By Anna Gaskell Observer Staff Writer (Charlestown, Nevis) – Politicians and preachers alike will tell you of all the wonderful programmes they have in mind to keep the youths out of trouble. But there is one church organisation on Nevis which has been running successful youth programmes for many years already: the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Their programmes aim to make confident individuals out of tottering toddlers. As I began to learn about the Adventist youth programmes, the first thing I realised was just how structured they are. These Adventist “youth clubs” exist all over the Caribbean and throughout the rest of the world. According to one of the Adventist pastors on Nevis, Pastor Andrew Gardner, the young people in these programmes make up a “world-wide youth ministry.” He says that the reason the Adventist Church focuses so much on the youth is because they form ‘the foundation of our Church.” “There is a winning reciprocal approach at the heart of their youth programmes: the adults volunteer to teach the children to become the kind of adults who will volunteer to teach the next generation of children.” This ongoing cycle of teaching-learning-teaching makes it easier for the church to ensure that no one is left out. It is a self-reinforcing cycle. Within the “learning” part of the cycle, the different activities of each youth club all have one central aim: training. According to Varina Williams, former island coordinator of the Adventure Club (for six to ten year-olds), the training is in “personal development.” “The aim, she says, is to teach children to become “individuals as God would want them to be.” All the fun of the youth club activities ” the travelling, camping, making new friends ” has a strong religious core.” Organizers hope that if children have a keen understanding of their relationship with God from an early age, they will grow into loving people who look out for those in need. Mrs Williams smiles and says this doesn’t always mean Adventist children turn into the best adults. “Of course,” she adds, ‘sometimes we have youth whose characters are messed up.” There is no formula to change the unevenness of human nature. I wish I could offer some wise words to Mrs William’s patient shrug in my direction, but I can’t think of anything. Then she says, “people will be people,” and that just about sums it all up. “Regardless of which church you”re in,” she says, ‘the devil is still in there.” Varina Williams also happens to be the Headmistress I remember from my school days on Nevis, and I don’t mind that all these years later I”m still looking to her for the words of wisdom.” She has that firm but gentle manner of someone who’s spent many years working with children. Now that I remember back to my school days, the only clue I can find that I was at a school run by an Adventist is the drilling us children received on the precise order of the days of the week. The first day of the week was Sunday, and certainly not Monday. According to the Adventists, the seventh day – Saturday – was the only day set aside for worship in the Bible. Pastor Jerry Languedoc, the other Adventist pastor on Nevis, tells me that the Church “caters to everybody.” But in practice, having Saturday as the day of worship makes it hard for those who are used to Sunday worship to attend.” Unless a child’s parents are Adventists, and therefore willing to alter their usual weekend plans, it may be difficult for them to be a committed member of an Adventist youth club. Also, the strong religious core at the heart of each youth club’s activities makes it awkward for children of other faiths to take part. The children in the Adventist youth clubs are even expected to lead the Saturday service on a couple of occasions each year. But even if the youth clubs end up, by default, to be mainly for the children of Seventh-day Adventists, there are other Adventist-run community initiatives that appear to be thinking of everybody. These are the free meals for the elderly and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA). On Nevis, weekly free meals for the elderly are cooked up by about six Adventist volunteers, from food that is donated and delivered for free by other members of the Adventist Church. Currently, of the 28 people receiving the free meals, not one is a Seventh-day Adventist. Many of the people who have donated money to improve the kitchen facilities are also not Adventists. The Adventist Development and Relief Agency, like the free meals programmes, is often funded by donations from people and companies that have nothing to do with Adventism.” I”m glad to hear this proof that people aren’t always snobby about religious differences when it is a simple matter of helping people in need. It seems that volunteering to help in society is a very big part of being an Adventist. “I asked my old Headmistress, Varina Williams, about her own motivations for getting involved. “I like working with young people,” she says. And she would be in the wrong job if she didn’t:” Mrs Williams is still Headmistress at the Charlestown Preparatory School.” She tells me that the urge to help young people in their personal development comes from her faith too. She says that she wants to “give back” to society because God has given her everything she has, and she believes that He created human beings to care about each other.” I think that any Church organisation would be lucky to have Mrs Williams; she is genuinely interested in the people around her and full of hope in the children she teaches. Mrs Williams converted to Seventh-day Adventism in her adult life, after deciding that “it all just made sense.”” I wonder if other people have become Adventists due to one day being on the receiving end of one of their community outreach programmes. As I sat with the two pastors, Pastor Gardner and Pastor Languedoc, I asked them whether their community programmes were ever carried out with the aim of converting more people to Adventism. Pastor Gardner said that the community projects are run only with “disinterested benevolence.” He started explaining what that meant, but I stopped him. I know that it means you do something good for others without any hope of personal gain, and I know it is easier to say long words like those than to put that principle into practice. For someone like Pastor Gardner, whose conviction in Adventism led him to make it his life, I think he must hope that their community work encourages new converts. Despite my hesitance to believe in “disinterested benevolence,” I still hope that the Adventist Church truly means it. I”m a little saddened that the religious nature of the youth clubs often leads to the unintentional exclusion of non-Adventist children. Because aside from the religious instruction, the youth programmes are all about encouraging young people to speak up for themselves, appreciate the world around them, look out for others, and spend lots of time outdoors. Whatever people may think of Adventism, these principles still make sense.” We may all have very different things to say about each other’s religions, but I for one think that we can learn a little from a Church that is getting children outside again, enjoying the wonders of the natural world around them.
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