(Cross posted at Peter Marina’s blog)
Travel back to Antigua was brief, only a day. Stephen Andrews used his charismatic networking to link me with pastors and religious leaders in St. Lucia, Barbados, and Dominica (pronounced dah-meh-NEE-ka). A LIAT airline travel agent that works closely with Andrews’s SJPA House of Restoration Church helped me purchase the tickets at a discount rate, setting up a direct itinerary to all the islands. LIAT, however, will change flight plans at the last minute to maximize profit. For example, the plane I took from Antigua to St. Lucia was slightly delayed. This was going to cost the airline money since passengers would miss connecting flights to and from other Caribbean countries. LIAT decided to change plans and fly first to Barbados, St. Martin, and finally to my destination St. Lucia. LIAT airlines often island hops throughout the Caribbean. It is common for passengers to stop at two or three islands before arriving at their final destination. Passengers stay in the plane at each new stop waiting for new passengers to board. This is true of all countries except for Barbados. When stopping in Barbados, all passengers must exit the plane, go through another security checkpoint where bags and bodies are searched, and get detained in a room prior to boarding the same plane. The process takes about twenty to thirty minutes. While detained, I noticed that I actually was detained and I also noticed that no one else noticed that they were detained as well. We were all temporarily jailed, held in a room without our consent and we lacked the ability to leave. Where I come from, that is called being jailed. I inquired about this to the airport “officials.” I asked if I was temporarily jailed. They said no. I asked if I could leave. They said when the plane boards. I asked if I could leave now. They said no. I explained that being forced against my will to remain in this room is detainment, a temporary jailing. They told me I could leave when the plane boards. It is interesting when people who are jailed do not realize it. The reality was plain as day, we were detained, whether we liked it or not. It is a fact, we were in the room and could not leave. If we tried, they would have prevented us, with aggression and violence if needed. Yet, no one believed what they were actually being subjected to. Reality does not matter as illusion is more powerful.
After my albeit temporary incarceration, I arrived in mountainous St. Lucia. It sits at exactly fourteen degrees North of the equator just Northwest of Barbados and directly South of French-speaking Martinique. As each Caribbean country has its own culture and distinct character, St. Lucia blends traditional religion with a strong respect and fear of Obeah, mixes traditional conservatism with Rastafarian influences, and politeness with ghetto thug urbanism. Like most Caribbean countries, the men are macho and women—at least publicly—play second fiddle.
Immediately upon leaving the airport just north of the capital city Castries, one could easily jump into the Caribbean sea. A long narrow beach sits just feet away from the airport entrance. A taxi will take you to the center of Castries to Derek Walcott Square for about $25 EC. As it turns out, many locals do not give away the unadvertised guesthouses that cater to locals or informal domestic travelers or fellow informal travelers from the Caribbean. It is expected that travelers from outside the Caribbean will travel formally and pay through the nose for all services. I asked the taxi driver about informal accommodations at a guesthouse. He claimed ignorance, told me to ask locals in and around the square. During the cab ride the driver and I discussed life, travel, and some of the mysteries of the world. We warmed up to each other and bonded fast in a short amount of time. Prior to arriving at the square, he pointed out a location where there might be a guest house. At the square, I found a Digicel, got a local SIM card, called my contact, traveling preacher Larry Scott, and walked towards the guesthouse. It was basic, no air-conditioning, internet, or hot water. Just a bed and toilet that barely worked for thirty dollars a night.
Introduction to Traveling Preacher Larry Scott
Traveling preacher Larry Scott is part of that intricate and complex charismatic informal networking scene. He travels often to guest preach throughout the Caribbean and United States, especially Seattle. He owns a sports store called Scott’s Sports Shop that sells uniforms and trophies near the city center just off Micoud Street. The small business is his money maker; Scott does not have a church and does not want one. Rather, he guest preaches locally, regionally, and internationally. Discernment and deliverance are his specialties—he figures out the ailment and heals people. He claims to know what ails the hurting person without the person revealing it. That is called discernment. Once Scott figures out the problem, he cures or heals the sickness.
Physical Versus Spiritual Diseases
To Charismatic Christians, two types of sickness exists; physical and spiritual. There is physical leukemia and spiritual leukemia, one needs a medical doctor to cure the disease the other needs a preacherman to treat the other. With the spiritual disease, a demon or evil spirit takes over a victim and manifests itself in various ways. One way is to make the individual suffer as if it’s a physical disease. But it is not physical. It is a spiritual disease that manifests itself as physical. Doctors cannot treat a spiritual disease using medicines or surgeries intended to fix physical problems—even if the spiritual sickness closely mimics a physical one.
Most mainstream Americans believe that charismatic Christians attempt to use the supernatural to cure physical diseases. Although Charismatic Christians will pray to deliver the individual from physical diseases, the vast majority use the supernatural to cure the spiritual diseases that is manifesting itself as a physical disease. To them, it looks physical but it is not. The demon makes an illusion that mimics a real disease so that doctors will try to cure it to no avail. This will keep the demon safe. If the demon tricks people into believing it is not a denomic possession, but rather a physical disease, the demon can remain in the body since no amount of science, medicine, or surgery can take the demon out of the body. The demon only runs into problems when someone figures out that the sickness is of a spiritual nature.
Charismatics do not try to cure physical diseases with solely spiritual weapons—that is just silly. They say“Get a doctor! Are you kidding me?”“You got Leukemia? Get a doctor man, you sick. Sorry, we will pray for you and that doctor!” But if you have a spiritual disease that acts like a physical one, a demon making it look like you have a physical disease, than what good is a doctor? It is like operating on the foot when the problem is the hand. Nothing is accomplished except making new problems. You got a spiritual disease, you need spiritual healing. It is more likely the non-charismatic Christians who will believe that supernatural forces alone will cure physical diseases, not Charismatic Christians. Upon closer inspection, it is easy to understand the rationality behind their world view.
I interviewed Larry Scott on the Pentecostal movement, his charismatic networking with religious leaders and pastors throughout the US and Caribbean, exorcisms, “deliverance” and healing, the institutionalization of Pentecostalism, and religion and social change in the Caribbean.
St. Lucia Nightlife: Shack Bars and Mini-house Bars
St Lucia’s capital bustles with day time and nightlife activity. Various bus stations take passengers to several destinations throughout the city. Music blares on the streets playing reggae, soca, and various other Caribbean sounds. The huge market sells fruits and vegetables of every kind, small mini-restaurants in the market sell local dishes that often include Kingfish with rice & beans, macaroni, and plantains, and vendors are selling trinkets to lazy tourists just off the cruise ship, wandering over from the port.
Nightlife in St. Lucia bursts with activity. The music pumps and alcohol flows freely. Nightlife happens on the streets, few, if any, inside bars exist. Rather, the bars look like a row of shacks each with individual names like Ron’s Place or Tasha’s Place. Each shack bar serves the local beer Piton and a specialty drink unique to each shack bar. Other bars look like rows of small mini-houses. Customers do not enter, only the bartender is allowed inside. Patrons lean up against a wooden plank like bellying up to a normal bar and order from the bartender. People can order and stand around the mini-house bar talking and soaking in the night. On busy evenings, each mini-house bar puts tables and chairs in front so customers can sit and talk. Sometimes, the bartender of the mini-house will allow you inside the mini-house bar if you have a mistress.
Even though the shack bars are for locals, and visitors will not be turned away, few, if any, would ever venture into these intimidating-looking shack bars. Most woman do not frequent these bars either, only the rough tough-as-nails local woman who usually having missing teeth and worn faces. These are not places for outsiders and I suspect outsiders almost never enter such scenes. I entered the shack bar immediately upon noticing it and ordered a Piton. Everyone stared as I looked around. I said Hi as a man jumped from his seat and handed me a chair between him and the wall. We all began talking and within minutes I was drinking the specialty drink of the shack bar (local rum, sugar, Absinthe, lemon, and more sugar), sharing stories, laughing, talking, and locking arms with the other patrons. By the end of the night we were promising lifelong friendships and exchanging numbers. Good times.
Following this experience, I walked towards my guesthouse stopping at Scott’s Sports Shop to return a phone call; I can only get internet connection when I’m standing near Scott’s router. I was drinking a previously purchased small bottle of St. Lucian rum while sitting on the stoop of the shop checking my email when traveling preacher Scott pulled up in his old and beat up but very cool looking work truck.
I teach qualitative methods at the university. What do you tell your students about what to do when a Pentecostal preacher, your key informant, pulls up when you’re jungle drinking a bottle of rum on the steps of his store late at night? Charismatic Christians tend to frown upon drinking, especially hard drinks like rum. He could have easily said “What are you doing drinking a bottle of rum on the steps of my business?” He could have easily dismissed me and my research for my sinning behavior. Instead, he pulled up in the truck and looked at me as I shouted “Hey pastor, y’all got the best rum in da Caribbean!” He smiled and said “What you doing mon?” I replied, “Just got finished limen.” We entered his store to talk for about an hour on issues related to work, his connections with religious leaders throughout the Caribbean, local and national politics, food, and so on. He encouraged me to meet him again in St. Lucia to join him for a revival. Lucky for me, he was not put off by the rum.
My trip to St. Lucia was cut short due to the death of my abuela. My father called while I was at Scott’s Sports Shop telling me her death was imminent. Although we all new death was coming, the realization of it hit at that moment. I said out loud “My grandmother is going to die today.” A young woman of about twenty-two with big big big brown eyes looked at me, deeply concerned, as if she had complete empathetic understanding. She stared at me with her big blinking eyes as if tears, genuine tears, were about to fall from her eyes. She asked, “Is she saved?” I thought about it for a moment, “Is she saved?” I knew exactly what the Pentecostals mean by those words but all I could think of is how my abuela—we call her Gaggi—how my Gaggi made the ultimate sacrifices in her life to save those she loved. Gaggi possessed the courage and bravery and strength to do what was needed to be done to save those she loved at the sacrifice, the greatest sacrifice a mother could make. Without getting into the politics, she sent her children away to a foreign country to save them from potential tragedy. I thought about Gaggi, I mean deeply thought about Gaggi deep down to the bones, her memory, her selflessness, her devotion, her sacrifice, her saving others. I looked at the young woman with the big brown blinking eyes, smiled, and said to her with a tender smile, “Yes, my grandmother is saved.” She let out a deep sigh of relief stating “She will be with God soon.”
I left St. Lucia to be with my family in New Orleans for two days and flew to Barbados where the next story will begin. Viva mi abuela, viva Gaggi siempre. I conduct research in the same waters of my Gaggi’s birth.