A NEW WORKER
Early in 1968 Ralph announced that a new worker from the U.S.A. was about to come to the island to join him in the work. That worker turned out to be Brian Altmiller who was accompanied by his wife, Retta. They arrived in St. Vincent about February 1968. They were a young couple. Brian was about twenty four years old then. Upon their arrival, they stayed at the Wharton's house for a few weeks but found a house in Kingstown Park and moved to that part of the city. They did not remain on the island very long. Brian and Ralph held conflicting ideas as to how the work on the island should be carried out. To resolve the conflict, Brian was called away from the island. However, during their brief stay of about four months on the island, they contributed somewhat to the growth of the church in Brighton and Barrouallie.
Brian preached in street meetings at Brighton a few times. He helped in several similar meetings in that village. He helped in the meeting on the night when Armand Charles was baptized. Although he did not preach on that occasion, he helped in leading the crowd in singing. He also helped in the street meeting on the occasion when two young girls, Dorothy and Clara John were baptized. Ralph was the speaker that night. Brian also helped in other street meetings in Belmont. However, his biggest contribution to the Vincentian work was his helping to establish a new congregation in Barrouallie (a small town on the Leeward coast).
Barrouallie is one of the six towns of St. Vincent. All the other populated areas are called villages. It is the third largest town on the island and is situated between the town of Layou to the south and the small village of Keartons to the north. It is noted for its black fish industry. The fishermen of that village can be classified into two groups: those who catch small fish and those who catch black fish. The “black fish" is not really a fish, but a species of the whale family. A full grown black fish is about twelve feet long and weighs about five thousand pounds. The men who engage in black fish hunting go out to sea early in the morning and return late in the afternoon or early evening. They hunt the animal on the Caribbean side of the island. About fifteen years ago the open boats from which the men hunted were powered by wind and muscle. Today, however, all the boats use outboard motors. Whereas in the past they used to throw the harpoons by hand, today they have mounted guns in the bow of the boats from which they shoot the harpoons. Therefore, having more speed and accuracy, the men have developed greater confidence in their ability to catch black fish. However, there has been a decline in the market for black fish oil (from which soap was made). One of the first converts in the town of Barrouallie was a black fish hunter named Ezekiel.
When Brian and Clayton set about to establish a new congregation in Barrouallie the church on the island was meeting in the following places: South Rivers, Sandy Bay, Brighton, Kingstown, Spring Village, and Troumaca. They went to Barrouallie that Sunday morning on the Volkswagen bus with Ralph and Sam. When they arrived in Barrouallie, Sam and Ralph went on to Troumaca, leaving Clayton and Brian to attempt the work of making converts for a new congregation. They stood in the road and watched the bus as it went up toward the northern end of the town on its way to Troumaca. The force of the task laid upon them struck when the bus was no longer in sight and they realized that they had to begin somewhere.
Barrouallie was not without religion. It was (and still is) the seat of the parish priest of the Anglican church. The parish extends from Barrouallie all the way up to Chateaubelair. However, the priest who served this large parish spent most of his time and evidently did most of his work in Barrouallie. The majority of the people in that town, therefore, were Anglicans. Many of them were church goers. Brian and Clayton made their way to one of the poorer sections of the town, the area known as "Bottle and Glass." They walked toward the beach and saw a group of men gambling at a card game. They were all sitting in a circle on the sand. As the two preachers approached, the men looked up at them but continued their game. Brian and Clayton greeted them and walked on.
"What do you think we should do?" Brian asked.
“Maybe we can preach to them," Clayton replied.
They conferred among themselves for a few moments and finally decided that if the men were willing to listen to them, then they would preach to the group. So they walked back to the group of men and asked them to stop their game for a while and listen to them. The men were quite polite; they stopped their game and gave their attention. So with their backs to the tiny waves of the Caribbean Sea, and standing in the shade of the gently waving leaves of the coconut trees, Brian and Clayton began to sing. As they sang, a group of women and children gathered, drawn more by their curiosity than the discordant notes of the preachers‘ singing. They prayed. Then Clayton began to preach. He told them that all men were sinners and that they would have to die for their sins. He told them that God loved all people and sent His son to die in their places. He told of the resurrection of Christ, and how those who believe and obey Christ would have eternal life. He told them that they could have everlasting life if they believed in Jesus and would repent and be baptized. No one was ready to obey Jesus that Sunday. They ended their brief meeting with the small audience. The men resumed their gambling while the women and children went back to their houses and play.
This, however, became the standard procedure of the two who had accepted the task of starting a new work in Barrouallie. Each Sunday morning as the others went on to Troumaca, they would preach in the shade of the coconut trees. This they did for several Sundays. During the week days Brian rode his motorcycle from Kingstown to Barrouallie and spoke to anyone who would listen to him. He taught and baptized a man named George Hadaway. This man became the first convert in Bottle and Glass. Although there were other converts from Barrouallie (made by Ralph), they chose to ride on the bus to Troumaca rather than remain in Barrouallie. A few weeks after the baptism of George Hadaway, a young man named Ezekiel was baptized and soon after an older man was also baptized. The group then began to function as a congregation. Instead of preaching under the coconut trees, they found a quiet spot on a large stone close to the seaside where they worshipped each Sunday morning. The group consisted of the three converts and the two preachers.
This procedure, however, apart from being unappealing to the people of Bottle and Glass was limited only to dry Sundays. Such an approach also was limited only to the very poor and would never have reached the more well-to-do people of the town. However, they did not worship in the open air for long. The older man, Brother John, opened his house as a place of worship. The tiny group then began to worship in his living room. Although his house had only a bedroom and a living room (the kitchen being apart on the outside), it was tidy and neat. Each Sunday a few curious people would come to the door as they worshipped. Brian for some strange reason was reluctant to try to find a larger place for regular Sunday worship. However, when Ralph learned of the situation in Barrouallie, he insisted that a place should be found where regular worship could be held.
Ralph investigated and discovered that there was a suitable place for rent across the street from the southern end of the playing field which is situated in the very center of the town. That would have been an ideal spot for worship and would have attracted people from any segment of the town. One Saturday Ralph, Brian and Clayton took some benches on the bus and went to Barrouallie endeavoring to rent the house as a place of worship. However, when they arrived, they discovered that the house was already rented.
Ralph was determined not to take the benches back to Kingstown. In that, he was not disappointed, for they were able to find a place in Bottle and Glass. Although the place was far from ideal, it was far more spacious than Brother John's living room and more attractive to the residents of Bottle and Glass. However, it was unsuitable as a point of evangelism for the whole town of Barrouallie. It was the lower floor of a dwelling house which had seen better days. Nevertheless, they unloaded the benches and arranged them in the room for worship the next day. That became their regular meeting place in Barrouallie.
Before the congregation was established in Barrouallie the work further north was expanding. The bus was unable to carry all the worshippers who lived between Barrouallie and Troumaca to Troumaca. There were two young ladies who lived at the northern edge of Barrouallie, Vanda Tittle and Lindis Brown along with Muriel Williams (who lived in Barrouallie proper), Annette McDowall from Layou, Norrie Hepburn from Gordon Yard and others who rode the bus to Troumaca. Besides those mentioned, there were two converts, McCarthy Morris and Merle Charles, from Spring Village. Spring Village, being the midway point between Barrouallie and Troumaca, seemed to be the ideal place for a new congregation.
Ralph and Sam were able to find a place for the new group to meet in Spring Village. A woman (Mrs. Jeffries), who was friendly toward the church, allowed them to use the unenclosed basement of her house as a place of worship. Her house was situated on the main street that ran through the village, about one hundred yards away from the playing field. With the establishment of the Spring Village and Barrouallie congregations, the church in St. Vincent was then meeting in seven places.
At that time in early 1968, with seven congregations, there were four young men who helped Ralph in preaching regularly every Sunday. Jimmy Bracken started the Sandy Bay congregation and preached in that village every Lord's Day. He also preached on the streets to those who were willing to listen, during the week. Sam Soleyn preached every Sunday. Sometimes he preached more than once on Sunday. He would preach at Troumaca in the morning and sometimes at South Rivers in the afternoon or Kingstown in the evening. Clayton Soleyn preached regularly at Brighton and sometimes assisted in other congregations. All the congregations except Sandy Bay and Kingstown worshipped once on Sundays and had no mid-week meeting. Terry Thomas also preached. He preached his first lesson one Sunday morning at the Kingstown congregation. From then on he assisted all over the island, preaching in the various congregations whenever he was invited to do so.
Later Elliot Glasgow also began to preach. He preached his first sermon in South Rivers one Sunday afternoon. He rode on the bus to Kingstown that afternoon and was invited by Ralph to preach in Kingstown that night. He spoke and was encouraged to continue preaching. From that time onward, he preached whenever he was invited to do so.
Of the young men mentioned, only Jimmy preached full time and was paid for so doing. Ralph paid him with money sent from a congregation in the U.S.A. Terry Thomas worked in a grocery store. Sam Soleyn was still a school boy. Elliot Glasgow was an auxiliary policeman, and Clayton Soleyn was a school teacher.
As 1968 progressed, Ralph began to make plans to return to the United States. The work continued at its usual pace. However, differences arose between Brian and Ralph as to the manner in which the work in St. Vincent should be carried on. The differences were so strong that Ralph did not think that Brian was a suitable replacement for him. The end result was that Brian and Retta decided to leave St. Vincent. He had hoped to get permission to stay on the island of St. Kitts. They left St. Vincent by ship on July 8th. On arriving in St. Kitts they were refused permission to stay on the island. This was probably due to the fact that they had not applied in advance. Had they applied from St. Vincent and waited for an answer before they ventured out, they most likely would have been given residence status on the island. Having failed to obtain residence on that island, they kept on going to Jamaica, hoping to be allowed to stay there. Again they failed in that endeavor and finally ended up in Miami, Florida, back in the U.S.A. The church in St. Vincent was for the most part unaware of the conflict between the two missionaries. Consequently the members were not significantly affected by their disagreements.
The Altmillers stayed only nine days short of six months on St. Vincent, having first arrived there on January 10, 1968. Although their stay was short, they contributed to the work on the island. Brian helped in the establishment of the congregation in Barrouallie. He helped in the work at Brighton. He and Clayton made a trip to the small island of Bequia and preached at Paget Farm, a village on that island.