Terence B. Sawyers was born in St. Ann, Jamaica, and seems to have had some connection with The Browns Town Circuit of Baptist Churches, as well as with James Johnston of the Jamaica Evangelistic Mission, popularly known as the Tabernacles. Horace Russell, tells us that “Rev. Terence B. Sawyers was the person who got me interested in Africa from the stories he used to tell me on the verandah at …the Jones Town manse. He went to Ghana with the Grattan Guinness outfit then sponsored from Browns Town.”
This writer’s interest in Sawyers began when, in about 2003, I noticed the inscription on Sawyers’s son’s (Rev. M. E. W. Sawyers) gravestone on the grounds of the Mamby Park Baptist Church, in Kingston. It is stated that M. E. W. Sawyers was born in St. Ann in 1905, “the first son of African missionaries Rev. and Mrs. T. B. Sawyers”. But I was unable to find any mention of him in the records as having served in the Congo/Zaire, where Jamaican Baptists had laboured since 1875 and into the early 1900s.
In his book on Jamaican Baptist missionary activity, Glorious Liberty, Leonard Tucker lists T. B. as a 1907 graduate of Calabar College. Russell’s reference to T. B.’s connection with Johnston of Brown’s Town, and knowledge of Johnston’s connection with H. Grattan Guinness, shed much light on the issue for me. This connection suggests T. B. went to Africa not with the Jamaica Baptist Union. This would explain his lack of notice in their records. Other information I have seen confirms James Johnston’s connection with Guinness.
In an article in The Christian dated October 15th 1875, Guinness shared with his readers a letter from a recent graduate of his Bible Training Institute (East-End Training Institute), about his labours in Jamaica. It is signed J. Johnstone, and tells some experiences of a young missionary, who is co-pastor to the ailing veteran Baptist minister in Brown’s Town, John Clarke.
Guinness was founder of Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RMBU), which in recent years merged with ‘World Team’. As early as 1875 Guinness’s article mentioned before told of graduates of his Institute serving in Italy, Brazil, and Burma. Johnston himself was on his way to become a missionary in Patagonia (Argentina), presumably connected with Guinness’s mission “…to take charge of a Scottish mission in that country…” when he stopped off in Jamaica in 1874, and never reached Argentina.
Johnston seems to have become a recruiter of Jamaicans for Guinness’s mission, and likely that is how Sawyers went to ‘Ghana’ (or was it the Congo?) as a missionary in the late 1890s to early 1900s. We know from Baptist records that a Brown’s Town member, Edward B. James, went to the Congo around the same time to serve with one of Guinness’s agencies, RMBU.
John D. Wilson of RBMU, whose father and grandfather served with that mission in the Congo, while researching in the archives of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in the Non-Western World (CSCNWW) housed at the University of Edinburgh, remembers seeing the name of Sawyers as well as of other Jamaican missionaries who served in the Congo.
RMBU archived material does not list Ghana as one of the countries where the mission had workers. At the same time Wilson said he could not rule out Sawyers having served in Ghana, as some graduates of Dr. Guinness’ school went out as independents, or started small missions which didn’t last. But he thinks that it is more likely that Sawyers was a missionary in the Congo, where RMBU established work in 1888 under the name of the Congo Balolo Mission. His own grandfather was one of the pioneers of this work, and Sawyers would have been a contemporary of his, as his grandfather went to Congo in 1898. Sawyers clearly would have returned before 1905, when his son M. E. W. was born in Jamaica.
A recent book by Óli Jacobson confirms these speculations, and gives documentary proof that Sawyers served in the Congo. In 2014, Jacobson authored a book, Daniel J. Danielsen and the Congo: Missionary Campaigns and Atrocity Photographs. In the second chapter, titled Serious Accusations, he tells how Sawyers was fired from employment as a carpenter with the Congo Balolo Mission. It seems that the ground for his dismissal was a complaint he made against Mr. Danielsen concerning cruelty towards black African workers on the mission boat S.S. Livingston. Sawyers claimed he was fired without being given an opportunity to answer the charges against him of incompetence.
In November 1902 the Home Council of the Congo Balolo Mission called a special meeting, chaired by Dr. Harry Grattan Guinness, at which Mr. Sawyers described his time on the boat with Mr. Clarke. He said,
During the whole of that period Mr. Danielsen used the chicotte (a heavy whip, usually made of animal hide), and on the steamer the latter was a daily occurrence when the men were flogged every morning if they had not brought in a certain quantity of wood. The men were laid on the ground and received twenty five blows each…
Other missionaries were similarly accused of treating African servants as if they were slaves. A lengthy investigation was made into all these accusations. At the end of it all, the notes of the investigation revealed that “Mr. Sawyers on retiring was warned that he must never again allude to the matters referred to.”
Mr. Jacobson’s summary of the whole matter against Sawyers is telling. He says:
Sawyers and Black suffered a fate common to many whistle-blowers in other organizations. Instead of having the matter fully investigated, both were quietly silenced, and punished for making accusations in the first place.
We may take the author’s statement about Sawyers, beginning on page 31 of his book, as the final word for our purposes:
There is very little information available about Sawyers. We know with certainty that he came from Jamaica, as the mission gave him passage back to there, his place of origin, and he has tentatively been identified as Terence B. Sawyers from St. Ann in Jamaica. As one of two Afro-Caribbean men in an otherwise all-white mission, Sawyers’ place was unusual and difficult. It upset the social order which missionaries in the Congo were unthinkingly carrying out. Accepting a black man as an equal and a colleague would have been difficult for people living out the racist ideologies of the time.
Sawyers’ race could explain both the lack of support for him and his claims from his colleagues and his desire to complain in the first place. He would not have been likely to be susceptible to dominant theologies.
Terence B. Sawyers returned to Jamaica, seemingly in early 1903. Despite his Congo experiences his desire for Christian service do not seem to have suffered any diminution, for we next find him as a graduate from Baptist ministerial training at Calabar College in 1907. His love for Africa was not erased either, as the Lord used his stories of Africa to fire the imagination of a young Horace Russell. Rev. Dr. Horace Russell was to become a great Jamaican Baptist historian, and the first Jamaican President of the United Theological College of the West Indies.
Lloyd A. Cooke
National Library of Jamaica, folder B/N; Government of Jamaica, Handbook of Jamaica (Kingston, Jamaica: Government Public Relations Office, 1922), 659. Lloyd A. Cooke mentions Johnston’s own trek through parts of Central and Southern Africa, along with six Jamaican assistants from the Brown’s Town area, in 1891-1892, in his book The Story of Jamaican Missions. See Lloyd A. Cooke, The Story of Jamaican Missions: How the Gospel Went from Jamaica to the World (Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak Publications, 2013), 231-232.
Guinness founded the Regions Beyond Missionary Union in 1878. Graduates also served in Nigeria and in Peru. See Robert Hall Glover, The Progress of World-Wide Missions (New York: Harper and Row, 1960), 277, 387. See also World Team’s website www.worldteam.org. Click on “About” then on “Our Story,” then scroll down to “RMBU International.”
Mr. Edward James was sent to the Congo to serve with the ministry of Dr. Guinness, about 1895 or later. See George E. Henderson, Goodness and Mercy: A Tale of a Hundred Years (Kingston, Jamaica: The Gleaner Co. Ltd., 1931), 142, 155.
John D. Wilson reports, in a footnote to his research on the Congo Balolo Mission, (Congo Church Multiplication 1889-1929: Key Elements in the Initial Expansion of the Church of the Lulonga Region of the Congo Balolo Mission ) that three of the early missionaries were West Indians, and refers us to* Regions Beyond* magazine, 1900, pp. 244-245. Discussion recently with Frank Lawrence, of Sturge Town in St. Ann, has revealed the names of other young men from that period and general area who also served as missionaries in Africa. W. J. (or S.) Hall, former minister of the Jamaica Baptist Union from Sturge Town went to the Congo, died in the 1950s. James Dawes, also from Sturge Town and father of the late Neville Dawes, was a teacher/missionary in either Ghana or Nigeria. He also stated that Sawyers hailed from Jarreton Baptist Church, Watt Town St. Ann, and that his mother was either a Brown or a Christie from Sturge Town. Rev. L.P. Moncrieffe who once served at Jarreton Baptist Church has provided partial verification of this anecdotal information, but more research is necessary.
Jacobsen, Óli, Daniel J. Danielsen and the Congo: Missionary Campagins and Atrocity Photographs, (West Sussex; The Brethren Archivists and Historians Network, 2014), 30-31,36-37.
Cooke, Lloyd A. The Story of Jamaican Missions: How the Gospel Went from Jamaica to the World. Kingston, Jamaica: Arawak Publications, 2013.
Glover, Robert Hall. The Progress of World-Wide Missions. New York: Harper and Row, 1960.
Government of Jamaica. Handbook of Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Government Public Relations Office, 1922.
Henderson, George E. Goodness and Mercy: A Tale of a Hundred Years. Kingston, Jamaica: The Gleaner Co. Ltd., 1931.
Jacobsen, Óli. Daniel J. Danielsen and the Congo: Missionary Campagins and Atrocity Photographs. West Sussex; The Brethren Archivists and Historians Network, 2014.
This biography, received in 2014, was adapted from the manuscript of Lloyd Cooke’s book, The Story of Jamaican Missions: How the Gospel Went from Jamaica to the World (Kingston: Arawak Publications, 2013). Lloyd Cooke grew up in Jamaica and served as a missionary in Dominica with the International Missionary Fellowship. He is currently a lecturer at Regent College of the Carribbean and assists local churches in evangelism and church growth strategies.