by Drs Winston & Nurkle Litchmore
When the Midland Bible Institute (MBI) was founded in 1971, the assemblies in Jamaica were growing rapidly with Sunday school numbers up to 1,000. People were motivated to take time to learn the Word of God and better equip themselves to serve in their churches.
The college started with five students, two of whom were from Belize. The campus is situated near May Pen, 35 miles from the city of Kingston. When we were called to the mission field in Jamaica, we were both successfully employed in local education. Our calling was confirmed by the verse: ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes’ (Ps. 118:23). In January 2000, Winston was appointed as CEO of Christian Missions Jamaica, now CBAJ. Our daughter, Faith, a qualified librarian and trained musician, accompanied us to Jamaica. In February 2001, Winston was seconded to the MBI for two days per week and subsequently as principal. In September of that year, there were nine full-time and some part-time students. Three students enrolled for the new music course with Faith as their tutor.
In 2003 the task of building a collaborative team to the glory of God, for the progress of the school and establishing a sound financial base, posed a great challenge. The solution included changes in personnel, upgrading the curriculum and raising the profile of MBI. The J. W. Laing Trust supported this effort while the buildings were undergoing refurbishment.
Through the Storm
On 10 September 2004, Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc throughout the island. Seventeen people lost their lives and hundreds were made homeless. There was extensive damage to farms, businesses, schools and churches, and utilities were temporarily out of action. Christian Missions coordinated the disaster aid, receiving funds and disbursing them to the assemblies.
The MBI roof was damaged causing severe flood damage inside the building. The dormitories were particularly badly affected, so no one could be housed on campus. The newly extended and refurbished library was also damaged. The clearing of materials and debris was a huge job. Classes were held in the foyer and in unaffected classrooms. Despite the challenges, God kept sending students to the college. Generous funds came in from abroad, including from the Echoes of Service disaster fund, Paul Young (EI Trustee) came to gain first-hand knowledge of our progress and the work in Jamaica.
Training Young Minds
A Vacation Bible School was held in August 2005, the first of its kind to be held at MBI. It was undertaken to further strengthen links with the community by reaching out to the children and their parents. Over 60 children attended during the week. The children were taught about the life of Jesus, His work on the Cross and how they could receive Him as their Saviour. Building work was in progress on campus and there was no running water but the children were well supplied with good cool water from a portable fountain and a tank for washing hands. While the children learned about the Word, the college students gained evangelism experience.
Positive transformation began to take place and a significant development was marked in August 2005, when over 150 people attended the inaugural service for the new extension centre in Kingston held at Bethany Gospel Hall. Shonna Leigh, a graduate of MBI, was introduced as the head of the centre. Bill and Zena Hart (UK) came out of retirement to help us. Both were encouraged by Neil and Pauline Summerton (UK) and recommended by Echoes. They served as vice principal and academic dean, and personal development tutor, supporting the work spiritually, intellectually and financially.
By 2005, the student roll had increased to 15 full-time and six part-time students at the Kingston extension centre. As some prospective students did not have the entry qualifications, classes for Maths, Computers and English began. These courses enabled several students to successfully gain admission to the degree or diploma programmes. There was a dedicated team who prayed, planned and worked together to the glory of the Lord and to the enhancement of the work at MBI.
Regular open days were organised to bring people of several denominations from around the island to the college campus. Promotional tours and mission weekends were organised with the assemblies. Visits and internships with other churches strengthened relationships and raised the profile of the college, helping to attract students and garner support.
There was a dedicated team who prayed, planned and worked together to the glory of the Lord
In 2006, Winston’s time continued to be shared between Christian Missions and MBI. This was challenging due to the high demands of both jobs, which included serving on several committees and being one of the voices on the Christian Brethren radio programme, Look at Life. Nurkle began lecturing in Learning Theories and English Language and became MBI’s Dean of Students in 2010. Together we provided hospitality for missionaries and guests from abroad who stayed in our home. Robin and Margaret Boles (Ireland) came to serve during 2006 in office administration and they took a particular interest in the personal welfare of the students residing on campus. Neil and Pauline Summerton returned to visit in 2007 to lead seminars in support of the work.
The year 2007 brought significant joy as well as grief. Jamaica’s academic accreditation body granted ‘Candidate for Registration’ status to MBI in April 2007. However, in August 2007, Hurricane Dean struck and the college was again affected, although this time with less damage than previously. Work was then done by Delfosse McDermott’s company to fortify the building against future storms.
With time comes change. Initially housed on the grounds of a school in May Pen, in 1980 the college was moved to Curatoe Hill, taking over what was a hotel. The existing facilities were revamped and a new multipurpose building was developed with architect Dr Stead Williams overseeing the project. In May 2009 we had a combined graduation ceremony and naming of two buildings in honour of the Jamaican founder Emile Turner and his wife, Idalee, and the first principal of MBI, Frank Fenton and his wife, Florence, who arrived in the 1950s as missionaries from England. Among those present were Norris and Claudia Turner, and Andy and Lis Street from Echoes. Nine of 15 students graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Although not a commended missionary, Faith Litchmore operated with equal devotion. During her service at MBI, she oversaw extending and improving the library and setting up a computer laboratory. Faith was instrumental in forging links with Opal Trust, which, in conjunction with Echoes of Service, donated numerous books.
Registration of the college and then accreditation of the BA Theology programme remained our focus throughout 2009. The road was filled with many challenges but the Lord enabled MBI to overcome them all and achieve registration status in May 2010. It offered academic programmes such as Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Theology and a Certificate in Ministry.
September 2011 ushered in a year-long celebration of forty years since MBI was founded. A thanksgiving service with the theme, ‘Celebrating God’s faithfulness from generation to generation’ was held to acknowledge His faithfulness in the making, shaping and maintaining of the institute. Among those present were the Turners, Dr Joseph Wint and Dr Adrian Thomas, a graduate of MBI, as the guest speaker.
A New Generation
We sought the Lord on retiring from the work in Jamaica in 2013, and so it was. God had called us to go and serve Him in Jamaica, our country of birth, and to minister in other countries, spiritually and practically. We were available to serve Him and became what He wanted us to be, did what He wanted us to do and went where He wanted us to go. Though retired, we remain available to Him. ‘Hitherto has the Lord helped us’ (1 Sam. 7:12). To God be the glory!
To carry on the work, Donahue Collash, an MBI graduate, served as principal for one year with Dr Shonna Leigh as vice principal and then as acting principal, until Dr Christopher Clarke’s appointment in January 2020. MBI has been blessed by the service of a missionary family, Mike and Melinda Dillione (CMML) and others.
MBI continues as a monument to God’s faithfulness and, in 2021, celebrated 50 years of training men and women for ministry. It has demonstrated the practical outworking of Nehemiah 4:17-18, which was an inspiration to founder Emile Turner. Many students have been trained, educated, mentored and developed. The gifts of the graduates have been maximised, enabling them to impact churches, organisations and missionary teams in Jamaica and the world for Christ. We thank the Lord for the dedicated conscientious individuals, workers and organisations who gave unstintingly to this great work. We prayerfully desire for MBI’s continued development in its mission in ‘training the whole person to reach the whole world’.