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The Early Years

by Mary R. Olson 1

July 30, 1907 is a most important date for the Church of God in Jamaica. On that day a young man of twenty-four, his wife and twenty month old son, landed in Kingston, made their way through the ruins of King Street, and had their first meal in Jamaica, bought from a stall in the Parade. The poinciana trees were in glorious bloom, and they felt at peace in the strange land. They had obeyed the call.

No one had met them, so George Olson left his wife Nellie and son Daniel in the park and went to find Isaac Delevante, who had sent an urgent appeal to "The Gospel Trumpet" for missionaries. He had just received the letter from Anderson when there was a knocking at the gate. Imagine his joy to meet George Olson!

A room was secured at 101 Mark Lane and boxes and boards secured for furniture. They settled in and began to learn to like new foods.

The first convert was Louis Delevante and the second, Lopey Fowler. She gave her heart and life to God at the first street meeting held on August 1, 1907, at the corner of Barry and Fleet Streets. This marked the beginning of the Church of God in Jamaica.

These new missionaries depended entirely on God. There was no Missionary Board until 1911 and no regular support until 1919. As voluntary workers in the Missionary Home in Anderson they had no pay. On July 4, 1907 their total money was $1.75. They were given $150.00 from the Missionary funds and had only $87.00 when they landed in Jamaica. They had very little to live on, but they had a mighty faith in God.

And God worked marvellously! Every need (not want) was met, yet many times they did not know how the next meal would be provided for themselves and the workers living with them. Out in the country parts they went, from Kingston to St. Andrew, to St. Mary, to Clarendon, to Portland. Any offer of hospitality was welcome, and a ride even in an ox cart was most appreciated. The work grew, and in four years it was conducted in twelve places. No area was too humble. Services were held in Mark Lane, Rum Lane, Smith Lane, in a tent on Highholborn Street and later at 55a Highholborn Street.

The first Assembly Meeting was held in 1908 with Bro. C.E. Orr from Anderson as special visitor. The next year when Bro. N.S. Duncan visited for two weeks, the second Assembly was held. This was outstanding, as George W. Cohen and George Downie were baptised, and George Olson ordained to the ministry.

In 1910, with Bro. E.E. Byrum from Anderson and Bro. A.D. Khan from India, the Third Assembly Meeting was held. Much publicity was given to the meeting by "The Daily Gleaner" and one of these services was held in the East Queen Street Baptist Church and another at the Parade. A large number of people were present. During this Assembly Teacher John A. Mason was baptised and Brother A.S. McNeil ordained to the ministry. The following year Bro. Cohen resigned his work in the Public Works and devoted his whole time to the ministry. He laboured at Port Antonio for 16 years, at Frankfield for six and then at Highholborn Street.

Other early ministers were: A.S. McNeil, 1909 – 27; John A. Mason, 1909 – 21; D.A. Hines, 1914 – 52. The ladies were: Miss Amy Lopez, 1914-23 and Mrs. Nellie Olson – both of whom were ordained.

Early missionaries were: Archie and Rebecca Rather, 1919-24; George and Maud Coplin, 1923-25; Frank and Jennie Steimla, 1924-43 and Miss Edith Young 1927-64.

The growth of the work was outstanding. From the time of the first two converts in 1907, to 1932, when the Silver Anniversary was held, there were 66 churches with 1,800 members 70 Sunday Schoolsh 2,900 members and 16 Young People’s Fellowships. Ten years later there were 80 churches with 2,000 members, 78 Sunday Schools with 3,884 members and the property was valued at $17,000. There were also 18 ordained ministers and a large number of local leaders.

In 1914 the Highholborn Street Church was dedicated and by 1928 it had to be enlarged. Thus the site that was being excavated for a rum shop was dedicated to the glory of God. The first gift for this church was $5.00 which came all the way from China.

The work grew in other ways. The Gospel Messenger was printed monthly; the Jamaica Bible Institute was started in 1926 and the first three graduates were R.U. Smith, K.D. Headlam and Gladys Campbell (later Mrs. Headlam).

There were hardships, discouragements, ridicule, (the Wash Foot Society), but there was missionary zeal and enthusiasm. Prayer meetings and Sunday Schools were held in homes; tracts were distributed, street meetings held and the sick visited. Converts were added daily to the Church for "the people had a mind to work."

What are we doing today? Are we answering the call of Christ? Are we extending the Kingdom? Let us arise, unite, work and go forward, "for the night cometh when no man can work."

 Daughter and late Principal of the Ardenne High School. Mary followed in her mother’s footsteps. This document was reprinted in September 2006 by permission of the Church of God in Jamaica.

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