John Mark Bartlett and Bobby Wilmot
Recently, several pastors from churches in volatile communities were hosted at the Gleaner's Editors' Forum. Today we present excerpts from the sitting.
Crime: A natural progression
Rev Ashley Smith from the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands:
The situation in Jamaica has been in the making for a long time. Most of the crime is committed by black young men. We have never shown any respect to the black boy in the society. He doesn't get any respect even in the church. Sometimes he is 'dissed', and this has been so for several decades. He has got to the point where he sees himself as not being part of mainstream society, which is represented by the church too, and I think the church along with the other stakeholders will have to take another look at the things we have taught about other people, about some of the people who have been excluded from mainstream society.
Pastor Errol Holness of the
Vision Apostolic Church:
I think it is both a spiritual and a social problem, where our breakdown in the home and the family has a direct linkage to the problems we face. There is just no escaping the fact that all of this comes right back to your foundation, your home. It reflects itself in the church, in the school in the wider community.
On Garrison communities
Pastor John Mark Bartlett
of Pentecostal Tabernacle:
Listen to how our politicians talk: 'This is a PNP community.' 'This is a JLP community.' 'This is my community.' It's not a Jamaican community, it's a PNP community. What does that say to a JLP supporter? It's a JLP community. What does that say to a PNP supporter? Keep out. And now that the monster has been created and nobody can kill it, we withdraw and we are trying to wash our hands, but it's there, until we work just as hard to systematically dismantle that situation but who has the will to do that? It means the loss of an election, that's what it means.
Pastor Bobby Wilmot of Joy Town Covenant Community Church:
Within the last five to 10 years the political agenda has not been that strong on the table. However, the residue of it is what we have had to be dealing with in the inner cities.
A man may approach me, for example, he would say: "Pastor me not firing nuh gun for such and such a side." Because time has proven that it is not putting food on his table. But, because he has been unable to find a proper alternative, he has had to deal with the pressure of when a gang member or don man says, "We going on a move; we a guh do a robbery up so." And they will come and check with him, he will come to me and reason: "Bwoy Pastor, the man dem check mi seh dem a guh so, mi youth fi guh school". And he wants to go. And I will sit with him and reason and tell him: "...Well, even if you go, the man up so a wait fi you too, so nuh think seh you can just guh tek fi him own."The greatest obstacle the church is facing is the whole issue of lack of employment, lack of alternatives for these youth.
Tackling the crime monster
...I have been in fora where as men, we have thrown up our hands, not in despair, but in the realities that, 'Man alive, this thing deeper than we have thought. This thing bigger than we had thought.' Especially in some communities, we have seen
waves and waves. We have eyeballed men and said: 'Listen, we have never prayed for you to be removed by our God, because our God kills
people to get them out of the way, but He will give you a chance to repent. We have had occasions where after the interface, we got the men to agree to lay down arms. They said, 'All right, we a park our irons; we lay it down because we see it a hinder progress.' And then the next thing we know, within a couple months, there is a new wave of criminal teenagers emerging.
A sinister plot
... Church leaders now are saying this thing is deeper than it appears on the surface, and there are some sinister spiritual laws in operation. We see an example in the Bible where, when a community had committed a crime, they said they would measure to the nearest city and they would go and get the elders and tell them to perform a ritual of atonement. We have had to be examining that. The question is: Have we just been dealing with the branches, is there some root cause?
Another person did a survey and found that in one particular community in the east, west, north and south, the entire area was bounded by cemeteries and places for the burial of the dead. And we began to examine that and wondering if we are up against sinister forces, that is, like the thing repeating itself ... repeating itself.
Pastor Ian Muirhead of
Upper Room Community Church:
One of the things that the church ought to be doing is to seek to better understand the times that we live in. Seek to better understand the obstacles that are out there in our communities that will prevent us from ministering as effectively as we can. It's simplistic to believe that by
reaching out to these gangs that there are no other influences that are associated with the gangs. You will have influences outside of
communities. It is a known fact in several
communities you have linkages between these gangs and other gangs in other communities.
The role of the church
... I believe that there is a whole lot more that the church can do in the society regardless of whether or not the powers that be recognise the worth of the church .
For instance, in terms of social interventions in the community. "Love thy neighbour as thy self", that is a powerful tool that the church has. We don't need a lot of money to do this. One of the things I have learned, sometimes church people say well I don't have millions to do something, but what I find is that if you have $100 you begin to work that $100 in some way. Two things happen. Whoever that $100 can touch, they are impacted. Secondly, I find that God is faithful to bless us when we use the little that we have, more will begin to come in. I also believe that the church needs to really research the communities in which it operates, and develop new and
different methodologies to try and impact the area.
Are there criminals in the pews?
... In my own church community, I have recognised that you have people in different states of evolution in terms of Christian character, and I recognise that you have people in the congregation who will have relatives that are involved in criminal activities, but as a pastor I declare
righteousness to them. From my perspective, I urge members of the congregation to stand for righteousness. The truth is that no family is safe in encouraging such activities among family members.
I actually made an appeal to the members of the congregation. I said to them: "Look, we need to get some people to work in this community on a day to day basis." So, we have embarked on a programme where we have persons going to every house in this community over a two-year period From Hanover Street to Price Lane. East Queen Street is our border. We visit every home, have prayer, interact with the people, find out what their needs are.
We are linking and networking, because the church has woken up. We recognise that gangsters are having their network, it was no secret that gangsters were networking. Men in different communities were linking with other men and the church responded. We were very clear that we could not say to the guys in a particular
community. 'Surrender your weapons,' we knew they had weapons, but the fact of the matter, we were very aware that there were other communities that had weapons also and it served as a balancing thing. One of things I am glad that I am a part of is that as God says, "Be wise as a serpent,
harmless a as dove." And the church has wised up. Now, let's face it, the problem that we have was not an overnight problem, and neither is the solution.
Rev. Desmond Robinson of the
Seventh-Day Adventist Church:
The Seventh-day Adventist Church like other churches sees itself as one that ministers to everybody. So even though some would be
characterised as those from the lowest common denominator, we also try to embrace them because the don who dies has a mother, and may leave children behind. So, although he might have lived a life that was not a "church life", we see a ministry that can come out of the bad situation. So we have taken the risk of hosting some of these funerals, and we have had some challenging results, but we are dealing with then.
We have looked at what has transpired with the funerals of Bogle, and there was one in Spanish Town that is not very well known, but the church came under threat. But, we have insisted on standing by the community. We are insisting that our church exists for ministering to everybody. We are tidying up the rules governing funerals and so on, it will be published soon. The headquarters, the West Indies Union Office, is looking at it. But it is not with the intention of abandoning the inner-city community nor abandoning those who have died violently. It is a matter of saying the church is a sacred spot and we expect it to be respected, and when you come, we minister to you, we offer counselling to the family.