In a limited sense you can properly say of these brethren and sisters on the island of Jamaica, to whom the Mission Board and the Synod sent Elder Zwak and undersigned, that they are a people that sat in darkness and now have seen a great light.
You can say that without fear of offending or insulting them. For they have said it themselves and continue to say it.
A tourist promotion pamphlet entitled “Focus on Jamaica” assures you that there are churches of everyfaith on the island. Listed for the capital city of Kingston are The Anglican Church, Baptist, Assembly of God, Congregational, Christian Science, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Seventh Day Adventist, Salvation Army, and Jewish Synagogue. The addresses together with the times of the services are listed. Montego Bay, the city in the heart of the tourist section, and where some fifteen jets bring tourists every day, lists eight of the above churches, omitting the Salvation Army (although we did see one there) and the Jewish Synagogue. Ocho Rios, another resort area to the east of Montego Bay, lists Anglican, Baptist, Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian. It cannot, therefore, be said in the broadest sense that the peoples of this beautiful island sat in darkness because the knowledge of the truth, the light of God’s Word, was never beamed upon the island. But as far as the Reformed Faith is concerned, as far as the Reformed Confessions are concerned, they sat in darkness and now freely acknowledge that they have seen a great light. This they confess to their own people, and this they have confessed to us.
We have a tape recording (which might perhaps be circulated among our churches and their societies to acquaint our people with the sentiments of some of the office bearers in Jamaica.) and letters in which they declare that they now have revealed unto them that which before this time was hidden from their spiritual eyes. We also recall the statement of one of the ministers to his congregation at the morning service of July 16 to the effect that his only regret about learning this Reformed Faith is that he did not hear about it and receive it when he was younger. The truth in the Catechism (Heidelberg) and the Canons they also enjoyed and appreciated. In fact the last week of our sessions of instruction to the three ministers, Revs. Elliott, Frame and Ruddock, with Elder Green and Deacon Binns sitting in, they unanimously pleaded for more instruction from the Canons.
Everywhere in their churches (although in the bigger cities there was a definite Anti-American feeling and calls to us, “White man, go home!”) we were well received with spiritual gladness. A hearty welcome was always there. In the Reading Church at Lacovia all the Sunday School children were ready; and as we entered the church building, they sang a song of welcome to us and had bouquets of flowers for our wives. In the Islington church (both the Reading and Islington churches are in Rev. Elliott’s district) the congregation was humming a hymn tune (I believe that Rev. Elliott said that it was “Perfect Peace!”) while we were yet a few feet from the open door of the church and until we were fully seated. A human organ with rich harmony rather than a mechanical pipe organ greeted us with sweet music and reverent strains. People came from far and wide to worship in the Islington Church on July 23, the same in the Friendship Hill church of Rev. Ruddock on August 13, in Rev. Elliott’s churches of Reading and Santa Cruz on August 6, and that last Sunday, August 20, in Rev. Frame’s church at Lucea. In fact at this service all three ministers were also there to hear the “Farewell Sermon” and a goodly number of elders and deacons from the churches of all three ministers. At the airport the next morning to see us off was a goodly band of brethren and sisters and even their children, a group of some fifteen in all.
These combined meetings or services helped for us to have contact with all the brethren and sisters in these Protestant Reformed Churches in Jamaica, since time and the inaccessibleness of some of the churches made it impossible to preach in them all. As it was, we traveled often for an hour and a half to go only 35 miles to church on Sunday morning. The road was over two mountain ranges with winding, twisting, climbing and descending curves, lined with people and often with animals. These drives were hectic combats with new hazards around each blind curve, and we appreciated the driving of Elder Zwak, which left us with a somewhat clear mind and calm nerves for preaching the Word. The Dan Ryan expressway in Chicago and the Los Angeles freeway system afford relaxed driving in comparison. The goats that cluttered the roads two years ago have almost disappeared from the roads, but children play on the roads, a steady stream of humanity walks on either side, the friendly chat is held there, and courting couples meet to talk in the roadway. And all this for a good reason. There are no shoulders to the road as a rule. Either the one side of the road is lined with steep and sharp rock out of which the road has been carved, or lush, tropical vegetation crowds to the very road itself. And on the other side you either find the same tall and thick growth or a sheer drop from 500 to 1,000 feet straight down! Where will the children play, the people walk, the neighborly conversation be held? Add to this the fact that the bus and truck drivers deliberately and consistently take the middle half of the road—and often at the bridges and at the curves the road is wide enough only for the bus or truck—and you understand a little of the problem. Buses and trucks you try to meet before or after the curve or bridge. A strange thing it is, as far as the other drivers in their cars are concerned, that the Jamaicans are never in a hurry until they get behind the wheel. Then they must get there in nothing flat and must pass on blind curves and hills; and you better slow up and let them in or else you are involved in a three-car collision. We once read in a newspaper report that the “Jamaicans drive like maniacs.” It certainly is not overstating it to say that we have observed countless numbers of drivers who throw ALL caution to the wind when they get behind the wheel of a car. More than once we said to each other, “These Jamaican drivers surely like to live dangerously.” We have seen the results of many collisions. We saw a dead donkey, the victim of a hit-and-run driver’s folly. We had a car speed around us on a blind curve, and then came ourselves around a few more curves to see the car stand there and a cow lying in the road in such poor shape that it had to be shot. That more people were not killed only amazed us.
We witnessed a river baptism of two adults at Islington. At the Reading, Lacovia church, mentioned above, where the Sunday School children sang “Welcome” to us, we witnessed the baptism of two infants, Rev. Elliott officiating. We missed a river baptism at Friendship Hill due to the fact that it was scheduled for 6 a.m. and was an hour and a half’s drive away from our place of lodging. Let it be pointed out that lodging can be had in only a few selected places on the island. And with the high humidity and oppressive heat preaching twice (We did preach three times with less travel involved on July 16) is sufficient without getting up at 3:30 a.m.
There is one matter which we plan to report to the Mission Board which we also like to give widespread publication here in the hope that something can be done before the 1968 Synod meets. These brethren and sisters are struggling to learn the Psalter songs but have not made much progress. The reasons for this are the following: (1) Many of the older people either have difficulty reading because of lack of opportunity when they were young to attend school; or because of failing eyesight and lack of money to get corrective lenses; or because the lighting in their church buildings is poor. In many a church where electricity is out of the question a kerosene or gasoline lantern is hung over the pulpit, leaving the rest of the building, and the back corners especially, very dark. (2) Even for these—and the children are going to school and learning to read well—who can look at a Psalter, there are far too few to go around. What happens is that while the people are singing the last note of one line, the minister must call out in a loud voice the next line, which is then remembered and sung by the congregation. It might be interesting for our people to hear that on the tape. (3) They have no musical instruments except drum and cymbal. In one or two churches there is a guitar—which does not help to give the melody and is not loud enough to carry the congregation, or a trumpet, but no one to read music. We all have had the experience in our own churches with big, powerful pipe organs that when an unfamiliar tune is called for, the singing is weak and even breaks down. What then when you have no organ or piano or trumpet to carry the melody loud and clear? They try, and many of our Psalter numbers they sing with tunes they know and many of them to the same tune; but it takes time.
One of the elders of Rev. Frame’s church at Lucea suggested, or rather requested us to bring this to the Mission Board’s attention and to see whether a trumpet or two could be donated to them and lessons be given to some talented young man or woman to learn to be able to carry the congregation with the tunes of the Psalter. By the way, a sister in Grand Rapids also suggested this. Some of our Sunday Schools might desire to take up such a worthwhile project. (An accordion would also do well.) So, if any have such instruments to donate, and if there are Sunday Schools that are willing to underwrite music lessons for talented young men or women to learn these instruments, they can contact the undersigned, and the hearts of the brethren and sisters in Jamaica will be gladdened and we will help them sing the songs of Zion. Do not be afraid of donating too many instruments. There are over twenty congregations and their children are born with rhythm in their souls, love music and have keen minds and clever hands. Learning is no problem for them.
But let us be thankful to our covenant God that we may have had this opportunity to share with these peoples of another race and color the glorious Reformed heritage which is ours. They have much to learn yet of that truth; and they are eager to learn more. They have seen the light and have expressed their prayers that they may live in this Reformed Faith and die in it. We have no reason to believe that they are not sincere. Elder Green and Deacon Binns expressed the same sentiment that the ministers did. The peoples walked miles and miles or left at 2 a.m. by truck and bus to hear the preaching of a Protestant Reformed sermon and not to be entertained or amused.
In a day and age when countless thousands are eager to discard that Reformed Faith and change it for the babblings of men, our covenant God has given us a people that does not fully understand it, does not see all its implications yet but has tasted it and liked what they tasted. We have double reasons to be thankful. We have seen that great light ourselves for years, from childhood onward. And we have had the opportunity and DO HAVE the opportunity to let that light shine more brightly before others who ask for it. Truly in this respect also it is more blessed to give than to receive. And it is in His fear to do so.