What Our Young People Can Do for Our Jamaican Mission Work

The staff of Beacon Lights requested me to write an article on the above-captioned subject for our young People. I do this gladly for more than one reason. For one thing, each decade brings me a bit farther removed from the “present generation” of young People. I do not believe that there is a “generation gap” in the church, but there is the distance in years, years of living and experience; a matter of old soldiers giving needed advice to ambitious and idealistic young recruits! The young salty can learn a good deal about navigation from the grizzled old sea captain! However, there is another reason why I gladly comply with this request. It warms the cockles of my heart to note that our young People too are interested in what they can do for the Mission Work in Jamaica. Such interest must not be ignored, but carefully nurtured, corrected, guided, and thus given healthy and solid encouragement.
Perhaps a word of warning may be sounded in the outset concerning a proper gauging of the situation and the status quo of the work of our churches in Jamaica. This work is not a private venture of some member acting as a liaison official between two church bodies, but is definitely work of our churches under the auspices of the Mission Committee which is chosen by the Synod, the broadest assembly of our churches. I believe that any help from the young People of our churches must honor this work of our churches as to its official capacity. In other words, our young People must “fit in” with the plan and work. They cannot very well attempt to begin their own private project, wholly disregarding the official ministry of our churches. I hasten to add that I do not hereby wish to insinuate that such is their desire of intent. I am only interested in a careful analysis of the status quo! We must be careful about the ground-work and figure the costs involved.
Then too our Young People, as well as the parents, must not have a wrong conception of the actual situation on the churches in Jamaica. We must not think at all that in coming there we will find a situation of “heathen” who have not been under the influence of the Gospel before. They have been “disciple”! (Matt. 28:19). One has but to read what Theodore Crosby Bliss writes in the Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, Vol. XII, pages 315-319, concerning the Mission in the West Indies to see that also Jamaica has received a great deal of Mission Work. Under statistics I read, “Jamaica: 18 societies; 2257 missionaries; 1852 helpers and pastors, 277 stations; 426 substations; 484 churches, 80,787 communicants; contributions $174,057.99.”
This work was done by the American Baptists and other Protestant organizations in the Eighteen Hundreds. Prior to that in the Spanish period (1556) the Jesuits were missionaries there. Later there were non-Roman missionaries: English Wesleyans (1786); the Moravians (1732); English Baptists (1813); the Church of England (1814); Scotch Presbyterians and English Congregationalists (1826-1876).
All over the island we still see and feel this influence of these erstwhile Missionary efforts. Besides the “isms” too are present in the island: Jehovah Witnesses. Seventh Day Adventism, Unity-ism and the followers of the “Lion of Judah’s Tribe,” to wit King Haile Selassie. Besides on the radio there is the presence of religious programs rating from fair to bad to worse!
From this it appears that we do not tread on virgin soil with the Gospel. Our work is not that of discipling in the first instance, but rather of “teaching them to observe all these things which I have commanded you.” Apart from the Scotch Presbyterians the doctrine of sovereign grace and the Five points of Calvinism have not been preached on the island. Due to the influence of Wesleyan Methodism there is a strong current of “holiness churches” on the island, the second “gift” of the Holy Ghost, as this goes hand in hand with a worked up enthusiasm, the holding of “night-watches” with its strong and often erroneous overtones of emotionalism.
So much of the general situation in the island!
Then too we must not forget that the churches with whom we labor are organized churches. They have their Sunday School with their teachers, and their elders and deacons in the congregation, and their ministers, whether these be local or of a more itinerant nature. They have their rather well-adopted method of teaching Sunday School, even though this method is far from ideal and the teaching is mostly memory and rote, with a few pleasant exceptions. And some of these teachers do a very good work in their little place; have excellent discipline and show a great deal of diligent devotion in their teaching.
I write this so that we may try to understand what one or more of our young people would do on the island on a given Sunday morning in some little church in the hills. They could not very well “barge in” could they? And when and if they did find their place here they would need to carefully and tactfully change some of this teaching as to method and content. This would need to be done with the help of the Missionary of our churches and in close cooperation with the ministers and elders. I believe that this could be brought about, and that, too, without the disruption of the status quo so as to give offense, or that people would take offense. The dedicated young person would need to “fit in” with the work of the Missionary and with the new program of the ministers on the island.
However, here are practical problems. If a person desired to teach school on the island he would not be able to live very near to the Missionary and his wife. Were he to live on the mountain at Mahoe he would live some 120 miles from the Missionary, or about 5 hours driving time. He would be far removed from anyone but the people with whom he lives. Somewhat fitting quarters would have to be made. And this all would cost money! Mooney to travel to and from Jamaica, money for transportation on the island, money to purchase food, and a little for lodging which would be quite primitive! Were he to live with the missionary then he would only be able to do some work on Sunday – for distance is quite a factor. And there is but one car.
Against this background of facts and observations concerning the island of Jamaica, we suggest the following:
1. That our Young People make this matter of work in Jamaica a matter of prayer and planning. Let Ora et Labora (pray and work) be their motto. As for work at the present time they can help raise monies for the funds which are now active, and for which some of our Young People have already graciously taken collections. These funds are the “Minister’s Traveling Fund” and “Student Fund.” The work in Jamaica depends primarily on these ministers preaching the Word, being tutored and instructed by our Missionaries. As for the future, plans could be made to underwrite financially a Seminarian for the summer months in Jamaica. He would need a car (rented for Sundays only) while there, and he would need to have his fare paid, plus something for living expenses. Synod will also take a look at this matter of sending a student.
2. A matter which might excite the most enthusiasm among the Young People is sending one of their number. This would mean a dedicated and consecrated person who says: here I am, send me! This would need to be done in close connection with the advice of the Mission Committee. I believe such a person should be interviewed too by the Committee after being recommended by the Young People’s Federation. Let it be understood that we are not interested in a Protestant Reformed “Peace Corps” at all, but in helpers in teaching the children and aiding in the preaching of the Gospel and “teaching them to observe all these things which I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19). This too will cost money! This may mean that a little more budgeting be the order of the day. If I am permitted the pun: One less “Retreat” for one more “treat” for the Jamaicans! One just can’t have his cake and eat it too! It would be a good course in spiritual and financial discipline. A little more being conscious that there are one hundred pennies in a dollar will not harm! We can put our affluence to a little better use than our “having another blast.”
3. That it be remembered that Mission Work is not a matter of one day, and one hour, but requires a strong faith, a steady and wise heart, and has one central goal: the preaching of the Gospel, the full counsel of God! Our Young People must not be tempted to attempt to follow mere youthful impulsive, impatient action. What is begun now by Young People must be continued by others when these Young People are married, and stand in the full realization that they are no more with the “Young People.” Any program which is started by our young People now must be such that it is sound and can stand the test of swiftly passing groups of Young People. In three years the boy of seventeen is twenty years. He that putteth his hand to the plow must not look back!
Should anyone seriously consider going to Jamaica let him consider the costs, lest beginning the building he cannot finish it!

Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 4 June July 1970