A very good morning to you all!

The Jamaica Baptist Union’s 163rd Assembly is taking place at a time when Jamaica is facing serious challenges; as one songwriter says “This is a grand and awful time”. This is a time when so many are filled with doubts about the future of our country and whether they have a future in this island. This is a time when we Jamaicans are called upon to unite our strengths and creative energies so that we can overcome the difficulties we face. This is a time when we dare not lose hope, but rather, strive to transform our challenges into triumphs. We are the people of God, we know about hope. Against this background, the JBU theme: Being God’s People in God’s World – Living in Peace” 2012 – 2014, maintains its freshness and its relevance.

During the sessions which have taken you to this closing worship service, you would no doubt have contemplated how God can use you, and indeed, all members of the family of God, at such a time as this. The peace and justice for which our people clamour; the increasing unemployment, underemployment and persistent poverty among our people; corruption in our society; violent crimes; abuse of our women and girls; the moral decay; environmental degradation and climate change: all of these concerns I am sure would have been placed before the Lord as you sought His will on how the Church should remain steadfast in this post-modern era and how to address, as best as you can, these difficult issues.

The history of the Baptists in Jamaica is replete with examples of how you have acted and continue to act for the good of this country especially in difficult times. The heroes Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon speak eloquently to your sacrificial role in our struggle for equal rights and justice. The free villages, the schools and colleges, the cooperatives and the clinics established by Baptist missionaries in the post-emancipation period, began the long history of your work for the socio-economic advancement of our people.

And so I want to take this opportunity to publicly commend the Baptist faith community for the tremendous contribution which you have made and continue to make to the education of our people. That ministry has had a great impact on our country. Last year, as Calabar High School celebrated its centenary, we were reminded of the numerous Jamaican leaders who were prepared for their respective roles by that High School. Someone quipped to me that the Baptist church was well represented in that clean sweep in the 200- meter race at the London Olympics last year; you must have celebrated the Baptist connections of all three star athletes whether through church or school affiliation.

We also celebrate with you the contributions which Baptists are making at leadership levels in various spheres of our national life. They are among the cadre of Jamaicans who are committed to using their God-given talents for the good of our country. They validate the values which Jamaicans must internalize in our journey towards development and for the building of a great society. They, and the hundreds of thousands of decent, dedicated, hardworking Jamaicans, represent what is right with Jamaica. And I believe that there is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica. Together, we can transform this country into the prosperous and peaceful nation we envision.

I am very pleased to learn that during this Assembly, on Thursday 21 February, the JBU launched the Salt Spring Peace and Justice Centre to promote conflict resolution and defuse tensions within the surrounding volatile communities – the church at work. This is a tangible demonstration of your commitment to be God’s people living in peace. I pray that your objective to replicate this centre across Jamaica will be realized. Other JBU ministries which I applaud include the “Farming inna di city” project in Jones Town, the Kingston Gardens Health and Outreach Centre, the Garland Hall Memorial Home for children, the Horizon Home for the Aged and the health services which you provide. As we face even more challenging times, there will be increased need for ministries such as these. Please continue to be open to new ways in which the Church can support national efforts for development and social stability. I know that there are so many Baptist teachers in our schools, I appeal to you to continue to impress on the lives of our youth. They have to grow up and make valuable contributions to society. We have to show them through our actions how they can impress on the lives of others.

Lady Allen and I are pleased to worship with you this morning. We join you in praying for God’s continued blessings on the Jamaica Baptist Union, that you might grow from strength to strength as you serve the Lord and remain a channel of His blessing to Jamaica, Land we love.