Stretching from the northern tip of Latin America up towards North America and Mexico, the Caribbean is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands and home to over 44 million people. While boasting exquisite natural beauty and popular for its beaches and as a holiday destination, the Caribbean continues to face social, financial, and environmental challenges.
All around, the Caribbean church has been on a path of decline. It is declining numerically, spiritually, and in missional impact. Caribbean society is under severe threat from natural disasters, climate change, global pandemics, and a morally vacuous global culture. How do we prepare our minds and our people for action? How should we respond?
A significant event for the Caribbean church
From 5-8 July 2023, Guyana hosted over 100 participants at one of the most significant Christian conferences held this year in the Caribbean region. Christian leaders gathered under the banner of the Lausanne Movement, guided by the theme ‘Redefining ‘Mission’ for the 21st-Century Caribbean Church: God on the Move’.
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120 leaders from all over the Caribbean region gathered from 5-8 July in Georgetown, Guyana, and online to connect and collaborate for the advancement of the Great Commission.
The event provided a fantastic networking opportunity for leaders from across the Caribbean region and allowed them to see and understand God’s global mission from new perspectives, collaborate with others to help transform their communities, as well as reaffirm the Great Commission to ‘go into all the world and make disciples for Christ’.
It presented Christian leaders and influencers the opportunity to identify gaps that can be addressed through a gospel lens, and work together collaboratively to address and find solutions to some of the region’s most pressing issues. These issues were identified during the Caribbean ‘Listening Call’ held by Lausanne’s global listening team in September 2022 as part of the L4 Listening Process.
The call was held with a broad cross-section of stakeholders on questions related to the current Caribbean mission and resulted in identifying the top gaps and opportunities for missions in the Caribbean. The gathering presented an opportunity to explore and further understand these issues in order to inform future strategies and initiatives for the advancement of God’s global mission.
Christian identity in our present day
The programme started with Scripture engagement in the book of 1 Peter, followed by small group Bible study each morning. During the morning Bible studies, Bible expositor Flemlyn Ragobeer spoke on family and relationships, where she shared a reminder on identity from the book of 1 Peter, outlining who we are, what we must believe, and how we must behave in every generation. She added that we do not ‘submit to the culture but transform culture’ and pointed to behaviours that must be laid aside such as malice, deceit, hypocrisy, and lust, including pornography. She affirmed that God is ‘moving to realign us with the Word so we can represent him well’.
During the Bible study sessions, the current state of missions in the Caribbean was also discussed. Some common themes about the role of the church that participants highlighted include:
- The need to collaborate for transformation
- The need to be aware of and maintain spiritual identity
- Misaligned priorities for the church that are not gospel-centred
- Not addressing singleness and other real-world issues
- Lack of discipleship
- Redefining missions for greater impact
Some of these issues that were identified confirm what the Lausanne 4 listening process has shown to be common themes the global church needs to be addressing in order to fulfil its mandate in our day.
Gospel-impact in every sphere of society
Round table discussions were conducted each day on five primary themes that emerged from the Caribbean listening call:
- The Gospel and Mission in the Marketplace and the Diaspora
- Spiritual Healing and the Mental Health Challenge
- Caribbean Youth and the Church
- The Caribbean Church and the Disciple-Making Challenge
- The Environment / Creation Care and the Gospel
In addition to daily plenary presentations on the issues identified, there were five afternoon workshops on the same themes. Bible expositors and plenary speakers challenged participants to prayerfully contemplate these topics in order to stimulate strategic conversations that could lead to real collaborative action within the Caribbean region.
The Gospel and Mission in the Marketplace and the Diaspora
The opening address, led by Sam George (Lausanne Movement catalyst for diasporas), affirmed that human migration is the defining issue of our time that is altering the nations of the world. He pointed out that lives today are shaped by displacement and understanding mobility is critical to the global church, urging participants to ‘catch a global vision for your local church’. In the same vein, Bible expositor Marc Pulvar reminded participants that ‘the biblical pattern of movement begins with God, to us, to the world, but we sometimes leave God behind’. He urged that first ‘we must get closer to God’.
Spiritual Healing and the Mental Health Challenge
During the following sessions, participants heard from specialists in their fields and had the opportunity to interact with one another on the topics. Speaking on the topic of ‘The Gospel and Mental Health’, Consultant Psychiatrist Dr E. Anthony Allen articulated preventative, curative, and rehabilitative mental health intervention strategies. Two practical needs Dr Allen identified was the need for mental health literacy and for leaders to craft and fulfil adequate mental health policies.
Caribbean Youth and the Church
Professor Denise Thompson, speaking on youth and the church in the Caribbean region, iterated that young people are leaving the local church. She urged the need to reach children at the earliest developmental stage and suggested that volunteers minister in schools wherever such opportunities might present themselves. Thompson put forward some poignant questions for the Caribbean church to engage with asking, ‘what is the church doing to support the academic aims of the classroom?’ and ‘who are our youth and how do we engage them?’.
The Caribbean Church and the Disciple-Making Challenge
Peter Morgan addressed the issue of disciple-making, outlining the steady shift in Christendom in recent years toward the teaching and application of the message of the Kingdom of God in every nation. He pointed out how this has come at a critical point in world history, given the turbulent state of the nations. He exhorted those present, saying ‘This is our burden today, and together we will challenge everyone to embrace the mantle and seek to fulfil it in their own sphere of influence at home, on campuses, at work, in civil governments and in their communities to the glory of God.’
This 6-day devotional plan invites you to consider Jesus’ call to making disciples. May it reignite your passion for becoming a disciple-making disciple.
The Environment / Creation Care and the Gospel
The gathering closed with a word from David Bookless, speaking on ‘Creation Care and the Gospel’. Dave explained that around the world, climate anxiety is being recognised by psychiatrists as a major source of stress. He spoke about the need for consideration of what it means to make disciples amidst climate change and added that the Caribbean is most vulnerable in this regard. He reminded participants about the importance of environmental stewardship, since God cares for his Creation, so should his church.
Pray for the Caribbean church
Before departing, participants had the opportunity to view Guyana’s rich culture in a tour of the capital city Georgetown, or visit the natural beauty of the majestic Kaieteur Falls. We consider it a humble privilege for Guyana to have hosted this gathering and anticipate the effect it will have not only on the church, leaders, and communities in our region, but also pray for global impact:
- Pray that the gospel will be seen amidst the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the Caribbean as men and women partner across generations, denominations, and cultural divides to fill the gaps.
- Pray for a greater understanding and sensitivity towards mental health and for support to come to those in need through serving one another as Christ modelled.
- Pray for our young people to catch a vision for reaching their generation and to invest their lives in disciple-making initiatives.
- Pray for those of us dispersed around the world to be the salt and light among the nations, and for those who are foreigners within our region to be warmly introduced to a relationship with King Jesus.
- Pray for us as we navigate environmental stresses and strains that we would have wisdom and insight and be able to navigate the environmental complexities we currently face.
- Pray for restoration to the damage that has been done to our land and our oceans, as we seek to steward the resources God has generously given us.
- Pray for us that we may embrace our identity as one body on God’s mission together, seeking to save the lost.