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My heart belongs to Jamaica - American pastor's last wish honoured as widow buries his heart in St Catherine

Published:Sunday | September 21, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A wreath on the stone which marks the spot at the Bethel Independent Baptist Church in Gutters, St Catherine, where the heart of Pastor Lemarr Young (inset) is buried. - Norman Grindley/Chief Photographer
New Town Bethel Baptist Church - Photo by Shanique Samuels
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Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

When Pastor Lemarr Young came to Jamaica as a young missionary with his wife and five children 40 years ago, it was the beginning of a love story, intertwined with religion and education.

The story ended with his heart remaining in Jamaica after his death on August 2.

Young and his wife, Frances, who came to Jamaica from Atlanta, Georgia, United States, on July 16, 1974, fell in love with the island and its people, despite the political turbulence, food shortages and political violence which heralded the 1976 and 1980 general elections.

The Youngs and their children braved the times, and four decades later, she honoured his death wish by burying his heart in the island he grew to love.

"He made me promise to bury his heart in Jamaica. He had a heart attack in 1999 and was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and had been ailing for some time. He returned to Jamaica on July 16 and he died on August 2.

"I believe he wanted to die in Jamaica. I know he wanted to be buried here, but I said: 'You know our children won't allow it', so he made me promise to bury his heart in Jamaica. I am glad I was able to keep my promise to honour his wishes," said Frances Young, from her home in Georgia.

"I am coming home to Jamaica on September 22 (tomorrow). I am here (in the US) because I took the body home. But my Jamaican family covered me with love all through the time immediately after his death. So I am really anxious to come home," added the still grieving widow.

CHILDREN REMAIN IN UNITED STATES

However, she will not be with any of her five children as they have decided to live in the United States. According to Frances, one son was willing to come back as a missionary, but his wife did not agree and he remains in the US.

Lemarr and Frances Young pioneered the birth and growth of the Independent Baptist churches in Jamaica. Forty years later, there are four large churches, 32 Bible college graduates, and more than 20 pastors preaching in The Bahamas, the United States and Canada.

"I remember it being very hot when we came to Jamaica. It was so hot, but we were very happy that God was sending us to a place where the people spoke English. The accent is so beautiful. I know the Patois; my children speak it very well. I don't really speak it, but I understand it well," said Frances.

"It was a culture shock for us when we came to Jamaica from Georgia. We faced food shortages [and] electricity being off more often than it was on, but the Jamaican spirit was never broken. It was one of our enduring memories. Also all the persons who have come to know Christ through my husband's ministry," she told The Sunday Gleaner.

The food shortage in the early years forced them to eat Jamaican dishes - which they came to love - and that, among other things, formed the beginning of their love affair with Jamaica.

Their first church was on lands leased to Pastor Young at Palmer's Cross, Clarendon. That church is now the New Town Independent Baptist Church, with the land for its construction secured though a lease from the Sugar Industry Authority of Jamaica.

"But we turned over that church to another mission board because there a shortage of missionaries. Then we moved to St Catherine - a piece of land was donated there. We held our first meeting under a tree in someone's yard on February 17, 1980. Now it's a beautiful building. Thirty-four years later, it's a wonderful church."

That church is located in Gutters, just outside Old Harbour, and is called Bethel Independent Baptist Church. It is at this property that the heart of the beloved pastor is buried at the entrance to the church.

SECURING HEADSTONE

Members are currently trying to secure a headstone to mark its final resting place. A basic school is also located on the property and is run by members of the church.

"I have a very big Jamaican family. We remained in the May Pen area for nearly 40 years, as that is where we founded a house large enough for the children. I taught Sunday school, children's ministry, women's ministry, and I went on visitations with him. I supported him in every way I could, until the last breath," said the widow.

One member of that extended family is Andrea Gayle-Brown, who has nothing but praise for the late pastor and his widow.

"Of all the missionaries and white people who have come to Jamaica. he was a true lover of Jamaicans. He took us into his home. It did not matter what background you were from, he would help you to go to school because education was always a must for him.

When I was young and he came, I was weary because I was sceptical of white people, but he was a white man with black vibes who loved black people," said Gayle-Brown, as she pointed to the spot where Young's heart is buried.

"He did not believe in just coming to Jamaica and preaching to a man, he believed in the total man and that he had to help the whole man for him to survive, and that was his mission and his aim," added Gayle-Brown.

She recalled that the pastor encouraged her to return to school, through Bible college then teachers' college to the present, where she is the founder and operator of the basic school which now operates on the church property.

"I am a product of him because of what he invested in my life," declared Gayle-Brown emphatically.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com