Travels to Jamaica enhance love and fellowship

How do we facilitate mission in the 21st century? It starts with eager interest. One day friends Sallie Greenfield of the Southern Province and the Rev. Dr. Chris Nelson, retired director of Moravian Seminary advancement, were talking about how neither had been to Jamaica. Chris turned to the most knowledgable Moravian of Jamaican origin she knew, Rt. Rev. C. Hopeton Clennon and asked if he would be interested in helping put a trip together. He immediately said, “You have made my day!”

Under Bishop Clennon’s guidance eight missioners went on a 7-day tour of Jamaica with a goal to “strengthen mutual awareness and facilitate partnership in the mission of our Lord. The hope is that these cross-cultural face-to-face experiences will enhance the love and fellowship we value in the worldwide Moravian Unity.” New relationships were formed as Northern Province members Hank and Karen Naisby and Chris Nelson joined with Southern Province members Sallie Greenfield, Jim and Roberta Pettit, Barbara Strauss and Sarah Jennings.

Landing in Montego Bay, then driving along the north coast on a beautifully smooth highway, we made our way to Kingston, the capital of Jamaica. After an early Rotary meeting where Hopeton and Chris enjoyed local hospitality and the induction of three new young professional women into International Rotary, the group was off to King’s House, the official residence and office of his Excellency the Governor-General. His wife, Lady Allen, warmly shared island history and religious experiences. Rev. Phyllis Smith-Seymour, President of the Jamaica PEC, joined us, describing the Moravians early arrival on the Island in 1754. Moravian mission work focused on the southwestern region of the island. Reminiscent of the American experience, Jamaican indigenous populations suffered greatly after European entry due to forced labor on the plantations and disease.

Next, Rev. Neilson Waithe, Moravian Warden and Tutor of the United Theological College of the West Indies, introduced us to their model of ecumenism where ministerial candidates of Anglican, Moravian, United Church, Baptist, Lutheran and Methodist Church of the Caribbean receive training together. 100 students live in “cottages” with a beautiful view of the Blue Mountains. Gifts were donated for their library. Moravian seminarians Judy Winspeare-Philip and Barnabas Nyirenda joined us for lunch. Judy seeks to return to her native Antigua and pastor a rural church; Barnabas will build on his family’s musical ministry by serving in local churches.

Three reproductions of historic drawings of Moravian Jamaican churches produced by the Moravian Archives were delivered to the Institute of Jamaica, the most significant cultural, artistic and scientific organization in the country. With great enthusiasm their staff thanked us, sharing a most insightful tour of their botany and music departments. We barely kept Barbara from banging the bongos!

Meal times were always times of great fellowship as members of various district churches, Moravian institutions and friends joined us for conversation while feasting on delicious jerk chicken and pork, fish, yam, plantain, fruit, ackee, bammy, rice and peas. Surry District in Kingston overwhelmed us with their joking and laughter; Eastern District presented a unique House of Bread display and presentations on music, education and youth, which culminated in a spirit-filled time of deep fellowship as we fed each other from 14 different breads; Western District gathered at a beautiful home in Robin’s River where three women and I entered into a wonderful discussion about women’s small-group ministry as transformational in our lives; and Central District, meeting at Bethlehem Moravian College, shared local concerns and joys along with a session about logwood by Bishop Devon Anglin.

Jamaica exemplifies the Moravian theme of education for all children with the churches establishing high quality schools. We visited and brought supplies to many including Morris Knibb Preparatory School in Kingston where the principal decorates the bathrooms with superheroes to encourage superior student behavior.

Exterior walls of Lititz Primary School in St. Elizabeth and Salem Primary & Junior High School in Westmoreland were covered with maps of the Caribbean and the world. The students, so eager to greet us, gathered around each one of us, touching Sarah’s hair, listening to Roberta’s questions, the boys playing cat and mouse with Jim. A bunch piled into our van despite Hank’s best efforts to draw them out, as they wanted to go with us.

Holly Hill Primary and Infant School put on wonderful Maypole and native dance exhibitions, expressing their work of unity of peoples within Jamaica and around the world. Our hopes for the future of the church and world were refreshed through the wonder of these children and their enthusiastic hospitality. 

Our visits to churches were so comfortable as we entered sanctuaries with familiar names and beautiful architecture: Covenant, Mizpah, Zorn, New Beulah, Lititz, New Hope, Salem, Beaufort. The Jamaica-U.S. connection was celebrated via the 80th birthday party of Sister Miriam Barnes, matriarch of Moravia Moravian Church in Jamaica and elder at John Hus Moravian in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rev. Dr. Michael Johnson and 20 members of John Hus joined in the celebration of a life well lived! Sister Miriam continues to serve as an inspiration for Moravians everywhere. Plans are in the making for her 90th birthday celebration in 2029!

Important partnerships continue, such as at Camp Hope in Westmoreland, where a campaign to provide new bunk beds and mattresses is underway, and a group of Moravian College (U.S.) students led by Bishop Clennon continue the tradition of spring-break work camp.

Other potential new collaborations are being explored. An offer to attend the upcoming Women’s Conference in Winston-Salem was given and accepted by the PEC president and a seminarian to continue the growing friendships! Bishop Stanley Clark led a discussion on Unitas, the service agency of the Jamaican Province. Moravians inherit church lands that are not being fully utilized. They are looking for partners to work with them to develop projects that benefit local communities. Currently underway are roadside computer centers, anger management training for schools, water collection projects, greenhouse sustainable farming, and bee keeping undertakings. Members of our troupe are dreaming of ways to work together, possibly even drawing in local Rotary Clubs or Sallie’s thought of bringing Cubans and Jamaicans together so that each can benefit from the others experience. These wonderful models need to be shared and grow!

Our awareness about the Jamaican church, people and country grew tremendously. Our sisters and brothers are faith-filled, strong and extraordinarily hospitable. Mother Teresa’s words came to me as this adventure came to a close: “We can do no great things…only small things with great love.” Our cross-cultural face-to-face experiences did generate love and renewed determination to work together! Interested? Join us by contacting any of us as we keep growing the love!

Article and photos by the Rev. Dr. Chris Nelson, retired director of advancement, Moravian College and Moravian Theological Seminary.