Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Marriage, mission, ministry: One couple's quest to do more for the poor

Published:Sunday | December 28, 2014 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer Selburn Laing (right) and his wife Paulette packaging items to be distributed.
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer Selburn Laing and his wife Paulette packaging items to be distributed.
Jermaine Barnaby/Photographer Selburn Laing (left) and his wife Paulette.

Thirty years ago, Selburn Laing turned his back on a lucrative business to go into full-time ministry with the Salvation Army, and the passing of time has done nothing to dim the joy that he experiences from giving.

"At the end of the day, you feel satisfied. You will feel accomplished, because you would have helped people," Laing told The Sunday Gleaner.

"In my years working as a Salvation Army officer, I have never got up one morning and feel like not going to work. I don't know what that feels like. When I am on holiday, I actually get bored sometimes, because we miss what we are doing. We were called to serve," added Laing as he pointed to his wife, Paulette.

As far as Laing is concerned, money cannot buy the feeling of fulfilment he and Paulette have when they go out into some of Jamaica's most depressed communities to serve.

The couple met at the Salvation Army Training College in 1985 and went into full-time ministry upon graduating.

Since that time, they have served for four years in Trinidad as prison chaplains and five years in Guyana, where they were responsible for a drug-rehabilitation programme. Returning to Jamaica in 2001, they were given responsibility for the Salvation Army School for the Blind in Kingston, and are now responsible for the church's work in the tough Corporate Area communities of Allman Town and Jones Town.

"In the Salvation Army, we believe in catering to the total man. We feed them spiritually, and we feed them physically," said Laing.

The couple had to make several sacrifices over the years in order to fulfil their personal mandate. Their children, for example, had to change schools multiple times to facilitate their outreach endeavours in other countries.

Paulette spent five years as a senior registration officer at the Office of the Children's Registry but decided to resign so she could focus on the needs of residents in Allman Town and Jones Town.


"You have to do what you have to do," said the mother of two who has a degree in social work from the University of the West Indies.

As a social worker, Paulette has sought to change the mindset of the youths, in particular, in the two inner-city communities through various programmes that have been introduced over the years.

"We teach these young people different skills. So we teach them to cook, we teach them to sow, we teach them common etiquette, we teach them about life and life skills, and about deportment. We assist them with their schoolwork," explained Paulette.

Laing, who at one point served as the disaster coordinator for the Salvation Army Eastern Division, has his hands full with multiple physical and social disasters in Allman Town and Jones Town.

There are the frequent house fires which leave entire families in need of help and place huge demand on the resources of the Salvation Army. So, too, are the social problems which the couple tries to tackle on a daily basis.

"One of the things that we deal with a lot is domestic violence and issues with children," said Laing.

"The parents go out to, they call it 'hussle', so the children are left on their own. So whenever the Salvation Army doors are open, the children show up and they come with their needs and so we try to help them," added Laing, who explained that they also have a basic school in Allman Town with about 35 children.

He noted that while they are called upon to offer help throughout the year, the demand is greater during this time of the year, and so The Christmas Kettle Appeal is made. The aim this year is to raise $15 million.

"Quietly during the year, we do whatever we have to do and we help people, but I guess it is emphasised during the Christmas time because of The Kettle, where we ask corporate Jamaica to assist financially," said Paulette.

Although working as Salvation Army ministers does not guarantee wealth, the couple have committed themselves to serving in the ministry.

According to Laing, he hopes to one day re-establish the restaurant business which he gave up 30 years ago, but the aim will not be to make money.

"It will be more people-oriented instead of profits for myself."