By Rich Brown
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Errol Bolt calls his cousin, Usain Bolt, a legend in Jamaica. Though the latter has earned the title of Fastest Man in the World in the past two Olympics, it is the former who has reached a somewhat legendary status of his own through his work for God over the past three decades.
Errol, who was back at his alma mater, Ozark Christian College, last week to attend the annual Preaching-Teaching Convention, has been making great spiritual inroads in Jamaica ever since graduating from OCC in 1983.
Not many people have done more to further the Christian cause than this native Jamaican.
Reviving a struggling congregation
The first challenge facing Bolt upon his return to the Jamaican capital of Kingston was to bring his home church back to life. When Bolt left Kingston for college, Penwood Church of Christ had a membership of 300 people. When he returned, it had shrunk to 35.
Bolt said that dramatic decline was due to the Communist takeover of the country. However, when he returned, the government had changed back to a Democracy and his church asked him to take over as pastor.
It wasn't long, Bolt said, that the church began picking up members again and in the process opened a school for children from 3 to 8 years old.
"Our school went up to 250 students, and our church soon grew back to 300 members," said Bolt, who earned a master's degree in Christian counseling from Central Christian University in Kingston.
Bolt has the distinction of welcoming both the fastest man, Usain Bolt, and the fastest woman, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, as attendees at his church. Fraser-Pryce won the 100-meter dash in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games.
After 12 years of rebuilding his home church and engineering a Christian school, Bolt's ministry took on an even bigger challenge.
He and his wife, Carmen, a registered nurse, relocated to Kencot, Jamaica. There, Bolt put up a tent he had purchased in Miami, Okla., and began a six-week series of crusades. The nucleus from those highly successful crusades laid the groundwork for Bolt's second church, Kencot Christian Fellowship, which he started in 1996.
This church has proven to be a base for Bolt to minister through counseling and preaching at a variety of islands surrounding Jamaica. In addition, he has trained church leaders and teachers at those islands.
Some of the areas of his counseling expertise have included family life, pre-marital and crisis situations.
He was also named deputy chairman of Teen Challenge International, a Christ-centered drug-rehabilitation program, for Jamaica.
Outreach includes medical clinic
Bolt was instrumental in getting a massive medical clinic started 10 years ago at his church. The clinic, which treated over 1,500 Jamaicans in one week last year, brought in more than 60 Americans, along with the same number of Jamaicans, to treat patients.
"All of this is done at our church, which is transformed into a hospital," said Bolt, whose daughter, Brianna, is a registered nurse at the same Freeman Health System birthing center in Joplin where she was born and where her mother once worked. "We are meeting the health needs of the people of Jamaica."
At little or no cost to patients, clinics are held every two years with volunteers providing treatment in such areas as dentistry, gynecology, optometry and pediatrics.
Bolt said that every day during the week-long clinic, people start lining up as early as 3 a.m., with some having to be turned away. He added that last year about 600 pairs of eyeglasses were prescribed and handed out.
In The Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, Bolt called the clinic a love outreach to the community.
To say Bolt came from humble beginnings would be an understatement. Growing up in Kingston, he said, he came from a "rotten, poor existence." He was one of nine children with a stay-at-home mother and a father who worked but could not even pay the light bill with his earnings.
There were times when dinner for each of the Bolt children consisted of a green plum they had picked from a tree in their backyard.
Bolt heard about OCC from his pastor at Penwood Church of Christ, but his applications were rejected twice because of lack of funds. That is when his pastor connected him with Cecil Todd and Revival Fires Ministry in Joplin. Todd's idea was to finance a student from a foreign country in order to have that student return to his native land to preach.
The money invested in Bolt could not have been better used.
After 30 years in the ministry, Bolt, 59, who could easily pass for someone 20 years younger, has seen the lives of countless numbers of Jamaicans turned around because of his efforts.
Bolt said he has not discovered the fountain of youth. Instead, he says, the secret to his youthful appearance stems from paying heed to what the Bible teaches.
"There is great therapy in the word of God, and it protects you from the stresses of life," he said. "You have someone to whom you can surrender those stresses and pray about it."
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email richbrown@ cableone.net.