A Report on the Feast of Tabernacles in Ocho Rios, Jamaica (CGI), 2006
By Eric V. Snow
With high attendances of 340 on the Last Great Day and 375 on Wednesday, the largest Caribbean and Church of God, International (CGI) Feast site was at Ocho Rios, Jamaica this year. Despite its relatively small size, this Feast of Tabernacles site still upholds a remarkably high level of excellence for its public speaking, special music, and social activities. A unique aspect of this Feast site concerned brethren from a cruise ship joining services for one day in the middle of the week, thus raising attendance then over that for the last and first days.
The organized social activities during the Feast included a singles’ mingle discussion (which surprisingly lasted two hours) and dance, a special dinner for the local churches’ leaders, a seniors luncheon, a youth dinner, the couples night, and a youth mingle and pool party. The annual sports day activity was between two teams (“Isaiah” and “Jeremiah”) that divide up the local churches that make up the great majority of the members attending here. The Jamaica night featured traditional local food and music, including a particularly outstanding dance routine set to African music by a group of teenage (or slightly older) girls. The family fun show included the (original) play or skit done every year, and a number of musical acts, such as Margaret Grant’s original spiritual rap song.
Other organized activities outside services with a clear spiritual emphasis included the Herbert W. Armstrong Memorial Speaking Contest. It offered a J$10,000 prize (about US$154) to its winner. Featuring six men (but no women!) this year, the contestants received up to 20 minutes to argue against the immortality of the soul. The long reigning and undefeated champion, Sandra Mae Robinson, graciously allowed mankind to regain the contest’s trophy by opting for a well-deserved (but temporary?) retirement. The newly crowned champion, Trevor Murphy, won primarily on the strength of his theological analysis. Chester Coke and Solomon Bleary, who both did unusually well in analyzing various Biblical texts, respectively came in second and third.
The special praise and worship and rap session on spiritual growth had its song service led by a group of women with the Spanish Town church presently affiliated with CGI, but which originally had an independent origin. Deacon Glenford Smith, presently in training to become an elder, led the interactive session the followed afterwards. It featured the heart-felt testimonies of people who had sacrificed heavily to obey God’s special revealed truths. For example, one lady had to spend her children’s textbook money in order to keep the Feast. The general point was made that by sharing our testimonies we help edify each other spiritually, which wouldn’t occur if out of embarrassment we kept silent about our struggles. On the Last Great Day in the morning off the beach, four people were baptized, thus continuing the local church’s remarkable pattern of strong growth in recent years.
Most of the sermons and sermonettes given during the Feast here were unusually insightful and/or powerfully delivered. Ian Boyne, the CGI pastor in Jamaica, gave on the opening day a message warning against judging a Feast’s effectiveness primarily by the criteria used to judge a vacation, such as the physical facilities and sightseeing opportunities rather than by the church services and spiritual activities. Pastor Boyne also explored the typology of the Feast as ancient Israel lived it in the wilderness. He compared it to how we dwell in temporary booths in the spiritual wilderness of the world, which symbolize God’s way of protecting us there (Ps. 27:5; 31:20), and how He would also protect us in the future nowadays. Deacon Smith’s sermon that same day focused on how we should evaluate the level of passion we put into our spiritual lives, as evaluated by the amount of time, energy/effort, talent/skills, and money/financial resources we expend in any aspect of our lives. On Sunday, Pastor Boyne explored more the typology of the tabernacle in the wilderness, and what it means for us spiritually today. We as God’s people live in exile in the wilderness, a most dangerous place spiritually, while seeking the Promised Land. So then, do we actually live our lives that way to fit that typology today? He described the zealousness of Jehovah’s Witnesses in their spiritual activities, such as by going to church three times a week and spending many hours a month publicly evangelizing; by comparison, many in the Church of God were often very slack. In his message, the visiting speaker Ray Curtis noted that since Satan has deceived the whole world, including its education and general thought processes, we Christians have to live an examined life.
Both Fentony Tracy and Deacon Gilbert Bell gave unusually interesting sermonettes. Tracy’s energetically given message partially focused on making sure fear doesn’t cause us to disobey God. For instance, Adam’s fear of losing Eve likely caused Him to join with His wife in eating the spiritually deadly fruit. Adam lost his life out of fear, but Jesus gave His life out of love. Tracy built upon Genesis 2:15’s implication that Adam’s placement in the garden of Eden was like his being put into a temple, or tabernacle, that the first man was to serve in a manner like a priest. God came down (Genesis 3:8) to a specific place to tabernacle with mankind. So worshipping God fully correctly isn’t done just at any time or place we choose. Furthermore, by hiding, Adam moved away from God’s shelter, or God’s tabernacle, in the garden. Deacon Bell’s remarkable sermonette was so strongly delivered that it likely brought forth the most emotionally engaged response by the listeners of any message delivered during the Feast. The classic “call and response” pattern between preacher and congregation most fully manifested itself during this message, which included Bell’s briefly singing a strong “soul/blues” spiritual briefly near its start. He noted that those ashamed to give their testimonies of spiritual struggle hurt others, for the poor needed to hear them in order to be edified themselves. He spoke of how hope is the anchor during the storms and waves of life’s trials. Your hope should be in Jesus, not in [economic deliverance from] America. We should willing take fire, i.e., trials, from God now to save us from the world’s fire to come.
Other speakers delivered solid messages at this Feast site. Deacon Paul O’Connor spoke of the need for balance during the Feast, concerning the need to balance both the vertical (man to God), or especially spiritual, and horizontal (man to man), or especially social, aspects of the Feast. Ian Boyne gave one message specially tailored (including by being shorter!) for the mostly independently affiliated North American cruise ship visitors on Wednesday. It focused on the need to sacrifice individually to rebuild God’s evangelistic work, in a metaphorical comparison with Nehemiah’s rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. Despite the inefficiencies and corruption of the old WCG, which he mentioned in some specific detail, its efforts in preaching the true Gospel still reached Jamaica, and changed his (and others’) lives decisively. Disappointment in ministerial leadership in the past shouldn’t cause us to give up energetically preaching the Gospel to the world today. Pastor Boyne worked to break new ground in another sermon that spotlighted the positive (but normally neglected) role women played in Scripture. The traveling CGI minister, Bill Watson, gave two well-delivered messages. One focused on warning people against apathy as prophesied end-time events draw increasing close to us. His Last Great Day sermon did make the point that merely enjoying ourselves in this life, by drinking, eating, listening to music, dancing, etc., isn’t enough. We have to transform ourselves, for which one day we’ll receive the prize of gaining glorious spirit bodies. Deacon George Ramocan, also an elder-in-training, passionately preached on the Last Great Day. He said that when we go back to Babylon (this world’s economic/political system), we shouldn’t foolishly act like Esau, and sell out our spiritual birthright for some ultimately trivial means of material or sexual satisfaction.
Despite being small in number, the CGI Feast site in Ocho Rios, Jamaica was strong in spirit as shown by the preaching and singing. If only worldwide we could have the same level of zeal throughout all God’s Feast sites as shows itself here!