When Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for the second time, in 1493, he came across an archipelago of 5 islands inhabited by Native Americans, the Caribs, who called their home “Karukera” (Island of beautiful waters).
When Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean for the second time, in 1493, he came across an archipelago of 5 islands inhabited by Native Americans, the Caribs, who called their home “Karukera” (Island of beautiful waters). Five hundred years later Karukera is now known as Guadeloupe and the Caribs have been replaced by the descendants of French colonizers, African slaves and Arab and Indian immigrants. It is a part of France and all 450,000 Guadeloupians are French citizens.
The Guadeloupe that I am discovering is a society of contrasts and mixing. Like much of the Caribbean, rich and poor live side by side. Luxury Hotels, on palm covered beaches, are only a few miles away from government housing projects, and the business district is surrounded by sugar cane fields. You can buy fresh fruit and sandwiches from small road-side stands or pay full price for French cuisine in an upscale restaurant. On the streets of Guadeloupe’s largest city, Point-à-Pitre, one can hear French, Creole, Arab and even a bit of English being spoken, as tourists, workers and vendors interact. There is a diversity of religions as well. Catholic and Protestant churches and Hindu temples dot the landscape throughout the island.
Unfortunately, Guadeloupe is experiencing a time of political, cultural and economic turmoil. Close to 25 percent of the population is unemployed, prices have risen much faster than salaries, the prison population is increasing and a large number of refugees and asylum seekers, many from Haiti, are living precariously. Union and social leaders are in discussions with the French government on how to address the island’s problems and strikes and demonstrations heavily marked last year.
It is in this context that I have been called to serve the Protestant Reformed Church of Guadeloupe. As well as assisting the pastor in the life of the parish, much of my time is dedicated to working with prisoners in the maximum security prison in Guadeloupe’s capital of Basse-Terre. I have the double responsibility of serving as prison chaplain and also as a social worker helping prisoners prepare to rejoin society upon their release. I am there to accompany them spiritually and to help them as they search for jobs and lodging and try to rebuild family ties.
Having just arrived in Guadeloupe my family and I are still trying to figure out all the intricacies of Guadeloupian culture and society. We have settled in, made friends and I have started working with a group of wonderful colleagues. I encourage you all to pray that God continues to bless the witness and work of the Protestant Reformed Church in Guadeloupe.
Tim Rose serves with the Reformed Church of France as the Pastoral Assistant for Diaconal Ministries in Guadeloupe and Martinique.