Providing Safe Pasture
American Christian group helping St Thomas residents for 21 years
BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment email@example.com
MEMBERS of the American Christian group Safe Pasture International have made it their life's mission to spend a week in St Thomas each year catering to the spiritual and physical needs of residents in the parish.
Director of the group and senior pastor at White Oak Baptist Church in Tennessee Dr Tony Wilson, who has not missed a trip to Jamaica in the last 21 years, said the mission first started 30 years ago when the organisation's founder, Dr Billy Brown, was led by God to visit the island.
"He and one other man would go out to the middle of nowhere here in St Thomas to preach and when they were coming back they would have to beg a ride to get back to where they were staying," Wilson said of the former United States Army paratrooper who served as a squad leader during the Korean war.
Over the years, the group has not only increased in size, but is now much better equipped to cater to the needs of residents as they take the message of hope as well as care packages into schools, jails, clinics and churches across the parish.
Twenty-one years ago when Wilson made his first trip there were only 17 members on that mission. Today, that number has drastically increased, with 110 volunteers making the trip this year.
"We came here first to preach in the churches, then we began to get into the schools and we started taking supplies to give the students," Wilson told the Jamaica Observer North East during a recent interview. Today, the group goes into 35 schools, 26 churches and five jails in the parish to conduct devotions and distribute supplies.
The volunteers who are from Baptist churches across the US all fund their trip to Jamaica and their respective churches donate supplies which they take along for distribution. The eldest volunteers are 85-year-old Junior Garner and his 82-year-old wife Doris who have not missed a mission in the last 15 years.
"At our church we put three baskets out and all year long people put things in there for us to take when we come," Wilson said, adding that preparation for the next trip begins as soon as he returns home.
Additionally, Wilson said the group purchases US$1,500 worth of school supplies here in Jamaica and a "few thousand dollars" worth of Bibles as a way of helping the local economy.
The group also boost tourism in the parish as they stay at Morant Villas in Morant Bay and always make the time to explore some of the island's attractions.
"Now we have nine buses which take us around," Wilson quipped.
Over the years, the mission started going into the clinics to provide medical supplies and finally into the jails to encourage the inmates and present them with care packages.
"We first started going to one jail, now we are in five jails, namely, Morant Bay, Yallahs, Seaforth, Bath, and Golden Grove," Wilson said.
He explained further that group members, acting under the strict guidelines of the police officers in charge at the respective stations, conduct a session, which involves singing and preaching, to the inmates before giving an 'altar call'.
"It has been so precious to watch at the end when God gets a hold of their lives and the tears start to stream down their faces and then they give a testimony and they share the spiritual impact our visit has had," Wilson told the Observer North East.
Throughout the years the group has continuously sought other ways of being able to help the parish and this has seen them now involved in the area of construction.
"We have a team of 10-12 men this year working at Prospect Baptist Church in Danvers Pen to build a stage for the church," he said, adding that they have built several such structures in other St Thomas churches over the years.
The largest group, he said, travels to Jamaica every March while another group returns in July to host vocational Bible schools. The construction team comes in November and the discipleship team in January.
Wilson said through the years they have formed a strong bond with some communities such as Font Hill where they have gone for the past 21 years.
Meanwhile, Wilson said despite the wave of crime across the island he has confidence that things will change in Jamaica.
"I truly feel there will be an awakening in Jamaica and I sense it will begin with the leadership, as a lot of the leaders here are believers and that is always a good thing," he said.