Prayer breakfasts and dons who hear from God
It was 1980, and the general election was just over. It had been the bloodiest election ever held in Jamaica, with both leading political parties alleged to have had gangs of gunmen on their side.
Certainly, many people had been killed, houses had been burnt down, and many residents dislocated. What was worse, the end of the election had not meant the end of the conflict. It seemed as if Jamaica was heading towards a civil war.
I was led to turn to God in prayer. It seemed clear that there had to be some attempt at reconciliation between the political parties or disaster was ahead. For me, the only hope for peace and a restoration of calm was if the Church could exert its influence on the nation and change people's hearts. Only one person could do that - God, through the earnest prayer of His people.
As I prayed for reconciliation, a clear word came to me: You must form a National Committee for Prayer and Reconciliation, and as many churches as possible must be involved.
As I got up from my knees feeling certain that the Lord had spoken, the telephone rang. I took it up and the voice at the other end was someone from whom I had not heard for many years. It was someone I knew to be a very dedicated Christian and church leader - Peter Morgan (now Bishop Peter Morgan).
Naturally, I was surprised to hear his voice. He said to me, "Earl, I was just in prayer, and the Lord told me that I must join with you in forming a National Committee for Prayer and Reconciliation." I could not believe my ears! That the Lord should speak to two persons in different parts of Jamaica (Peter Morgan was in Montego Bay; I was in Kingston) who had not seen each other for years, and give them the same command, seemed impossible. I had never experienced anything like that before.
Nevertheless, we both agreed to go to the Jamaica Council of Churches as soon as possible and tell the organisation what Christ had said to us.
We went, and, surprisingly, the leadership of the JCC decided to act on our recommendation, and to contact the other umbrella church groups, including the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals, the largest grouping of churches in Jamaica. Perhaps the desperate state of the nation caused them to act in an unusually swift manner. In no time at all, the National Committee for Prayer and Reconciliation was formed.
It was felt that in order to ensure full participation of as many churches as possible, the leadership of the committee should include a representative of not only the Jamaica Council of Churches, but also the Jamaica Association of Evangelicals. It was, therefore, decided to invite the then Mr (now Rev) Gerry Gallimore, an outstanding Christian leader, to be co-chairman with me.
The National Committee met and decided to concentrate on five specific aims:
1. As ministers of religion, to enter upon times of united prayer for Jamaica, across denominational lines. The first of such prayer times was held at the Holy Cross Roman Catholic Church in Half-Way Tree, and I can remember a minister of one of the younger churches saying to me that it was the first time that he had prayed alongside a Roman Catholic priest!
2. As the representatives of Christ, to enter into the communities which were the most violent, and seek to bring about peace treaties between the warring factions, including the political representatives. West Kingston was the first area targeted.
3. To seek to bring together the leaders of the nation, in politics, business and commerce, etc., and influence them towards accepting and practising the principles of Christ, Gerry Gallimore, pointing to the practice of the United States, proposed that Jamaica institute a National Prayer Breakfast similar to that which took place each year in Washington. This was the genesis of the now-familiar National Leadership Prayer Breakfast held in January.
4. To seek to influence the whole population of Jamaica towards a regular time of prayer for the nation, the Rev Cleve Grant proposed a daily time of prayer and meditation at noon, to be observed by the main radio stations. This has continued on RJR for the past 30 years! Originally, it was led by Rev Grant, and now by the Rev Gary Harriott, general secretary of the JCC.
5. To seek, as resources permitted, to assist in the material development of the troubled communities.
While some of these objectives could be accomplished by actions on the part of the Church, the most difficult one, that of initiating the peace treaties, involved the full participation of communities, politicians, factions and even armed gangs. Fortunately, some of the ministers and churches were situated within the targeted communities and already had contacts with even some of the gangs.
One such person was Msgr Richard Albert, who was ministering in St Anne's Roman Catholic Church in the heart of West Kingston. He was a fearless person, and had made several approaches to the gang leaders trying to bring about peace. Through his instrumentality and that of other ministers in that community, a meeting was held to discuss the possibility of an end to the violent strife.
The factions were eventually persuaded to recognise that the election was over, that the population had to be reconciled to the results, and normality had to be restored for the future of the nation.
A special service was arranged at the Halibethan Church in West Kingston that was led by Claudius Massop, who was the community leader of the faction alleged to be aligned to the Jamaica Labour Party. The leader of the faction aligned to the People's National Party, 'Bucky' Thompson, members of the National Committee, and the political leaders were all there.
THE FIRST PEACE TREATY
At that service, the first peace treaty was signed and it involved not only the warring factions, but also the political leaders of both parties. It was a historic occasion, as it set the tone for subsequent truces that were signed afterwards. The main aim of the National Committee for Prayer and Reconciliation had been achieved. The National Leadership Prayer Breakfast was soon instituted, as was the prayer for the nation at noon.
But a remarkable sequel to that signing was disclosed in a strange way. One day after the signing, I was in the parking lot of RJR when 'Bucky' Thompson rode up on his motorcycle and recognised me as having participated in the signing of the peace treaty.
He said to me, "You ministers think that it was you who make us sign that peace treaty. It wasn't you, you know. It was Jesus Christ. I was in bed one night and I saw a man come to me. He was dressed in full white, and He said to me, 'Bucky' Thompson, you are going to go to Massop, and both of you are going to sign the peace treaty.' Is I who went to Massop and say to him, 'We have to sign the peace treaty.' That is how it sign. Is not you. Is Jesus make we sign it.'" And he rode off.
Here is the truth. Christ had not only spoken to Peter Morgan and me. He had also spoken to 'Bucky' Thompson, the gang leader!
These are the facts about the National Leadership Prayer Breakfast and the first peace treaty. Impossible though it may seem, they were not the work of human hands. God was behind it all.