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JAMAICA HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE by by Mike Hansen

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Mission History I arrived in Jamaica in August of 1985 as part of the first group of missionaries assigned to the newly-formed Jamaica Kingston mission. President Richard Brough, from Kaysville Utah, I arrived in Jamaica in August of 1985 as part of the first group of missionaries assigned to the newly-formed Jamaica Kingston mission. President Richard Brough, from Kaysville Utah, was the first mission president called to preside over the new mission. He and his family had been in Jamaica for about one month at the time of our arrival. Although the mission was newly-formed, there were missionaries from the West Indies mission serving on the island prior to our arrival. At that time, the church was small but growing. I think there were less than 1,000 members on the island at the time with small branches in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Mandeville, Port Antonio, Linstead, Spanish Town, Portmore, and Kingston. Most of the branches had between 25-75 people attending church each week and all the services were held in rented buildings. The mission home and office were in Mandeville but were moved to Kingston shortly thereafter. The mission has always been a little smaller than average as far as missionary numbers. We had somewhere around 80-90 in the very early months of the mission but averaged between 60-70 most of the time I served. When the Kingston chapel was being constructed a great deal of curiosity and concern arose from the general public regarding the rapidly expanding Mormon church. There were many misconceptions floating about regarding the church and our purposes in Jamaica. We held many town-hall type meetings to try to explain our beliefs and had large crowds attend. It was not unusual to give out several cases of Books of Mormon. During this time, a companionship was stopped in Savannah-La-Mar. They both had expired work permits and were temporarily put in the local jail. This seemed to spark a lively anti-Mormon campaign which led to a great deal of publicity, rumor, and excitement. To make a long story short, the church received a tremendous amount of free advertising and there were many contacts made with people who wanted to know what we really believed. There was a flurry of newspaper articles, radio interviews, and television coverage of the church. I believe that the missionaries and members were made stronger through the afflictions and some very positive things happened as a result. There were some wonderful ambassadors of the church such as the BYU Lamanite Generation and others that helped to open new doors. The strength of many of the members was certainly faith promoting. Some of these include the Nugents, the Hydes, the Tuckers, and Amos Chin to name a few. Several General Authorities visited Jamaica during these years including David B. Haight, Rex Pinegar, Marvin J. Ashton, and Robert Wells. Their visits were also tremendously inspiring for the missionaries and the members. The church grew at a controlled pace but we normally had about one baptism per missionary per month. First Impressions - Keep in mind that some things have changed since I was in Jamaica and some other things will never change. My first days in Jamaica were busy just absorbing all the changes. Some of the big changes included driving on the left, people and animals in the streets, the famous Jamaican accent, and the sheer beauty of the island (oh yea, don't forget the heat and humidity). Despite the island's small size, it is a very diverse land. You can experience the breathtaking white-sand beaches or the dense foliage of the majestic mountains. Jamaica has it all. The people are just as diverse. They cover all extremes of social, economic, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. They are all proud of their country and proud of their heritage. The food was not hard to adjust to. No one can cook chicken like the Jamaicans. My first meal in Jamaica was jerk pork at the Spanish Town roundabout. It was a meat-lovers delight since the entire meal was this hot pork wrapped up in a piece of paper. The flavor was spicy and it was dripping with grease. I felt a little primitive standing there chewing on that pork but it was good and I never had trouble with the food in Jamaica. In fact, if you enjoy fruit, you will be in paradise. There were fruits I had never heard of or imagined. Each one was unique and full of taste. My first discussion was taught to a little old lady near Bog Walk. Her house was a one-room home with just enough room around the bed for a few belongings. She was friendly as are most of the Jamaicans and it is never difficult to find people to talk with. Teaching was not difficult but committing people to action was sometimes challenging. Most of the people were somewhat intrigued by the "whiteys" and were curious to know what we were doing in Jamaica. They would talk to us like friends and would generally listen to what we had to say. The biggest challenge I found in bringing people into the gospel was committing them. (Yes, practice that commitment pattern!) Many of them say they will do something but will never follow through without plenty of encouragement, reminders, and inspiration. The "soon come" attitude took some adjustment for me. I found myself getting very inpatient at times but you must realize that this is part of their culture and they generally cannot be rushed. Riding the bus, or even a taxi, is an experience never to forget. In Jamaica, there is no such thing as an empty bus. There is always room for another person. Some of the small buses (which are basically mini-vans) had modified seating to accommodate squeezing more riders on. We mostly took public transportation and they got you to where you were going just fine. They drive fast down narrow, winding roads but it gives you plenty of time to pray and exercise your faith. You will soon realize that the Lord really is watching out for you. In addition to public transportation, I spent about half of my mission on a bike and about 6 months in a car. For the time we were in a car we drove using our US drivers licenses and there was rarely a dull moment behind the wheel. I was always amazed at how long it took to travel the island despite its relatively small size. (approximately 50 miles wide by 150 miles long) As far a living conditions, there were some adjustments to be made. First of all there were no water heaters in our apartments. This meant that the showers were cold. They definitely wake you up and get you going. Many of us started showering at night after a hot day in the sun. The water had warmed up a little and it actually felt good to cool off before bed. We also had a strange thing called "brown-outs." The electrical power would drop to about half the normal wattage. The lights were dim and the fan turned about half-speed. This was fairly common during rain storms when the power lines got wet. As far a meals, we did get some dinner appointments but were on our own most of the time. This could have changed but most missionaries also hired "helpers" to do some cooking, shopping, and cleaning. The helpers did the laundry by hand and dried the clothes on the line. It was a full day job for them but they got those white shirts very white. At the time I served, the exchange rate was about $5 or $6 JA to $1 US. That was before the uniform payment plan but most missionaries spent about $300 US per month. We did do some of our own banking and usually at least went to the bank to exchange our US cash or checks for Jamaican currency. Their largest bill was only a $20 and because of the exchange rate, we would usually go out of the bank with a big stack of bills. One thing that has probably not changed much is the mail system. It is not what you would call fast (or highly dependable) Most letters to home (Utah) took about 2 weeks and mail from home took about 3 weeks. In some cases it took much longer than that. In my last area (Portmore) I received a letter addressed to Al Lino. Al served in Portmore 18 months earlier and that was how long the letter had been in the system. The envelope looked like it had been around the world about 5 times. That was an extreme example but I think it might still hold the record for taking the longest. Hopefully this gives you a small idea of what you might expect in Jamaica and will give you some historical perspective to compare against. If you are on your way to Jamaica, you have the experience of a lifetime before you! This article by Mike Hansen Mike served his mission in Jamaica 1985-1987