– There’s no Bob Marley blasting from the porch of Gladwyn Kiddoe’s home — just heartfelt gospel with a Caribbean flair.
The woman of Samaria, the woman, she left her water pot and gone …
Kiddoe, longtime director of the Jamaica School of Preaching and Biblical Studies, waves one arm in the air and holds his 3-year-old grandson, Jair, in the other as he sings along with the Mona Acappella Chorus. He yells out lyrics, and the chorus responds, flowing seamlessly from song to song.
The singers take a break as Kiddoe and his wife, Alva, serve sandwiches and juice. Before long, they’re singing again — this time an anthem by U.S. recording artists Acappella with “Jamaicanized” lyrics.
From Macedonia, the call is sounding; In Havana the people wait; The countless children in Peking, China; The thirsty souls of Port-au-Prince;
The time has come to go to MoBay; Portland, May Pen and Santa Cruz; Yes from Negril to Morant Point; and every parish in between.
“That’s our closing song,” Kiddoe says. “We use it to motivate the brethren to get on with the Great Commission.”
For the past four decades, the Jamaica School of Preaching has done just that — equipping Christians to spread the Gospel across the Caribbean.
Kiddoe was a tender 29 years old when the U.S. missionaries who founded the school handed him the reins in 1979.
At the time, there were about 18 Churches of Christ on the island. He and his wife, a family physician, had a bold vision — to help plant a congregation in every major city and town in Jamaica by the year 2000.
That dream became reality in 1998, when a “crusade” yielded 23 baptisms and a new church in Negril, on the island’s westernmost tip.
“I am more excited now at 62 than I was at 18 and 19,” Kiddoe says. “Why? For one, you see the fruits of your labor walking around you.”
The island has about 70 Churches of Christ now, and most of their ministers trained at the Jamaica School of Preaching.
But it’s the school’s international reach that makes Kiddoe beam with delight. The school trains Christians in Turks and Caicos, St. Lucia, Haiti and Canada. For nearly two decades, the school has prepared preachers to reach lost souls in Cuba.
Recently, Kiddoe began teaching lessons through the Internet to students at a Church of Christ in Connecticut — and halfway around the world in the Himalayan nation of Nepal.
“We really do have something to offer to the world,” Kiddoe says. “Everywhere we go, we have discovered that there’s a hunger … for deeper knowledge of the Word. The St. Lucians are hungry. The people of Haiti are hungry. The United States, they’re hungry, hungry.
“That’s what excites me,” he says. “I don’t know how long I’m going to live, but that is going to be my swan song.”
A ‘JAMAICANIZED’ MISSION
On a Sunday morning in Kingston, the words of two TV evangelists blast from competing television sets — inside a Burger King.
Here, Christianity gets “respect” — a common word in the island’s signature slang. Though known for the reggae music of Bob Marley and the mystical Rastafari faith he once professed, denominations of all stripes line Kingston’s alleyways. Seventh Day Adventists are strong here, and charismatic faith groups are on the rise. Street signs bear Bible verses.
Among the sea of churches, about 200 souls meet for worship in an old movie theater — the shared home of the Mona Church of Christ and the Jamaica School of Preaching.
Sixteen students live in the renovated-but-humble theater as they study in the school’s rigorous, four-year ministry program. During morning chapel, they chat with a guest speaker from the U.S. about misconceptions between the two countries.
That Super Bowl ad with the Minnesotan faking a Jamaican accent? It wasn’t offensive to them in the least — just hilarious, the students say.
But why are some states in the U.S. adopting gay marriage, they ask. Why are churches there slipping away from the Bible-based beliefs that missionaries brought here a half-century ago?
Those missionaries, among them Marvin Crowson, Milo Hadwin, Jerry Thompson and Carl Maples, came to Jamaica to evangelize, baptize and train locals to take over the work — quickly.
The island gained independence from Britain in 1962, and its new government adopted a policy of “Jamaicanization.” Missionaries were granted short-term work permits. Whatever they did, they had to train Jamaicans to do. Then leave.
That mandate made the missionaries effective recruiters, said Francis Yorke, who was named the school’s assistant director in 1979.
It also allowed Yorke and his fellow Jamaican Christians to craft the school’s curriculum, which includes healthy doses of Bible history, Greek and psychology. One class, titled “Things You Need to Know,” teaches about the importance of being a good husband and father.
“You learn a lot, but it’s a lot, I will be honest,” says 18-year-old Richard Wright, a first-year student from Portland, Jamaica. “You really have to know how to manage your time.”
The curriculum “prepares you physically, mentally, to deal with members in the church,” adds Calvin Semple, a fourth-year student from the South American nation of Guyana who plans to preach on the island of Barbados. The emphasis on psychology “helps me to set my mind on the right path.”
Several of the students plan to train in secular fields — from counseling to electrical engineering — to provide income as they minister.
Sheldon Shirley was considering a career as a basketball coach when Kiddoe asked him to prepare a sermon and “audition” for the school.
Shirley, age 30, still plans to teach physical education — and preach.
Enrolling at the school “is by far the best decision I’ve made,” he says.
TEACHING HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD
Jamaican Christians inherited a missionary zeal from their U.S. counterparts.
In 1971, before returning home, missionary Ken Dye launched the Caribbean Lectures in Kingston, an annual gospel meeting designed to unite souls across the region.
Each year, participants gathered in a circle and left a space open for Christians from an island just 90 miles north of Jamaica — Cuba.
In 1991, as the Cold War ended, a handful of Jamaican and U.S. Christians traveled to Cuba to visit believers there. Cuba’s government, which has maintained close relations with Jamaica since its 1959 revolution, allowed five Cubans to enroll at the Jamaica School of Preaching.
In Kingston, the Cuban students attended a language training program to improve their English.
“After a while, they could speak Jamaican,” Kiddoe jokes.
One of the students, Luis Pedraza, now directs the school’s Cuban extension program, which meets at his home in Santa Clara. More than 200 preachers have graduated from the program — and have contributed to the growth of Churches of Christ in Cuba, which could soon reach 200 congregations, Pedraza said in an e-mail. In 2005, Cuban Christians hosted the Caribbean Lectures.
“We, as cultures, are so different,” Pedraza said, but a mutual love for Christ transcends the barriers.
“It is a matter of heart,” he added, and then concluded his e-mail with, “Mi a go mi yard … see mi pickney.”
(That’s “I’m going home to see my children” in Patois, Jamaica’s dialect.)
The Jamaican School of Preaching’s reach extends 1,300 miles north of Cuba — to the U.S. state of Connecticut. There, the Bridgeport Church of Christ is launching an effort to win souls for Christ along Interstate 95 in New England. Since 2009, the church has grown from 25 to about 70 members, representing at least 18 different nationalities.
A member from Jamaica, Nadine Keller, suggested the church use the Jamaican school as a resource. On two Saturdays per month, Kiddoe teaches eight of the church’s members about Bible history and evangelism, using the Internet program Skype.
“We have learned so many things from this class … mostly, how to preach,” said Dev Lal Moktan, a student in the class who moved to Connecticut from Nepal in 2006.
He recommended the training to Christians in his native country, Nepal. Recently, Kiddoe began training seven Nepalese church members through an online chat program, Google+ Hangouts.
On Fridays at 9 p.m. in Jamaica, Kiddoe teaches the Christians in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, where it’s 7:45 a.m. Saturday. Moktan and his son, David, watch from Connecticut and translate Kiddoe’s words to the Nepali language.
It would be easy for Kiddoe to e-mail his class notes to the Nepali Christians — which he does when their Internet connection fails, David Moktan said during a recent interview using the chat program.
“But having brother Gladwyn there is definitely an advantage,” he said. “If something is lost in translation, we have the advantage of actually talking to the author.”
‘OUR LIMITATION — NOT GOD’S’
Back in Kingston, seven members of the preaching school’s staff gather for a meeting to discuss their plans — in Jamaica and around the world.
Jamaica, like the U.S., is in a credit crunch, Kiddoe says. The country’s money has devalued, and prices for food to feed the students is rising.
The school has lost some of its support in recent years. The North Davis Church of Christ in Arlington, Texas, oversaw the work until three years ago. Now the West Broward Church of Christ
in Plantation, Fla., collects funds for the school.
Kiddoe and the staffers make regular trips to the U.S. to raise funds and encourage Jamaican churches to contribute what they can. But the director doesn’t let finances dampen his spirits as he considers the future.
A Christian family recently donated funds for construction of a multimedia studio to help the school train students worldwide.
In the 1980s, Kiddoe shared with his U.S. supporters the vision of a Church of Christ in every major city and town in Jamaica.
He remembers one church deacon who gave him “a long list of can’t do’s — where are you going to find the money? Where are you going to find the preachers?”
More than 30 years later, “I continue to marvel at how God has provided the means,” Kiddoe says. “I discovered that the limitation we place on the church is our limitation — not God’s. … God literally works with you and sends help.
“Let’s get on with it.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
, see www.jspmona.org or contact the West Broward Church of Christ
at www.wbcofc.org or (954) 475-7172.