Faith Gospel Hall a refuge for the needy
Church become entrepreneurs to fund outreach programmes
Faith Gospel Hall in York, Seaforth, St Thomas has ventured into the entrepreneurial arena in order to ensure that its welfare programmes can continue to benefit the needy even in this harsh financial climate.
This as the church caters to both the spiritual demands of the congregation as well as the physical needs of residents in this rural community who are benefiting greatly from the many outreach programmes.
And even as the welfare needs become overwhelming, the programmes have remained sustainable because of a superette (mini supermarket) which the church operates specifically for funding some of these activities.
A major welfare project, the church has undertaken over the years, is a weekly soup kitchen which now feeds 50 people and which is funded solely from the earnings of the superette.
Every Saturday, church members prepare a hot meal for those who have come to depend on this benevolence. There is a designated group of persons who cook the meal - made with supplies from the 'superette'- and another group which distributes.
"We take food to the indigent, the less fortunate, and the under privileged," Pastor of Faith Gospel Hill said.
In addition, the church has also constructed housing on the property for the indigents as well as to facilitate a motivational programme for primary school students.
Hill told the Jamaica Observer North East that the decision to build the units came about when an elderly member of the church could no longer afford to pay rent for the dilapidated structure she was living in.
He explained that a member who is a medical doctor ensures that the three residents currently housed there receive regular medical attention.
Children are also beneficiaries of the church's benevolence through the yearly back-to-school treat which provides books, stationery, uniforms and school fees, in some instances, for the start of each new school year.
However, more than just catering to their financial needs, the church has embarked on a special partnership with primary schools to host a residential camp for some students exhibiting behavioural problems.
"What I discovered by having these guys here is that they haven't learned to socialise. They don't know how to live with each other so that's why they fight at school," Rev Hill said.
He pointed out that the residential programme was so successful that the students all wanted to stay longer.
"Some of them have never had a man sitting around a table with them, eating and talking to them," he explained.
As such the plan is to have more children benefit from the programme on a revolving basis.
The church has also gone a step further in its outreach activities, establishing a studio and acquiring a channel on the local cable station.
For the last few years, Faith Gospel Hall has been ministering to the spiritual needs of the parish through cable television. They stream live feeds of their services on Bogle Network and delayed programmes on St Thomas Cable Network. Their productions include youth programmes, drama, comedies and the popular Mother's Day pantomime.
"We have done programmes and people have wept because we deal with reality, not just jokes," Hill explained, adding that lives on the brink of destruction have been spared just from watching them.
But this boundless philanthropy has been met with many challenges. Hill said that it took several years for the superette to be registered as a non-profit organisation, forcing them to cease operations for six months in 2012. The 'superette' has also been broken into five times and held up by gunmen twice, despite the modern security and the fact that most of the building is made of steel. That business in itself continues to face problems as Hill said the profit margins are low and they are barely breaking even. There is also an increase in the number of people coming forward to request assistance.
"People are having it very difficult and so they are coming with more needs than before," he told the Observer North East, even as he explained that the church is still in need of outside funding to expand its outreach programmes.
However, come what may, Rev Hill said Faith Gospel Hall will continue to help those in need by the Grace of God.
"Jesus himself fed the hungry when he preached to them so I use that as one of my strategies to do social outreach," he said.
With a strong emphasis on excellence, he also has aspirations to improve the existing programmes, with better quality equipment for their studio among other things.
"One of my dreams is to build a place to take in children, children who don't have any place," said Hill.
And while it is not the norm for many Jamaican churches and in particular those in rural areas to venture into entrepreneurship to finance their welfare programme, Hill said this is a model more churches need to adopt.
"Sometimes I see girls walking along the road with their children and I start to cry and say we the church have failed them and now they have to go and depend on another man and have even more children," he said.
"That's my dream in life, to help people," said Hill who previously worked as a supervisor for a drug rehabilitation centre in another Caribbean island before becoming a pastor.