‘You feel like you’re in heaven’ — Caribbean Lectureship honors Botham Jean
ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada — The staccato, bass tones drifted across…
GRAND ANSE, Grenada — “Don’t Worry About a Thing” was an appropriate sermon title for the 50th Caribbean Lectureship.
COVID-19 delayed the annual gathering of Churches of Christ three times. During those years, the pandemic did a number on the tourism-dependent islands that stretch in a skinny arc from the tip of Florida to the top of South America.
More than 2 million people in the Caribbean lost jobs, according to the International Labor Organization. Although vacationers are returning, some islands have inflation rates in excess of 9 percent per year, the World Bank reports.
Churches have been slow to reassemble. Some members still attend exclusively online. Preachers are hard to come by — and harder to support. Often, the churches’ best and brightest take jobs in the U.S.
But people of faith shouldn’t worry, Albert Isaac said, because “every little thing gonna be alright.”
“And we don’t need Bob Marley to tell us that,” the minister said to a ballroom of nearly 500 Christians from across the islands, the U.S. and England.
Two thousand years before the Jamaican-born king of reggae penned the lyrics to his Caribbean anthem, Jesus told his followers that God would provide for them just as he does for the sparrows and wildflowers.
“Mr. COVID thought he was in control, but God is in control!”
“Mr. COVID thought he was in control, but God is in control!” Isaac, who preaches for the Blowing Point Church of Christ in Anguilla, said to a chorus of amens.
The lectureship’s theme, “Release, Relieve, Restore,” came from Leviticus 25, in which the Lord commanded the children of Israel to consecrate every 50th year as a time of jubilee, dedicated to rest. Debts were to be forgiven and slaves released.
The Israelites were to “lock down shop,” Isaac said, “no cultivation, no sowing, no reaping.”
That seems counterintuitive in a cash-strapped Caribbean. But Ossafa Gordon, minister for the St. George’s Church of Christ in Grenada, urged his fellow believers to celebrate their reliance on a God who is “unmatched, unequaled, unrivaled and unvalued by men.”
@christianchronicle The 50th Caribbean Lectures, an annual gathering of Churches of Christ across the region, is underway in Grenada. Sunday service included “Higher Ground” and other hymns and preaching from Albert Isaac, a minister from the island of Anguilla. #caribbeanlectures #grenadatiktok🇬🇩 #grenada #churchofchrist #churchesofchrist ♬ original sound – The Christian Chronicle
“I feel sorry for Christians who don’t know how to celebrate,” said Gordon, a native of Guyana and chair of the lectureship’s local organizing committee. “The least you can do for a God who redeemed you is to release other people.”
After three years of lockdowns and low wages, “the annual Caribbean Lectureship is released!” he said. “We can see each other face to face.”
With the cost of airfare and food up significantly, some attendees joked that they thought about taking out loans to attend this year’s lectureship.
But church members in the Caribbean are used to making sacrifices for the cause of fellowship.
Joel Jack, a minister in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, first learned about the lectureships from two men he met in the Barbados airport in 1978. He had just been baptized and noticed that they were reading a book he had been studying at church. They invited him to come to the Bahamas for next year’s event.
“I was determined to go,” he said. He poured all of his available cash into a plane ticket and “bought cheese and bananas to sustain myself” during the lectureship. On the last day, he remembered tearfully, a woman from one of the Bahamian congregations cooked him a hot meal.
At the lectureships, “you really get to know the church,” he said. “It helped me to grow.”
Niesha John lost her job during the pandemic but found a way to attend the lectureship with her daughter, Adonia Bramble. They worship with the Biabou Church of Christ in St. Vincent.
After the pandemic, many in the Caribbean struggle with depression, John said, “and our faith dwindles. So much has been lost. A lot of us are looking to release, relieve and eventually to be restored. This is good spiritual food for us.”
Bramble, 16, opted to come to Grenada while her friends back home celebrated Vincy Mas Carnival, an annual festival. There are big parties and lots of alcohol.
“I’d rather be here,” Bramble said. “It feels way more uplifting.”
Patricia Morely came to the lectureship from the Bahamas, where she worships with the Southern Ridge Church of Christ. She lost one of her sons, age 52, in October 2019, about two years after she became a Christian. Another son, a police officer, died during the pandemic. One month later, she lost her husband.
When asked what keeps her going, she said, “my faith, my belief and the saints of God.”
Between lectures, the church members attended Bible classes on evangelism, conflict resolution and women’s ministry.
Elton Terry, minister for the St. Thomas Church of Christ in the U.S. Virgin Islands, delved into the significance of jubilee in the Old Testament, focusing on its communal nature and its mandate to forgive debts and limit wealth accumulation.
“Our Western world is based on enthronement of the individual,” Terry said. “Every material thing that we own is leased to us. Everything we own belongs to God.”
Unmasking the illusion of ownership should awaken a sense of responsibility for creation care, he said.
“These Caribbean islands that we love so much, we take them for granted,” he said. He recalled a trip he took to tour the Holy Land. Having spent most of his life near crystal blue waters, “I saw the Dead Sea and said, ‘I’m not swimmin’ in that!’”
Terry, a native of Antigua and Barbuda, is one of several ministers born in the Caribbean who now preach in the continental U.S. or its island territories.
Reasons for moving are diverse and complex, said Adrian J. Ayers, another lectureship speaker. Some ministers leave unhealthy situations in churches on their home islands. Others seek additional support for their ministry — in terms of finances and manpower.
Ayers, who grew up in Trinidad, moved to the U.S. “to further my education and to have a broader impact for the kingdom,” he said. He earned a degree at Harding University in Arkansas before taking the pulpit of the Dale City Church of Christ in Virginia.
He loves the racially diverse church he serves in the Washington, D.C., suburb. He also feels a burden for his homeland. So do many Caribbean Christians in the U.S., he said, and the lectureship allows them to stay connected to — and to support — their brothers and sisters.
Clancy Etienne spoke on “the clear sound of liberty” as it relates to jubilee. Etienne, a native of Dominica, preached in South Carolina before moving to the West Side Church of Christ in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. He urged the believers to see themselves as part of a kingdom beyond the Caribbean.
“God is dynamic,” Etienne said. “What God does, he does big. He shows up and shows out.”
As they wait upon the Lord, Christians should take time to rest and be restored, Albert Isaac said in his opening sermon. In the Caribbean Lectureship’s year of jubilee, believers should celebrate their dependence.
“When we ask, ‘When are we going to get food and money?’ God is saying, ‘I have you right where I want you.’”
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