Once upon a time there were two wise men and a fool. All three were motoring along a road which traversed a mountainous island. The road was a dangerous one; rough, narrow, hilly, and winding, it was bordered on the one side by the sheer rock wall of a mountain cliff, and on the other by emptiness ending in the sea far below. The one wise man was wending his way carefully along the road, sounding the horn of his car at every blind curve, when he noticed that another car had approached quickly from the rear and was following him closely, obviously waiting for a chance to overtake him. “Another fool,” the wise man sighed to himself, knowing that there would not be a safe place to pass for several miles.
Meanwhile another wise man was picking his way in the opposite direction through the pot-holes and fallen rocks. Like the first wise man, he was proceeding slowly and carefully along the narrow road, unaware of the two cars approaching him.
The first wise man approached a sharp bend in the road. The way was, steeply uphill, and the impatient fool behind him was beginning to wear on his nerves. As if in answer to his wish, the fool pulled out from behind him, sounded his horn, and began to overtake. Quick alarm rose in the wise man. “He can’t see . . .” He waved the man back, but the fool, paying no attention, changed gears and stamped the accelerator to the floor. The wise man’s heart leaped into his throat, for suddenly around the bend ahead another car had appeared. Visions of spinning cars, sounds of tearing metal, and the smell of burning rubber all flashed through his mind in the instant before he applied his brakes as hard as he could. The other wise man, as alert as the first, also saw the impending disaster and he, too, jammed on his brakes with all the force he could muster. With tires screeching and gravel flying the two wise men slid to a stop almost alongside each other. The fool, never slowing or hesitating, whipped his car between the other two and bounced madly around the bend. “He who hesitates is lost,” he chuckled to himself. As the snarl of the fool’s exhaust faded into the hills, the two wise men looked at one another, slowly shook their heads, and continued on their respective ways.
The little story above is illustrative of the Jamaican way of life generally. There are many things which can be said about Jamaica, its people, and the way of life on this Caribbean island. But to speak of the various facets of Jamaica in any kind of detail would be to write a book, at the very least. It is my purpose, however, to attempt to describe briefly the situation in Jamaica both in general and as it particularly concerns the mission work of the Protestant Reformed Churches. A general background is necessary in order to understand the religious situation in which the work has been performed.
The driving in Jamaica as already intimated, is somewhat hazardous. It may perhaps be best described as a combination of playing “chicken,” the Indy 500, and a demolition derby. Not only are the drivers maniacal—their one objective is to get therefirst—but also the roads are hazardous. With few straight pieces of highway and few level stretches, the normal dangers are compounded by the narrowness and roughness which are universal characteristics of the island. Add to all of this the fact that driving is done on the left side of the road with right-hand-drive cars, and the result is a challenge to any visitor. With all of these factors present it is no wonder that the fatality rate (and by logical consequence, the accident rate) is eleven times that of the United States. An English friend of mine on the island recently summed it up rather well: “I say, old chap, it’s positively wicked!”
The driving is not the only thing that is characterized by foolishness. Money, around which most problems revolve, is also the source of much grief and trouble. The general economic situation is at present very bad. The government has shown amazing ineptness in most of its financial dealings. Because of import bans and tariffs many items are “finished,” as the Jamaicans say—simply non-existent. Labor problems add to the difficulties; not a day goes by without news of two or three strikes, with the workers demanding wage increases of a mere 50%. Stealing and theft of every imaginable kind are widespread. But all of this is hardly surprising when one recognizes the general motto of the people: If you get a dollar today, spend it, because there will be another tomorrow. In light of all this it is not difficult to understand why foreign investment and capital are rapidly falling off.
Political instability is another contributor to the island’s ills. Politicians prate piously of their accomplishments when they should have done twice as much twice as well in half the time. They rave about Jamaica’s problems while sitting on their hands; they proclaim panaceas while doing little else than holding pompous official ceremonies; they make impossible promises while avoiding anything that smells of responsibility. Small wonder then that Communism is making inroads, especially among the poorer masses in the Kingston-St. Andrew area. Some think that the nation is headed for anarchy. If the present foolishness is perpetuated, they could be right.
There are many favorable aspects of the island which could be pointed out: the wonderful natural beauty of the island, its beautiful bays and beaches, its rugged green-covered mountains, its hot and humid climate, the slowness of life’s pace. But all of these cannot balance the nation’s ills, a few of which are enumerated above. And these ills can be traced to foolishness. Foolishness according to the way man measures it, and foolishness according to the way God measures it. And unfortunately, the proportion of fools to wise men is not the same as in the little story. One must search to find a wise man among the fools.
Unhappily, though not unexpectedly, what is true of the island generally is also true of the Protestant Reformed Churches of Jamaica. Money is the focal point around which most other problems directly or indirectly (usually directly) are concentrated. And naturally the quantity of the money is the major stumblingblock. The Protestant Reformed Churches in America are a never-ending source of money, according to the thinking of most in the Jamaican churches. Money for whatever purpose in whatever location and circumstance must come from one place: America. There are those, of course, who would attribute such an attitude to the fact that the Jamaican people are socially underprivileged and financially deprived. There are those who perhaps would point out that a comparatively rich church should be happy to do its duty of sharing with its poorer neighbors.
But if we listen to the proponents of such views we are very shortsighted, for we do not account for many other factors. One is that the Jamaicans—our church people—are in the habit of asking for far too much; they request outrageous sums for unnecessary purposes. There is only one name for such an attitude, and that isgreed. Further, there is the added fact of the general ingratitude of the people. Instead of accepting the gifts from America with the proper respect and gratitude, they act as if it is all owed to them. Still worse, they often complain that they have not received as much as they asked for, and are rarely seen wearing the clothes donated by the American Churches. The proverb which speaks about biting the hand that feeds one can be concretely demonstrated without difficulty; such conduct is not likely to insure the continued good will and good dollars of the American churches. Add to all of this the fact that the money given them is often used foolishly by the Jamaicans. Saying it isn’t “proper” to have a church without windows, they set about with the money meant for other purposes to put expensive louvered windows into a pole-and-tin church building. Such windows are not necessary because boards or pieces of zinc are more than adequate; the people do not come to church when it rains anyway. If the whole situation were not so serious one would laugh at the ludicrousness of it all.
All of this foolishness seems to pose an insoluble problem. Obviously it is foolishness. Even men in general realize that it is not possible to look a gift horse in the teeth forever and get away with it. But all of this is foolishness in the eyes of God and therefore sin. Until the sin-problem is solved, the money problem will continue.
Moreover, ecclesiastical life in general, both doctrinal and practical, is characterized by foolishness. A general rejection of the Reformed truth has become evident during the years that the Protestant Reformed Churches have done mission work in Jamaica. There has been a general refusal to turn from the errors prevalent in the situation which, existed previous to our coming here. And there are many serious errors. Holiness thinking is almost universal; with a disproportionate emphasis upon the work of the Holy Spirit this form of mysticism is the death of solid doctrinal faith. Baptistic influences are very strong, both with respect to the practice of the sacrament of baptism—immersion in the sea is necessary—and with regard to the doctrine of baptism—”converted” adults are the proper candidates. Pentecostalism, which seems to be world-wide, finds fertile soil in Jamaica because of the basic mystical tendencies, and the results are predictable, manifesting themselves particularly in tongue-speaking and faith healing. Further, remnants of the Old Testament economy can be seen; foot-washing and fasting in a completely wrong Old Testament context can be observed. Finally, obeah has a strong power among the people of Jamaica. Though this form of black magic and witchcraft has been legally outlawed, and though almost none of the people will discuss it, particularly with a foreign white man, there are unmistakable evidences that obeah is very much a part of the lives of the Jamaican people, including those in church.
From all of these errors the people have consistently refused to turn. The wrongs have been pointed out time and again, and the positive line of the Reformed truth clearly set forth. The people nod and agree, and then simply go back to their old ways, ignoring what has been said. Though they do this in what they think is a subtle manner, they do not realize that the emissaries from America are aware of their foolish duplicity.
In addition to these doctrinal errors there are many practical faults as well. Jamaica as a whole is a matriarchal society, a fact which dates from the days of slavery. The church is no exception to this. If women are not the outright leaders in the church, they are at least the power behind the man who serves as figurehead. There is continual vying for prestige and leadership within the church, also among the officebearers. There is no conception of family, either in Jamaican society generally or in the church. Almost never do families attend church; the father, the mother, or the children are present —but never at the same time, and usually not from the same family. There is little formal marriage and a great deal of illegitimacy, also among the people of the church. It is not surprising then that the whole idea of the covenant is completely foreign to the Jamaican way of life. And perhaps most frustrating to one of European-American Reformed background, there is so little order in the church. Again, this is a reflection of the general social situation, and therefore is understandable. But it is not excusable, for decency and good order in the church have been taught faithfully. After such painstaking instruction to see such haphazardness is almost more than one can bear.
What conclusions are to be drawn from all of this? In the first place, there is obviously much foolishness, both in Jamaican society as a whole, and consequently in the, church, with which we are more particularly concerned; foolishness as men count it, and foolishness as God counts it. To be a fool is to fail to apprehend and to adapt to reality, the reality of God, His Word, and His truth. To be wise is to apprehend spiritually the truth of God’s Word and to adapt one’s life according to it. There are not two standards of wisdom, one for America and one for Jamaica; there is but one standard for all, and there are few that measure up to it in Jamaica. Unhappily there are not two wise men for every fool. In fact, one must search to find a wise man among the fools. But the situation must be kept in perspective. Though most seem to be fools, there are wise men. The students whose training is almost finished have shown wisdom; there are elders who are wise; and there are people who have shown wisdom. They are a minority, but they do exist.
Against such a background the decision of the Mission Committee to terminate the labors for the present is certainly justified and wise. Some would perhaps object, saying that there are many Reformed people on the island. Such need to be reminded that singing Psalter numbers does not make one Reformed. Some would object that the people must be taught and catechized intensively on a congregational basis. But such an effort would be utterly impossible for many reasons. There is insufficient time and manpower, distances are great, it would be very difficult to assemble an entire congregation on a regular basis, and perhaps most important of all, there is little or no desire on the part of the people for such teaching. It is time to leave the Jamaican churches on their own. Rev. Lubbers has labored long and hard on the island. If his work has positive fruit the churches will continue; if there are enough truly wise men there will be viable congregations in the future. If the present foolishness continues, there will soon be only a memory of the Protestant Reformed Churches in Jamaica, a mere footprint upon the sands of time. Only time will tell.
But even if the churches in Jamaica cease to exist, this should never be a negative reflection upon Rev. Lubbers or any of the others who have labored here. Rather, such an event should be proof that the labors have been successful, for the two-fold power of the Word must always be remembered. The work in Jamaica has ended; but it has not been futile. Also here the Word has had its effect. Whether or not the effect is what we would like it to be does not matter; the Word never returns to God void.
We as churches must now turn to the other mission fields the Lord has opened for us. But we must learn from our experience in Jamaica. Of all that can and should be learned we cannot speak now. But we must learn. If we do not, then we are fools. If we do, then we are truly wise.