Jamaica pastor dies during annual assembly

Mar 23, 2015 by and

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The vice president of Jamaica Mennonite Church, Donavan Maitland, died of a heart attack March 8 at the church’s annual assembly, causing it to end early.

Donavan Maitland preaches at Temple Hall Mennonite Church in Jamaica last year. — Stephen Walcott

Donavan Maitland preaches at Temple Hall Mennonite Church in Jamaica last year. — Stephen Walcott

Maitland, the pastor of Bethel Mennonite Church in Mandeville, had just finished delivering an impassioned sermon when he sat down next to his wife, according to Lynn Suter, who attended in her role as director of operations and international ministries of Virginia Mennonite Missions.

“He was fairly immediately in distress. His wife put her arms around him to steady him, and the other pastors gathered around him to respond,” she said. VMM is a mission partner of JMC, with two service workers on the island.

JMC president William Broughton accompanied Maitland to University Hospital of the West Indies, where he was pronounced dead.

He said the impact of Maitland’s final sermon will be remembered for a long time.

Delegate meetings were held March 6-7 at Waterloo Mennonite Church in Kingston. Fifty-three delegates from the 705-member church took part. About 400 attended a closing day of worship on March 8 at Campion College Auditorium in Kingston.

Maitland spoke on the theme of the assembly, “For Christ’s Sake, Share the Faith.”

“It was a call to prayer, to gospel preaching and to worship,” Suter said. “The sermon was really his passionate plea for the church to be renewed through these practices and an expression of his hope that the Lord would bless the church with growth and new vitality.”

She said delegates discussed growth during the weekend as one of the church’s current desires and challenges.

Broughton said: “I am hopeful that the charge from Pastor Maitland’s sermon will inspire people to take more seriously the mandate of the Great Commission and the result will be seen in the numerical and spiritual growth of the church.”

“The pastors initially were saying, ‘We received a message. What he said was important,’ ” Suter said. “The message was impactful, and more so because of what happened.”

The sermon also impacted Clyde Kratz, in attendance as conference minister of Mennonite Church USA’s Virginia Mennonite Conference. JMC is a partner conference of Virginia conference.

“His presentation was engaging, enthusiastic and energetic,” he said. “Time seemed to stand still.”

He said the pastor of the largest of JMC’s 13 congregations, Liston Aiken, provided admirable leadership. Aiken announced Maitland’s passing to the assembly attendees, then asked a few leaders, including Kratz, to offer specific prayers.

“He was really skillful in his care for the audience in his storytelling and his ability to know how to walk the group through grief and loss in the circumstances,” Kratz said.

They prayed, sang a few songs, and then the gathering was dismissed, the afternoon worship canceled.

Because of the leadership Aiken and others demonstrated during the assembly, Kratz feels hopeful.

“JMC is a resilient body,” he said. “Once they get through the transition, they’ll be OK.”

Broughton said many JMC congregations commenced a week of prayer, focused on “comfort and support for the bereaved family.”

Maitland was originally part of the church Broughton pastors, Temple Hall Mennonite Church.

“I consider it a blessing and privilege to have baptized him into the fellowship of the church about 20 years ago,” Broughton said. Maitland had a son, Sanjeev, and daughter, Diandra, with his wife, Sandra.

He was also on the pastoral team of Ridge Mennonite Church, the church VMM workers Veronica and Caleb Kiefer attend. The congregation is on the campus of Maranatha School for the Deaf, where the Kiefers serve.

Suter said they were already stretched thin and now will be even more challenged to cover all the pastoral and leadership needs. VMM is looking for ways to access and raise funds for leadership training.

VMM and Virginia conference set up a fund to support the family and church at vmmissions.org.

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