|Rev. James Elmslie|
|Elmslie Memorial United Church|
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 black...like 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 month...so likely will leave the blog-o-sphere till August. Grace & Peace!)