Hope in violence-rocked Salt Spring after 40 days of prayer
MONTEGO BAY, St James — Salt Spring resident Rochelle Cawley-McKenzie says it was mere coincidence that she came up with the idea of having the community engage in 40 days of prayer in the hope of restoring peace and safety to close what was a bloody 2023 for the St James neighbourhood.
However, the religious significance cannot be missed as some Christians view Jesus’s 40-day fast in the wilderness, as told in the scriptures, as a test of faith and strength to overcome human frailties.
According to Cawley-McKenzie, the need for a community-based response to the violence was evident as children and adults were fearful for their lives after multiple double murders and a triple murder.
Cawley-McKenzie told the Jamaica Observer that after their plans to host a community walk-through were stunted as the police advised against gatherings, she came up with the idea to host a virtual initiative, with the help of the churches and the Salt Spring Community Development Committee (CDC).
“I was just sitting one day and the thought came to me that we still need to continue in prayer so I had the idea to have all the pastors who were supposed to take part in the original initiative to just pray for Salt Spring for the rest of the year,” said Cawley-McKenzie, president of Salt Spring Community Outreach Programme for Empowerment (SSCOPE).
She said the initiative kicked off on November 21 and ended on New Year’s Eve, and while she was disappointed that they were unable to gather in prayer with the residents, Cawley-McKenzie said the community groups were effective in bringing the word to the residents.
“We started with pastors praying every morning for the community, sending prayers out through the various community groups. We used the church groups, the community-based organisation groups, and the CDC groups,” she told the Sunday Observer.
“From the 18th to the 24th of December we had seven days of fasting, so instead of one prayer each morning, we had three prayers. I made a roster, so whichever church was responsible for that day, they had two additional evangelists from that church praying for the community,” said Cawley-McKenzie.
While last year’s flare-up of violence drove fear into the community, Cawley-McKenzie told the Sunday Observer that residents were left feeling a sense of peace after the prayer initiative ended. The SSCOPE president also pointed out that the Jamaica Constabulary Force and other State agencies have played a significant role in restoring this level of calm across the community.
“So far, the testimonies have been great coming from the community. We are hopeful, as the sense of fear that was pervasive throughout the community when the violence flared up the other day is not the same,” she explained.
“The residents interacted and engaged with the prayers in the groups. One person messaged me to say it was a very brilliant initiative and she is feeling more hopeful. Everybody came together — hands, hearts, and prayers — to do this,” Cawley-McKenzie added.
Pastor Carl Wisdom of Salt Spring Pentecostal Church believes the 40 days of prayer initiative came at a time when the people of Salt Spring were living in fear for their lives. He echoed the belief that it has restored faith and peace in the community.
“I think it accomplished what it was supposed to do, and it was well-received by the residents. The other ministers that I have spoken to also thought it was a needed move. People in the community said that it brought back a sense of calm, peace, and safety again. It was good that all the churches joined together,” Pastor Wisdom told the Sunday Observer.
Reverend Conrad Thomas of Salt Spring Baptist Church agreed, saying that the 40 days of prayer was the perfect response by the community groups and churches at a time when violence rocked the hearts and homes of the residents.
“I think that was the kind of response that ought to be given by a community that is punctuated with so many churches. There are several responses that we could have given to the situation in Salt Spring. I believe that the security forces responded, and I believe that the church — in collaboration with the community — responded,” said Reverend Thomas.
“I believe it created a dent in the community because at no point did I come across anybody in my community, after the institution of 40 days of prayer, who said they were fearful. It did not affect the people coming to worship.”
While pointing out that the police also played their part, Reverend Thomas said he was happy that the efforts brought joy to the community.
“In addition to the 40 days of prayer, we as a church were engaged in personal prayer and fasting. I believe that the combination with the police created the kind of impact we witnessed to the point that we were able to host our Christmas tree lighting ceremony,” he said.
The Christmas tree lighting ceremony was sponsored by Jamaica Social Investment Fund.
“It was riveting to see the kids play, to hear the music play, and to see the symbol of hope that came from the lit tree. I want to say kudos to the organisers of the initiative. I believe that it made a significant dent in the fabric of Salt Spring and the [surrounding] communities,” the reverend added.