TWO WEEKS OF TRAINING
In the Easter holidays of that year, the Wharton’s decided to conduct a one week training course for the young ladies of the church of St. Vincent. They also hoped to bring together the other young ladies of the church on the other islands. However there were only about two other young ladies (on the other islands) who had been converted by Ralph. When the training week began, there were eight young ladies including Cynthia Lee from Dominica and Lynetta Matthew from St. Kitts.
The young ladies were brought together at the Wharton’s house. During the one week in which they stayed together, they studied the Bible, had devotions, got pointers on how to teach Sunday School classes, and visited some sites on the island. It was a heart warming week for them. The Christian fellowship of that single week was long remembered. When the time came for each to return to her home, everyone was sad and they all cried. At that time it seemed strange to the young men that the girls would cry when they were parting. However, they too, were to share in a similar training week and later came to understand the reason for parting tears.
Prompted by the success of the young ladies’ training week, Ralph decided to conduct a training week for the young men. Ralph had not confined his missionary efforts to St. Vincent. He also tried to reach out to the other islands (from Trinidad in the south to Antigua in the north) with his Bible correspondence course. Sometimes a student would request baptism. Ralph would then travel to the particular island and baptize the student. On the island of Dominica, Ralph baptized Mitchelin Williams and Mitch in turn baptized Ernest Roberts. They began to worship by themselves in Dominica. In Trinidad two boys learned about Christ through the Bible Course. Ralph went down to Trinidad and baptized them. These two young men were Kaso Ramcharitar and Vadas Dalsingh. Among others whom Ralph baptized were Cynthia Lee from Dominica, Lynetta Matthews from St. Kitts and Balthasar Joseph from St. Lucia.
Most of the people whom Ralph baptized on St. Vincent and the other islands were young people, usually in their late teens and early twenties. There was something common to the majority of them. They seemed to have had a desire to know the truth of God’s word and to serve Him. Learning about the Lord’s church for the first time came as a sort of thrill. They all felt as if they had been deceived for a long time. The truth about Jesus came as an astounding discovery. They were happy in their new found faith, and were anxious to share it with those who seemed still set in their religious traditions.
When, therefore, the young men were gathered together for the “men’s training week,” there were twelve of them from three different islands. They ranged in age from Randy Wharton about thirteen years old to Esmonde Colliere who was about twenty-six. The majority of the young men, however, were less than twenty years old. Sam Soleyn, one of the most outstanding among the group at that time, was sixteen years old. The group consisted of Ralph and his son, Randy, Esmonde Colliere, Ephraim France, Terry Thomas, Clayton Soleyn, Elliot Glasgow, George Audain, Jimmy Bracken, Sam Soleyn (from St. Vincent), Kaso Ramcharitar and Vadas Dalsingh (from Trinidad), and Balthasar Joseph from the island of St. Lucia. All of these young men were Christians with the exception of Jimmy Bracken and Ephraim France who were converted during the training week. Today all except three of that group are still faithful Christians. Some have become church leaders in the areas where they worship and work in the cause of Christ. One of the memorable events that is still spoken of among those who are still faithful is that training week of 1967. Terry Thomas still likes to show off his picture of the group.
During the public school holidays of August 1967 Ralph gathered the group of young men together at his house. His plan was to keep the boys together for one week during which time they would be taught some Bible, given lessons in public speaking, engage in devotions to the end that they might grow together. Some of the boys stayed at the Wharton house, Sam and Clayton stayed at their own house in Kingstown while some of the others stayed at different places. However, all congregated at the Wharton’s house during each day of the week.
When the group just assembled they started off by getting acquainted with each other. The Vincentians were delighted to meet the boys from Trinidad and St. Lucia. During the morning hours each day, the boys went around the city with Ralph or engaged in Bible study together. In the afternoons and evenings, they made short speeches on assigned topics and criticized each other’s speech. All was done with the aim of improving their speaking abilities. As the week progressed, one evening, one of the young men (who had been absent all day, due to the fact that he worked at a job in the city) came in to join the group for the last session. As soon as he entered the Wharton’s living room, he was given a topic and told to speak on that particular subject for five minutes. He stood up in front of the other fellows and aired his views. As soon as he uttered the last word, they all burst forth in a torrent of so-called constructive criticism.
“He put his hand into his pockets eleven times,” Elliot Glasgow said.
“He dwelt too much on the word ‘all,’” another said. And on and on they went. It was all done in love, and they laughed at each other.
Ralph also took the group to Argyle, first for a practice preaching session and also on the last night for a devotion. Argyle is one of the many beauty spots of St. Vincent. It is also one of the few flatter areas of the island. The land slopes gently from the mountains to the sea. One can stand on the flat area near to the ocean itself and look back toward the mountains several miles away and view the land as it gradually rises to the mountains. One can see the cattle grazing, see the cultivated fields of sweet potatoes, corn and peanuts. One may watch the flocks of white Garlings as they fly in varied formations or land among the cattle. The main windward highway passes through Argyle and runs for a great part near to the Argyle Beach. Between the highway and the ocean surge, there is a flat land area covered with grass. This flat area is often used for picnics. It was to that place that Ralph took the young men for a practice preaching session.
When the group arrived, they were greeted by the fresh moisture laden winds blowing straight from the Atlantic. As they looked out across the wide Atlantic they could almost taste its saltiness. As they walked into the breeze, they watched the rolling waves as they pounded ceaselessly against the rocky beach, crashing into foam and sending tiny beads of salty spray into the atmosphere. The constant thundering roar of the breakers dominated the air waves. One had to almost shout in order to be heard. It was a thrill to stand on that flat piece of ground at Argyle and realize, that except for the island of Barbados, one hundred miles away, as one looked straight out across the vast expanse of water, there was no other land between the island of St. Vincent and the continent of Africa. With the northeast tradewinds blowing, the salt spray flying, the gigantic ocean roaring and the mountains in the background, one had a perfect setting in which to contemplate the greatness of the Almighty.
Ralph huddled the boys together and gave them one sentence which each was required to say to the others. The sentence was “I feel fine.” Each was required in turn to stand upon a rock and talk to the others. One after the other, they stood upon a large boulder, faced the rest of the group, and burst forth in eloquence upon their good health. Then the group would become the mass of unconverted men of the world, and the speaker (each in his turn an undaunted gospel preacher) would unleash upon his audience some aspect of the gospel. Ralph would then compliment and criticize and the young men did the same to each other. Everyone was happy. They joked and laughed and reveled in their new found faith against the symphony of the ever rolling waves of the blue Atlantic Ocean. It was first love.
One night during the week, two members of the group (who were invited to the “training week” although they were not yet members), decided to become Christians. The rest of the group rejoiced with them. Ralph took them (Jimmy Bracken and Ephraim France) to Indian Bay and baptized them that night. That was the beginning of their walk with Christ. Both young men have become strong leaders in the Lord’s church on the island of St. Vincent. Jimmy became the first Vincentian to establish a local congregation on the island.
On the last evening of that eventful week, the group went back to Argyle for a devotional and wiener roast. In a land of perpetual summer, such as the Caribbean island of St. Vincent, it is never really cold. However, there is a kind of welcomed warmth which is generated around an open fire, when Christians gather for a wiener roast, which has nothing to do with physical cold. This kind of warmth helps to thaw the old sinful nature and break up the ice of sin. After they had eaten, they sat in a circle and sang. The moon had risen, flooding the Argyle plain with its golden light. The ocean became a sparkling expanse as far as they eye could see. Myriads of diamonds glistened and glowed as the waves away out on the ocean lapped and foamed, while closer to the shore the white foam of broken waves was ablaze with the various colors the. It was in that setting that they sang, “How Great Thou Art.”
It was decided that they should all spend the last night together at the Wharton’s house. So when the devotional was ended at Argyle, they headed back to the Wharton’s residence in Kingstown. The house was certainly not large enough to hold the Wharton’s and all the young men. However, the two Wharton girls were spending the night of that week with a neighbor, and on the Friday night Ralph and Ruth slept in the office which was outside the main building. They gave the rest of the house to the boys.
The rooms were shared up, but they were still not enough for all the boys, so some slept on the living room floor. Hardly had the lights been turned out, when the house came alive with ghost-like shapes, gliding about the house, bent on some mission of mischief. One of the first casualties was Elliot Glasgow who fell asleep on a bench in the living room. Someone procured a piece of rope and Elliot promptly became a Gulliver. He groaned and was awakened, but the job was done.
“Would one of you fellas loose me?” he moaned.
Esmonde Colliere bent over him, looked him in the face and whispered, “Shhh.”
All night long they played pranks on each other. Early in the morning some of those in the living room tried to sleep, but even then there was no relief nor rest for the weary; another prankster painted their faces with shoe polish.
One cannot over emphasize the importance of that five day period in the development of the early church on the island. The young men in that group were the very men who later became leaders of the local congregations. Their close association during that one week helped them to understand and know each other better. They developed a bond of friendship and a common point of reference. Later they could look back and see how united they were in Christ. It gave them a deep sense of brotherhood. Even today these men still talk about that week in August 1967.
Friday night of that week was the last time for all the boys to be together. The next morning Ralph left for the United States to take his son Randy to school. Later in the day, the Vincentians watched Kaso and Vedas depart for Trinidad. There were tears in their eyes as they said goodbye and boarded the plane. All the Vincentians were sad. Still later even, the Vincentians had to go to their separate homes at different points on the island. The few who remained in Kingstown sat in the Wharton's living room and cried. Elliot Glasgow went home to Biabou. He went down to the beach and lay down on the soft sand. He fell asleep and was awakened when a large wave rushed along the shore and wet his feet. Jimmy went home to Sandy Bay and began to preach on the streets.
As Jimmy preached on the streets of Sandy Bay, he found that people were listening to him, especially young people. He soon sent news to Ralph that he was able to convert one or two young men to Christ. He began to think about a Sandy Bay congregation. Jimmy himself was converted in August and by late October there was a small congregation of about four young men worshipping in Sandy Bay due to the preaching efforts of that young man. He was bold in his preaching. He was fearless in denouncing error. He later encountered difficulties with the local Anglican parish priest. However, he was determined in his efforts of preaching, and by the next year the Sandy Bay church was ranking among the larger congregations.
In the meantime, the Georgetown church was stagnant. Except for the conversion of one lady and a young man from the village of Lowmans, there was no increase in the membership of the Georgetown congregation. No one from the town itself had been converted. There were several factors that contributed to that lack of growth in the Georgetown church. Those same factors played the same role in the lack of growth in Troumaca and Retreat. The place where the group met in Georgetown was not in Georgetown proper, but rather on the outskirts of the town in that area more correctly known as Brown's Town. The group met in the archway of an old house, conveying to the people of the area no sense of permanence, but as the people would regard the group "some wayside religion." No personal evangelism was ever done in the area to encourage the people to become Christians. The group simply met there on Sundays and hoped that visitors would come out and that they would be converted. There was no strong consistent preaching there when the group met on Sundays, that is, with the exceptions of Ralph's preaching. The young men who preached were for the most part not well known enough to attract visitors and not persuasive enough to convert those who visited occasionally. The young men who assisted Ralph in preaching at Georgetown were Terry Thomas, Sam Soleyn, Clayton Soleyn, Aster Barnwell and occasionally Venol Barnwell, a cousin of Aster.
While the Georgetown congregation was still meeting, Jimmy Bracken was converting a few people in Sandy Bay. One Sunday, Jimmy and a few converts from Sandy Bay went over to Georgetown by jeep to worship with the Georgetown congregation. On that occasion a young man, Selwyn Child, who came with the Sandy Bay group, was persuaded to become a Christian. He was baptized that afternoon in the Mount Young River.