame of Lucea began to take an interest in our churches, so that he and Rev. Thompson kept up the correspondence. We were especially impressed by the early letters of Rev. Frame in which he insisted that he could have fellowship only with such churches that professed and maintained a sanctified walk of life. Therefore he sought to become better acquainted with us, with our doctrinal standards and way of life, before becoming too much involved. I may also add that in the Spring of 1962 a clothing drive was held and a large supply of clothing was sent to the Lucea area, which was also gratefully acknowledged.
The entire matter of correspondence with the churches of Jamaica was presented to the Synod of 1963 by the Mission Board. More recent letters from the island were also read on the floor of Synod. It was becoming increasingly evident that the Lord had brought a great need to the attention of our Prot. Reformed churches. These churches of Jamaica had been hastily organized, elders and deacons had been supplied them, ministers were given a certificate of ordination with a very limited amount of training and preparation, and when all was said and done, these churches were left to shift for themselves as sheep without a shepherd. Especially Rev. Frame was eager for moral support, spiritual guidance and any other aid that could be given. Therefore the Synod of 1962 instructed the Mission Board, “to pursue work in this field if an investigation warrants it and the means are available.” This implied that the Board should send a committee of two to Jamaica to meet these people, to discuss their needs and problems with them, to acquaint them with the doctrines and practices of our churches, and then report back to the Board with some definite advice on continuing the work on the island. The Mission Board immediately appointed Mr. Henry Meulenberg and Mr. Harry Zwak, members of the Mission Board, to carry out this investigation at their earliest opportunity. In August, they made the trip to Jamaica, spent a week traveling about and making various contacts, and then returned to report to the Board.
Since you may be interested in reading this report, I shall quote it here:
“To the Mission Committee of the Prot. Ref. Churches.
“This is a report on our labors in Jamaica. We left Grand Rapids August 13, and arrived in Jamaica on August 17. Evangelists G.R. Dixon and W. Tennant failed to recognize us as we landed at Montego Bay airport, making it rather difficult for us to locate the other brethren who had written to us. However, after having rented a car from Hertz, we proceeded to Montego Bay, and inquiring there, we left for Lucea, the town nearest to the churches we had to visit. In Lucea we met Rev. K. Thompson, who took us up to his place of worship. One thing soon became apparent to us, and will weigh heavily in any recommendations we may make, these people are very poor, living in the hills almost isolated from any normal transportation. Some of these churches are built on top of the mountains and can be reached only by foot.
“Secondly, the ministers of these churches, with the exception of Rev. Frame and Rev. Thompson, are not ordained men and have had very little education. We’ve met with these ministers and their congregations, separately and in groups. Also we called a conference of ministers to meet with us on Tuesday, Aug. 21. Besides the ministers about fifty members of the various churches met with us that day. Your committee explained to them the doctrine and stand of our churches, as well as the form of worship. As far as the doctrine is concerned, they seemed to agree with us. However, in the matter of the form of worship we are quite far apart. Much training and guidance is needed to change them in their habits of worship, if they shall become conformed to us. Of one thing we are convinced, and that is their sincerity. Spiritually they are very active. As far as we could determine, they live a good moral and spiritual life, and they long to become one with us. As a matter of fact, they begged us to accept them as members in the Protestant Reformed churches. With all these facts before us we recommend:
“1. That financial, help be given these churches in the firm of clothing, etc.
“2. That printed material such as pamphlets, Sunday School papers, be sent them, and whatever else may help to instruct them in the truth of the Word of God.
“3. That we further recommend that in the near future some one be sent to instruct these ministers and evangelists in the Protestant Reformed truth and in the form of worship as it is practiced in our churches.” (Was signed) Your committee, Harry Zwak, H. Meulenberg.”
Thereupon the Sunday School Publishing Committee was requested and agreed to send Sunday School lessons to these churches. Moreover, the Mission Board asked the diaconate of First Church to take charge of a clothing drive in all of our churches in the Middle West, and to request the diaconates in the outlying areas to contribute money td help defray the cost of sending clothing to Jamaica. To this request our people responded most liberally, so that once more a large supply of clothing was sent to fill the need among these churches. The Mission Board also decided to send literature to the various ministers, evangelists and churches that had not been on our mailing list before.
The ensuing months brought a few more interesting developments, But concerning these matters I hope to write at a later date.