You can usually tell when the seasons are changing. The leaves begin to change color, the weather gets colder and at some point it begins to snow. At other times of the year it is the appearance of the first flower or the first 90 degree day that provides the evidence that things are changing again. This week I spent time with our CLC teams in Trinidad and Barbados and saw evidence that a new and exciting season is beginning for these teams. There is a new wind blowing in the West Indies and God is getting us ready for a time of harvest.
After landing at Piarco International airport on Monday, I could not help but take a quick picture of the beautiful blue sky and gentle white clouds that greeted us. The humidity was far less than at other times of the year and the dry season was clearly in full swing. This beautiful welcome was a hint that this would be a special week. We were going to see much of the island of Trinidad, meet all our team members and begin planning for the future.
January is usually inventory taking season in our retail stores around the world and that was true in Trinidad as well. In the Caribbean and especially in Trinidad, this time of the year has a particular rhythm for our teams. For generations the beginning of Lent has been celebrated by the time of Carnival. The carnival week often takes place in February and is a time of celebration, music, dancing and incredible costumes. It is also a time of drunkenness, debauchery and sometimes violence as calypso and soca bands compete for dominance in various competitions and their fans get rowdy. As we traveled around the island, we could see and hear signs of the preparations for Carnival and realized that this was a unique season of its own.
Our ministry has four bookstores on the island of Trinidad and they are all on the western side of the island where the majority of the population live. Our first trip was to the very southern tip of the island to visit our team in Point Fortin. This entailed a two hour trip down the Highway and then onto a long and windy road that ended in a bustling town of several thousand people. Our small store is located in a prominent spot on the main road and is an important lighthouse in the community. As we were graciously greeted by Alice and Marva, I could not help but remember that this was the same town where our previous store manager had been murdered in the bookstore. This remote place had been the scene of violence and devastation. Yet we are still there like a Phoenix rising from the ashes.
Trinidad is an island of many contrasts. As we left the Point Fortin store after being duly impressed by the hard work and dedication of team and the well merchandised store, we passed a funeral pyre on the road to San Fernando. This place was where Hindu’s bring their dead to be cremated in public. It was a stark reminder of the many gods competing for hearts and minds in this place. Arriving in San Fernando, we found our new store after some unintended detours around the hilly town and were delighted to meet the two men were running the store. Lester and Stephen are an unusual pair as they represent the only time in recent history that two men have been responsible for running one of the stores. They shared with us the challenges they face in their new location as some of the customers still have not realized that we have moved after several years. Despite this, they have a critical role in providing resources to churches, Bible Colleges and Pastoral Training Institutes that are prominent in this part of the country that is affectionately referred to simply as “south”.
On Wednesday, we took a day trip to visit our small and intrepid team on the beautiful island of Barbados. This team has faced many challenges in recent years as the economy of the country suffered greatly when tourism declined after sargassum seaweed choked the beaches. We were encouraged to learn that they had a great Christmas season and sales had increased by 20% over the previous year. This was especially surprising when we learned that many of the books in the store were used Christian books from our BookLink program and that they still had a great lack of new and best-selling titles. Despite their lack, this team spent the entire day with us looking toward the future and trusting God for his blessing in the new season of harvest they were anticipating in the year ahead.
Returning to Trinidad we were reminded at the Board Meeting that the island was heading into choppy waters. This small country has been blessed by an abundance of oil, but is also really affected when oil prices plummet as they have in recent days. Headlines in the local papers had declared that a recession was already underway and that it could last for five years. Our board members did not accept that report. Like the two spies in the book of Joshua, they rejected the words of the majority and declared that there would be no recession for the church or for God’s people no matter what was happening around them. There was a palpable sense of excitement about what God would do to prove himself faithful to our people and our ministry. A quick trip to the Arima store later that afternoon proved that even a small store can have a big impact and the team is well prepared to be in the vanguard of the next move of God on this island nation.
On the last day of the trip, we spent a morning with the team leaders for each store and with Sandra Robinson, the newly appointed National Director. We celebrated all the events that had taken place in the last six months since the sudden and unexpected death of the former leader Marlene Ramroop. All the stores had received a facelift and been painted in from top to bottom, a new store had been opened in the sister island of Tobago and their Christmas season had been even better than the prior year. Yet, even with all these accomplishment and exciting developments, there was a clear sense that this was only the beginning of what God has in store for this team in this new season. We dreamed about new technology that would ignite these teams with resources they did not have, easier access to new books their customers had been asking for, and most importantly, new methods of working together. Whatever happens in the days ahead, one thing is for sure – our team is facing the future with a holy anticipation of a new move of God that will impact this island nation for generations to come. This will be a harvest season.
EDITORIAL NOTE: I did not visit the Caribbean this week to avoid the Blizzard of 2016, but getting “stuck” in Florida (as all flights to Philly were cancelled) for three days this weekend with my friends was a great way to extend my birthday celebration. God does work in mysterious ways and sometimes provide special presents to those of us that have snowphobia (I believe that is a real psychological condition).