Guided Search: Jamaica
My earliest memories are as a preacher’s kid in Amboy, IN. However, the first lessons that I truly remember were on the island of Jamaica. My father had been called to serve Jamaica Yearly Meeting as Superintendent and doing ministry at the large “church” in Hector’s River. There I learned that I was not special or different from others because of the color of my skin, my father’s occupation, or my position.
My brother and I were sent to the local elementary school where we were the only “white” children in attendance. This was obvious, but became an item for discussion in the family when the other children called us “white feet.” We were asked by our parents why we were being called that. We explained that when we started attending the school we had been sent to school wearing shoes, but realizing that no other children were wearing shoes we had decided to take off our shoes. Being fairly respectful of our parents’ wishes, we dutifully put on our shoes in the morning, but took them off on the way to school and went barefoot at school. Since our schoolmates saw “white” people go barefoot only on the beach, our bare feet became an identifying attribute. Of course when my parents heard this, they said then don’t bother to put shoes on in the first place. This seemed to be contrary to what other “whites” expected but seemed quite natural to our family. Other missionary children were not “allowed” to go to the local school. I am not quite sure why, but it obviously was not due to lack of “education.” In Jamaica I started in “second” grade and when we returned to the States 4 years later, I was placed in 7th grade. This placement was agreed to reluctantly by the principal at the school I entered in Ohio, but I had already been introduced to the basics of algebra and was reading at a high school level.
However, apart from the social and educational advantages of being in Jamaica, The most important lesson I learned was that love was to be the basis for action and that those who love most, served most. My father and mother, rather than wanting others to become like “Americans,” strove to assist others in learning to lead and tried to work themselves “out of a job.” I learned that missionaries should see themselves as temporarily filling in where colonial powers had failed to develop leadership, and that “we” had much to learn from each other.
In the subsequent years as a pastor in Ohio, my father would more explicitly state that he saw his role as not “working” on Sunday but rather sharing in worship. He continued to believe as a Friends’ pastor that his “job” was to work himself out of a “job” by developing leadership and ministers within the congregation. This seemed a different interpretation of ministry than most other Christians and Quakers that I knew. I saw my father and mother as very caring persons who tended to preach what they lived and to live what they preached. This was different than most preachers I knew who told others to practice what they preached but seemed to live as if preaching was what counted and not practice, especially not their practice.
Up to this point I had followed the path that my parents set before me. I did not see much need to “strike out on my own,” although we were encouraged to read, study, and question what we were being taught. I accepted much of what was taught in Sunday School, but was also taught at home that I needed to think for myself. This included looking at the Bible as a source of spiritual truth and not as a science or history text. As I was soon to discover this was quite different from the view of many others.