The Garifuna people of Central America number approximately 75,000 and live in the countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.1 They are known for their music and dance — in 2001, their music, dance, and language were proclaimed as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.2
But behind their music, dance, and traditions lies a dark history which still affects their lives today.
The Garifuna people of today are the descendants of African slaves who gained their freedom (when the boats carrying them were shipwrecked and when they were freed by their owners) and intermarried with the Carib Indians who lived on St. Vincent and in the Windward Islands.3
Initially, European colonization of Saint Vincent was led by the French. But in 1763, Britain gained control of the island following its defeat of the French in the Seven Years’ War. The Carib-African natives revolted against the British occupiers. Although they won what came to be known as the First Carib War and signed a treaty with the British, they ultimately lost the Second Carib War.
In the aftermath of this defeat, the British divided the Garifuna according to their skin color. Five thousand darker-skinned Garifuna were captured and then banished to the island of Baliceaux, thirteen miles off the southern coast of St. Vincent.4 This small island is approximately one half of a square mile5, meaning that the population density of Garifuna on Baliceaux was 10,000 per square mile (today, only five countries/territories are more densely populated – Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Gibraltar).6
Combine this population density with neglect by the British, and approximately 2,800 Garifuna soon succumbed to malnutrition and disease.
Those who died were buried in a small area of the island. Little remains of the area as it has been eroded over time by the wind and the sea.7
In March 1797, the remaining 2,200 Garifuna were exiled by the British to the island of Roatan off the cost of Honduras. During the 31-day journey, an additional 200 died. Eventually, the remaining Garifuna migrated to the Central American mainland.8
Today, the Garifuna of Central America (there are large numbers of Garifuna immigrants in the United States and also scattered throughout several Caribbean islands) live primarily in towns and villages along the eastern coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.9
In the past, the Garifuna relied on fishing and small-scale subsistence farming for income. Much of the land suitable for farming, however, was taken by fruit companies in the 20th century10 so that those who still farm often must travel 5-10 miles to reach their plots. Many Garifuna are underemployed wage laborers. Others travel for work and as many of 50% of men are absent from the average Garifuna community at any one time.11
Their living conditions are difficult. Many Garifuna villages have no electricity and even in the towns, where electricity is more common, there are frequent power outages. Garbage is often thrown into the sea, dumped in open ditches and streams, or even tossed out the back door, and so conditions are far from sanitary.
Close to 75% of Garifuna children who are under the age of 12 are malnourished.12 Education is lacking as there is a lack of schools in the towns and villages populated by the Garifuna. Nearly 70% of the population is illiterate or semi-illiterate.13
They have largely been forgotten by the church. Although 80% of the Garifuna worldwide self-identify as Christian, the vast majority follow a mixture of Catholicism and traditional African and Carib beliefs. In Honduras, 10% of the Garifuna population is evangelical.14
The words of Isaiah 61:1-3 describe the life experience and history of the Garifuna people quite well — captivity, brokenhearted, mourning, grieving, ashes, poor, despair.
But this is not the end of the story because Jesus has good news for the Garifuna!
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
Just as poverty, sadness, captivity, mourning, grieving, ashes, and despair were not the end of the story in the days of Isaiah, it is not the end of the story for the Garifuna.
And it was not the end of the story in the lives of Kelly and Jenni Conrady, Assemblies of God missionaries to Honduras, who are uniquely prepared to take the good news of Jesus to the Garifuna!
The words of Isaiah 61:1-3 could be used to describe the pre-conversion lives of Kelly and Jenni. When they were first married, they were not serving the Lord and had been battered by trauma and bondage. Jenni lived in foster care and girls’ homes from the age of 12. Kelly struggled with drug addiction.
But Jesus had good news for Jenni and Kelly. And because of that good news, their wounds were bound up, they were set free from captivity, they were enveloped in God’s light, and they were comforted. Instead of ashes, their lives were made beautiful. Instead of mourning, their hearts were filled with joy. Instead of despair, they were clothed with praise. Jenni recommitted her life to Christ (she had been saved at the age of 10), and Kelly converted to Christ after attending a Newsboys concert with Jenni.
After their recommitment/conversion, Jenni and Kelly began to serve the Lord in their local church, becoming involved in children’s ministries and church leadership. Prior to their appointment as missionary associates to Guatemala, they served for five years as the outreach pastors of their local church, reaching their community through compassion ministries.
The Conrady’s, along with their children Zander and Norah, have recently completed their first term of service as missionary associates in Guatemala.
While serving in Guatemala, Kelly and Jenni worked with ChildHope in four ministries: 1) Bible distribution to third through ninth graders; 2) school construction projects; 3) discipling children through Bible clubs; and, 4) teaching street kids English (which can help these children find work as they grow older).
Part way through their first term, while briefly traveling outside Guatemala, the Conrady’s ended up stuck on a bridge in their van along with a caravan of Honduran refugees – women, children, families – walking to the United States. While on the bridge, their hearts broke for the Honduran people. And now, the Assemblies of God has asked them to work among the Garifuna in Honduras. They are currently itinerating in the United States to raise additional prayer and financial support for the work in Honduras.
As Jenni and Kelly prepare to serve the Lord in Honduras, they bring with them their varied background and experience (prior to their service in Guatemala, Kelly was an aviation machinist for 16 years and is experienced in construction management, and Jenni was a kindergarten and fifth grade teacher).
But beyond their background and experience, they will bring with them the good news of Jesus which has set them free. They will tell the Garifuna about the healing that is found in Jesus, the healing through which their own broken hearts were bound up. As a son and daughter of the light, they will proclaim release from darkness to those who have been imprisoned. They will tell of God’s marvelous grace. They will comfort those who mourn.
They will be bringing the good news to a region where there are fifty villages and only two evangelical churches. With a goal of planting 48 churches in the region (one for every unreached village), Kelly and Jenni will begin by building relationships with families and their children through after school programs and Convoy of Hope’s feedONE program which funds daily feeding programs for school children in eleven different countries, including Honduras.
Through the relationships they build, Jenni and Kelly will share the gospel, disciple new believers, and raise up and train leaders to plant churches.
They have also been asked by the superintendent of the Assemblies of God in Honduras to help train Honduran churches in children’s ministry.
Beauty Instead of Ashes
Joy Instead of Mourning
Praise Instead of Despair
How You Can Join The Conradys’ Team in Honduras
If you’ve read our pillar articles (which can be reached through the tabs at the top of the site if you are using a desktop or the three-bar/”hamburger” menu if you are using a mobile device), you know that our conviction is that all believers should be part of a team seeking to reach the unreached. Some will go, some will pray, some will provide financial support, some will provide logistical support.
Here are five ways you can be a part of Kelly and Jenni’s team:
- You can pray for the Conrady family on an ongoing basis. The best way to stay informed of their prayer needs is by subscribing to their newsletter at their website, visiting Jenni’s blog, or following them on Facebook.
- Let’s pray that the words of Isaiah 61:3b, 6 would become reality in the lives of the Garifuna — that they would “be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” That they would “be called priests of the Lord” and “ministers of our God.”
- You can give to the Conrady family financially by signing up to support them on a monthly basis or to contribute a one-time gift at their online giving page.
- You can consider physically joining the Jenni and Kelly to aid them in their work. Contact them for more information.
- If you are a pastor or missions leader in your church, we would encourage you to get in touch with Kelly and Jenni to see how they might be able to encourage your people for the cause of children and the marginalized in Honduras and also to find out how you can be of service to them.
1 Joshua Project, Black Carib, accessed June 21, 2020, https://joshuaproject.net/people_groups/10891.
2 Wikipedia, Garifuna Music, accessed June 25, 2020, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garifuna_music.
3 Jason Mandryk and Molly Wall, editors, Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018), 50-51.
4 Wikipedia, Garifuna, accessed June 21, 2020, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garifuna.
5 Wikipedia, Baliceaux, accessed June 24, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baliceaux
6 Wikipedia, Population density, accessed June 24, 2020, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_density.
7 Wikipedia, Baliceaux.
8 Wikipedia, Garifuna.
9 Encyclopedia.com, Garifuna, accessed June 21, 2020, https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/latin-america-and-caribbean/mesoamerican-indigenous-peoples/garifuna.
10 Wikipedia, Garifuna.
11 Encyclopedia.com, Garifuna.
14 Joshua Project, Black Carib.