At the moment, we are on the island of Jamaica, and a few lines are due for our department, The Day of Shadows. But we have returned to such a different Jamaica that we feel constrained to write about it, believing that our people will want to know the situation as it affects the brethren and sisters on the island. Besides, one almost has to be a Jamaican chameleon to change again after adjusting to this lifestyle and fall back into the routine of life in the congregation, and in that spirit to fill our department and write of Abraham as he lived in the days of the shadows and passed his pilgrimage without having obtained the promises.
We speak not of a spiritual adjustment. Such an adjustment was not necessary. And yesterday, January 23, when Mrs. McNab taught the Sunday School lesson at Dias with the help of our Sunday School paper, Our Guide, the truths of the day of shadows was with us. The “golden text” was taken from Hebrews 4: 8, “For if Joshua has given them rest, then would he not afterward have spoken of another day.” This was committed to memory by drill and repetition. And Mrs. McNab taught the children that the rest to which Joshua led Israel was a picture and only a picture of the rest which Christ prepares for us. Truly that rest did cast its shadow back over the ages to Israel as they crossed the Red Sea and entered into the land which God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, after all, even though we are not in the day of the shadows, we are not yet in the rest which Christ has come to prepare; and there are shadows here in Jamaica and throughout the world that are cast by His coming upon the clouds of heaven. And this moved us to write these lines.
Jamaica is undergoing a financial crisis and” is struggling for its very life. This became evident the moment we arrived, if not even before we left Chicago by Air Jamaica, the national airline of Jamaica. This is the tourist season which had its beginning December 15. We are now in the heart of that season, and yet our plane was far from full. What is more, the newspaper tells us that in January the sale of tickets dropped another 22% and January has a full week to go yet. But upon being questioned at Immigration as to how long we planned to stay, and upon answering, “six weeks”, our immigration card was stamped to indicate that we might stay two months. They would like to have us stay the extra two weeks to pour more foreign money into circulation on the island.
Store shelves are becoming bare. Many items are no longer obtainable because Jamaica will not import goods in order to keep its money at home. And last week overnight we were informed that gasoline which already cost $1.26 per imperial gallon of five quarts would have imposed upon it a 72¢ tax, bringing the price of the precious liquid to $1.98! Yesterday on our trip to Dias in the west and to Belmont on the southern side of the island we noticed the effects, for we had, for the most part, the road to ourselves. In that respect it made things, humanly speaking, much safer.
To give a little idea of the situation, go into the store and buy a few of the items which we usually buy. Potatoes sell for 50¢ a pound. A small box of Jello costs 35¢, a very small roll of toilet tissue costs 40¢. Ground beef, called mince here, may be purchased, when you can find it, for $1.95 a pound. A small 6 1/2 ounce can of tuna sells for $1.00 to $1.15 depending on the brand you buy. Even native fruits, such as oranges, which two years ago sold for 30¢ for a large plastic bag containing from 18 to 20 oranges, now sell for 60¢ to 80¢ for a dozen.
Those who take a holiday (vacation) are allowed to take along only $50. How long can one stay in Miami or New York with that amount of money; and what can one do with so little in our land or other lands which also know inflation? But get this, the Prime Minister, the head man politically, who put into effect all these restrictions, himself was getting only $22,000 a year for his salary, AND THIS HE CUT to $16,000 a year! The members of Parliament were getting $7,500 and were cut to $7,100. With these salaries they must buy their gasoline and food at the prices quoted above. What then must be the case with the man who, as we were told, gets the minimum wage of $2,080 a year? And what then of the bulk of those with whom we deal who have not even a job?
These economic woes have spawned great unrest, riots, fear, and desperation. Taxi drivers went on strike in Kingston because of the gasoline tax; and the capital city and largest city in Jamaica is without their ;services. ‘Murder, robbery, violence, and rape have multiplied; and life has become far more dangerous than in the past. For that reason among others we moved after two days from the home where we first stayed upon arrival. No, we do not trust in horses and chariots, in windows with jail-like bars in front of them, in locked doors—in that first house we had one door with four bolts and one lock to prevent breaking it down—and in barking dogs with whom we had first to get acquainted. But we, putting our trust in the God of our salvation Who sent us here, do believe that we must make use of the safety devices which He provides.
The impact of this economic situation upon the churches in Jamaica wherewith we have been dealing these years is great. The poor are simply getting poorer and the hardships become greater. The five ministers in these churches will be confronted with higher bus and taxi fares and with ever higher prices for their food and clothing. It must be remembered that the buses do not run on Sundays, so that when travel becomes necessary on Sunday to and from the churches (in some instances coming Saturday and leaving Monday is impossible because the little, 12 foot by 12 foot houses are too small to have a guest room; where the minister can sleep) must be done by taxi at a far higher rate, or by private car which is not cheap by any means. And with the rise in gasoline prices, these private cars will not only be forced to raise their prices but in many instances will be taken off the road. Consider these figures given to us by Rev. Elliott, who has to do the greatest amount of traveling, for he lives far to the east of the greater number of these churches. It costs him $14.70 to go to Mt. Lebanon which is one of the most inaccessible of the churches. The closest to his home is Lacovia; and that costs him $9.80. Mt. Lebanon requires bus transport for the greater part of the way, and then a private car from the sea coast up the steep mountain to a point some miles from the church. The last part is done by foot; and although this is the cheapest part as far as dollars and cents are concerned, it is taxing upon a man in his seventies. The trip to Cave Mt. costs him bus fare of $12.90 cents. And this, too, must be followed by a walk up a steep and high mountain road. One has to do it to know really what it is like; and one ought to walk from the sea coast up that road to the church before one dismisses it as simply a thing to be expected.
The collections taken by the congregation, if given in their entirety to the minister, would, pay only a fraction—and a small fraction at that—towards these expenses. It is easy to talk and say that these people—who were never taught to do so in the past—should learn to support them. It takes no special effort to preach to them that first things come first, and that we ought to seek the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness first in the confidence that God will add all the material that we need. But when the whole nation, those with jobs as well as those without jobs, (those in the upper brackets and those who know only a few coins, must pay the prices that are constantly rising to go to market to sell their few oranges, bananas, yams, and the like, there just will not be much more than coins to put into the collection plate. When the newspapers print their hopes that the Carter administration will be more mindful of Jamaica, and at present the newspapers are discussing the pros and cons of becoming the 52nd State in the Union of the United States of America, things are bad economically by the admission of those with salaries and jobs and worldly goods. What must it then be for those who never had much and now must pay more for their foods? They must buy from the same stores; and we see them every day pay the same prices we do when they buy their rice and milk, their salt fish, for which they stand in line when a supply appears. One can close one’s eyes to the facts, but this does not change the facts. One can say that they should give their ministers a salary and a home, but then one must also show them how to do this with next to nothing as their yearly income. Dias is providing a place to live for their minister, renting the home of the late Rev. Joshua Frame. This is a step in the right direction; but to encourage them we must not close our purse strings and expect them to do the impossible. These are small churches that cannot support a minister; and we ourselves have supported many a minister by giving subsidy to larger and wealthier congregations than these. Must we then withhold from these who by any standards are poor? Does not the word of Jesus come to us, as He sent us and called us to labor here, that the poor we always have with us? We cry that our deacons have no work to perform. The government with its social security and Medicare, Medicaid, and other welfare agencies has put them “out of business.” But have we been brought face to face with these people to ignore their need? While we sit in comfortable and beautiful churches and live in homes of the latest design with the most modern conveniences, have we no calling to these who have no windows in their churches to keep out the driving rain, no good roof to keep them dry, planks stretched across stones—and if they are rich enough, stretched across cement blocks—for seats? How about kerosene lights for your services? O, if they had money to build beautiful churches and homes for themselves and then neglected the ministry of the Word, we would have a different situation. And as the economic picture darkens here in Jamaica, saints of God who, upon being instructed plead for us to come back again next week—and we have been discussing with them the very sins which we have seen, such as visiting other churches that hold to false doctrines; the evil of common law marriages; the refusal to baptize infants and a rebaptizing of those whom they did “bless” or “consecrate”; and of giving offices to women—to show them what the Word of God says about these matters. It would do all our people good to watch them look up the verses we present as proof texts, and to hear them say that we show not what we think but what the Bible says.
Forgive us, we got carried away because we are here and see these things again at first hand. We had intended to write something else, at least to lead to another thought. Added to all these woes is the smut in the sugar cane fields and mango trees. You have just experienced unprecedented cold with snow in the Bahamas for the first time in its history. Here in Jamaica the temperature fell to 48 degrees in Mandeville and 64 in Montego Bay. These are extremely cold figures for Jamaica. But let no man say that these things cannot happen again, and that we in the United States cannot have famine. As we wrote above, the final coming of Christ casts its long shadow across the whole world. Look at it and ignore it not. We are not in the days of the shadows of the first coming of Christ. But that which cast its shadow in Canaan and was seen by Israel was not only the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem. Actually it is the shadow of Christ the King and of His coming as the glorious King of the Kingdom of heaven that cast its shadow way back into paradise after man’s fall. And since He has not yet come that way, that shadow falls also on the world today. See that in the economic woes of the world, in the storms and the destruction of our foods, in the changing climates and bitter cold. He is coming. And we are much closer to the roots of the “tree” that cast this shadow.