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Thursday, June 30, 2011

CayHistory: Cayman Gets Religion

Rev. James Elmslie
For my readers who hail from Grand Cayman, it might be hard to imagine a time in which this island was devoid of Jesus. You see churches everywhere. On a back road recently, I saw someone had turned their old outhouse into a church (unless they were playing a cruel joke on any passerby looking for spiritual sanctuary). But this island was devoid of Christianity - in fact, its first successful missionary commented that not only was the majority of the population nonChristian but they specifically chose religious occasions to flagrantly indulge in excessive passions and pleasures. As I continue to read Michael Craton's lengthy history of Cayman Founded Upon the Seas, I found out some things about this missionary that I'd like to pass on to you. After all, we owe him a debt of gratitude for his introduction of the gospel to Cayman.

Elmslie Memorial United Church
Cayman's first long-term missionary. His name is Rev. James Elmslie. If the name sounds familiar, it's because you frequently pass by the seaside, downtown United/Presbyterian church that bears his name (or at least use its parking lot to make I did yesterday). Like Elmslie, the church used to be Presbyterian but has since become a mixture of two varying denominations -- but we'll steer clear of that potential land mine.

The Seeds of God's Work. In January of 1845, a Presbyterian minister arrived in Cayman via shipwreck. But what seemed misfortune was certainly Providence as the Lord was to start moving on this island. During Hope Masterton Waddell's brief stay, he was impressed "by the people's essential goodness and hunger for organised religion." When he returned to Scotland, he urged lobbied the Scottish Missionary Society to start a Mission in Cayman, but to no avail. 

But Waddell did influence a second missionary to at least visit -- Rev. William Niven. One day Niven found two local men paddling out to sell turtle on the Sabbath -- but they told him honestly and frankly that they would've been in church had their been a minister. That set Niven ablaze with excitement. His Presbyterian Missionary board gave him authorization to recruit a missionary from Jamaica. In July 1846, Niven made a impassioned plea for a Caymanian Mission before the Jamaican Presbytery at Montego Bay. But at first there were no takers. At the end of his speech, Niven quoted the the Lord from Prophet Isaiah: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" (Isaiah 6:8). After what was by all accounts a dramatic pause, the Rev. James Elmslie, pastor of Green Island, Hanover, responded to the call.

God's man. Elmslie was in many ways a surprising choice. He was already fifty years old and well-established at Green Island. Under his care, the church at Green Island grew from a scant few to around 900 persons. 

Upon arriving, Elmslie was met with immediate adversity. One of the worst hurricanes in living memory ripped through the Western Caribbean just as he was arriving. Then, many of the people made their intentions clear telling Elmslie and the few who came to assist him: "We don't not want any black coats" (and he couldn't just change into any coat from the L.L. Bean catalogue...the Presbyterians kept their coats their coffee). Nothing much happened for the first year.

An enemy becomes a friend & the gospel spreads. One of the most vehement opponents to Elmslie and his message was the Custos (the top dog in the island's government). James Coe Jr., perhaps plagued by a guilty conscience, thought the Elmslie's "hellfire" sermons were aimed  directly at himself. He once had to be restrained by his fellow Magistrates from angrily confronting Elmslie after a service. After one service Elmslie writes that Coe shouted at him, "What new doctrine is this which we are getting now? Nothing but sin, sin at all times."

But perhaps it was all that talk of sin that made Coe examine to what extent it was in his own heart &, thus, his need for a Rescuer in Christ. No one seems to know. But what is certain is that the Holy Spirit worked on this stubborn, willful leader to help him trust Christ. By the wharf one day, Coe confronted Elmslie and said to him: "I can see now why you have preached the way you have done. If you had not done so, you would not have been faithful. We thought we were all well...but I am afraid we are all lost. You have kindled a light in this island that will not be extinguished when you are mouldering in the dust." Shortly thereafter Coe became a formal member of Elmlie's church and later an elder. By all accounts, he loved and faithfully served Jesus till the day he died. Amazing! The grace of God can change even the stoniest of hearts!

This fueled a fire in Elmslie, who, though an older man, began traveling by foot, on horse, by canoe sharing the good news of the gospel throughout Grand Cayman. And many responded - to the praise and glory of God.

He's now a witness to our endurance. The author of Hebrews tells us: "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also throw aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Hebrews 12:1). This man was inching toward his 60's as he went to and fro throughout Cayman, preaching, encouraging, caring with the hope of Christ. He did so by foot, horse, and canoe. Can you imagine a near 60-year old man today pulling up onshore on the East End donning a black suit? Unreal. Yet now he looks on as one of many amongst the cloud of witnesses that has gone before us. I hope he sees a people who are willing to endure similar hardship, persecution, even seeming foolishness to advance the work of the gospel that he began. We thank You, Father, for Rev. James Elmslie and his faithful witness on this Island. 

(I'm on holiday for about a likely will leave the blog-o-sphere till August. Grace & Peace!) 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Free Audiobook for June: A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada's free audiobook for June is A Place of Healing by Joni Eareckson Tada. (CLICK HERE TO ACCESS)

For anyone who struggles with pain or finds themselves in position to sympathize and minister hope to those who do, this book is well-recommended. In fact, it's really beneficial for anyone. Plus, her witty, sardonic style should keep the reader laughing at themselves as the listening-time moves swiftly by. 

In her own current struggle with pain, Joni chronicles her own views on suffering, divine healing, God's purposes, and finding joy in Christ and his gospel of grace. If you're looking for a theological treatise on suffering, look elsewhere. This is an account of a woman who has grappled with God's truth and has matured while applying them to her own struggles. 

Over forty years ago, a diving accident left Joni a quadriplegic. Having adapted to her plight, a new bout of suffering has been thrown her way: Unrelenting pain. This remarkable testimony displays a woman who seeks and savors Christ not in spite of her pain but, in many ways, because of it.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Hindering people because of my Annoyance

I can relate.
Upon the disciples shoo'ing away children whom they considered were pestering Jesus, Luke tells us the following:

But Jesus called them to him, saying, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them" (Luke 18:16).

As I read this verse I began to think of children approaching Jesus or any relatively benevolent authority figure, for that matter, with their problems. Children don't come with the biggest problems but they come with real problems. And, to them, such are the ones that really matter most.

A childish example. Thursday Night is typically the one night a week I don't eat dinner with my family. Last night I walked in to my youngest son, Gage, attempting to surprise me (which typically involves wearing a batman costume, eyes encased by those experimental goggles you're forced to wear for 11th grade Chemistry class, and a purple feather boa loosely affixed). He did nothing but plead his case over a dilemma: "Daddy, you're not putting us to bed, are you?" I typically put our children to bed every night (shower, brush teeth, etc.) and we have a good time. But they frankly take advantage of their mother when she performs the nightcap as it takes 3x as long and often turns into Cirque de Soleil on the bunk beds. So...yeah, they prefer that. So I assured Gage that, yes, Mommy was putting them to bed. But my mere presence on the scene, just minutes before bedtime, still disconcerted him: "Daddy, you're not supposed to put us to bed tonight." Seriously, even though I agreed with his statement, it took 8-10 times to convince him of this minor dilemma. But, for him, this problem was an obstacle to life itself.

The Annoyance. Are you like me: Ever just get worn down by others' seemingly minute problems and complaints? The couple that really shouldn't be together -- the woman knows it, the guy has latched onto her -- but she keeps lapsing back into the relationship and asks for prayer for setting up boundaries ("I don't want to not be around him. But needs to be limited."). Someone who asks God (and you) to pray they'd get more time to spend time with God or more time for church, yet has packed their schedule with stuff that entertains them. Or what about the couple who asks for prayer for more time together yet are never willing to leave their kids alone (you know, with like a babysitter). Okay, that's probably can sense my annoyance plenty.

The conviction.  (I speak the following not really as a pastor but as a Christian and brother-in-Christ). But if and when I convey half-hearted interest, if and when my prayers begin to wane for that person, and if and when I fail to hold out the same vibrant hope in the gospel of grace as I would to a seeking non-Christian, am I not hindering children from God's throne?  Avoiding such people in possible moments of encouragement or avoiding them by leaving off their names and concerns before the throne of God, seems to highlight a heart that's...well...okay with hindering -- because while such problems may not be the most important, to the person affected, they are very real. 

After all, my problems may be trite and annoying to someone else, but I hope they bring them before "the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).