Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
President of the Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Pastor Everett Brown is now in that post since November 2010 and so far he is focused on achieving his goals. With a rich background of service to community and Church, he is well equipped to guide and grow the more than 265,000-strong flock in the union. But, like many Jamaicans, Pastor Brown is concerned about the problems that plague Jamaica. The Gleaner's Public Affairs Editor, Barbara Ellington spoke with Pastor Brown about these and many other issues.
BE: The recent kerfuffle over students' failure to obey schools rules is just a microcosm of the breakdown in discipline in the society. Obeying rules in the home and schools is mere preparation for responsible adult behaviour. Can you pinpoint what are some of the factors that have led to the present state of gross indiscipline in Jamaica and what are some of the things we need to do to get back on track?
EB: I believe that children learn from different situations and the home is the basic unit where they learn what is right from wrong. Over time, there has been a breakdown in the family structure and environment where children are nurtured and taught right from wrong. Some research needs to be done to find out the impact of mothers leaving their children behind for grandmothers and others to raise. From that mass exodus of mothers in the '70s and '80s, we are seeing where the 'barrel children' are having children and they are not doing a good job of parenting, so the society is feeling those effects.
Young people need guidance, they need exposure in the formative years to figures in the home and community who will provide strong leadership and guidance. The home is the basis for learning what is right and wrong and when there is a breakdown, in the family structure where children are nurtured, then things will go wrong. That is what has caused the problem today.
I think also that some of what passes for entertainment in the media is garbage, and if we feed our children garbage that is what we are going to get out of them in terms of their behaviour. I am not suggesting censorship, but we have to find a balance in what children are taught. I know of a case of children being alarmed at the behaviour of the parents they see on the nightly news.
The Church has never reneged on its duty; when the Church says something that the people don't agree with, the Church is labelled negatively. The Church must not only speak out on isolated issues, we have traditionally spoken out against injustice and immoral issues. Now we are seeing where there is a need for us to use our capacity that we have to assist persons with parenting.
Research shows that in homes with mother and father, children tend to do better, indiscipline was not so pervasive. The breakdown in the family structure is the reason for the gross indiscipline in society. Some of the fathers are not in a position to help the children, they need guidance. We can arrest the situation one parent at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time.
With increasing numbers of younger people flocking to non-traditional denominations, has that trend affected the SDA? Are your numbers growing satisfactorily?
Membership is growing, up to March of this year we had a membership of 265,000 and it has grown since then; the problems that affect young people are not unique to those outside the Church. The postmodern technological age in which we find ourselves, affects their thought process, they are turned off from the traditional ways of attracting them. There is a need in every human being for spirituality. We have involved them in the decision-making process of the church. At every level, we encouraging the leaders to involve the young people on boards, in the planning and executing of the programmes of the Church; and being a part of the process makes them feel they have a part of the Church. This makes them feel they have a say in how the programme is structured.
We don't have a major problem attracting young people; we have very vibrant youth ministries, catering to different age groups - vibrant singles ministry, a vibrant young adults, and children's groups. There are master guides (older than teens) and pathfinders (15 and up) and master guides for smaller children, We train youth leaders to structure programmes to resonate with all these groups.
As head of the union what are your responsibilities?
I provide spiritual leadership, guidance for policy, drive strategic issues of the union, We are now focusing on growth in terms of membership, capacity building, and growth in terms of ability to finance these programmes. I am focused on education and training, both formal and informal, from primary to tertiary levels. We believe our product can equip people for national development and be able to transform and change the attitudes and the spiritual well-being of people. These will help us impact the communities in which we serve.
In my role as chair of the Andrews Memorial Hospital and the Northern Caribbean University boards, I lead the policy and general strategic direction of the Church by providing spiritual guidance and administering its programmes.
Did you see yourself in this role, if not how did God find you and say, I am choosing you to do my work?
I was in my local church and involved in youth leadership in the church and community and one Sabbath after AY programme asked if I were a graduate of the then West Indies College. After finding out that I was not but that I had a yearning to do business, he encouraged me to get involved in the ministry too, telling me that he believed I was gifted to be in ministry work. After that talk, within a week I had enrolled in college and had chosen theology as my major and business as my minor. And here I am.
After graduation, I served in St Ann and St Catherine, and began to serve in various positions until then head, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen left and the constituency met, they saw the leadership qualities in me and asked me to serve.
And how has it been so far?
So far, it has been fulfilling; I became president when the old West Indies Union was reorganised into the Jamaica Union and the Atlanta Caribbean Union. Previously, we were part of The Bahamas, Cayman islands and Turks and Caišos Islands, but now it's only Jamaica and it's a new era. We are part of the church in the inter-American division, but the SDA community in Jamaica is an independent unit. We have challenges but we get the support from the local leadership and have experienced growth in all areas of the work.
Is there a set tenure for your service?
In 2015 I will be up for re-election.
Do you get time to preach?
Yes, I do; I have a full roster to speak at churches, conventions or other convocations called by the church. I would love to be involved in a two-week convention at some point, but time does not permit. I enjoy that atmosphere and fellowship because I believe that's what I was called to do.
In your 28 years, what would you describe as the high point?
I once met a young woman at a church, she told me she wanted to attend college but had no means. Her parents had committed suicide when she was a child, my wife and I took her and nurtured her with the help of the church. She recently called me to say she is now a teacher and understands how difficult it is for teachers.
I am excited when I touch people's lives and see a smile on their faces, whether in a bereavement or in need and through ministry, I am able to impact them. I wake up each day dreaming of opportunities to serve and touch people positively.
In Wednesday's paper, read what Pastor Brown has to say about whether the Church is too silent on crime in Jamaica.