In Cayman Islands, Adventist pastors offer at-risk youth alternative to drugs, gangs
They are not shirking responsibility. Ministers in the Caribbean nation are mentoring young people in the community who are vulnerable to drug abuse and gang involvement.
The Cayman Islands have seen a sharp and “unprecedented” rise in violent crime this year, said Dannie Clarke, president of the Adventist Church in the country. He and his pastoral team have observed more young people turning toward a life of crime, baited by the sense of belonging and quick money that gangs promise. “We want to be there to support them, to put a hand on their shoulders,” said Clarke. For some churches, that means offering young people sports and social programs. “We want to be personally connected to these guys before they reach a place where they consider doing something that can have catastrophic consequences.”
Through a community prayer and mentorship program launched in September 2011, Adventists are offering an alternative to gang involvement. Pastors hold community meetings and prayer rallies once a week where they offer counseling and support to young people “on the fringes,” Clarke said. They pray for the community, law enforcement members, perpetrators and victims, and their respective families.
Affected young people are already opening up. One even helped solve a string of murders. Another passed a note to Clarke after a recent community meeting. It just said, “Please give me a call. They have my name on a hit list and I want to talk to somebody because I fear for my life.”
The church is working with the police department to provide a place where young people can request protection or aid cases in safety and confidence, Clarke said. Pastors will not share any information without the young person’s expressed permission, he added.
The pastors’ efforts got a boost last week when Cayman Islands Premier McKeeva Bush and several members of the country’s cabinet and legislature attended the community meeting and prayer rally. Regional leaders of other Christian denominations have also shown support for the project by helping lead out in community prayer.
Ultimately, Clarke and his team of pastors hope to garner even broader community support. “We want to empower people in the community to catch the spark and put in place an infrastructure for sustainable growth and development.” Clarke is now asking community leaders to create a registry of at-risk youth who could use a big brother or sister.
“We must know our people. We must look out when one person’s child is hurting or vulnerable,” Clarke said. “Many times, it’s not that these youth don’t want to get involved in positive things. They just may not have the opportunity or the right influences.” [Elizabeth Lechleitner/ ANN]