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30
Nov

Fractured but ripe

Posted by on in General Secretary's Blog
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As we enter a season of new beginnings, we may recall significant events that remind us of God's delight in making things new. One such event led me, last month, to visit the Richmond Hill Prison in the Caribbean’s “spice island” of Grenada.

The prison, constructed as a hospital by the French in 1860, was converted into a prison after fire destroyed the original buildings. It attracted world attention when, after gaining power by a coup in 1983, the People’s Revolutionary Government, under Maurice Bishop, imprisoned many opponents there, including the deputy prime minister, Bernard Coard.

However, my visit to the prison had nothing to do with the Grenada revolution and its aftermath. It was prompted by memories of a rather more positive and inspiring story.

I was in Grenada to join St. Georges Baptist Church and the Grenada Baptist Association who were marking the fortieth anniversary of Baptist witness on the island. In this connection, Grenadian Baptists planned a visit to Her Majesty's Prison at Richmond Hill to present a gift in support of the rehabilitation program for persons incarcerated there.

After presenting their gift to the prison authorities, the Baptist representatives briefly addressed the assembled prisoners. The listeners were reminded of their creation in the image of God and of the priceless value God had placed on them. They were urged to not allow the prison to inhabit them and define who they are, but to use the time in prison to clarify their purpose in life and to plan for the future.

The prisoners sang songs in praise to God, accompanied by the prison band that used guitar, keyboard and drums to provide a strong reggae rhythm. Noticing that the drummer needed new drumsticks, Stanford Simon, the pastor of the St. Georges Baptist Church, promised to deliver a new set to the prison within a few days.

One reason why the Richmond Hill Prison has a special place in the hearts of Grenada Baptists is that it is the location where Baptist witness in the country began. In the 1970s, Leon Edwards, the man who is associated with the birth of Baptist work in Grenada, was serving a sentence for murder committed in a fit of rage. During his confinement, Leon's life was completely transformed.

In 1972, while listening to a religious broadcast by Baptists from the USA, Edwards encountered the risen Christ, accepted the grace of divine forgiveness and pledged lifelong commitment to God. He then wrote letters to Baptist leaders in the USA and Jamaica, asking them to come and establish a Baptist church in his country. A four-person team comprising representatives of the Jamaica Baptist Union and the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and led by former BWA Regional Secretary Azariah McKenzie, spent nine days conducting a general survey of Grenada, leading to an affirmative response to Edwards’ appeal.

Meanwhile, Edwards developed into a dynamic prison evangelist. Owing to the respect they had for him, the prison authorities gave permission for a visiting Baptist minister to officiate at Leon’s baptism. Many prisoners and their prison staff professed faith and experienced new life in Christ under Leon’s prison ministry.

On October 20, 1975, Leon died in prison under contested circumstances but, by that time, his dream of a Baptist church being planted in his country was well on the way to realization. The first Baptist missioners were already in the country and they had been sharing with Leon in his prison ministry. Finally, on December 7, 1975, the St. Georges Baptist Church was born. The enthralling story of the birth of Baptist witness in Grenada is told in the recently launched book, A History of the Grenada Baptist Association, 1975-2015, written by Stephenson Worme, a Pentecostal pastor who is also a highly respected Caribbean cricket commentator.

The recent visit to the Richmond Hill Prison reminded us of the beginnings of Baptist witness in Grenada. It also caused us to call to mind the wonderful story of the one who came to a world fractured by sin but ripe for renewal. Jesus still comes today and, for many, he still makes all things new.

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Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.

Comments

  • Guest
    Vonnie James Thursday, 05 January 2017

    Yes, a great story indeed Sir.

    May God bless you .
    Ps. The Grenada Baptist feels bless to be part of the Baptist Word Alliance especially this took place under your watch.

  • Guest
    Richard Pierard Friday, 04 December 2015

    Great story, Neville

  • Guest
    Kola Oni Tuesday, 01 December 2015

    The birth of St. Georges Baptist Church is awesome; an inmate's wish The Lord granted. Glory! I am challenged. Am I not taking my freedom for granted? Spirit Divine, help me to be fully conscious of you IJN.

    Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story.

    God bless you sir.

  • Guest
    Ron Baxter Tuesday, 01 December 2015

    Neville:

    Thank you for telling about your visit to the Richmond Hill Prison and for sharing the story of Leon Edwards whose conversion, vision and initiative led to the founding of Saint Georges Baptist Church forty years ago in Grenada. What a testimony to the power and grace of God. Your willingness to share this fortieth anniversary celebration with our brothers and sisters in the Grenada Baptist Association, and to be present with the residents at Richmond Hill Prison causes me to give thanks to God for our association with the Baptist World Alliance. Merry Christmas.

    I am looking forward to June 22-25, 2016 when I may have opportunity to meet and greet many friends from our believers' church traditions as folk from around the globe assemble at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, CANADA to share in the 17th BELIEVERS CHURCH CONFERENCE. Dr. William Brackney and his colleagues in the Acadia Centre for Baptist and Anabaptist Studies are hosting this international conference.

    Perhaps I'll see you there.


    Ron Baxter, Clerk of the Eastern Valley Baptist Association (Nova Scotia, CANADA)

  • Guest
    Ronie Monday, 30 November 2015

    Glória a Deus! Que história maravilhosa! Batistas um povo de missões!

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