Reflections on a Ministry in Belize 1969-1972

by John Bown

Having offered to work overseas for my first appointment after Theological College, with my wife Merle and 17 month old daughter Emma, we arrived in Belize, then British Honduras, in Central America, in the August of 1969. As we alighted from the plane at Belize airport we immediately became aware of the intense heat being emitted from the plane’s engines. To our surprise that heat followed us into the airport terminal and beyond, it wasn’t heat from the plane’s engines, this was Belize heat and, together with constant high levels of humidity, was something we struggled to come to terms with in the near 3 years we were there.

We lived in a comfortable wooden house on posts in Belize City. However, within days of moving in we had to seek refuge in the more sturdy house of a colleague and his family owing to the imminent arrival of hurricane Francelia. Fortunately for us it veered south but left us with a definite feeling of unease whenever hurricanes were detected heading in our direction each hurricane season.

The people

The people of Belize were mainly of Negro and Spanish descent with a small community of Mayan Indians in the south, descendents of the original inhabitants of Belize. At the time we were there race relations were good. There was the immergence of UBAD, the United Black Nationalism Association, and there was a feeling of national pride and achievement with the establishment of the country’s new capital at Belmopan.

Most of the people amongst whom we lived, and I worked, were poor by our standards but very few lived in poverty. Most lived in wooden frame houses on posts, to allow a free circulation of air underneath, and with corrugated roofs and large vats for catching rain water.

‘Big Wesley’

As a probationer minister I served in the Belize Methodist Circuit as assistant minister at the large Wesley Methodist Church in Belize City and as minister of 4 small churches, one on the fringe of the city and three others further afield.

My main responsibilities included:

Worship and preaching – this usually consisted of 3 Services on a Sunday, and travelling many miles by landrover on mainly unmade roads.

Pastoral care – this was mainly centred on families within the churches, the older generation, the sick and the bereaved, and those in the local hospitals.

Teaching and training – this was usually with church based groups.

Work with children and young people – in both the schools and churches of which I was minister, and including coaching the Wesley College football team.

Hospital Chaplain – Methodist Chaplain to Belize City hospital.

Radio Belize – along with other clergy being responsible for regular Sunday Services transmitted countrywide.

Relations and activities between the churches were quite positive in spite of there being two Local Ecumenical Councils – one for the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England, and one for the rest, with the Methodist Church forming a bridge between the two.

During this time I completed my probation and was duly ordained in ‘Big Wesley’ in February 1971 without, apart from Merle, my wider family and friends in the UK to share the occasion with me.

My work, for the most part was exciting and fulfilling because I was out and about meeting people, discovering new things, and ministering to the  various needs of young and old.

Family life

It was different for Merle confined at home with the children most of the time (Matthew was born 5 months after we arrived). The constant heat and humidity, together with the lack of local leisure amenities, and few opportunities to meet, socialise and explore with other young families tended to make life stressful for Merle and the children.

However, we did meet and enjoy the company of various lovely people during our near three years in Belize: – young VSOs arriving from the UK and their equivalents from the USA, staying a night and then moving on – ministers and their spouses from the other 4 circuits in the Methodist District either visiting Belize City to restock with essentials or up for the annual District Synod, and all requiring accommodation – our circuit team – and, of course, the people of our churches whose love and support we cherished.

Ministry shaping

The experience was one neither of us would have missed, difficult though it was at times. On reflection it helped shape my future ministry and our life together as a family in many different ways, and gave us a precious glimpse and awareness of what it is to belong to the World Church.

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