Jamaica in January. For course credit? Sign me up! Seven of us made our way from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Jamaica this past January for the course Jamaica: History, Culture, and the Moravians offered at Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem. The Rev Dr. Craig Atwood and Bishop Hopeton Clennon led our travels; along for the ride were seminarians Greg Behrend, Adam Goodman, Timothy Naisby and Naomi Solomon, along with Laura Gordon, pastor of Advent Moravian Church in Bethlehem.
When you live in the Northeast, escaping to the Caribbean clime in the thick of winter is a dream come true. Cut to images of soaking up the sun on white, sandy beaches to the tune of tranquil, teal tides. This is one way to travel to Jamaica. Yet the warmth we encountered was far more cultural than climate-based.
The purpose of our journey was not surf and sand, but cultural immersion. Unlike many who enjoy Jamaica laden with luxury in resorts, we traversed the better part of the island in a van to experience life beyond the gated tourist destinations, and what a life we discovered!
From historical sites, to myriad churches, to authentic cuisine and, most of all, worship and fellowship with Moravian brothers and sisters, we found ourselves laden with the luxury of Jamaican hospitality and love.
Following are reflections from three of the travelers.
“Auntie Laura!” Malik’s voice carried through the door on our last morning in Jamaica, one final goodbye before he headed off to school.
I first met him en route to worship a few days before, when he and his mother, United Theological College student Marsha Brown, rode with me to Redeemer Moravian Church in Kingston. Malik’s bright smile, energetic spirit,and outpouring of love won me over. For me, he embodied Jamaica.
I encountered many wonderful people in Jamaica, yet it was the children I met who made the deepest impression. I was particularly moved by our visits to the Mannings Boys’ Home and Mustard Seed Communities. Mannings is a home for boys who have no home; some wards of the state, others unable to live at home due to various circumstances. Mustard Seed Communities cares for children with special needs, some living at the community their whole lives. At both places, love is present in those who care for the children. That love makes it possible for the least and forgotten to know and offer love to others. Smiles and hugs are given with abandon from many of the children. Some are reticent, no doubt wounded by their suffering; but with gentle coaxing they come around, sharing their gifts with visitors. From a rap to a soulful song to angels handcrafted of clay, God’s Spirit was evident in places that at first glance seemed abandoned.
Bob Marley’s song “Smile Jamaica” sums up my experience best: “Soulful town, soulful people: Said, I see you’re having fun/Dancin’ to the reggae rhythm/Oh, island in the sun/Oh, smile!/You’re in Jamaica: C’mon and smile!”
This is Jamaica to me: Malik, who still sends me a message from time to time and tells me he loves me. The boys at Mannings, who welcome strangers with care and curiosity. The children at Mustard Seed, whose lack of physical ability was more than conquered by the love in their eyes. When I think of them, I am back in Jamaica, surrounded by warmth and love, and I cannot help but smile.
—The Rev. Laura Gordon, pastor, Advent Moravian Church
When reflecting back on this trip, I see this experience as something that has further developed the horizon of my understanding of ministry, especially Moravian ministry. I was able to see what being a Moravian looks like and feels like in a culture and context that is unfamiliar to me. This was a chance for me to grow as an individual, and grow I certainly did.
Jamaican Moravians have an important chapter in the Moravian mission movement of the 18th century, with its own unique stories. The Moravian Church in Jamaica has a personal touch that can be found nowhere else in the world and cannot be replicated as it was once lived. It is unique because it is filled with the stories of individuals; with each individual comes a personal touch to the idea of community.
The important thing for me to remember with the people of Jamaica and all of God’s children is that each person has a story worth being heard by someone. As I reflect back today, I find myself wondering more then ever: “What would the world be like if we all listened to one another, rather than simply told our own story to one another?”
When it comes to Jamaican culture, I learned that I like the food, I like the beautiful scenery, the heat does not like me and, most importantly, that I love the people. The people of Jamaica love their country and love who they are, but the most beautiful part about the culture is that they do not live in their own bubbles and bounce off one another when they get too close. They live in one large bubble called Jamaica. In many ways, the Jamaican culture is much more united then the American culture will ever be.
The contemporary Moravian Church in Jamaica focuses a great deal of its energy on building each other up within the church. The biggest outreach ministry I noticed was the support for education by the Moravian church.
Music is also another big part of contemporary Moravian church life. Like many Moravians around the world, Jamaican Moravians can make a joyful noise and, based on the worship service I attended, this is very important.
On this trip, the biggest thing I learned about my own culture is how isolated we keep ourselves from one another in the United States. There is a level of comfort and respect for privacy that I have grown up with that is a unique part of American culture. In some ways, I can see the benefits of this, but when it comes to ministry, I think this is a difficult obstacle to manage.
One assumption that I hoped would have been changed is how the Bible is viewed by Moravians in Jamaica. I wanted to gain a deeper sense of why Jamaican Moravians hold to homosexuality being such an issue and to dig into reasons beyond the biblical context.
Lastly, the group in which we traveled with taught me how important it is to always remain young at heart, whether that means going off the rope swing into the river even, when your shoulder says you shouldn’t, or understanding that it is ok not to have all of the answers.
It is important for me and my ministry going forward that I remember I am only 27 years old. I need to remind myself not to be put the full load on my back. Above all, love deeply and hold onto Christ in all that I do, for it is through Christ alone that I will find the strength and joy to endure all that life may bring my way.
— Greg Behrend, Seminary Senior
While Moravians in Jamaica throughout history weren’t perfect, they certainly did a lot for this country in terms of education and meeting the spiritual and physical needs of folks in the community. Jamaica has been through foreign rule, slavery, revolt and political struggles. In my view, this is a country that has fought and continues to fight to claim its own identity. So many things have been forced upon the Jamaican people throughout history, but now they are defining themselves. People in Jamaica seem to be more aware of their own culture and history, and as a result they have more pride and a sense of who they are and who they want to be.
I was impressed by the ministry for high-school drop outs at New Irwin Moravian Church. The contemporary Moravian Church still dedicates itself to education and lends a hand to local primary schools as well. The Moravian Church in Jamaica is known and recognized so much more than the church is in America due to the church’s impact on education in Jamaica. Because the church is well known in Jamaica, it makes it that much more damaging when incidents happen like the scandal we watched unfold. (Ed. note: In late December and early January, charges of sexual misconduct were levied against three Moravian ministers in Jamaica). A lot of what I witnessed in regard to the modern Moravian Church was how the church is impacted by a major crisis. I witnessed the pain and many lives that were impacted by the decisions of just a few. This was a good lesson for me to learn about how careful I must be as a pastor to help keep people safe and make sure that a similar crisis does not happen on my watch.
This was my first trip to a developing country and my first time truly being a racial minority. This was eye opening for me and has changed the way I view the world. I feel like I am able to empathize with people better now. I feel like I am one step closer to understanding what it means to seek out “one love and one heart” as Marley sings about. I’ve learned that “developed” countries can sometimes be less “developed” when it comes to living in joy and community, whereas “developing” countries can have the capacity to overflow with these virtues. In terms of my response to this trip in what I have learned and experienced, all I can say is thank you. I’m feelin’ alright, mon.
— Adam Goodrich, Seminary Senior
Thanks to the Rt. Rev. Hopeton Clennon for the photos accompanying this article.