Title: The Story of the Jamaican Missions - How The Gospel Went From Jamaica to the World
Writer: Lloyd A. Cooke
Publisher: Arawak Publications
Reviewer: Paul H. Williams
When I got The Story of the Jamaican Missions to review, I was very nonchalant about it. The title wasn't exciting, it was 672 pages, and I had absolutely no interest in the subject matter. But, as I flipped through the pages, I realised there were pieces of information relating to Jamaican history that were of interest to me. Even the history of how the Christian denominations were established in Jamaica got me hooked.
This 25-chapter bareback turned out to be very interesting and thought-provoking, and it was to also compound some of the issues I have with the Church. The book is essentially about the work of the European and American missionaries (Congregationalists, Roman Catholics, Quakers, Anglicans, Moravians, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians) who came to Jamaica, and the Jamaica who in turn, went abroad to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's about their challenges and accomplishments.
"Hence began the waves of gospel proliferation from Jamaica that saw, not just western Africa, but the entire Caribbean archipelago and many South and Central American countries, as well, receiving Jamaican sons and daughters as bearers of the eternal light of the gospel to their people. This is the amazing story that I set out to tell in these pages," Cooke writes in his preface.
Yet, within "the amazing story" are embedded amazing ironies, the most glaring of which are the racism, discrimination and inequality that existed among the missionaries, who were supposed to be united in their propagation of the gospel. For instance, on a voyage to Africa of Jamaicans and non-Jamaicans, "No kitchen facilities had been provided for the Jamaicans, and when Mr Clarke found a stove for them the captain had them move to an area where spray from the sea was a problem."
Also, "Racism seemed also to have played a part in the decision of some of the Jamaicans to return home. Their position had always been an ambiguous one. They were never, except for Merrick and Alexander Fuller, seen as missionaries," Cooke writes. "It is also clear that Saker himself did not have either a very good relationship with, or high regard for many Jamaicans who come out to Africa in 1844 ... His regard for the work of Merrick and the Princes, who were Jamaicans of lighter hue, reflected the attitude at the times."
And the contempt that some of these missionaries had for the people they met on their missions was really borne out of their own ignorance and arrogance, it seems, as the following quotes reveal: "Their lives were ruled instead by fetishes spells and charms which were an integral part of their way of life: witchcraft and black magic ruled", "Life among them was primitive, with the people usually going nude, by choice", "At Biandung he was distressed by the ignorance and moral decadence of the people" and "It was to a people bound in superstition, rampant in cruelty, hardened in sin that the missionaries went with their appeal."
That Cooke should include the elements of racism, discrimination, inequality and contempt is commendable as they give balance to his amazing story, of which I find the historical elements, which I mentioned before, to be personally useful and informative. Of particular interest to me is the fact that the Baptist Church in Jamaica was first established by black Americans led by the Virginia-born George Liele (Lisle elsewhere), who constructed a church on three acres of land at the corner of Elletson Road and Victoria Avenue.
"This took place in 1791, becoming the first church in Jamaica to be started and led by a black man ... But Liele incurred expenses in building the church, and was jailed when he couldn't pay the debts," Cooke writes. Poor George! He was not gifted with the art of offering-collection like our present-day preachers.