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In my memoir, A Jamaican’s Journey to Time and Patience, I reflect on my personal odyssey to discover and fulfill God’s call in my life, heal family wounds, and share Christ’s message of redeeming grace and love. Set against the historical background of 470 years of Spanish and British rule (1492-1962) over Jamaica, the memoir portrays my family whose African, Chinese, and European roots merged in Jamaica during the 1800s, then scattered across the globe in the 1900s. This post is the fourth in a series that will reflect on my Jamaican heritage and how it has shaped my Christian journey.

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In 1960, when I was 16, my mother left me behind in Jamaica and returned with our family to Hong Kong where my stepfather was a linguist at the University of Hong Kong.

She had had enough of my juvenile delinquency and bad grades in Hong Kong, and she accused me of being the cause of her shaky marriage with my stepfather. She also made it clear that they would only support me for one more year of high school in Jamaica until I took the school-leaving General Certificate of Education (Ordinary- or O-Level) exam for fifth-year students.

They would not provide any financial support for me to go on for two more years of advanced (A-Level) studies in preparation for entrance to a university, because to them, I was not university material.

A year later while waiting for the results of my O-Levels, I was faced with either dropping out of school to find a job, or returning to Ardenne High School to pursue Advanced Level (A-Level) studies.

I missed the first week of school for A-level students as I hunted for a job, but Miss Mary Olson, principal of Ardenne, contacted me to find out why I wasn’t in school. When I told her about my parents’ unwillingness to support me beyond the O-Level exams, she said, “Derrick, I will pay for your tuition for the next two years. You get yourself back in school and make the most of these two years. You show too much potential to stop your education now. God has a plan for your life, and I believe that he wants you to be prepared academically for the doors that he will open for you.”

Her generosity and her belief in me surprised and deeply moved me, especially since she saw something in me that my parents didn’t, nor had I seen in myself. Yet, I should not have been surprised, for she and her parents had dedicated their lives to helping the people of Jamaica develop their God-given potential.

Her parents, George and Nellie Olson, were Church of God missionaries from Anderson, Indiana, and had come to the island to establish congregations soon after the 1907 earthquake devastated the city of Kingston. Rev. Olson went on to plant over sixty congregations by the early 1960s and, with Nellie, co-founded Ardenne High School and a Bible institute with the purpose of developing indigenous Christian leaders in Jamaica. Nellie was the first principal of Ardenne High and turned that post over to Mary in 1944.

Could I accept Miss Olson’s offer? Did I have the ability to successfully complete two years of Advanced level studies, and go on to study at a college or university? In the end it was a desire to prove my mother wrong, along with Miss Olson’s generous offer and belief in me, that inspired me to meet the challenge.

So I thankfully accepted Miss Olson’s offer to pay for my tuition. I returned to school the following week to begin A-level studies. I passed both the O- and A-Level exams, and went on to graduate from theological seminary and earn bachelor and masters degrees at universities in the U.S.

Although George and Nellie Olson were born in America, they lived most of their adult lives in Jamaica, and considered themselves Jamaicans, so much so that they chose to be buried there. Mary Olson was born in Jamaica in 1913 and studied at Wolmer’s Girls School before transferring to Ardenne High when it was founded.

Other Jamaicans who influenced me were:

•     Barbara Beckles, an Ardenne student who stood before the class and shared how Christ had changed her life. Her testimony touched me deeply and caused me to yearn for that life of peace and joy that she found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

•     John Harrison, another Ardenne student, invited me to Constant Spring Church of God a week after Barbara’s testimony. It was there that I committed my life to Jesus Christ during my first visit.

•      Mrs. Lilly Brown and Mr. Beckles were two Ardenne teachers who opened up the treasures of the New Testament teachings for me as a young believer and instilled in me a love for the Scriptures.

•      Rev. Cleve Grant was the pastor of Constant Spring Church of God, under whose preaching I matured and was inspired to become a minister.

•      John and Lena Fisher opened their home and cared for me for three years after my parents left me.

•      The elders of Constant Spring Church of God provided me with a stipend during four years of studies at the Jamaica School of Theology from which I graduated and became a pastor.

•      Mrs. Vidal Smith and Mr. Noel Dexter trained and mentored me in choral singing, and it is because of them that I have continued in music ministry for over five decades.

I am thankful to these individuals and to God for the ways in which they touched my life during the nine years I spent in Jamaica before immigrating to the United States to pursue further studies.

And I have sought over the years to be used by God to touch the lives of people through my roles as a former pastor, businessman, filmmaker, educator, mentor, and writer.

As a volunteer mentor to at-risk teens and as an educator to the high school students who came through my classrooms during my years of teaching, I have especially been vigilant in helping them to believe in themselves and develop their potential, echoing for them the words of Mary Olson:

“God has a plan for your lives, and he wants you to be prepared academically and spiritually for the doors that he will open for you.”

May God grant abundant fruit from the seeds that Mary Olson and others planted in me and through me. Blessed to be a blessing.

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George W. Olson &  Nellie Olson; all three pictures of the Olsons are courtesy of the Outreach Ministries of the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana.

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