Living the dream and a spiritual mission
Ten years ago, Barry Fraser quit his job and went on an adventure.
Then 62, his wife Maxine had died and his daughter Gail was living her own life.
He decided it was time he fulfilled a long-held ambition.
“I’d always wanted to do missionary work overseas but Maxine and Gail didn’t like to travel much so we mainly stuck to Bermuda,” said Mr Fraser, who spent a decade reading the news, helping in sales and running Christian radio programming for Bermuda Broadcasting Company.
After hearing about a hurricane that hit Belize, he decided to visit. His hope was to help out at “a little radio station there called My Christian Refuge” in Belmopan for about three months.
He ended up staying ten years.
The people were kind and welcoming, the climate was similar to Bermuda’s, there was tons of open space and the station director at My Christian Refuge needed help getting more listeners.
“I introduced American gospel music to the show,” Mr Fraser said. “The director of the station said: ‘I’m not sure about that, Barry. I don’t know if our listeners will get that’. I said as long as they watch [the television channel] TBN they’ll get it. Luckily, I was right and they did get it. They seemed to really like it.”
He eventually moved, working for eight months to increase listenership at The Lighthouse Christian Radio on Ambergris Caye before joining Integrity Radio in Belize City.
In his early years there, he joined religious parades through some of Belize City’s most dangerous neighbourhoods. Although there was always the concern that someone might get shot, most of the residents just seemed “grateful we were there”, Mr Fraser said.
His first home was in Teakettle, a village six miles outside Belmopan. The capital city then seemed quieter and safer than the much larger Belize City, 40 miles away to the northeast, however that wasn’t the case when Mr Fraser moved back to Bermuda last month.
“In Belize City, the police are really cracking down on gangs and crime,” he said. “They had a real problem. Unfortunately, that meant that people in gangs were just moving their activities to Belmopan.”
It was one of the reasons he decided it was time to come home.
There was also a pressing need to spend more time with Gail and her six-year-old daughter, Sky, who had only met him a handful of times.
“It’s taken a little while for her to figure out who I am,” he said. “We told her to call me ‘Papa Barry’ but one day she said to me: Papa Barry do you have any children? I said ‘Yes, your mother’. I’m so glad I came back. It’s a crucial time in her life.”
He’s had “some funny reactions” from people since his return here.
“Some people knew I left the island, but some people didn’t. They say to me, ‘Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been?’”
The thing he misses most about Belize is working on the radio.
“I feel sure I will be on the radio again,” he said. “I’m looking into it.”
Mr Fraser grew up in Banbury, Oxfordshire. He trained as a teacher in his early twenties and then joined a class in Birmingham.
“I taught children who came from all parts of the world, but many had come from Jamaica and Barbados,” he said. “So I had this insane idea of going to Jamaica. But in 1972 I took a post in Bermuda. I taught at Prospect Primary School for six years.”
He met Maxine Darrell while tutoring at the Sunshine League Children’s Home on King Street in Hamilton.
“She was in the kitchen cooking the evening meal and would be doing cleaning during the day,” he said. “We developed a friendship and the rest is history.”
When they wed in 1978, biracial marriages here were still a bit unusual.
“Some people were accepting, but we would get some stares sometimes if we went to a restaurant or hotel,” Mr Fraser said. “People were curious. At that time it wasn’t necessarily the done thing. We didn’t care. We were happy and her family accepted me. She had three brothers. One of them said, ‘Barry, we are not your brothers-in-law we are your brothers’. So I was accepted into that family very nicely.”
Before marrying, he’d been a lay reader at The Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity on Church Street.
“I asked if they would train me as a minister,” he said. “But they didn’t want to because I was a still a contract worker at that time, and they were afraid if they trained me I wouldn’t come back to Bermuda.”
Once married, he switched over to St Paul AME, where his wife was a member. Clergy there offered the training he desired.
“I did four years of training with Bermudian and African American pastors before I was ordained by two bishops who came from the United States,” he said. “It was a very happy day when I was ordained in 1983. It was a bit unusual at the time. There was even a big headline in the Mid-Ocean News ‘Englishman Aims to Be AME Minister’.”
But things weren’t always easy.
“There was racism from both sides,” he said. “Some people didn’t want a white minister. I say that gently. When you understand the history, you understand why.”
After six years he left to work in smaller churches, assisting the ministers there.
He’s now doing the same, with an aim to helping bring more people into the church. “I don’t want to say where, yet,” he said.
• Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Tuesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or email@example.com with their full name, contact details and the reason you are suggesting them