Cooke, Lloyd A. 2013. The story of Jamaican missions: How the Gospel went from Jamaica to the world. Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak Publications.
Lloyd A. Cooke grew up in Jamaica, the son of an Anglican minister. His father often spoke of the Church’s Jamaican teachers and ministers who served in Africa during the 19th-20th centuries.
This is a massive book of 672 pages, with many illustrations and photos (292 are listed). It is divided into six parts containing 25 chapters, followed by a postscript, four appendixes, a bibliography and an index. There is also a timeline of the Jamaican church from 1512, when the Franciscan Friars arrived until 1996.
Section One covers the insurrection of slaves in 1831, led largely by an inspired slave named Samuel Sharpe. The insurrection was part of the so-called “Baptist War,” referring to those Baptists (and other missionaries) who were opposed to the British rule. Moravian missionaries were imprisoned; John Lang is singled out as an “extraordinaire” missionary, who “wore himself out in the work” (p. 100). Moravians had depended on plantations for income and support but eventually, burdened by slavery, they closed their main one, “Old Carmel,” and freed the slaves. However, New Carmel was opened in 1831 and by 1834 the Moravians had a number of stations open.
Chapter 7, “Black missionaries—here come the Yankees” begins with the American Baptists and their British counterparts (chapter 8), and their success is evident from the churches they founded that still exist today. They were all confronted with slavery laws—Cooke mentions a number of them and how the missionaries’ tried to overcome the difficulties. The missionaries worked together and they eventually (two decades later) were able to “undermine the institution of chattel slavery” (p. 145).
Methodism, under the influence of John Wesley, arrived in the Caribbean in 1758. Dr Thomas Coke, formerly an Anglican minister, is considered the father of Methodist missions (p.147). He and others established churches in Kingston, Montego Bay and Spanish Town, but had severe opposition and persecution. The “Consolidated Slave Act” of 1816 was meant to put the treatment of all slaves under one Act and within the power of the Anglican church. However, the Methodist church continued to grow and “by the time of slavery’s end, Methodism had taken root in most of the parish capitals and major towns of Jamaica” (p. 174). Scotsmen and the Presbyterians began their missionary work in 1788.
The effects of emancipation are outlined in Part III of the book. Samuel Sharpe is a name that is well known as a hero in Jamaica, having taken part in the 1832 rebellion and fostered it enough that he was executed. He was well-educated, could read and probably believed from reading newspapers that slavery had been abolished by Great Britain. He was an eloquent preacher and, by all accounts, very persuasive. Cooke mentions him numerous times throughout the book. Slavery was abolished by proclamation in Jamaica on August 1, 1834. Cooke includes pictures of shackles and other implements of torture and punishment to control slaves, such as the gibbet iron cage and the tongue restraint and neck collar (p. 191).
Following abolition, there was a surge in education and in the growth of the Jamaican church. People were given land and there was a movement away from the estates. In 1840, the population of Jamaica included 100,000 Baptists, 40,000 Methodists, 40,000 in the Church of England, and lesser numbers of Wesleyans, Moravians, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, Church of Scotland, Jews and Roman Catholics. Some 169,000 were said to have no religious affiliation (p. 219).
The missionary teachers and leaders who trained the Jamaicans envisaged themselves as missionaries to South America and elsewhere. For example, the Danish Guinea Company asked Moravians to send missionaries to the Gold Coast (p. 229), and other agencies looked to send them to other parts of Africa.
It was the Baptist Missionary Society, however that led the way, with missionaries sent to the Cameroons, the island of Fernando Po (opposite the mouths of the rivers of Cameroon and Niger), and Niger. There were political uncertainties, diseases and death but men like Joseph Jackson Fuller (p. 278) were resolute in their work, even when it had to be done alone. Fuller worked with Saker (an Englishman) among the Duala. The workers “had learned the African languages, though they used English for schools and for worship” (p. 283). The BMS has continued to this day to partner in the Congo area, serving initially as a catalyst to other denominations and individuals (p. 291).
The Presbyterian Jamaicans established there services mainly in Calabar, Nigeria. They provided schools and did explorations up and down the Calabar River. The Congregational church and the London Missionary Society sent missionaries to Jamaica in 1798 and their trained Jamaicans went on to East Africa later as missionaries. Twenty three Moravian Jamaican missionaries went to serve in Ghana in 1843 and their missionary efforts also extended to the Miskito Indians in the Caribbean. Cooke provides a timeline and names for the activities of most of the missions.
There are many interesting and incredible stories of Jamaican missionaries, but Chapter 23 includes some of the most dramatic. Chief among them is the story of Montrose Waite and his family. Waite had difficulty in getting any mission to accept him for service in Africa, despite his educational and ministerial qualifications. Black missionaries were not part of the recruitment process for the mission societies and a similar bias by the white missionaries was widespread.
Waite, however, persevered, graduated from Nyack in 1920 and raised support to work in Sierra Leone, a British colony. Waite married Ella, his first wife, in 1924 and they had three children before she died in childbirth. Life was hard for Waite, with great distances to travel for supplies and medical help. Eight months after Ella’s death Waite married Anna Marie Morris from Cleveland, Ohio, with whom he eventually had six more children (including twins).
In America, Waite had good relations with a number of black churches, although the interest in missions of black churches in America was minimal (it still is). He had problems gaining support of mission agencies, although the Christian &Missionary Alliance encouraged him, and he started one, and later two, mission agencies (The Afro-American Missionary Crusade and the Carver Foreign Missions). He had several trips to other countries in Africa and started work in Liberia, as well as visiting Nigeria, Ghana and London. At one point he had to leave his wife in America for over 5 years to educate their children. Although he died in 1977, he had visited Kenya as late as 1975 and had his memoirs published (posthumously). He is truly one of the most outstanding and inspiring Jamaican missionaries. (His story is on pp. 428-453).
To give some idea of the Jamaican missionaries volunteering and working at the time, Cooke mentions the following in this chapter: Henry Lipsett, Arthur Lord, Neville Cowan, Colleen Scarlett, Edwin Sharpe (one of the first graduates of Jamaican Bible College),Neil McFarlane, Winsome Gibson-Davis, Jennifer Anderson-Paultre, Wayne and Oi-wah Whitbourne, Hortense Salmon, Ivis Melbourne, Jean Lee, and Jo-Ann Richards.
The present state of missionary activity from Jamaica is not nearly as great and Cooke notes that “[b]eginning in the mid 1990s the appetite and energy for missions involvement in the denomination seems to have waned, maybe with the lack of missionaries actively on the field” (p. 474). There has been, however, a significant outreach to Cuba.
Chapter 24 chronicles a number of individuals who went, but were not sent. (p.483-575). They served in Suriname, Haiti, South Africa, India, Uganda, Columbia, Liberia, Venezuela, Trinidad, Dominica and Nigeria. There were many agencies that helped send and sponsor the missionaries and Cooke lists most of them in Chapter 25 (pp. 576-631).
Cooke adds a Postscript telling of this labor of love and a number of appendices: A) Chapels destroyed after Sam Sharpe rebellion; B) Time line of Sam Sharpe insurrection and aftermath; C) Some of the free villages; D) Jamaican Baptist missionaries settlers to Fernando Po & Cameroon 1843-1847 and beyond. There follows an extensive bibliography and index.