I recently had the pleasure of accompanying Dr. Larry Saunders on a visit to the Let the Bible Speak Church in Little London, Jamaica. During my flight home, I was organizing my thoughts for a presentation to our own congregation in Winston Salem. The Lord impressed on my mind Paul’s words to the church in Corinth where he said, “I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase” (I Corinthians 3:6). The point of this verse is that the work of God is bigger than any one man, but in the providence of God, He uses the collective efforts of men to accomplish His purposes. When I contemplate the work in Jamaica, I see this verse illustrated.
The Free Presbyterian mission work in Little London, Jamaica began with the burden of Mrs. Barbara Nichols for the children of the community. She began holding children’s Bible classes under a large tree located on the front of her property. Through her connection with the Free Presbyterian Church in Toronto, eventually a mission work was formed on the same piece of land. Drs. Frank McClelland and Larry Saunders have been instrumental in guiding the work. For the past thirty years or so, various missionaries have come and gone. Some have ministered for a matter of months while others remained in the work for years. The longest serving missionary to work in Jamaica was Rev. Paul Fitzsimons. Pastor Paul, as he is called by the folks there, served in Jamaica for three different periods of time. The people in the church fondly speak of the “three missionary journeys” of Pastor Paul.
Mr. Richard Craig and Mr. Randy Gunnings are the two men who oversee the work now. Pastor Paul had a tremendous spiritual impact in the lives of both of these men. Richard has the responsibility for doing most of the preaching now. While I was there, it was a blessing to hear him speak about Pastor Paul’s ministry and the influence he had. During one of our conversations, Dr. Saunders asked Richard what first drew him to the church. Richard immediately said that it was the preaching. He said that Pastor Paul’s preaching was very different from what he had known previously growing up in the local Anglican church. When I had the opportunity to speak with several of the older ladies in the congregation, Miss Ina, Mrs. Jean, and Mrs. Wallace, they all spoke of their spiritual growth under Pastor Paul’s ministry.
From my perspective, the work is in a period of transition now away from a “mission work” to a real Jamaican congregation of believers. Richard and Randy are native Jamaicans and have grown up in the work. Richard Craig has recently started ministerial training under the care of the Presbytery. He has a burden for the work of God, and for many years has been laboring faithfully among the people. Richard has carried a heavy load, balancing church work with his secular work and family responsibilities. Without a foreign missionary present, the work needs a local pastor. For all practical purposes, Richard has been fulfilling that role, and with the Lord’s help has been doing an excellent job. Recently, the Mission Board has made some financial provisions for Richard so that he will be able to devote a much larger portion of his time to the work of the ministry. Please pray for Richard as he continues his training in the Seminary. Currently, he is being mentored in his studies by Rev. Geoff Banister from the Free Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis.
Mr. Randy Gunnings assists with some of the church responsibilities, and between these two men, the ministry continues. They both minister in some of the local schools and are able to freely present the gospel to the students there. Randy’s testimony and vision for the future of the work is to see a larger ministry among the children develop. In the past, under the leadership of Pastor Paul, the children’s ministry was a large part of the work. The current church leadership came from that ministry, and no doubt the future leadership will develop from it as well. As with all of our congregations, it is vital that the Lord do a work of grace in the heart of our children.
In addition to the spiritual needs in the congregation, there are physical needs as well. The primary need now is for a new bus. Richard and Randy drive to pick up well over half of the congregation to bring them to the services. The bus they use has been good over the years, but it is badly in need of replacement. As I rode in the bus down the rough streets of Jamaica, I could see the pavement beneath my feet through the rusty holes in the floorboard. We also had to put the sliding door back in its track several times after it fell off. The vehicle is in constant need of repair, so the best thing to do is simply replace it. The Mission Board is putting out an appeal to all of our congregations to raise approximately $40,000 USD to purchase a larger capacity and more reliable bus. If the Lord burdens your heart to contribute to this need, you can give a donation through your local congregation and direct the funds to the FPCNA Mission Board for the Jamaica Bus Fund.
Pray for Jamaica that God would give the increase. Since the beginning of the work, many have planted and many have watered, but only God can give the increase. Here are some other items for you to uphold in prayer:
1. The salvation of many souls
2. Spiritual growth among the children
3. Protection for the people due to the rise of violence in the area
4. Richard Craig and his ministerial studies
5. Randy Gunnings and his assistance in the congregation
6. For the fear of God to descend upon Jamaica
Rev. Derrick Bowman is associate minister at Grace FPC, Winston Salem, NC.