2019: Nassau, Bahamas

The commission met at the BWA’s Annual Gathering, July 7-13, 2019, in Nassau, Bahamas. Topics in each session are described below.

Session One (Tuesday, 9 July 2019, 11:00 am – 12:30 pm) – Brian Talbot, Chair

11:00-11:15 – Welcome, Devotional thought, Introductions, and Updates on Commission Members   

Brian opened the first of the series of three BWA Annual Gathering Heritage and Identity Commission sessions with a scripture reading and prayer, followed by a welcome and the introduction of those who were in attendance. Brian then introduced our Presenter, Rev. Dr. Terrence Morrison.

11:15-12:00 – Rev. Dr. Terence Morrison, the pastor of Zion Baptist Church on East and Shirley Streets, Nassau, presented our first session on the fascinating topic of Bahamian Baptist History.

Early Islanders – The island known today as the Bahamas, was first recorded by Columbus after his 1492 voyage. He landed on the island its indigenous people called, Guanahani, and renamed it “El Salvador.” Only 6  individuals of the three ships’ crews were priests, on this quest with “God, Gold, and Glory” as its theme. From 1648 to 1973, the Bahamas, made up of 700 islands, of which about thirty are inhabited, then came under foreign rule and occupation, mostly Anglican. The inhabitants today are mostly descended from North and South African and South American ancestors.

Baptists come to Bahamas in 1790 – Baptists first came to the Bahamas in 1790 when Prince Williams, Sharper Morris, and Sambo (Moses) Scriven, Papa Amos, all freed slaves from South Carolina, migrated to the Bahamas from St. Augustine, Florida and founded what is now Bethel Baptist Church. They purchased lots 20 and 21 in Delancy Town, where they erected a wooden chapel and called it “Bethel Meeting House.” The Chapel was probably constructed by Prince Williams who was listed on the deed as a carpenter. These men had been influenced by George Liele (c.1750-1820), the Baptist freedman who planted the Bryan Baptist and First African Baptist churches, Savannah, Georgia, and then took the gospel to Jamaica in 1783. Baptist work has been rooted in freedom, which is still a most precious value to Bahamians.

19th & 20th Centuries Baptist Growth – British Baptists from the Baptist Missionary Society in London, sent missionaries Rev. and Mrs. Joseph Burton and Kilner Pearson, to Nassau in 1833, and the next year, more than fifty people joined the new church. Prince Williams left late in 1834 to begin St. John’s Native Baptist Church (called early on Williams Chapel and Bethlehem Chapel), which began on 6 March 1835 and is still the second oldest congregation on Nassau. Williams and other leaders were insistent upon an all-indigenous leadership; confident, functioning well, providing training in both business and ministry, and founding cooperative credit unions and funeral homes. These leaders kept the churches flourishing all across the Bahamas.

The third, Zion Baptist Chapel, was founded on 25 August 1835 by missionary Joseph Burton to attract a white congregation of Baptists; however, a split occurred when free black leadership began making decisions, In fact, from 1835 until 1932, no white members joined this church. By 1869, there were three distinct groups of Baptists in the Bahamas: Bethel, St. John’s, and Zion Baptist. Each of these churches became mission-sending “associations,” sending missionaries and planting churches. Carey Baptist Church, for example, named after the British Baptist missionary to India, Williams Carey, was established in 1843 by the Zion Baptist mother congregation and opened twenty-three schools for public education. Under Pastor Capern, 295 missionaries were sent across the Bahamas from this church. The Zion Association of Baptist churches today has more than eighty churches and trains local leaders and educated pastors.

In 1892, the New Providence churches split and half followed Daniel Wilshire and became the Salem Baptist church. Pastor Bradford, educated at Morehouse College, led it to flourish. He took the church from its “downtown” location to the “over the hills” community.  Many daughter churches emerged.

In an effort to unify the Baptist family of all Islands of the Bahamas, The Bahamas Baptist Missionary and Education Convention was formed in 1935 with Reverend A. C. Symonette as President. The first annual session was held May 25, 1936 at St. John’s Baptist church. Presently eight Baptist associations are under the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Education Convention umbrella. They are: Bahamas Baptist Association; Bahamas Baptist Union; Bethel Baptist Association;

Morning Star Baptist Association; New Way Progressive Baptist Association; St. John’s Native Baptist Society; and Zion United Baptist Convention. All of these churches are from the four earliest Baptist churches – Bethel, St. John, Salem, and Zion. The Southern Baptist Convention came into focus in the Bahamas in the 1950s, and established the Bible Institute, which has been invaluable in educating ministers.

21st Century Bahamian Baptists –  There have been schismatic influences, however, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Founded in 1994, Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, Inc.,  one of the fastest-growing multi-cultural and multi-denominational reformations representing more than 10,000 leaders of faith, 2,000 churches, and a million constituents, came to the Bahamas. Followed North American Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal influences, this fellowship emerged in the Bahamas, imposing a hierarchy upon the churches, with “Bishops” conferring titles of “Pastor,” “Overseer,” “Evangelists,” “Apostles.”  Some churches took up the practices of great pomp, vestments, chains, and the use of a miter (papal pointed hat, a symbol of authority), and the title, “Your Grace.” In 2013, upon the resignation of the leader in the Bahamas, and a tussle over the successor, the Full Gospel movement split in the Bahamas, with the “consecrating Bishop” now ordaining Apostles and Bishops. The eighteen churches that split away are still characterized by praise worship, which predominates services.

Today, most Bahamian Baptists are members of multiple denominations and work together to achieve their goals. Baptists are the largest religious group in the Bahamas, numbering more than 122,550 persons out of the total population of 351,451 (about 65%). They are known to be prophetic, bringing Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pentecostalism, who ordain women to pastoral and other roles in ministry, who lead the populace for petitioning for majority rule in the Bahamas in 1967, which they won. They are known for championing equality, where every place is equally accessible and important. The Labor Party, backed by Baptists, won in 1967, and Members of Parliament have been men and women Baptist leaders.  They called for Independence, and it was a Baptist pastor who wrote the  Bahamian Pledge of Allegiance, designed the country’s coat of arms, and wrote the national anthem. A Baptist is Governor General of the Bahamas, the president of the Progressive Baptist Convention.

Finally, although Baptists have made great strides in the Islands, they have not taken advantage of their vast numbers and deep pools of resources to influence dialogue, culture, economy, trade, and to work for justice to a greater degree. Baptists should find innovative ways to right these injustices and their short-sidedness.

12:00-12:15 – Question and Answers from the audience participants:

1. The audience had time for two questions and a comment. The first has to do with how the Bahamian Baptists seem to be interrelated politically. Does this impact their life together on the Islands? Terrence replied that it does indeed influence them. Baptists tend to split fairly often, he said, because there are differences in opinions regarding who will be in charge, and that partisan politics have compromised them since the 1960s. He said that “community” is, nevertheless, very important to Bahamian Baptists, and that unity is a goal. Everyone agrees that it is better to stay together, to have a stake in the pooled resources, whether these are material or influence-related.

2. The second question asked about denominational affiliation, particularly the Progressive national Baptists. Terrence said that Bahamian Baptist churches typically hold membership in several denominations, no matter the doctrinal error.

3. A final comment drew a comparison between Baptists in the Bahamas and in America, where the “ruling oligarchy” of 15% made certain that the remaining 85% had no advantages, no voice, no power, or economic justice.

12:30 – Our Commission Chair, Brian Talbot, closed the session in prayer.

Session Two (Wednesday, 10 July 2019, 9:00 – 10:30 am) – Brian Talbot, Chair

9:00-9:10 – Welcome, Devotional thought and Introductions

Brian opened the second of our three BWA Annual Gathering meetings with a welcome to those in attendance, followed by scripture reading and prayer. Brian then introduced our Presenter, Rev. Eliabin Rodriguez.

9:10-10:15 – Rev. Eliabin Rodriguez, Dean of the Seminario Teólogico Bautista de Cuba Oriental (the Baptist Theological Seminary in Santiago, Cuba), spoke on the history of the work of Baptists in Cuba, a topic of great interest to the Commission, given its geo-political history in the 20th century.

Early Cuban History – Rodriguez began Cuba’s religious historical recounting in the year 1492 when Columbus discovered the island of Cuba, “the year the natives began disappearing,” he said. The original peoples who inhabited the island did not want to go to Heaven because the Spaniards were going to be there, and they and their diseases were eliminating the population. The Spanish brought in their customs, religions, food, architecture, and other cultural influences. The Spanish hierarchy began and then dominated the churches in Cuba, which became a Spanish kingdom.

The first Protestant service, which was Anglican, took place in 1741, when the British army occupied Guantanamo Bay valley. This territory was fought over by both Britain and Spain for many years, and the Christian services for these troops were Catholic and Anglican.

Early Baptist Work – The first Baptist “colonization” began with a Cuban, Alberto T. Diaz, the pioneer of Baptist work in Cuba, who had lived in the USA and returned to Cuba in 1883. He established the Gethsemane Baptist Church in Havana that year, the first Baptist church on the Island. American Baptists also began working in Cuba in 1884, in partnership with the Florida Baptists (who has remained a strong friend and support to Cuban Baptists until the present time). Two years later, Diaz baptized José Regino O’Halloran Valdés on January 28, 1886. O’Halloran then became a missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention and was appointed to serve in the eastern portion of his homeland in Cuba. O’Halloran began the first Baptist work in Santiago on 31 August 31 1898.

Three months later, on 23 November 1898, the Southern Baptist Convention and the North American Baptist Convention of the United States made an agreement to carry out missionary work in Cuba –  The Southern Baptist Convention in the western Cuban provinces and the North American Baptists in the eastern provinces and Puerto Rico. Soon, the Florida Baptist Convention of the SBC became the state most closely aligned with Cuban Baptists.

20th Century Organization – After the Southern Baptist and North American Baptist agreement to divide Cuba into two ministry areas, O’Halloran left the city of Santiago and moved to the western part of the country. A few years later, he returned to eastern Cuba with the financial support of North American Baptists. In 1905, in the town of El Christo, 475 miles southeast of Havana, the Eastern Baptist Convention was organized with twelve churches. Soon others were established:

            Western Baptist Convention (also in 1905), headquartered in Havana;

            Eastern Baptist Convention (1905), established in Santiago;

            Free Will Baptists (c. 1946), settled in Pinar Del Rio; and

            Progressive Baptists (after 1961; In Cuba, pro-Cuban government and pro-LGBT).

Baptists Under Castro – From 1910-1959, Cuban life was oppressed, including Baptists, who had little opportunity for education. The country’s economy and civil systems were at a low point. Then, in January 1959, a triumphant Cuban revolution occurred. Fidel Castro seized power and in 1961 converted Cuba into a one-party Communist system. Almost immediately, there was free education, health care, new rights extended, and power given, to the people, who experienced many positive social changes. All Cubans learned to read and write and began to think for themselves. At the same time, relations between the US and Cuba deteriorated. Cuba came under the wing of Soviet Russia.

Castro served as Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976 and as president from 1976 to 2008 (although power was transferred to his brother Raul in 2006). Ideologically a Marxist–Leninist and Cuban nationalist, he also served as the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba from 1961 until 2011. During that time, his regime supported governments or insurgencies in the developing world, all the while supported by the Soviets.

Persecution Began – In religious circles, the persecution began in 1962. With Socialism and Communism emerging, the call to trust in the “Cuban Man” became strident. No one could admit to being a Christian. All references to Christ were taken out of classrooms. In 1965, all pastors, deacons, seminary professors and students, and evangelists were rounded up and taken to work camps. Here they were treated like animals. Their families did not know where they were. For five years, the women led the churches. University educations were reserved for revolutionaries.

In 1966, the Communist Party decreed that Christians could not be Communists. During these years, Baptists were targets of harassment, imprisonment, and sometimes executions. These lasted, in some degree of intensity or another, until the collapse of Communism in 1991, and Soviet economic subsidies to Cuba ended in 1 January of that year. Without Soviet support, Cuba was submerged in a major economic crisis. The gross national product contracted by as much as one-half between 1989 and 1993, exports fell by 79 percent and imports by 75 percent, the budget deficit tripled, and the standard of living of the population declined sharply. More than 120,000 refugees left the country. Yet the regime continued to cling to an outdated Marxist and dictatorial system, refusing to open the political process or the economy.

In 1995, more than twenty-five Christian university students were forced to leave their institutions. Eliabin was one of these. While he was eventually allowed to go back, Christian pastors and other leaders were arrested and persecuted. Eliabin was arrested five times.

Today in Cuba – Now there are 672 Baptist churches in the Eastern Baptist Convention of Cuba, with more than 43,500 members. In the Western Baptist Convention, there are 538 churches, with more than 27,620 members. Together, with another provincial convention, these groups make up the Cuban Baptist National Convention, with each regional president serving as a vice-president of the larger body.

All of this growth has taken place under the harsh persecution and oppression of dictatorship, when the churches were not allowed to meet except in house churches. Today in Cuba, it is against the law to restrict the meetings of Christians to worship. In Eliabin’s house, more than 123 people gather each Sunday to worship.

In the last 25 years, Cuba has experienced a spiritual awakening that has produced God-sized results. Thousands of people have professed faith in Christ, thousands of new house churches have been planted, and a new generation of home missionaries has been sent out to reach Cuba for Christ.

The Cuban Baptists thank God for more than 4,000 (home) missionaries, twenty-seven Bible institutes, their Eastern and Western seminaries in Santiago and Santa Clara, and their work with other Baptists in partnerships, along with Methodists, and Pentecostals. They ask Baptists of the world to join them in thanksgiving and support as they continue to work in their country.

10:10-10:30 – Question and Answers from the audience participants:

1. A question about how the churches begin was asked; whether they are established from splits or from new work. Eliabin said that the growth of Cuban Baptist churches came from preaching missionaries and multiplication. For example, one  church that is celebrating 121 years in 2019 has fifteen daughter churches. Cubans are very friendly, happy, and relational evangelism is the method they use.

2. A second question was about whether Castro was still making demands on the churches. Eliabin explained that many things have changed in their country. There is still tension between the government and the churches, mainly because the churches have begun using their Constitutional rights to protest for various causes for the first time (as some conservative churches have done to demonstrate against same-sex marriage laws). In 2019, Cubanos are well aware and well-read concerning their Constitution, and will not allow the government to attach notices to their homes or churches, as another example.

3. A third question asked about which countries were helping Cuban Baptists? There are many partnerships, primarily with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, German Baptists, Canadian Baptists, and the Baptists of the United Kingdom.

4. Another question dealt with Communism and Baptist life. Pastor Eliabin answered by saying that Christians were allowed to be part of the Communist Party in 1985, however, it is understood by most Baptists that “real Christians” do not support this party. In 2000, the General Council of Churches of Cuba met in Santiago. This helped a great deal, for the Christians (and Baptists) were recognized by the government for the first time. From this point, preaching was allowed in public spaces, although it is still all but impossible to find a Bible in Cuban libraries.

5. A Commission member asked about politic al polarization and how Baptists deal with this in a pastoral sense. Eliabin answered that everything in Cuba is connected to culture, and this is one of the major issues. Every congregation has note-takers and spies, who report to the government; so, for security reasons, the church sessions never mention the government. They cannot talk about politics in church. However, the Holy Spirit changes people, and many of the spies have come to faith in Christ.

There is a General Council of Churches that meets with the government regularly, but Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, and Nazarenes do not cooperate or hold membership in this Council. In Cuba, churches do not have “political partisan” problems in their congregations because they do not tell their people how to deal with political matters.

6. About Cuban work historically, have the Baptist churches in Cuba been more “sending” or “receiving” with regard to their missional nature, and what has been the role of music in their missions? And do Cuban Baptists participate in Santeria ceremonies (polytheistic cultural veneration of idols?). Eliabin explained that within the country, Cuban Baptists are very missional, but that VISA problems have kept them from sending missionaries to other parts of the world for many decades. At the same time, Baptist Cuban professionals are trained to be missionaries when they travel. As to the cultural practice of Santeria, Cuban Baptists are very strict, so they do not take part in these parties or rituals at all. Last week, Eliabin reported, the President of Cuba was sent an amulet and told that is he does not attend the party next year, he will be sick. Cuban Baptists have no part in this.

7. A question was asked about what sparked the 1989-1990 new growth, or awakening, in Cuban Baptist churches? Eliabin said that before the Revolution, there were funds to send missionaries, but after the revolution, there was no money. Legal strictures also prohibited their travel. Now, salaries are at an all-time low. Engineers and medical doctors make between $10-$30 per month, but most make less than $10.

Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit has been at work, with more than 1,000 missionaries in the Eastern part of Cuba alone. Many of these would gladly go to other South American countries, Africa, and Asia, and have expressed their desire to do so. One missionary has already been sent to Columbia, where he works among tribal people. From the Western Convention, where there are 2,000-3,000 missionaries, some have been sent to Mexico, India, and Ecuador. Missions agency mechanisms are in place. Baptists number more than 100,000 today, and a great emphasis is underway to train lay mission house church pastors.

By way of a last word, Eliabin told of Javier, who works in the Western part of Cuba. His team has put together materials for discipleship and transformative life training. He conducts workshops for evangelism and discipleship, and calls for this to be the responsibility of every pastor.  He has a vision for Cuba – “Our Nation for Christ, Right Now!” He says that the hostility of his nation has created a space where people are searching for meaning. He says the Church is an “Army of Light” and should be prepared to be missionaries to the world. Javier and his wife have recently moved to a tiny village in Ecuador, where they are surrounded by drug cartels. They have learned to walk by faith and to trust the Lord. They have planted a church there and God is doing amazing things. To God be the Glory.

A Brazilian Baptist stood and said that the Cuban Baptists were their heroes. God has caused them to flourish under the harshest of conditions across many generations. Yet their work is a result of faithfulness under God’s protection and power.

10:30 – Our Commission Chair, Brian Talbot, closed the session in prayer.

Session Three (12 July 2019, 9:00 – 10:30 am) – Brian Talbot, Chair

9:00-9:10 – Welcome, Devotional thought and Introductions

Brian welcomed attendees to the final session of the Annual Gathering  to those in attendance, followed by scripture reading and prayer. Brian then introduced our Presenter, Rev. Merlyn Hyde Riley. A business session followed.

9:10-10:00 – Rev. Merlyn Hyde Riley, from Jamaica, spoke on the topic of “The Contribution of Women in Baptist churches in the Caribbean,” highlighting the legacies of four Baptist women leaders of the 20th century. The following is Rev. Merlyn’s complete presentation in written form.

Overview – The Caribbean is a very diverse region with a unique intermingling of races, languages, customs and cultures. Baptist witness entered the Caribbean in the 18th century and owes its origin to the exodus of formerly enslaved persons of faith from the southern coast of the United States. “The oldest work in the region is found in the Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad (Russell, H).

The records dating back to these earliest years is a record of the contribution of men. This is typical of most historical records with women more often than not being written out of history. Admittedly some work needs to be done to uncover the contribution of women during these earlier periods, my focus today will be on the 20th century.

Women make up the majority of membership of Baptist Churches in the Caribbean, it would be true to say that in most contexts the ratio of women to men is about 70:30. This overwhelming ratio of women to men in membership bears no resemblance to the number of women in leadership. Like many other places, our region is patriarchal resulting in women been denied the opportunity to occupy leadership roles in some conventions and Unions.

In some churches however, there is space for women to serve in different levels of leadership such as Deacons, Deaconesses, Christian Educators, Leaders of Women’s Groups, Church Secretaries and Worship leaders. Pastoral leadership has, however been a male preserve for the most part, as the church has not escaped the structural and systemic biases against women resulting in the sexual division of labor found in the wider society, with women concentrated in areas traditionally regarded as softer areas of service while men serve as pastors and administrative heads/leaders. In fact, it was through involvement in and leadership of women’s groups that many women were able to carve out a space for service within the church with the status quo remaining securely in place.

On the other hand, the sterling leadership offered by many of these women, even if within traditionally accepted norms, paved the way for their involvement in other areas of leadership within the church. This by way of being named in representative capacities, as well as, being asked to serve in other ways. It should be noted that many of them have received national recognition for their contribution to church and their society.

To date, women have been able to contribute to the church as ordained ministers in the Bahamas, the Guyana Missionary Baptist Church-Lott Carey, and the Jamaica Baptist Union. The Baptist Union of Trinidad and Tobago has recently made a decision to ordain women and we look forward to being able to celebrate the ordination of women through this Union. These Unions and Conventions which practice the ordination of women represent a fraction of Caribbean Baptist Churches in terms of countries within the Caribbean, although, interestingly, these are among the largest Unions & Conventions.

Notwithstanding the challenges and struggles, we have a lot to celebrate and be proud of as it relates to the contribution of women to Baptist Churches in the region. It would be true to say that without the strength, fortitude and faithfulness of Caribbean women the kind of vibrancy existing in many of our churches would not exist. They form the bedrock of our churches and without their dedicated service the doors of many congregations would perhaps be closed. The nurturing and character formation which take place every Sunday morning are done mainly by women and the most vibrant auxiliary in most churches are the women’s groups.

I will be highlighting the contribution of a few of these women. It must be noted that I am not in any way claiming to highlight those who have made the most contribution or even the most distinguished contribution. In highlighting the contribution of these women, however, I have assigned a descriptor by way of a word or phrase that I believe in large measure, could characterize their work or capture the essence of their ministry.

Rev. Dr. Marina Sands, JP, Leader and Champion for the Marginalized –  Rev. Dr. Marina Sands is Bahamian. She has been a deacon and lay leader since 1972. She went into full time Christian Ministry in 1986 and was ordained in 1987. She received her theological training at the Bahamas Baptist Institute and later a Doctor of Divinity Degree by the Louisiana Baptist University for her outstanding contribution in the fields of Christian Leadership and Evangelism.

Dr. Sands left the New Bethlehem Baptist Church where she served in various capacity for over 40 years and in 1997 in response to God’s call organized the Judaea Baptist Church situated on Marina Sands Drive in Nassau, Bahamas. She has served as:

  • President of the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary & Educational Women’s Convention Auxiliary.
  • A representative for the Bahamas Baptist Convention on the Bahamas Christian Council
  • Advisory Council of the Women’s Bureau to the Minister for Women’s Affairs for 20 years.
  • President of the Bahamas Baptist Association Women’s Department for 30 years.
  • Vice President of the National Organization of Women in The Bahamas.
  • President of the Caribbean Baptist Women’s Union for 10 years
  • Continental Union President
  • Vice President of the Baptist World Alliance Women’s Department
  • Platinum Member of the Foreign Mission Work for National Baptist USA Inc.
  • Vice President of the North American Baptist Women’s Union and as an Executive Board Member for 8 years.
  • Vice President of the Worship Committee of the National Baptist USA Inc. Women’s Convention for over 20 years.
  • President Emeritus of the Women’s Department of the Bahamas Baptist Association and the Caribbean Baptist Women’s Union.
  • She is President Emeritus of the Bahamas National Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention Women’s Department
  • She has represented Baptist Women at various forums across all continents.
  • Led many mission trips
  • Organized numerous outreach Ministries at the Sandilands Rehabilitation Center

            Geriatric Ward, the Girls and Boys Industrial Schools, The Children’s Emergency Hostel,   the AIDS Camp, Persis Rodgers Home for the Aged, Morris House Home for The Aged, and the Good Samaritan Home for the Aged

  • She is especially known for her popular and very effective “24-hour Telephone Prayer Hot Line”

Dr. Sands has been described as warm and compassionate; ready to help those in need, a comforter, friend, counselor and confidant. In 2014, she was awarded the Title of “Mother of Baptists” by Rev. Dr. William Thompson, then President, Bahamas National Baptist Missionary & Educational Convention and subsequently the 2014 Annual Baptist Day Parade was named in her honor. Dr. Marina Sands continues to engage in ministry in the Bahamas in various ways.

Rev. Erma McKensie Miller – Church Planter –  Rev. Erma McKenzie Miller as she was affectionately called, was born in Nieuw Nickerie, Suriname, on June 19, 1924. She lived in British Guiana (Now Guyana) from the age of two. She was a nurse and child psychologist by training and later received theological training and was ordained to the Gospel Ministry in the Guyana Missionary Baptist Church-Lott Carey (1984), making her the first in Guyana and among the first women in the region, to be ordained. For many years she worked, first along- side Rev. Dr. Carlyle Miller who was a medical doctor and ordained minister, who was to later become her husband, but continued much of the work on her own as a lay leader who was called to lead the Guyana Missionary Baptist Church from 1979.

In the mid-1950s, with the support of her pastor Rev. Miller, Ms. McKenzie, led a church planting team into Campbellville, a newly developing community in Georgetown. She started with a Sunday School, which grew rapidly and soon outgrew the location. The group hosted several open-air crusades and many persons came to Christ, thus forming the nuclear membership of this church. On April 12, 1962, the church plant in Campbellville was organized into a church and they became the Mount Zion Baptist Church. She later went on to plant the following, some with her husband, others after his passing in 1979:

  • Long Creek Church – (1973)
  • Camp Somerville – 1973
  • ML Wilson (named after a friend and ally in ministry) Kuru-Kurusu, Newtown – 1974
  • Lonnie A. Simon School Feeding Centre – 1977
  • Hospital and Health Centre -completed in 1977
  • Yarrowkabra Baptist Church -1984
  • The Abrams Creek Baptist Church-1989

Rev. Erma also led expansion projects in all congregations, which included new church buildings at Long Creek, Calvary and Mount Zion and the expansion of Camp Somerville. In addition, while he was still alive, the couple traveled weekly to various communities rendering medical services to people under trees. Eventually they were able to secure land at Long Creek on which they built a log cabin and served their patients from there. It was then they established a church in Long Creek and also Camp Somerville, mentioned earlier (1973). Under her leadership GMBC also launched a weekly radio ministry that was broadcast throughout Guyana, Suriname, and in other Caribbean Countries.

Rev. Erma Miller also played a significant role in developing GMBC leadership capacity. She facilitated this by providing scholarships for clergy and lay leaders training. Consequently, under her leadership GMBC moved from being a circuit of churches with one pastor to a network of congregations with multiple trained clergy leaders. Rev Erma Miller was awarded the National Medal of Service Award in 1990 by His Excellency Hugh Desmond Hoyte, President of Republic Guyana, in recognition of her outstanding Service to God and humanity.

She retired from active ministry in May 2012 and moved to Durham North Carolina to live with her daughter, Rev. Brenda Harewood, and her family. In recognition of her outstanding Service to the GMBC community the GMBC Board of Trustees unanimously appointed her Superintendent Emeritus. She passed away a few years ago.

Edna McKoy, Pioneer and Regional Worker –  McKoy was born in St James, Jamaica. She was an educator with a Bachelor of Arts in History, French and Latin and a Master of Science in Library Studies.

McKoy was the first woman to serve in the top leadership of the Jamaica Baptist Union, by becoming a Vice President of the JBU between 1982-1985 after almost 200 years of Baptist witness in the country. She is still one of only 3 women to have served in that capacity. This was very significant as it happened over a decade before the first woman was ordained to the pastoral ministry and it was also significant given the fact of her being a lay person in a Union that in many respects could be described as clergy centered. She served with distinction during her term of office.

The late Claire Maddix in sharing from an interview with Mrs. McKoy after her election, quoted her as saying “I see it as a great honor and privilege to be elected to serve as Vice-President of this great denomination as well as an overt recognition of the value of women in leadership positions within our churches and denomination. The women of our denomination are a vibrant group and over the years have contributed selflessly and significantly to the growth of the JBU. They are ready to do more in years to come.” She went on to urge women to seize every opportunity to increase their awareness of the possibilities which exist at all level of national life for service to people and for personal growth and development. “In particular to keep refining our skills so that when there is opportunity we might respond with competence and commitment.”

Mrs. McKoy also made a significant contribution to the recognition, growth and development of the Jamaica Baptist Women’s Federation & the Caribbean Baptist Women’s Union. She served as:

  • Vice president- Jamaica Baptist Women’s Federation, 1972-1979
  • President – Jamaica Baptist Women’s Federation, 1979-1982
  • Represented the Jamaica Baptist Women’s Federation at the Baptist World Alliance meetings, the North American Baptist Women’s Union, and the Caribbean Baptist Women’s Union
  • Caribbean Baptist Women’s Union – She played a significant role in the formation of the Caribbean Baptist Women’s Union for which she became president, and represented the Caribbean on various bodies at several international gatherings.
  • Caribbean Baptist Fellowship – She gave sterling contribution as a member of the Caribbean Baptist Fellowship Executive, serving as recording secretary of CBF for 23 years (1983-2006).
  • Caribbean Baptist Christian Publications – Writer for the Children’s Curriculum

Mrs. Mckoy’s commitment at the leadership level of the JBU and within the region was not at the expense of her local contribution. She served faithfully in her church as church organist, secretary, lay preacher, Christian Educator, mentor and as a tremendous support to her husband, the late Rev. Sebert McKoy. Mrs. McKoy is currently retired. She received the Prime Minister’s medal of honour for service to education.

Joan Millicent Purcell, Public Theologian and ActivistGrenadian by birth, and educated with Bachelor of Science and Master of Education degrees, and an additional earned Diploma in Theology, Joan Purcell is a Christian leader whose service to her country could be viewed as service to her church by the way she lived out her Christian convictions while maintaining an active life in politics. She served in both Houses of Parliament; as a Cabinet Minister in the Interim Government of Grenada, from 1983 to 1984; and from 1990 to 1995, she served in the House of Representatives as the Member of Parliament for the Town of St. George. When she served twice as Acting Prime Minister, and was Deputy Leader (from 1996) and then acting Leader of the National Democratic Congress (1998-1999), the general sense among the people of Grenada was that here (finally) was a Christian political leader.

She has been described as someone who theologized politics. As she almost always used politics as the vehicle to share the gospel in her spheres of influence. Her faith has been an integral part of her spiritual leadership journey. Purcell believes that faith is a core factor in making a significant difference in life; particularly in the area of leadership. She maintains that her own faith helped her to stay the course despite disappointments, disillusionment, and an environment that seemed so corrosive.

Ms. Purcell has served and is still now:

  • Community activist
  • Children and women’s advocate,
  • Development worker and adult educator, with particular interest in Leadership Development
  • Ecumenist
  • As a member of the St. George’s Baptist Church of the Grenada Baptist Association for over 20   years she served as; Sunday School Teacher/Trainer, Camp Coordinator, Board Member
                Christian Education Writer; Caribbean Christian Publications
  • Theologian – She has taught courses in most of the theological institutes in Grenada. Her more   recent and impactful courses were at the Grenada Institute for Theological Education where she focused on Theology of Work and Discipling the Nations.
  • Radio Host of a weekly devotional (2017-2018) on Chime FM in Grenada (2017) called, “First Love,” as a Radio Talk Show Host – “Good News GM Grenada”
  • Author – Purcell has written and published: Vision of Change: A Caribbean Perspective (2010); a Bible study for women entitled At His Feet (2009) and her memoirs, Memoirs of a Woman in Politics: Spiritual Struggles (2008) as well as a number of other pieces and articles.

Other areas of service included:

  • Executive Member, Association of Evangelical Churches
  • Chair, New Horizons Charity Organization
  • Executive Member and Board Trustee Inter-School Christian Fellowship, Grenada
  • Church Administrator, Evangelistic Centre, St. George’s, Grenada
  •  Executive Director, AGAPE FOUNDATION Grenada, Faith-Based Organization
  • Retreat Coordinator and Facilitator Samaritan Encounter Retreats for Adult Women and Teen Moms
  • National Coordinator, Women’s Commission, Evangelical Association of the Caribbean 2001 – 2002
  • Board Trustees, Caribbean Rep, Youth for Christ International, USA

Due to a geographical relocation, she currently attends the Evangelistic Center, a member church of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies (PAWI).

These are but a few of the many stories I could have shared. I trust the stories of these women will serve as an inspiration to all.

10:00 -10:30 – The Commission conducted its final reporting of the various projects of the quinquennium, with Brian Talbot presiding. The following items were discussed and recorded:

1. Commission Website: The Commission expressed its heartfelt thanks and commendation to Melody Maxwell, the Commission’s Webmaster during the past five years, who gav e her report. This website houses the work of the Commission in electronic form. The website, at https://bwabaptistheritage.org/. She has updated the site and will serve as the commission’s Webmaster until 2025. Funds are needed to keep this domain on the web at $20 per year. An anonymous donor supplied the five years of payment required.

2. History and Heritage E-Resource Pages on Website: Brian Talbot and Melody Maxwell encouraged everyone to continue to post news stories, Baptist information, publications, and updates to the site, or send them to Melody Maxwell at melodymaxwell@gmail.com

3. Baptist Identity Project: Karen Bullock shared a final report of the initial phase of this project. She and her students, Ryan Denison and Doug Hibbard, polled the BWA membership roster and asked for information about and updating information regarding persons directing Baptist archival work, with addresses and contact information, whether and where there are archives, descriptions of materials contained, whether or not a web page exists and the accessibility of the collection. The reports were uploaded to the Baptist Heritage and Identity’s website: https://bwabaptistheritage.org/

Of particular interest were the repatriating of Baptist archival materials from where they are currently housed to the countries of origin. In many cases, histories of Baptist groups are housed in repositories funded by the missionaries rather than with the Baptist conventions of the countries. Many have asked for the Baptist heritage and Identity commission to negotiate the transfer, or the digitization, of these valuable resources. The Commission would need to work with Baptist entities which sent missionaries in the 18th and 19th centuries to global sites to begin work (Regent’s in Oxford, SBC in Nashville, American Baptists now at Mercer, etc.).

4. Upcoming Celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Anabaptist Movement, called “Daring! The Anabaptist Movement, 1525-2025.” Commission member Erich Geldbach has been working on this project with a number of global leaders. He is suggesting that the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission plan ahead to help make this celebration the focus of the 2025 BWA meeting.

The European contact email for “Daring!” is: info@tauferbewegung2025.de

The North American contact is John D. Roth’s email address: johndr@goshen.edu

 Erich’s address, for further details, is geldbach@t-online.de

5. Summary Statements from 2019: As the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission closed its final session, members were asked to articulate what we have learned this year and what we might communicate about our time together to Baptists unable to attend. The results were three:

            *  In the first session, the story of the Nassau Baptists, together with the marvelous tour of Baptist historical sites later in the week, caused us to rejoice at God’s goodness, and to be refreshed at the warmth of these brothers and sisters, who have impacted their country’s culture and political system, for Christ. To God be the Glory!

            * The second session impressed upon us all a sensitivity to the Cuban Baptists, for whom being Baptist is more costly than most of us can imagine. This session caused us to rejoice over what God has done and continues to do among them, and challenged us to remember and pray and work on their behalf.

            * The last session was both a call to vigilance in acknowledging the contributions of women, as well as preserving our Baptist family story.

6. Commendation for Chair Brian Talbot – The members of the Commission registered its thankfulness for Brian Talbot’s steady, positive, and effective administration during the 2015-2019 quinquennium. It acknowledged the long hours and often difficult work in organizing the Commission’s business, scheduling speakers for each year,  and representing the Baptist Heritage and Identity Commission to the BWA Executive team. A round of applause was given in appreciation.