‘You feel like you’re in heaven’ — Caribbean Lectureship honors Botham Jean
ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada — The staccato, bass tones drifted across…
SAN FERNANDO, Trinidad and Tobago — ‘What’s that name?” Randolph Bonas asked me after Bible class.
“Tryggestad,” I said.
“Trinidad?” he asked.
“No, ‘Trigg-es-tad,’” I repeated, sounding it out. “It’s Norwegian.”
“Oh,” he said. “My name’s Swedish.”
I still think he was messing with me.
But I have to thank brother Bonas. After 21 years with The Christian Chronicle and visits to more than 80 countries, I had finally found a word that rhymes with my last name — and I was standing on it.
I stopped in Trinidad on my way to the 50th Caribbean Lectureship. Dominic Dos Santos, director of the Trinidad School of Preaching, and his wife, Annie, graciously housed and fed me.
I had doubles for breakfast (fried dough with curry chickpeas), roti for lunch (Indian flat bread) and a gyro called “bad habit” for dinner (not all on the same day).
I interviewed folks at the preaching school and visited the Panco Lane Church of Christ in San Fernando for Wednesday night Bible class — a fascinating discussion of the “unseen realm” and spiritual beings by minister Trovel Emmanuel.
On Thursday, minister Junior Clarke, an instructor at the preaching school, gave me the grand tour of Princes Town, a suburb of San Fernando, and took me to the midweek Bible study at the Church of Christ there. On the way he stopped to pick up his car from a mechanic and he introduced me.
“Oh, by the way,” brother Clarke said, casually, “I want him to be the next preacher for the Princes Town church. I met him in prison.”
Yeah, there’s a story there. Look for the incredible journey of Brian Brooks — from cocaine to Christ — in these pages soon. Brother Clarke also treated me to coconut ice cream and a sandwich called “bake and shark,” which I can’t say without “doo-doo, doo-doo” playing in my head.
“You gonna gain so much weight your wife won’t recognize you and she won’t let you come back to Trinidad,” brother Clarke said.
But I had one more country to visit — and taste — before heading home.
Early Saturday I joined a group of Trinidadians headed to the lectureship in Grenada. I think everyone in the Port of Spain airport knew Dominic.
It was my third Caribbean Lectureship. My first was the historic visit to Cuba back in 2005. I was a bit apprehensive about the Cuban authorities finding out I was a reporter, so I tried to keep a low profile.
Then our Jamaican brethren learned who I was and greeted me every morning with a big, “HEY, NEWSPAPER-MON!”
The Cubans didn’t seem to mind.
This was my first time in gorgeous Grenada, and my first time to see Bertram and Allison Jean since the tragic death of their son, Botham. The Jean family, from St. Lucia, has been a fixture at these lectureships.
I asked about their youngest son, Brandt. He’s back in St. Lucia and working as a personal trainer. I told his parents how all of us at The Christian Chronicle broke into tears when we watched him hug his brother’s killer in that Dallas courtroom.
“But it’s amazing the backlash he got from it,” Allison said.
That’s tragic, too. In my 30 years as a “newspaper-mon,” I’ve never witnessed a braver, truer display of compassion and forgiveness.
After the lectureship, getting home for me meant a 13-hour layover in Port of Spain. Thankfully, minister Mahase Bissoondath picked me up and showed me some of the northern part of Trinidad. I got to hear his story and meet a few members of the San Juan Church of Christ, where he has preached for several decades.
And I got more roti.
Related: A Caribbean jubilee
That night, as I perused the airport gift shop waiting for my red-eye flight to Houston, I heard a little voice say, “Brother Erik! Brother Erik!”
It was Sophia, the 9-year-old daughter of Trovel Emmanuel. She and her little brother, Elijah, were on their way to Tobago with their grandmother, Linette, to see family. Sophia recognized me from Wednesday night Bible class.
I was stunned and thrilled. Someone in the Port of Spain airport knew me! Maybe I’m more Trinidadian than Norwegian.
When I get home, I’m telling my pickney (that means kids) we’re having doubles for breakfast.
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