A SHEPHERD’S JOURNEY…
Rev. A. A. McDonald
This feature examines the life and work of retired Ministers of the JBU.
As a budding teen scholar of Westmoreland, Ansel Arthur McDonald had his sights set on a career in teaching when he surrendered his life to the “Rose of Sharon”. Little did he know that he would spend over a generation declaring the gospel in the vineyards of Sharon Circuit of Baptist Churches in St. Elizabeth. This mission would also take him to other sections of the island and around the globe. But his journey into the theological ministry was not without a prolonged expedition into the classroom to address the training and spiritual needs of Jamaica’s youth.
Sutcliffe Mount Baptist Church in Withorn Westmoreland was the spiritual birthplace of Ansel McDonald. “I got saved at 16 or 17 years old. It was at a young people’s missionary service and the guest speaker was Mrs. Melzeta Clarke who was a Sunday School teacher and choir member. She spoke about David Livingston, the missionary to Africa and about the call to missionary service,” said Rev. McDonald. “Then she gave an invitation to those who wanted to give their lives to Jesus, and I went to the altar to start my walk with God.” After his born-again experience, Ansel became active in the Sunday School and Junior Choir but since the church did not have a pastor, it was not until two years later that the young Ansel was baptized. One of his greatest joys was in participating in evangelism meetings at his church and in other denominations in the Withorn/Caledonia area.
The new Sutcliffe Mount Baptist pastor,Rev. Charles S. Clarke, took a special interest in Ansel’s welfare and encouraged him to go into the ministry. However, Ansel wasn’t convinced that his destiny lay in that direction. When he was baptized, he was serving as a pre-trained teacher at Caledonia Elementary School, and enjoying his sojourn in the classroom. “I wanted to be a teacher. I had previously vowed to the Lord that if he helped me to be successful in my exams I would serve him with my life. I was successful in the Mico courses which I was doing as a pre-trained teacher and I believed, therefore, that God was calling me to continue serving in the education system.”
His life was set to change shortly thereafter. “One day, Rev. C.S. Clarke was not able to attend church, so he asked me to preach. I was so nervous. But, after the service was over, many of those in attendance voiced the belief that I was called to preach. They encouraged me to go into the ministry. They reported to the Minister how impressed they were with my delivery of the message and expressed their opinion that I should go into the Ministry.” Rev Clarke summoned Ansel to discuss the matter. Believing the Lord was affirming this call to preaching by his brethren and Minister, Ansel applied to Calabar Theological College - the then training institution for Baptist Ministers - and was successful. Before going off to College, he was also asked by his principal to preach some Sundays at Coke’s View Methodist Church .
TRUSTING GOD AGAINST THE ODDS
Ansel McDonald’s firm faith in God proved to be his fortitude in the face of challenges at seminary and in life in general. His father had died when Ansel was seven years old, so this sixth of ten children had serious financial difficulties since his mother was the only breadwinner. “My mother had to make so many sacrifices to put food on the table and to raise us. It was hard going, but she was a woman of God and she had unyielding faith in Him and that also strengthened my faith,” McDonald related.
During this young man’s tenure at seminary, he preached in areas such as Black Hill, Port Antonio, Hector’s River, St. Margaret’s Bay in Portland; Burnt Ground in St. Elizabeth; as well as Point Hill, Bellas Gate and Ginger Ridge in St. Catherine. In those days, transportation was difficult and he would travel on the “country” bus to get to his destination from the Saturday, preach on Sunday and return to Kingston on Monday morning. “It was rough going, especially when it rained and in many instances I had to in walk for miles to reach the church or the house of the deacon where I was to stay,” he recalled.
“One Sunday when I had to go out to Portland to take Sunday service, it was raining very heavily. When I got off the bus, I had to walk on a road covered with water. My shoes were soaked. So after church, at the deacon’s house where I was staying, they put my shoes in a makeshift oven to dry and left it too long in there. As a result, the shoes had shrunk and couldn’t fit. That was my only pair of shoes and I had to wear it like a slippers to go back to college in Kingston. When my peers saw me, they started laughing.” Ansel could not afford another pair of shoes and he sent to ask Rev. Clarke for help. Rev. Clarke gladly filled the need. As embarrassing as the experience was, his testimony not only inspired him, but also others in the extended family. “My siblings and I grew up hearing that story from my mother,” said Vida James-King (Ansel’s first cousin), “as she implored us to trust God for our solutions, no matter how difficult the circumstances with which we have to contend.”
Then there were the mule rides, which Ansel dreaded. “I wasn’t accustomed to riding mules, so I did not enjoy taking the mules to access some churches. On one occasion, I kept sliding off the saddle. It was so bad that the deacon had to walk very slowly and guide the mule while I sat on the back holding tightly to the reins. On that occasion, in St. Catherine, we had to go through some bridle tracks which had treacherous gullies and steep hills to reach the church.”
ST. ELIZABETH, HERE I COME
During his final year in college, both the St. Margaret’s Bay Circuit and the Sharon Circuit approached the JBU, requesting that Ansel be assigned to their respective circuit. The request for Sharon was first and he was assigned accordingly. His tenure at Sharon Circuit of Baptist Churches, which included the headquarters church in Santa Cruz and others in Burnt Savannah and Arlington, began in 1961.
In the early days at the Manse at Sharon Baptist, there was no piped water. To obtain the scare commodity, one had to use a rope to send down a bucket in the well on the property. Although the church had electricity, there was none in the Manse, and Rev. McDonald had to depend on lanterns or lamps at night. That situation changed soon after he commenced his stint at Sharon Baptist.
And what were some of the other difficulties in the early days? “It was not easy travelling back and forth from Santa Cruz to the other churches in Burnt Savannah eight miles away, and Arlington12 miles away,” he disclosed. Without a car, he had to rely on the bus passing through to Westmoreland once per day. “On some occasions I had to walk the 12 miles from Arlington to Santa Cruz when the bus passed through before service ended. The nights were very dark as there were no streetlights.
BRINGING IN THE SHEAVES
Under his watch, the Brotherhood, Women’s Federation, Youth Fellowship and Youth Choir were established at Sharon Baptist and the outlying churches. He also started a Class House at New River where he paid regular visits to keep Sunday School and night service. The Class House was later upgraded to a church. Sharon Baptist Church Circuit grew significantly - spiritually and numerically. Rev. A.A. McDonald was also responsible for several expansions to the home church building as well as the rebuilding of the Manse.
In 1963, his wife Olga (nee Grizzle) joined him. Romantic sparks flew when the two met at a Baptist Spiritual Rearmament Camp at Brown’s Town during his final year at College. She was a teacher serving in Trelawny. “Over the years my wife has played a vital role in supporting the Ministry and in doing her own witnessing for the Lord. She has also been very great with moulding the lives of the young people.” Rev. and Mrs. McDonald have two children, Bryan and Sheldon, but have taken care of and mentored countless others . Even though she served for years as vice principal of St. Elizabeth Technical High School (STETHS) and as an Education Officer, she never allowed her work to interfere with her dedicated service as choir director, organist, Sunday School teacher, member of the Women’s Federation, nor as an officer of the church.
While the Rev. Mr. McDonald was active in the pastorate, the Lord also used him in the classroom. For nearly 20 years, he taught Religious Education at STETHS and for almost a decade he was the Lecturer for the In-Service Religious Training Programme at Bethlehem Teachers’ College. “I was happy that I could touch people’s lives both inside and outside of the church,” he reminisced. “Almost every day, I meet persons in Manchester (where he now resides) who remind me that I taught them and that I made a difference in their lives… God be glorified that I made myself available for his service.” Mr. McDonald also served as Chairman for several School Boards including Park Mountain, Pepper Primary, Goshen Primary, Bogue Primary, Burnt Ground, Burnt Savannah All Age Schools and he was a Board Member at STETHS.
TOUCHING ONE HEART AT A TIME
During the 1970s, Rev. A.A. McDonald was the recipient of a scholarship to pursue studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, where he majored in Counselling and Church Administration. He read for his Masters in Divinity. He also preached at churches in Kentucky. Counselling is one area of the ministry, which excites him: “There are many people searching for a confidante and for guidance. God has blessed me with the gifts to meet those needs. Even though I am retired, many people still come to me because they know they can always confide in me and get inspiration.”
This Shepherd has a passion for not just leading people to Christ but also helping others to maximize their potential in the Lord. While he prayed for miracles for others, he was also on the receiving end of miracles: “Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with diabetes. I prayed to God about the matter and he brought healing. I remember going to the doctor and he said to stop taking the medication because the diabetes had gone.” It should be, therefore, no surprise that Rev. Ansel’s favourite Bible passage is Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”
Rev. A.A. McDonald retired from full time Christian ministry in 1998. He says that Sharon Circuit of Baptist Churches will always hold a special place in his heart. The people of the circuit echo a similar love and respect for him and his family. The residents of St. Elizabeth in general also have a deep regard for him. The St. Elizabeth Homecoming Foundation has honoured this Christian Lay Magistrate for service to the parish in religion and community development .
ADVICE FROM A SHEPHERD
What advice does this 77 year-old retiree have for persons contemplating full time service in the Christian ministry? “Make sure that you know without a doubt, God is calling you for this service. The life of full time ministry calls for a lot of sacrifice; so you will be easily discouraged if you are not sure of your calling,” said Rev. A.A. McDonald.
He also has a word of wisdom for pastors : “Ensure you are not dictatorial. Be willing to listen to the people and dialogue with them. You are a servant of the Lord and if you serve the people in humility; respect and with the guidance of God, your Ministry will grow and God will be glorified.” Giving glory to God in all things is the way of the past, present and future for Rev. A.A. McDonald.