I once heard the late renowned senior pastor, Dr. Myles Munroe joke (or maybe he wasn’t joking) that God lives in the Bahamas. I suppose he said that as testament to how blessed his homeland has been over the years. But if we were to go by the number of Jamaicans that associate themselves with a church as well as the number of churches in the island, Jamaica would definitely be the place where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reside!
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Jamaica has the most churches per square mile of any country in the world. But then Jamaica is used to being among the best, highest, most or first: Jamaica has the fastest man and woman in the world, Jamaica’s reggae music is recognized across the world; Jamaica is recognized as the best place to do business in the region; Jamaica is among the top Miss World titleholders in the world (certainly is at the very top in the Caribbean); Jamaica has some of the world’s best healing herbs (especially its marijuana); Jamaica is now among the 10 most improved economies for doing business in the world and the list goes on and on.
So the fact that we have had the most churches per square mile isn’t too surprising. We tend to over-perform.
Established in the 1600s, the Church of England, which we know today as the Anglican Church, is said to be the oldest continuous religious presence in Jamaica. However longevity does not imply growth since according to the 2011 Population and Housing Census, Anglican membership is among the smallest when compared to other denominations in Jamaica and furthermore it has been on the decline in recent years.
On the other hand, the largest denomination in Jamaica is currently the Seventh-day Adventist faith with over 320,000 members. A Seventh-day Governor General and Prime Minister are therefore fairly representative of the population. Of course behind the Adventists are the Pentecostals, which number just under 300,000 followed by Church of God and the New Testament Church of God. Overall, irrespective of their associated denomination, it is estimated that some 77% of all Jamaicans identify with a religious organization, which makes the island, largely Christian, which then naturally means that ‘Jesus lives in Jamaica!’
Seriously though, like Dr. Munroe, Jamaicans tend to feel like they are more God-blessed than any other country in the region or the world. Just ask any Jamaican about why predicted hurricanes somehow miraculously shift away from the rock at the last minute. Local meteorologists must get tired of advising that a severe destructive weather system is coming nigh Jamaica since at least 2.2 million people (the 77%) are going to fall on their knees and petition God to protect the island. And since they are His children, He will hear and answer. This has become such a thing that the other 23% (who don’t necessarily believe in God) started to question the veracity of the meteorologists’ methods and predictions about storms ‘coming to Jamaica’. It must be that the poor meteorologist is not so good at his job, is tricking us or is in cahoots with the private sector so that they can make more money from tin food, water and candle sales during the hurricane season, they surmise. Or, it could be that the storm simply naturally changed course which it sometimes is likely to do. For that 23%, those possibilities are more tolerable and reasonable than the idea that God actually hears and turns back or stops storms, as He had done in Mark 4:39. “Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
So if it is that God is hearing us pray and is sparing our island from natural disasters, why doesn’t He spare us from the scourge of crime and violence that continues to storm communities? Jamaica is known to be one of the most violent countries in the world. What a paradox: we have some of the happiest people, most beautiful locations, ‘irie’ music, best vibes, best sportspeople and yet we are among the most violent. Maybe we are too ‘spirited’ and I don’t mean in the Holy Spirit sense. Maybe we are too passionate intrinsically, so everything happens in extremes.
Or, maybe the 2.2 million intercessory massive don’t pray in desperation for deliverance from crime. Maybe we are not kneeling down on this issue because most of us are directly unaffected by violent crime. As horrible as crime is in Jamaica and the terrible reputation that Jamaica has developed as a country, most crimes are really only committed in pockets of communities in certain parishes. According to a study by the Inter-American Development Bank, victims of violent crime are concentrated in certain neighborhoods. “Living in a neighborhood with high physical disorder (graffiti, trash and abandoned buildings), low social cohesion (trust among neighbors) and a gang presence were all strongly associated with being a victim of violent crime.” So the entire island is not beset by the crime scourge, and that may be why the entire island, or at least the believing 77%, don’t seem to be bending their knees in desperation and begging God to intervene. But then how do we truly know that they do not?
Or, is it that crime is a social problem that involves the will, unlike a natural hazard which we understand to be largely an act of God? Is it that God would not so readily intervene when man’s free will is involved? And is it that we reap what we collectively sow in corruption of all sorts, abuse in families, father’s abandonment of children, mother’s sowing seeds of bitterness in their children, unforgiveness, poor parenting practices etc.etc.etc?
Or is the issue one of unity? We stand in unity when we pray against hurricanes approaching Jamaica. Not so much when praying about crime, if as individuals we pray about crime at all. There have been many marches and prayer meetings, but do we as professed Christians personally and consistently pray for the deliverance and protection of communities and the nation or do we typically only ‘cover our house under the blood?’ Kudos to Reverend Jeffrey Shuttleworth and the Tarrant Baptist Church (TBC) radio team, who have been using the airwaves to regularly and strategically pray and pull down strongholds of darkness all over Jamaica.
Certainly the crime issue is an area for genuine introspection and genuflection not only by the church but by Jamaicans overall. However, in all the devising and scheming that we must do to quell crime, I believe the church’s original mandate to save, redeem and disciple is the greatest deterrent to crime. Yes, we have some false prophets and sinful pastors that have muddied the church’s reputation but the overarching positive transformational impact of the church on the island cannot be hidden.
The church has made a significant contribution to Jamaica’s progress and prosperity over the years, particularly as it pertains to the development of education and social services. Most of the schools and charities in Jamaica were founded by churches. And if we agree with the late human rights activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela that “education is the greatest weapon you can use to change the world,” then the church’s investment in Jamaica’s education has been life-changing and nation-building. Indeed, if you add the number of churches and church-run schools operating in the island, you wouldn’t be able to deny that God’s hand is actively at work in Jamaica. And maybe His hand is upon us because every major and minor event in Jamaica starts or ends with a request to God to bless and guard our country and grant wisdom to national leaders, through the playing of the beloved national anthem.
As we commemorate 55 years of independence this month, let us therefore continue to discern God’s hand in our land and give Him the glory for all the great things He has done in Jamaica. And as we envision the future, let us abide in His great love and seize ‘the abundant life’ that His son, the Lord Jesus promised to all who believe in Him, irrespective of our denominational persuasion.
Happy ‘Emancipendence’ Jamaica!
Shelly-Ann Harris is the Editorial Director and Founder of Family and Faith Magazine.
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