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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Called to a life of faith, in Boca Grande

February 29, 2024
By Sheila Evans

There is something special about Garth Bailey. It only takes a few minutes talking to him to know what it is. He is unabashedly in love with the Lord.

Garth is from Ocho Rios, Jamaica, but lives and works in Boca Grande during the season. He works as a server for The Gasparilla Inn and has been coming to the island since 2007 as part of a work-visa program. His love of the Lord permeates everything he does. He is not pushy or noisy about it, but most people can sense it from the way he interacts with everyone. 

He grew up in a small, multigenerational family, with his grandparents providing much of his spiritual training. 

“My grandfather and grandma were devoted Christians,” he said. “They lived for Christ. We used to attend church every week, getting up and ready for church every Sunday after doing our chores and such.” For him, it was mostly going through the motions and pleasing his grandparents, as a child and even into young adulthood. He said he never “knew God personally.”

“I was nurtured in the word of God, but I didn’t understand much. It was all about me. But I believe that a seed was planted in me from then.” 

It was not until Garth was about 26, working in Vermont, when the seed really started to take root and bloom. It started one night when Garth had a dream that changed his life. 

“My mom had this half-finished apartment that she was fixing,” he related. “It was adjoining my grandfather’s house, where we all lived. The wall structures were up, but the roofing was not on as yet. In the dream my grandfather called me and said, ‘Grandson, would you like to meet the Lord?’ I said, ‘Yes, Grandfather.’ So he took my hand and he led me to that roofless apartment and he said, ‘Here’s the Lord,’ and the Lord took my hand and it was like … I can’t describe it. It was just like a transparent light appeared, something I’ve never felt before. And the Lord took my hand and it was like I was transcended. And through the dream I was there with the Lord, and just in peace, and everything was beautiful and crystal, as I’ve never seen before.”

The glow of that dream stayed with Garth for the next two months or more. “I was walking on thin clouds,” he said. “Everything seemed light and clear. That’s when I started to pursue the Lord.”

When he got back to Jamaica he related the dream to his grandmother. 

She told him: “The Lord has a call on your life.” He was not sure exactly what that would entail, but he started giving it serious thought.

“So, I started to kind of seek the Lord even more deeply. I used to have visions in dreams very often. I’d see the Lord appear to me and I’d be reaching up to him. But then he began to depart from me. So it seemed to me as if he was calling me, but I was moving away. Yes, I was moving away. He gave me some Bible verses. He used to do that often, and when I woke up I was always so surprised because it was so vivid. It happened over and over.”

Garth explained that there is a place in the heart of Jamaica known as Fern Gully. This is a very winding road through the mountains. It is shaded by lush greenery – ferns – all around, part of the country’s rainforest. In another dream, Garth was traveling through Fern Gully. He tells it best: 

“I dreamed I was actually going down Fern Gully. Just as I started down the hill, I saw a picture of the Lord just over the horizon. He was reaching down to me, and I was reaching up to him. ‘Oh, Christ, Christ, Christ,’ I was shouting out to him, and he waved, like goodbye to me.”

He went on: “So when I woke up I was terrified about that, and I mentioned it to my grandma, and she said, ‘It’s the Lord calling to you, and if you don’t come to him, then he might pull his hand from you.” So I started taking that more seriously. But then, every time I’d repent, in terms of my lifestyle, I kept going back to what I was doing.”

He said this continued for some time, even years. Then one day when he was back in Boca Grande, he spoke to a fellow worker, a friend, who was a devout Christian. She shared her faith with him and provided him with Bible verses to consider. He told her about his Fern Gully dream. After he returned to Jamaica that year, the friend continued to correspond with him and mentor him. One of her messages included the Bible verse, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24, verse 15).”  

At the time Garth read this message he had been listening to the popular Pentecostal evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. In the program he was listening to, Swaggart was preaching about choosing the way of Christ over the way of humans. Suddenly, Garth was disconnected from that broadcast. When he thought he had restored the connection, it was actually an old broadcast from Billy Graham he was now connected to. Graham was telling his listeners to turn to Joshua 24, verse 15 – the same verse the others had been quoting. 

Garth heard the message loud and clear. He needed to make some choices that were difficult, but necessary. 

“It really convinced me,” he admitted. “I said, ‘Whoa, this can’t be a coincidence. Three different confirmations of the same thing come to me at the same time. So I decided that I was going to give my life to the Lord. And that’s how I made that decision. Since then I’ve been right with the Lord. Now, whatever the Lord lays upon my heart to do, I try to do.”

For a while, Garth led a Bible study. That is no longer happening. Work schedules and people’s interest levels have made it difficult to have such an organized outlet for discussion. Instead, Garth has been praying for other ways to share his faith. 

“I believe the Lord is working behind the scenes to get things moving, helping more people to hear the Word and exchange ideas around the Word,” he said. 

That can happen casually, as he meets people. It can also happen as he takes part in the services at First Baptist Church. He and Pastor Gary Beatty have a lot in common.

“He’s a fine, spiritual, Christian man, and a vibrant part of our church,” Pastor Beatty said. “He’s very moral and spiritual, along with his wife and some others who come from working at The Inn.” He said Garth is called on to lead prayer at church at times, and he has been a valued addition to the congregation.

Garth also has developed deep friendships with other people on the island who share his commitment. He said he is not a believer in “religion,” as such, or in “denominations,” but believes in “the Word.” That is why the Baptist church attracted him, since Pastor Beatty is known as a real “Bible-believing pastor.” 

“I tend to be led where I am mostly fed,” Garth said. “That has been at the Baptist church.” He appreciates the fact that he has been given time on most Sundays to attend worship.

Bailey has a concern that more and more people are turning away from old- fashioned values and looking more toward “earning money and having things, rather than looking to eternity.” He noted that “as Jamaicans, we tend to be spiritually oriented. We all grew up in the church, unlike much of the U.S., where a lot of people may not see the need to go to a church and are more on their own.” He laughed at the truth of the old saying that in Jamaica “for every square mile there will be four churches.” It may sound funny, but he said it is still true. “It was a privilege for us to go to church,” he said. 

He invites anyone who wants to chat about faith to seek him out. He said he enjoys “one-on-one discussions” as well as the more formal study groups. He said the invitation applies to the Jamaican population, as well as to everyone who is part of the community. 

“Anyone who would be open to hear the word of God,” he said, “is welcome.” He noted that this is especially important if people are feeling the need for a refuge. 

“Many times a person will have an open heart when they are hurting. That is when the Holy Spirit gets our attention most,” he said. “When what we are looking at, the things around us, don’t seem to be working out, life crashes under our feet, and then there’s an opportunity for God. So I would like to offer to anyone who is hurting to come, and I will always be here to share my faith and what God has done for me.”

He looks for such opportunities. 

“I try to share and give a biblical perspective,” he said, “while others would be looking more at the natural or psychological things. I always try to draw them to the Word; then we will have a spiritual viewpoint. So, if they get to know the spiritual, they can have a better assessment about life. The peace of God, which passeth all understanding.”

He continued: “I would like to tell my community here – Boca Grande, as a whole, and the rest of the world, as a matter of fact, that Jesus is the answer to our problems. Whatever we are facing in this life, he can take care of it. He has done it before, he has done it for so many others around us, and if we just give him a chance, he can bring us some sense of hope that things are more than what we can look at. That would be my message to people.”

Garth has been working in Boca Grande for many years. He is usually on the island from early October to the 4th of July. He is pleased with the life he has on the island. “This is a big community here,” he said. “They are wonderful people.”