When most of us think of the Caribbean, the images we likely conjure are either of luxurious vacation spots or pirate movies starring Johnny Depp. But Dave Stone, Foursquare Missions International’s (FMI) area missionary to the Caribbean along with his wife, Nancy, sees something else.
“There is truly an immense spiritual need,” Dave tells Foursquare.org about the region, which consists of more than 7,000 islands belonging to 30 countries and a total population of approximately 38 million. “While the gospel has been preached here for many years, the present reality is that only about 25 percent of the population is actively attending church.”
Indeed, ministry here is challenging. There are four primary cultures and language groups—English, Spanish, French and Dutch—as well as Haitian Creole and Papiamento. Each of the islands is unique in culture, requiring a different approach to ministry. What works on one island won’t work on another.
And religious beliefs are almost as varied as the isles themselves. Christianity is present, but so are Hinduism, Islam, Rastafarianism, Santeria, Voodoo and other creeds. Significant numbers of Muslims and Hindus populate the eastern Caribbean. Many people across the region are of African descent. But Dave sees great opportunities for ministry in these varied language and culture groups.
“There is a big need to reach out to the French- and Dutch-speaking islands. And there are lots of opportunities for the African-American community to become involved in the region,” affirms Dave, who has served as area missionary for five years and resides with Nancy in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. The couple, both in their early 60s, worked for a decade as missionaries in Panama, Mexico and Venezuela, and also pastored in the U.S. for 21 years.
“God is opening doors for us in Cuba, where the church is experiencing a time a favor and growth,” says the father of three adult children and three grandchildren. “We are beginning to see signs of breakthrough in several of our islands where the work had not been progressing before.”
The work is indeed progressing. The Foursquare Church has 83 churches and meeting places throughout the Caribbean in the countries of Jamaica, Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic (DR), Puerto Rico, St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Martinique, Grenada, Trinidad, Guyana and French Guiana.
Other ministries include two orphanages and five schools in Haiti, not to mention the many disaster relief and recovery efforts following the massive earthquake in January 2010. In St. Croix, Foursquare partners with other churches and organizations that minister via a soup kitchen and other outreaches to the homeless, drug addicts and prostitutes.
In Jamaica, there are five elementary schools. And in the DR, where over 1 million Haitians live, one church has been planted and two more works are underway. A ministry training center has also been launched to develop Haitian leaders.
Cuba, DR, Haiti, Jamaica and Puerto Rico are between stages two and three in the denomination’s four-stage church development model. In stage two, the “establishing” phase, churches are forming leaders and planting other churches; in stage three, the “empowering” phase, works are nationalized and self-supporting, with an emphasis on the multiplication of churches. When a work gets to stage four, the “sending” phase, they are reaching out to other cultures and languages.
French Guiana and Grenada are between stages one and two, meaning they are moving past the “pioneer” phase to stage two, the “establishing” phase. Guyana, Martinique, Trinidad and St. Croix are all stage one works.
Statistics from 2009 in the region document 2,925 decisions for Christ, 559 water baptisms, and 184 Holy Spirit baptisms. (These numbers do not include St. Croix, Guyana and French Guiana, but do incorporate figures for the new work in Trinidad from the first half of 2010.)
The salvation and healing of one young man in Trinidad illustrates how God is moving in the Caribbean as believers reach out to others. Rob Reasoner, a Foursquare credentialed minister, and his wife, Audrey, were ministering in the country, says Dave, in an area known for its high crime rate. Within two miles of the couple’s home, in fact, 17 murders had taken place—three on their block alone.
The 25-year-old son of one of their church members was shot four times during a drive-by incident. Rob and Audrey went to the hospital to be with the family and pray for their son. The doctor said that if the young man lived, there was no way he would ever walk again. If he survived, said the physician, he was expected to be in the hospital for at least three months.
“When he was awake, Rob was able to go in to pray for him,” Dave explains. “The first thing he did was to accept Jesus as his Savior, along with two other men in the room.”
But that was only the beginning.
“Then they prayed for healing,” Dave elaborates. “Within one week, the young man was out of the hospital and taking steps. God’s healing power is at work in Trinidad.”
God is also using short-term missions teams from the U.S. who come to help out in the region. In addition to groups working to provide aid in Haiti, a team from Tampa, Fla., came in 2010 to direct a national summer camp in Jamaica. Several teams ministered in the DR in the summer, and a team from Angelus Temple Hispanic held a pastors and leaders retreat in Puerto Rico in October.
A youth team from Puerto Rico even went to Grenada during Easter week for an outreach to an area where a second church is being planted. There were 74 decisions for Christ.
Foursquare’s Global Missions Fund helped with various outreach projects in the Caribbean in the past year, including four weeks of vacation Bible school in two locations in Grenada—which was instrumental, Dave notes, in the planting of their second church. Funds were also applied toward a new church plant in Puerto Rico and the purchase of a tent in Jamaica for outreach and church planting. Money from the Global Missions Fund also assists in providing resources and opportunities for leadership development.
So how can those of us in the U.S. best pray for the Foursquare work in the Caribbean? The area missionary offers three requests.
“Pray for laborers to be called into the harvest, especially those who feel a call to pastoral ministry and leadership development,” Dave asks. “Second, pray for a fresh vision of evangelism and church planting, with a strategic plan to extend out to other islands. And third, pray for a spirit of renewal with a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit moving upon the churches and leaders.”
As he looks to the future, Dave sees great things for the Caribbean. And he offers a word of appreciation to believers in the U.S. who support Foursquare Missions.
“We are expecting to have more new church plants in the region this year than any previous year, and next year should be even better,” he affirms. “By this time next year, we are expecting to open new fields for Foursquare. Your partnership in the spreading of the gospel is vital. Thank you so much for your generous support.”
For information on helping FMI works around the world—including how to support the Global Missions Fund, a missionary or project, or to donate toward disaster relief, log on to give.foursquare.org. One hundred percent of every dollar given to the Global Mission Fund goes directly to the mission field. FMI’s website also provides detailed information on short-term missions teams.
By: Bill Shepson, a Foursquare credentialed minister and freelance writer in Los Angeles