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"A BY-PATH OF PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONS IN THE WEST INDIES"

by Rev. Gilbert Earle
The Trinidad Presbyterian
June 1923
(Reprinted from "East and West", Canada)

 

The name of Trinidad has long been familiar to Canadians as the home of a flourishing mission of the Presbyterian Church of Canada. It is a mission whose history teems with romance and interest. Trinidad has another stirring missionary association with a great reformation movement, whose dramatic success and extent were such as to force the late Dr. Andrew Bonar to describe it as "the greatest fact of modern missions."

In St. Ann's Road bordering the suburbs of Port-of-Spain, the beautiful capital city of Trinidad, stands St. Ann's Church, where people of the third and fourth generation of a group of Protestant Portuguese - religious refugees from Madeira - who fled from persecution in that island in 1945.

The story of the persecutions is a great one. The Church in Scotland sent a minister to Madeira, to labour among the Scotch community there. About the same time Dr. Robert Reid Kalley, whose plans for medical missionary service in China had fallen through, also settled in Madeira. To his patients he expounded the Word of God. They in turn were profoundly interested and moved, so that early and late by day and night, and especially on Sundays they gathered in thousands to hear the reading and preaching. Numbers were converted to the evangelical faith and joined the Church, with the result that dire and dreadful persecution broke out. Bibles were seized and burned, converts thrown into prison, and the men conscripted in the army. Dr. Kalley himself suffered imprisonment, though such imprisonment was illegal, but he was only released after strong protest made at Lisbon by the British Ambassador. Finally in danger of his life, and dressed as a woman to avoid detection, he was carried by night to a ship and left the land together about seventeen hundred of those Portuguese who thought like him and believed with him. Some of the refugees, the larger number, went to the United States of America; others went to South America, where in Brazil there is today a group of "Dr. Kalley Churches." The smaller group - mostly penniless - in Trinidad

At first the poor people were shepherded by the minister of the already established Scotch Presbyterian Church, but, as they were all Portuguese speaking, one of their number was sent to Scotland and ordained for the special purpose of ministering to his fellow countrymen. A site for a Church was obtained, and, helped by volunteer workers who went into the forest and cut down the trees and hauled home the timbers, the first "Portuguese" Church in Trinidad was built. This was superseded at later date by the present handsome stone edifice. A commodious manse has been built and recently there has been erected a fine hall which is in constant use as a Sunday School and for community purposes.

The records of the local auxiliary Bible Society contain details of a gift "of Portuguese Bibles for the use of the Portuguese Church." All the members of the congregation now of course speak English, and such of the old Portuguese Bibleless as remain are kept as mementos of a half forgotten romance. In one family is kept as a special treasure one of the Bibles that was buried by the grandparents of the present owners, at the time of the persecutions.

The Church has made its own contribution to the general missionary history of the Kingdom. A grandson of one of the earlier ministers (who himself suffered severely for the faith he held) is a trusted and successful minister in the Philippine Islands. Another young fellow, now taking a medical course at McGill, has recently volunteered for the medical missionary service of the church. Thus, in the service of its children, the little group is giving back for what the fathers received.

Among the present generation are those who have adorned and adorn still, positions in the Civil Service and the municipal life of the community.

The great war did not find the congregation lacking, and eighteen men, including the pastor enlisted, and two, the minister and an elder of the Church "died that honour might live." A very beautiful stained glass window erected in the Church in 1919 commemorates the sacrifice of these lives. Thus in every way the descendants of those who suffered for the faith years ago, are still true to the traditions of the heroic days and the faith and spirit of their fathers.


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