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During a “Singing in the City” event in St. George’s, Christians invite Grenadians to the 50th Caribbean Lectureship.
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Jack Bennett

‘You feel like you’re in heaven’ — Caribbean Lectureship honors Botham Jean

Church members across the islands remember the voice of their favorite song leader nearly five years after his murder in Dallas.

ST. GEORGE’S, Grenada — The staccato, bass tones drifted across the busy public square in this Caribbean capital.

“Heaven … is on … the other … side. Heaven is on the other side.” Soon the sopranos, altos and tenors joined in. “I will make it. I will make it. Heaven’s on the other side.”

Dominic Dos Santos of Trinidad and fellow Caribbean Christians sing in downtown St. George's, Grenada.

Dominic Dos Santos of Trinidad and fellow Caribbean Christians sing in downtown St. George’s, Grenada.

Thaddeus Bruno, minister for the West End Church of Christ in Bermuda, led a chorus of more than 200 Christians, representing islands from the Bahamas in the north to Tobago in the south who had gathered for the 50th Caribbean Lectureship.


Related: A Caribbean jubilee


Between songs, the Christians spoke to Grenadians running errands at the bank and grabbing lunch at Subway. The believers took prayer requests and gave out invitations to the lectureship’s evening worship.

@christianchronicle In downtown St. George’s, Grenada, participants in the 50th Caribbean Lectureship sing “Victory in Jesus” as they invite passersby to a gospel meeting. The gathering brought in nearly 500 members from Churches of Christ in the Caribbean. #caribbeanlectureship #grenada #grenadatiktok🇬🇩 #churchofchrist #caribbean #churchesofchrist #victoryinjesus ♬ original sound – The Christian Chronicle

The melodious milestone, postponed for three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, was a joyous reunion for the church members.

Nonetheless, someone was missing.

Botham Jean

“No offense to brother Thaddeus,” said Paul Edwards, a Jamaican Christian who worships with the First Coast Church of Christ in Jacksonville, Fla., “but when Bo leads that song, you feel like you’re in heaven.”

“Bo” is Botham Jean, a native of St. Lucia who began attending the lectureship at age 7. During his teen years he led singing and ran the audiovisual equipment for the conference.

He kept on singing — leading chapel at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., and leading worship for the Dallas West Church of Christ in Texas as he worked for the prestigious firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

On Sept. 6, 2018, three weeks before his 27th birthday, Jean was shot to death by an off-duty police officer who mistook his apartment for hers.

Gladys Miller

Gladys Miller

“I watched him grow up at the lectures,” said Gladys Miller, a member of the Highbury Park Church of Christ in Nassau, Bahamas. Since attending her first lectureship in 1989, she’s seen the event grow in attendance from 30 to nearly 500.

Worshiping God alongside her brothers and sisters from across the Caribbean “has always been a blessing to me,” she said.

But she misses Bo.

“I come to the lectureship,” she said, fighting back tears, “and I expect to hear his voice.”

Seeing ‘a bigger mission’

After a few more songs, prayers, hugs and photos, the Christians filed into a line of waiting vans. Among them were Bo’s parents, Bertrum and Allison Jean, who spoke to The Christian Chronicle as the vans wound their way through narrow streets, past colonial-era buildings, to the Radisson hotel.

Allison, a senator in St. Lucia’s parliament, serves on the lectureship’s regional organizing committee. In her copy of this year’s program, she turned to a list of all 50 lectureships. She had drawn stars on at least a third — those she had attended.

Bertrum and Allison Jean, Botham Jean’s parents, in Grenada.

Bertrum and Allison Jean, Botham Jean’s parents, in Grenada.

“I have suffered anxiety ever since Bo’s death, so flying is not one of my favorites right now,” she said. “But I was really looking forward to getting on the plane this time.”

She was 12 when she attended her first lectureship in 1979. Months earlier, a mission team from the U.S. had introduced her family to the Church of Christ. They baptized 50 St. Lucians, including Allison’s mother.

“At that time, our congregation was quite small,” Allison said, “so seeing this large gathering gave that sense of association with a bigger mission.” Later that year, Allison was baptized.

She met her future husband at church. Bertrum Jean grew up Catholic and “was seeking for God,” he said. He listened to preachers across the island, including one with whom he had once played cricket — a Church of Christ evangelist. Bertrum listened to the preacher’s radio program and sat in the back during the church’s midweek Bible studies.

@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

“So I challenged (the preacher) and another gentleman to a Bible study,” Bertrum said, “and they really convinced me.”

Their three children — Allisa, Botham and Brandt — grew up in the church, where they learned to sing. The lectureships became family vacations. Bo’s first was in 1998 in San Fernando, Trinidad.


Related: #BeLikeBo: Harding University unveils memorial honoring slain graduate


“And since then, he’s attended more than me,” Allison said.

Bo first led singing at the 2008 lectureship in Georgetown, Guyana. Immediately, organizers asked him to be on the next year’s program.

“In fact, one of the brothers on the regional committee chastised me for keeping that secret,” Allison said with a laugh. “He enjoyed singing.”

Botham Jean leads singing during his student days at Harding University.

Botham Jean leads singing during his student days at Harding University.

The story behind the hug

At Harding, where Bo earned a degree in accounting and management information systems, he led singing during the university’s annual lectureship. President Bruce McLarty once asked him to lead an old hymn that Bo didn’t recognize. Bo called his grandmother in St. Lucia, and she taught it to him over the phone.

Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger on Oct. 2, 2019.

Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger on Oct. 2, 2019.

As he began his career, he attended the Dallas West Church of Christ and befriended minister Sammie Berry, a former accountant who had also worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“Botham saw him as his next dad,” Bertrum Jean said of Berry.

Bo led worship and taught Bible class for the Dallas West church. That’s what he was doing days before his death at the hands of Amber Guyger. The Dallas police officer, after a 13-hour shift, claimed that she entered the wrong apartment and mistook Jean, who was sitting in his living room eating ice cream, for an intruder.

On Oct. 1, 2019, a jury found Guyger guilty of murder. The next day, a judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison.

Before sentencing, court officials invited Bo’s family to make victim impact statements.

At first, “we all declined,” Allison said. Then their youngest child, Brandt, “just came out and said, ‘I’m gonna do it.’”

“If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. … I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

Taking the stand, Brandt told Guyger, “If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. And I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. … I think giving your life to Christ would be the best thing that Botham would want you to do.”

He asked to hug Guyger, and video of the embrace went viral.

“I sat in the courtroom and just … I just couldn’t believe what he did,” his mother said.


Related: Racial healing bus tour touts peace, unity


Later, Brandt told her that, moments before he decided to speak, his grandmother leaned forward from the row behind him and whispered in his ear.

His grandmother — Allison’s mom, who took her to her first Caribbean Lectureship 40 years prior — told Brant, “This is a soul that needs to be saved.”

‘His parents took him to church’

Back at the Radisson, Sammie Berry joined the lectureship after a flight delay in Miami. The Dallas West minister is treasurer for the Botham Jean Foundation, founded in 2019 to continue Bo’s work of providing aid to the vulnerable. The nonprofit supports children’s homes and an elderly care facility in St. Lucia and provides resources for families impacted by police violence and those in need of immigration guidance.

Minister Sammie Berry, right, sits next to Allison and Bertrum Jean as participants in the lectureship sing “Let in Rise” in memory of Botham Jean.

Minister Sammie Berry, right, sits next to Allison and Bertrum Jean as participants in the lectureship sing “Let in Rise” in memory of Botham Jean.

Berry told the story of Jesus’ journey to his hometown, Nazareth, where “as his custom was, he went into the synagogue,” according to Luke 4. Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah and announced, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”

“The Bible says, ‘as his custom was,’” Berry said. “See, his parents took him to church.”

Since Bo’s parents lost their son, the lectureship has added a “special singing segment in honor of God and in memory of Bo,” Thaddeus Bruno said.

During the time of worship, the Caribbean Christians sang three of Bo’s favorites: “Oh, I Want to See Him,” “A Mansion, Robe and Crown” and “Let it Rise,” one of the last songs Bo led before his death.

“That one gives me chills,” his mother said.

Recently, she learned from his high school teacher that Bo had written two songs of his own and set them to music.

“Both songs are on heaven,” she said, “going to heaven, getting to heaven.”

TO CONTRIBUTE to the Botham Jean Foundation, see bothamjeanfoundation.org.

@christianchronicle

In Grenada, Christians at the 50th Caribbean Lectureship sing three hymns (including “Let It Rise”) in memory of Botham Jean. The Church of Christ member from St. Lucia, who grew up attending and leading singing at the lectureships, was fatally shot in his Dallas apartment by a police officer in 2018. His parents, Bertrum and Allison Jean, were part of this year’s lectureship, as was Dallas West Church of Christ minister Sammie Berry. The lectureship, an annual gathering among Churches of Christ in the Caribbean, brought nearly 500 souls to Grenada. #grenadatiktok🇬🇩 #grenada #churchofchrist #caribbean #caribbeanlectureship #bothamjean #botham #justiceforbothamjean #justiceforbotham #stlucia🇱🇨

♬ original sound – The Christian Chronicle

 

 

Filed under: Bahamas Botham Jean caribbean Caribbean Lectureship Christianity in Caribbean Grenada International News Top Stories

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