By Dr Hadyn Marshall
Hadyn is a commended worker based in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The English-speaking Caribbean ranges from Bermuda to as far south as Guyana. Some of the territories are not in a strict geographical sense part of the Caribbean, however, they share a similar culture and history. The tropical climate and abundance of beautiful beaches make the region a prime tourist destination. Despite the image of the Caribbean as a tropical paradise, the region has social and economic challenges, including crime, family disintegration, unemployment and vulnerability to natural disasters, such as hurricanes.
Many of the territories were once colonies of Great Britain and had agricultural economies based on African slave labour. The impact of this history can be seen throughout their populations. Most territories are now independent nations with democratically elected governments. The exceptions are Anguilla and Bermuda, which are British Overseas Territories, and St Croix and
St Thomas, which are members of the United States Virgin Islands.
Brethren missionaries arrived from the UK in the 1860s and 150 years later there are assemblies in many countries, including Anguilla, Barbados, Grenada and St Lucia. These fellowships are generally small, with an average congregation of 40 people. Notable exceptions are Swallowfield Chapel in Jamaica, with over 900 members, and Abundant Life Chapel in the Bahamas, which has over 500 members. The work is now in the hands of local believers. Most leaders are tentmakers but there are some, myself included, who are supported to serve full time.
The movement is showing signs of stagnation and, in some cases, decline. The planting of new churches is rare. Among the reasons for this are migration of gifted nationals, materialism, lack of enterprise, poor succession planning, failure to adapt evangelistic methods to engage contemporary society and a lack of sensitivity to the surrounding culture. This decline is despite local people still being open to the gospel. While the Brethren comprise less than 2% of the evangelical population, it is still possible to have prayer in schools and there are no restrictions on public evangelistic work. The average person is not likely to question the truth of the Bible. In this climate, some evangelical churches are experiencing growth.
Connecting with Communities
To meet these challenges, a fresh approach to connect with communities is needed, one that compassionately engages the needs of those we seek to evangelise. This could be through medical mission, ministries of mercy or skills training. It cannot simply be business as usual.
It was this understanding that led to the Caribbean Brethren Assemblies Conference (CBAC) in St Kitts in 2014. A significant outcome was the formation of a committee, comprising one representative from each territory in the English-speaking Caribbean where there is a Brethren witness. Its mission is to organise and promote activities and programmes that will facilitate spiritual and numerical growth.
…a fresh approach to connect with communities is needed, one that compassionately engages the needs of those we seek to evangelise.
Moving Forward Together
The first conference was held in July 2017 in Trinidad and Tobago with the theme, ‘Moving Forward Together’. There were workshops on leadership, preaching, family life, the use of technology in ministry and disaster management. Over 270 people, from 16 territories, shared the same space for four days. National identities were relegated as we celebrated our oneness in Christ.
CBAC 2017 testified to the Lord’s provision. We needed to make the conference affordable to ensure that it was accessible for everyone. We kept fees low and trusted the Lord. Brothers and sisters from the Caribbean and beyond gave generously of their money, time and expertise. At the end of the conference, we had a surplus.
Youth Putting Christ First
Most encouragingly, I noted that a significant number of young people were interested and their participation enriched the event. The youth night was refreshingly different. Alongside the traditional features, we had a moving presentation by Leah Joslyn (Trinidad and Tobago). Displaying a level of maturity well beyond her 20-something years, Leah challenged us to put Christ first. I was happy to be among the elders from the territories represented who prayed for her.
Leah was, at that time, serving in Senegal with Ethnos 360. An important aspect of her ministry involves building relationships with the people she is trying to reach for the Lord. She wrote, ‘I made a really good friend and I got to know so much about her daily life and struggles. I spent hours with her digging and then sifting the earth to collect stones to use in construction.’ Leah has since moved to a new field, Guinea. Challenges she currently faces include learning the language and finding the right people to help her. Let us keep her in our prayers.
Rohan Quammie, Elim Community Church
Rohan, aged 32, wrote, ‘To be a part of a new church is challenging and exciting. We have come a long way through God’s grace and His many blessings. We are encouraged by the fact that new people have been added to the congregation, and it is our hope that God would yet use us mightily to impact our community in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Our ministries include: catering for the students in need of extra help with their school work; an interactive radio programme, which examines life’s challenges from a biblical perspective; and providing lunch for disadvantaged students at a community school. We are looking ahead with even greater expectation that God will do something new among us. We intend to keep moving forward, even though it may seem like a long journey, because we are confident that the Lord will see us through.’
Reaching the Wapishana, Brazil
In 2019 a new assembly outreach began in Roriama, Brazil, among the loacal Wapishana and Macushi peoples who migrated from Guyana. It took a lot of time, however, God gave wisdom and overruled. The Lord laid on the hearts of Ronald and Zita Charles to visit 30 villages to encourage, strengthen and teach. A new area was reached and they went back for leadership training. While there, another area opened up 40km away. Ronald went on a 25-day trek in the south among the Wapishanas and Wai-Wais in seven villages. It was challenging; they spent every day teaching and preaching. Another call came for them to go for the first time to an area, where they found people hungry for the Word of God. The work of the Lord is expanding and new areas are being evangelised in the vast Amazon rainforest.
…they found people hungry for the Word of God.
Throughout the region, Vacation Bible School (VBS) is used to reach children in our communities for the Lord. The VBS in Barbados highlighted people who went into remote areas of the world to preach the good news and plant churches.
In 2019, the Bahamas celebrated 50 years of camp ministry. Unfortunately, with the passage of Hurricane Dorian in September, the reunion planned for November had to be postponed. Over the years, camps have been successful in reaching young people for Christ. Many more children are reached with the gospel through the camps than in any other way. Believers gave thanks for being able to hold their first camp at SONrise Retreat Centre, Tobago, with 37 juniors and 24 seniors. The Word was faithfully presented with enlightening activities. Praise God for 32 young people who made confessions of faith in Christ! Pray for the ongoing discipleship of these young people.
We praise God for young people in our assemblies, for improved communication among elders and cooperation in response to natural disasters, and for the growing recognition that something needs to be done to stimulate growth in churches.
- for the raising up of a new generation of leaders to continue the work
- for greater spiritual commitment on the part of believers
- for the territories affected by hurricanes
- for effective outreach and witness
- for the next conference in Jamaica, 2021.