About Jamaica

By David Tant

Here is a brief description of Jamaica. Many brethren know little about the nation or the Lord’s work there. About all I knew about Jamaica was learned from TV commercials about resorts.

The land is beautiful, with much tropical vege-tation. Flowering shrubs and trees abound. The coast is beautiful, as the Caribbean surrounds the island. A mountain range rises to 7,400’. The island is 52 x 148 miles; population 2.5 million+. About half live in Kingston, the capital. Jamaica was “discovered” by Columbus in 1594, and ruled by Spain for 150 years before British 350 year rule. It was granted independence in 1962.

The people. The peaceful Arawaks that Colum-bus found were decimated, and Africans were imported as slaves to work the plantations. East Indians and Chinese came later as inden-tured servants. Slavery was abolished several years before it was in the U.S. The population is 80%+ black. In general, the people are friendly, but you will encounter rudeness and prejudice. They are also unhurried (except on the highways), operating, as they say, on ”Jamaica time.”

For various reasons, the people are lax in moral standards. 85% of children are born out of wed-lock, and many parents never marry. Some men may have 30 or 40 children by several women. Women are held in low esteem, and are often abused by men. And one needs to be cautious in business transactions, as some will cheat.

Single moms are numerous, and it seems most children grow up without the family structure. No one wants to marry a girl who can’t have children, so the pressure is on for teens to get pregnant. But the boys still won’t marry them.

Paradoxically, the people are religious. The An-glican (Episcopal) Church predominates. There are many denominations, with Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventists in abundance. Rastafarians are a bit strange, with their dreadlocks and their religious use of ganga (marijuana). They worship the late Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as a prophet of God. For the most part, it seems little teaching is done in the denominations on moral issues.

Children are everywhere, and they begin school at age 3. Most walk to school, as there are few school busses. One family we knew got up at 3:30 a.m. so the father could walk the children 3 miles to catch a bus, returning at 5 p.m. or later. In general, the educational system is very poor.

The economy is bad, and poverty and unem-ployment abound. Base wage is about 4,000J weekly ($47 US). The exchange rate was 5.47 to 1 my first trip, and now it is 85 to 1. A modest refrigerator (16cf) might cost over $2,000 US. Large cars have an import tax of 360%, so a Crown Vic that may cost $25,000 here, its cost there may have been over 12,750,000J ($150,000 US).  Many items that we take for granted are far beyond the means of most Jamaicans.

The church is weak, and only goes back a few generations. Most are institutional churches, and they operate a school of preaching in Kingston that teaches almost nothing, from what I have seen. The use of high-handed tactics has raised questions in a few preachers, and we have been able to ground some in the truth. As far as I know, there are three conservative congregations on the island. We will be working with them.  One is in Montego Bay, and the other two near the small southern town of Savanna-la-Mar.

There are many opportunities for the gospel. People will listen, and there are fewer distractions than in the U.S. Jerry Angelo first visited Jamaica in 1986, and moved there in 1990. My wife and I began going in 1987, and this will be my 60th trip. After eight years of inadequate support, the Angelos moved to Miami in 1998, but made periodic trips back to encourage the MoBay church. The church there grew from about three to over thirty during their time there. A few Jamaican preachers proved to be Judases and caused harm, as they were determined to rule, but they have been weeded out. Jerry Angelo died unexpectedly in 1999.

Our summer work is mostly VBS (with perhaps 350 students) and nightly preaching. There is not much time for individual Bible studies, though we work in some.  It takes a good bit of time for us to pick up our students, as few families have cars. Most VBS students are not from homes of Christians, and our work with them gives contacts for follow-up with their families. My winter trips afford more time for studies and making new contacts. In our work this summer, we will continue to build on our previous work. Thank you for your willingness to help.  --JDT