(Cross posted at petermarina.com)
The airplane roars just above Sunset Beach Bar where drinking beach dwellers photograph low-flying planes on their approach to an airstrip just feet away. St. Martin’s dual personality, Dutch on the south side and French on the north, give the island a distinct character and it’s just a few miles from the neighboring islands of St. Kitts and Nevis. I joined Reverend Nigel, or simply “Rev,” on the plane in St. Kitts that had just made its way from my adopted third home of Antigua. The twenty-minute ride put us in St. Martin at about 7:30 where a female driver awaited to take the Rev to an apartment just on the outskirts of the capital Philipsburg. I, on the other hand, found a beachfront hotel right on the Caribbean Ocean located on Front Street. The hotel’s perfect location near all the downtown and ocean front businesses, along with the crisp air conditioner, even allured the Rev who decided to take a room with his wife in the hotel.
At first, Nigel, the “it’s for me to know and you to find out” Reverend with a big bright smile that gives even the most jaded person warm feelings, remained mysterious as to my true reasons for joining him in St. Martin. When asked, the Rev says smiling “Relax, you are here to do what you are going to do.” As it turns out, the reverend is here to perform a wedding ceremony and baptism for a friend of his as well as shop the much cheaper shops of this “Vegas” of the Caribbean where boats send goods and gifts back to Antigua. This trip became a classic go-along ethnographic approach to research where I informally interviewed the Rev in the car from the airport, while shopping at electronic stores (where he was expecting a boat to arrive from Barbuda) and also buying trinkets and toys for a youth camp in Barbuda. We talked over dinner, breakfast, and while making groceries. Nigel “The Rev” and I quickly developed a rapport and genuine connection with each other. I simply enjoyed being around the man and grew to respect him in many ways. He is much more educated and intelligent than most of the Pentecostal pastors encountered in this trip. This is not to say that Pentecostal pastors lack education and intelligence. Rather, it is more of a testament to the unique exceptionality of the Barbuda reverend originally from a neighborhood in Antigua near Pastor Mathew’s Church. The reverend Nigel displays thoughtfulness, wisdom, authenticity, and rare intelligence. Even though he has an odd and seemingly unnecessary “it’s for me to know and you to find out” mentality it is more of a “if you really want it you will find out” test of wits and perseverance than him hiding information. In fact, the Rev is open and honest, the man has an authentic character, one hard not to admire. He is a different species than his fellow brethren, even his French female friend Fred once told me that the Rev is so different it is hard for her to believe that he is a preacher, especially a Pentecostal preacher.
I took a bus from Philipsburg to the capital of French St. Martin called Marigot where hustling and bustling casinos and bars are substituted for the more French inspired bakeries and bourgeoisie restaurants where tourists relax and enjoy breads, beers, wines, pastries, and French cuisine in a distinctly European neighborhood. In Marigot one can catch ferries to Anguilla and St. Barthelemy as well as Saba and Sint Eustatius.
Over dinner at a beachfront restaurant that sells draft beer (a rarity in the English-speaking Caribbean), the Rev and I discussed concerns over a book called Blazing the Trail written by two wives of PAWI (Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies) Antiguan pastors about the spread of the Pentecostal movement in Antigua. The wives, hoping the PAWI will fund and self-publish the book, feel that the book Ablaze, which is about the formation and spread of PAWI throughout the Caribbean, failed to do full justice to how PAWI formed in Antigua and Barbuda.
Nigel expressed his concerns over the book and was hesitant to approve funding for it. Reverend Nigel, who is the World Missions Executive Director of PAWI, explained that the book seems too unscholarly with data collection based on personal stories and anecdotes. He knows the book will be of no interest to people outside of a small percentage of congregation members. If there are about four thousand PAWI members in the dual island country Antigua & Barbuda perhaps only two thousand might be interested in reading parts of the book that might apply specifically to their church or is relevant to their lives. After drinking my second pint while the Rev and his wife ate dinner, I agreed to give the book a look and offer some comments. The Rev sent me a PDF copy of the book a couple of days later. I replied with a brief email of preliminary my comments :
Blazing the Trail is now downloaded on my computer. I will make sure to give it a look. It was a bit striking that the introduction does not provide much of a book outline or table of contents which makes the book seem unorganized and unstructured. The authors also include some of their own poetry that might seem self-serving to the reader, even if well intentioned. The manuscript does not have any chapters that necessarily break up the book into appropriate sections. At first glance, the authors take on the role of cheerleaders for PAWI and its religious leaders rather than an objective historical account of the movement. The social science, or historical validity and reliability is lacking of course but the intended audience is a religious, non-academic audience. I will provide more later when time permits me to further look at the manuscript. I hope you are well. Can we confirm my arrival to Barbuda August 30th?
We later confirmed my arrival to Barbuda on August 30th, an event that will be written about in the near future. Aside from the manuscript in question, we also discussed some problems in general with Pentecostal preachers. Many preachers seem to know little about the world outside their congregations (I find this very similar to many professors) lack any formal education (unlike professors who seem perfectly educated to the point of complete orthodoxy and acceptance of the status quo) and lack a general cosmopolitanism to address wider audiences outside the bubble of hard-core Christianity. Perhaps Pentecostal preachers might make good use of a world outside their congregation and religious fundamental “theology” and venture into the world of the Arts, Social Sciences, Philosophy, Physics, etcetera.
On Saturday July 17, the Rev and I walked to breakfast talking about various topics including western politics, religious beliefs, the Pentecostal movements, and so on. After breakfast, I accompanied Nigel while he shopped retail stores and made groceries at a local shop. As we walked the streets and stores, I held my recorder near his mouth to capture his voice from the frantic streets and noises common with shoppers. I even kept the reorder on as we jumped in and out of buses traveling to various destinations.
Perhaps our most important discussion involved the story about Pastor Lester Bradford’s Antigua October 2013 trip to unite the divided Established, Independent, and Evangelical churches in Antigua & Barbuda. This interview is fully taped for transcription. The Rev explained that the verbal agreement that the pastors made to unite at the request of Bishop Bradford was simply words without any meat or substance. On another topic the Rev explained that what divides the church has little to do with doctrine and more about individual personality differences and competition. When I explained my hypothesis about the future of charisma in the church, he agreed that ironically it is the division in the charismatic Christian church that keeps it, at least in part, charismatic. I will fully elaborate on this point on the book as well as offer other points on the fate of charisma in the charismatic church in the Caribbean.
The Rev and I agreed to meet in Barbuda on August 30th for a visit. Nigel says to just arrive in Barbuda and everything will be taken care of. Unsurprisingly, the man kept his word.
Before leaving St. Martin, I made a point to travel to sunset beach to have a few beers and to take pictures and some video of planes passing right over my head. (You can see them on my flickr and youtube channels.) The bar at sunset beach even offers free drinks to shirtless (and braless) women and posts the times of each arriving flight to Juliana Airport so patrons can prepare for each passing plane. Other patrons hang on to fences for dear life as jet engines with gale-force winds blast across the beach sending beach dwellers and their belongings into the Caribbean.
The joy of St. Martin seemed a world away from the surreal magic of the Dominican Republic and shocking intensity of Haiti where my next posting begins.