Wednesday, March 31, 2010
The Testimony of the Brethren Assemblies in Belize: A Brief Historical Outline
(Roy Campbell in early 1998 wrote the introduction below. The rest of the information was taken from letters written by himself, Sydney Sauerlender, Harold Wildish or Ralph Clark)
By way of an explanation as to how I came to be identified with that country on the Caribbean shore of Central America, then called British Honduras. I believe a brief word of introduction is appropriate. A long sequence of events in my life led to a firm decision to serve the Lord on a full-time basis wherever He wanted me. I was still in my twenties and fully entrenched in a business career when “the call” came. Two doors of opportunity lay open before me: The first in Tegucigulpa in the Republic of Honduras. The other was Belize in what was then British Honduras. As a young single worker it was thought more appropriate to begin, at any rate, our overseas ministry in Honduras, an old and fairly well manned mission field with many families with whom I could work and master the language – Spanish. Belize, on the other hand had no assemblies of Brethren.
The date was the first of March 1950. It was high noon and very bright and sunny. A noisy motor boat which plied between the SS Caymania, anchored in the Belize Harbor and the then British Honduras Customs, carried a couple of young men who were to see this lively country for the first time in their lives. The two men were Roy Campbell and Albert Karram, a Christian businessman and a friend who took time off to accompany the other on the voyage over and then stayed two weeks. There was no one to meet us nor did we expect anyone since, of course, we knew no one. We came as totally unknown quantities from Kingston, Jamaica but were soon to be surprised and overwhelmed by the warmth and frequency of good hospitality.
In those first couple of weeks the immediate need was to see and to learn all we could. The Lord, without delay, was at work opening doors of opportunity to see much of this interesting country and to meet people from many walks of life. We obtained board and lodging in Belize City and, travelling by bus or with merchandise on trucks, visited Burrell Boom, Corozal, El Cayo and Stann Creek.
Back in the city we quickly got to know a young couple and their family who opened their home to us for evening Bible classes. Lloyd Longworth, the husband, was a professing Christian and his wife Connie was not, but was promptly pointed to Christ during one of the Bible classes to which some of their relatives were invited. Then we sought and obtained permission to hold an open-air gospel meeting in the town square – the “battlefield” as it was cheerfully called.
Sydney Sauerlender arrived from Jamaica in May 1950 to help for a time in the work. Together the two young men conducted meetings on Albert St. in Yarborough in a small rented shop, fixed up as a chapel. ON October 1 of that year they had their first baptism of two. Immediately after the baptism, they met for the first time to remember the Lord. There were just six at the Breaking of Bread service, but it was a most precious occasion.
Harold Wildish wrote from Belize in May 1951 that there were around forty in the Sunday School and for the special evening services the chapel was filled. Many stood and listened outside. Ten weeks of instruction classes for new converts followed the meetings with Mr. Wildish. On Sunday, June 24 a gathering of about 150 people stood on the beach for a short open air meeting. They witnesses seven believers publicly confess their Lord by baptism in a rather rough sea. Afterward thirteen gathered to remember and to worship the Lord.
A boy’s camp was conducted during the last week of August at Crooked Tree. Sydney Sauerlender and Roy Campbell camped with fourteen boys, while a young man employed as camp cook kept them happily alive. Four or five responded to the invitation to confess the Lord as Saviour and after returning to the city one or two others expressed decisions for Christ.
February 10, 1952 was the commencement date of the first gospel campaign with Mr. and Mrs. Harold Wildish, Mr. and Mrs. W.J. (Bill) Patterson, Roy Gustafson and Roy Campbell. It was held in a big wooden tent called the Tabernacle not far from the Governor’s residence. The attendance numbered around one thousand nightly for the months of February and March. During the Christian Challenge Crusade they shared the gospel message in schools, the theater, the prison, on the radio, on the street and among the thousands of softball fans on the sport field, indeed wherever the had opportunity. As a result the size of the assembly was doubled. Sidney Calcraft and Sylva Channer came over from Jamaica to help with the follow-up. They followed up five hundred enquirers. On May 4 they had their first baptism after the crusade. Eighteen were baptized in the sea.
They performed the first assembly wedding after the Lord ’s Supper June 29. Then after the Sunday school they had a baptism at the sea where eleven followed the Lord. The speaker for this service was Dr. Ian Sharpe, a young English army doctor serving with the British troops in Belize. He and his family later went to Belgian Congo as missionaries where the whole family was brutally murdered. Early December 1952 work was commenced on the foundation of the new chapel. They baptized two more on the seventh day of that month.
The new Grace Chapel was opened on March 16, 1953. At that time around forty people were in fellowship. Sunday school attendance was around ninety and between one hundred and fifty and three hundred attended gospel services. Mr. and Mrs. Wildish flew over from Jamaica for the opening and stayed for two weeks of gospel and ministry meetings. The first baptismal service in Grace Chapel was conducted May 28 when seven believers were baptized. The assembly now numbered about fifty and the Sunday school attendance about eighty. In October, George DaCosta of Jamaica held some special gospel meetings and around eighty made professions of faith.
The year of 1954 saw the commencement of the day school with the first three grades. Ms. Gloria Smith from Jamaica was one of the first teachers. Roy Campbell visited Canada and the US early that year mainly to look for a qualified teacher to serve as principal for the new school in Belize City. Contact was made with Ralph and Gladys Clark in Winnipeg and they arrived in Belize with their three children the next year.
In February 1955, Bram Reed from Ontario, Canada came for a gospel campaign. The work began in Gales Point the same year. Roy Campbell conducted the first gospel campaign that summer. From those meetings six men were saved and baptized. The first Breaking of Bread service was celebrated late in that year in the dance hall!
The work in Cinderella Town had been envisioned from the beginning and to that end land had been obtained. It had been considered wiser to work in the area of Grace Chapel first. When the assembly at Grace Chapel was well established, it was decided that it was time to begin in Cinderella Town. During 1955 children’s meetings, open-air services and house-to-house visitations were started in the area. They held a tent campaign on the site where the new chapel was to stand.
In 1956 Mr. Wildish came in March for his fourth visit. By then there were 70 students in Grace Primary School, which, at that time, used the downstairs area of Grace Chapel. Small groups also were meeting in Burrell Boom and Gales Point although they had no building of their own then.
In August 1958, some fifteen young persons professed to have received the Lord as their Saviour at the annual Youth For Christ crusade. Bill Longsworth and Irvine Robinson were the speakers during the eight nights of the crusade. Grace Chapel had a splendid and growing group of young people in their teens and twenties. Work commenced on the building in Cinderella Town with the pouring of concrete for the foundations July 26. Twelve believers were breaking break at Burrell Boom. The new chapel was being used, although incomplete.
June 17, 1959 marked the opening of Berea Bible Chapel in Cinderella Town. They recorded the opening half hour of the dedicatory service which was later broadcast to a wide Sunday night audience over the local radio. station. A team of eight elders from the assemblies in Kingston, Jamaica came over for the occasion. Mr. Leonard King of Trinidad followed afterwards in August. September brought much needed reinforcements with the arrival of Gloria Edwards from Jamaica. She took charge of the primary school, and so released Ralph Clark for other responsibilities. They were hoping to start a high school in early 1961.
After Hurricane Hattie in 1961 much time was taken up with relief and restoration efforts. Due to increasing health problems Roy Campbell left Belize in early April 1962. He made a visit in 1963 and took part in the opening of the new school building. He also visited briefly at the end of 1965.
In August 1966 Roy Campbell married Eunice Timm who had come to Belize in July 1962. They returned to Belize in October of 1966 and stayed until June 1968.
My connection to the shores of Belize began in 2004. Dr. Ted Kay (former vice president of Missionary Service Committee Canada) invited me to accompany him and two other men, Jim Elliot (Ajax, ON) and Bill Coffee (Brantford, ON) on a short-term fact finding mission and ministry trip to Belize. I had worked in neighboring Guatemala for six years with my family. The team of four visited assemblies and ministered in Belize City, Burrell Boom, and The Valley. A small outreach was also taking root in Eight Miles Community just outside of Belize City. We also visited Corozal to the north where there used to be a small work. Since that initial visit I have been leading one or two teams a year to assist in the work. Usually teams of 12 people and for 2 week periods helped with construction, children’s work, sports camps and gospel campaigns. In January 2010 Garnet and Gwen Cooney accompanied me for a week long gospel campaign in Belize City. Three people accepted the Lord at these meetings. Our first medical mission is planned for April 2010.