AS JAMAICANS reflect on their journey from colonialism to sovereignty, and remember the trials and triumphs of the last 50 years, national leaders and ordinary citizens alike are taking stock of some institutions that have served them well.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of several outstanding pre-Independence organisations which, through its work, has helped to fuel the process of nation building since 1962. Its outstanding work in education, health care, community outreach, social intervention, evangelism, industries and youth ministries is well documented; and political and civic leaders alike have hailed the church for its tremendous contribution to national development.
But perhaps even more important is the church's impact on millions of lives, and its unswerving determination to rescue men and women from crime, immorality and hopelessness through a rigorous evangelism programme.
The story of Adventism in Jamaica started decades before the dawn of Jamaica's Independence. It was 1890 and stalwart colporteur William Arnold, was selling religious books in the tiny Caribbean island of Antigua. He sold a book, The Coming King to Henry Palmer in Antigua.
Palmer sent it to his son, James, in Jamaica. Shortly thereafter, the young Palmer reportedly found a religious tract at the Kingston Wharves where he worked, but paid little attention to it until he realised it came from the same publishing house as the book his father had sent him. He wrote to the publishing house, received additional literature, and passed them out in the city of Kingston.
Palmer reportedly gave a tract to a Dr Ross of the Kingston Public Hospital, who, not being a very religious man, passed it to Margaret Harrison. Harrison, a devout Christian, was immediately fired up with the message and started sharing it with her friends and family members. Soon, they were holding Sabbath worship at her house and then in a rented room on Highholborn Street in Kingston. These were the first recorded Adventist worship services in Jamaica.
By 1903, the church had grown by such leaps and bounds that the world governing body, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, voted to make Jamaica a conference.
This status meant that the Adventist Church could now formally organise its work throughout the island. Three years later - in 1906 - the World Church organised the West Indian Union with headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica, to manage its affairs in the Caribbean, Central America and sections of South America.
By 1907, the church bought land and established the West Indian Training School which, over the years, evolved into what is now Northern Caribbean University. Almost 40 years later, the Massage and Hydropathic Treatment Rooms, which started as a facility for employees of the Adventist Church in 1912, took on a new and different face, and were officially opened as Andrews Memorial Hospital.
Eleven Adventist high and preparatory schools began operations and the Advent message spread like wildfire. Conferences were organised, churches were erected across the country and, by 1959, the West Indian Training School broadened its scope immensely, changed its name, and had now become West Indies College, in anticipation of the dawn of a new era.
By 1962, the year Jamaica became an independent nation, the Seventh-day Adventist Church had positioned itself to become one of the most influential organisations in the country. Having already reorganised itself into East, West and Central Jamaica Conference, the church intensified its operations to meet the needs of the newly independent nation.
Having grown its membership to more than 33, 000 by 1962, the church continued to spread its wings across the country, evangelising, ministering, offering social, educational and medical services, and set up more schools, health centres, social and spiritual programmes, geared towards empowering the newly independent society.
Since then, the Church's phenomenal membership growth, its top-class educational institutions and community and health services, have gained it respect from a wide cross section of Jamaicans, some of whom have embraced its philosophies and accepted the gospel.
But, despite its sterling holistic approach, nowhere has the Church's contribution to nation building been more visible than in the field of education.
Since Independence, its primary and secondary schools have grown quantitatively and qualitatively; and that is in addition to the plethora of early-childhood institutions it operates throughout the island. In the 1970s, the Adventist Church was the largest teacher-training denomination in the country. It also offered the first bachelor's degree programme for teachers, conferred by a private institution, as well as the first to offer a bachelor's degree in nursing.
Because of its stellar work in post-Independence Jamaica, West Indies College was granted university status in 1999. Today, that institution, renamed Northern Caribbean University, is one of the top three universities in the country, offering top-quality liberal arts Christian education to thousands. At last count, its student population was well over 5,000 and, in August 2012, the university graduated more than 900 students.
Close to 15,000 graduates
Since it received its charter, the university has graduated close to 15,000 persons. Its nursing graduates continue to be hailed for their impressive passes in the national nursing exams. Its information technology programme is now considered one of the best in the world, with teams from the Department of Information Science constantly winning international prizes in the prestigious Microsoft Imagine Cup Competition.
The university's communication studies programme constantly receives applause from media managers for the high-quality students it produces. A recent graduate, Vashan Brown, was voted most outstanding junior reporter, only a few months after being employed to the RJR group. In addition, a recent film festival staged by the department gained the attention of Hollywood producers and Canadian broadcasters, who have expressed an interest in working with Jamaican student film-makers and producers.
In November 2010, the university took the business of media and communication to another level when it launched its media group comprising an islandwide radio station - NCU Radio - aired on 91.1, and 91.3 FM, NCU TV on Channel 188 on the Flow digital network, and production and multimedia.
In a media survey conducted earlier this year (2012) by Market Research Ltd, NCU Radio ranked 11th among the 27 radio stations in Jamaica, after operating for less than two years. They were ahead of the likes of the Cliff Hughes-led Nationwide News Network, CVM's Hot 102 FM and KLAS FM 89.