Well, it wasn’t all fun, fun, fun – there was some work as well – but it was full of joy. We all met at a government-owned training hotel in Runaway Bay on Jamaica’s north coast (what a great idea that is – 90% of the staff are students training to work in the hotel industry across the Caribbean – each has to spend a few months doing all the various jobs needed in a hotel – from the front desk to cleaning the rooms via the kitchens and waitering). There were around 80 delegates on the conference, from around 7 or 8 different denominations and representing the whole island of Jamaica.
United by Language
This is the only country that i’ve visited with Langham where English is everybody’s first and only language – and what a difference that makes. In fact, Bishop Harry Daniel, one of the leading lights behind Langham’s work in Jamaica, told the story of how years back he was filling an application form to study at an American college which asked him to fill in a box on the standard of his English – he left it blank because it seemed unnecessary. For he was from JAMAICA, after all! The truth is, from my little experience of being there, many Jamaicans have much better English than Brits, let alone Americans. But far more significant that simply sharing a language, it really felt like a meeting of minds – sharing the joys and challenges of ministry with people who face similar issues despite huge differences in culture and context.
Fascinating to meet some senior Jamaican Christians who had been students in the UK in the 1950s. aith Linton (pictured left) is someone who has had a massive influence amongst Christians over the decades since, and I remember her from last year’s conference. As a student in London, she used to go to Westminster Chapel to hear the Doctor (Martyn Lloyd-Jones for the uninitiated) – but would sneak over to All Souls occasionally to hear Uncle John. Both preachers had an immense impact on her personally and as a result, indirectly on all those she has ministered to through University CUs. Just another reminder, as if one was needed, of how ministries in one part of the world can affect others – very exciting. And it works both ways – some of the Jamaicans she discipled are now themselves living and working in the UK and being salt and light over here.
Two interesting issues came up in a number of conversations.
One was the fact that a few of the delegates find that they are gaining skills at the Langham conferences which cause their senior ministers to feel threatened. Ministers are like that all too often – we have a grim tendency to feel undermined by others with gifts or talents that are more impressive than our own. We don’t like to be shown up. One of the delegates described his immense frustration and pain since last year’s conference (which he just loved) at the fact that he has not been asked to preach even once in his local church. The vicar seems to want to bind all ministries in the church to himself, making himself indispensable and therefore a total bottleneck for all that goes on. This of course is not unique to Jamaica by any means – it happens wherever there are churches and ministers. I know of loads of examples of this from the countries where i’ve had most experience, the UK and Uganda. But is the total antithesis of what ministry is meant to be all about. For isn’t ALL ministry meant to be about equipping the ‘people of God for works of service’ (Ephesians 4:12). The good news is that this hasn’t stopped my friend being invited to preach in plenty of other churches – which speaks for itself.
Fallen AND Created
The other issue was more thought-provoking – for in discussions about the significance of human fallenness in ministry, one or two noted the need (appropriately, I think) for care over how this is contextualised. For in a Jamaican context, where people are all too aware of their history, many have a deeply ingrained sense of inferiority and downtroddenness. The psychological and social consequences of slavery and racism will perhaps never really be fully plumbed, and certainly it is impossible as a white Anglo-Saxon to grasp them. The issue then is that our fallenness MUST be understood in the context of our createdness – being in God’s image is both foundational and real. You can’t have one without the other if one is to be realistic in ministry. There is surely a universal apologetic imperative to be clear about this, as well as the need for cross-cultural sensitivity in a Caribbean context. Of course, this is not to say that we should avoid the issue of fallenness altogether- far from it- because that leads down equally blind alleys of unreality and dishonesty. An unmarred image of God is clearly no longer our present-day experience of humanity.
If you want to follow up more on this, see my article on the recent atonement debates on the Beginning with Moses website.