“The Field Is Ripe in Jamaica’s May Pen Branch,” Ensign, Mar. 1991, 76–77
As 1989 hobbled out and 1990 breezed in, the church found itself in a hurricane of publicity in Jamaica. “The Mormons have taken one bold step too many,” declared a report in the religion section of a leading newspaper. “For them to launch a slick television ad campaign promoting their sacred book, the Book of Mormon, is going too far in this fundamentalist country.” For two weeks the Church was a major topic of discussion on call-in radio shows, and a series of newspaper articles continued the attack.
The cause of this publicity was an advertisement that promised a copy of the scriptures compiled by the “lost sheep” Jesus mentioned in John 10:16 to anyone who called the mission office in Kingston. Interest was so great that soon all the copies of the Book of Mormon the mission office had stocked were gone, and more had to be rush-ordered.
The 1,500 Church members in this country of approximately 2.8 million felt challenged by the opposition. It caused Megreta Johnson to pray for reconfirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. She received it in a dream in which she saw a woman walking past her gate toward a heavenly gathering of beautiful, happy people. The woman asked Sister Johnson, “Do you have your Book of Mormon?” and indicated that it was required for joining the group.
Other members of Sister Johnson’s branch in May Pen, thirty-five miles west of Kingston, demonstrated their feelings by attending sacrament meeting in all-time high numbers for three weeks coinciding with the peak of the publicity. Many of them expressed their strong faith in fast and testimony meeting, standing two or three at a time as soon as a testimony was finished. One branch member commented later that the meeting was the most spiritual she had ever attended.
Although criticism of the Church lurks in the background, there are other kinds of challenges that confront members of the May Pen Branch—just one of the thirteen LDS branches in Jamaica. Devaluation of money and the resulting inflation are great concerns. Unemployment and low wages affect nearly everyone and are challenges the government is trying to deal with. Transportation to church meetings is scarce and expensive, so many people walk long distances to attend church. And many members emigrate, seeking greener financial fields, which saps the branch’s strength.
There are, however, two strong antidotes for these problems. The first is the branch members’ eagerness to do missionary work. The second is the brotherly love they share, which fills a gap in many people’s lives. May Pen Branch membership now totals more than 150, and more than 100 attend sacrament meeting each week, including at least 10 investigators.
One of the most successful member-missionary families is that of May Pen Branch president Felix Watson and his wife, Laurel. Sister Watson, a schoolteacher, talks with her co-workers during breaks about interesting ideas discussed at church.
In 1987, Sister Watson invited a neighbor, Patricia Robinson, and her daughter Stacie to go to church with her. Although Sister Robinson wanted to find the truth, she was reluctant to investigate still another church for fear of being disappointed again. But Stacie went, and she reported to her mother that this church was different: it didn’t have a preacher. Sister Robinson decided to give it a try. When she realized that branch members were sincerely interested in her and that the Church answered her questions about religion, she was baptized. She now serves as Relief Society president.
Clifford Jones had attended nearly every church between May Pen and Kingston, looking for one that satisfied his thirst for learning. Then, one day, some missionaries asked him if he believed mankind could become like God. The question intrigued Brother Jones. While taking the lessons, he read the standard works and attended church faithfully. He now serves as second counselor in the branch presidency. Asked how his life has changed since he joined the Church, he smiles broadly and talks of brotherly love.
This brotherly love is also precious to Norris Mahoney, a nineteen-year-old convert of just over a year. “I have never felt so much love as I feel from fellow branch members,” he says.
These priesthood holders, plus six more who attend regularly, make May Pen one of the most fortunate branches on the island in terms of Melchizedek Priesthood strength. But in May Pen, as well as throughout the rest of Jamaica, much of the Church’s strength is still in the bud. Often, a child leads his or her family in investigating the Church.
Dwight Lawrence was twelve when he met missionaries at the home of a friend. He was soon baptized, and his mother, Ruth Green, followed. Sister Green is now an enthusiastic member-missionary as well, freely telling all who will listen about the Church.
The young people of two other families are developing strong testimonies as they help each other live the gospel. The Plummer family consists of Richardo, eighteen, Jonathan, fifteen, Mark, fourteen, Scherrie, thirteen, and Shareefa, eleven. Richardo sees that the family prays night and morning and holds home evening. And Ovington Von Shorter, age twelve, and his brothers Adrian, ten, and Andrew Curtis-Gomes, eight, dress in their best each Sunday and catch a taxi to church. Ovington prizes his privilege of passing the sacrament, and Andrew and Adrian have promised themselves that they will bear their testimonies every month.
These young people and others like them will soon be taking their places as Church leaders and will continue the work of leading friends to the gospel, extending brotherly love, and serving worthily. As they do, their fellow countrymen will see the strength Latter-day Saints can contribute to Jamaica.