The Caribbean Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church recently called on leaders in the 10 fields across its territory to break the silence about all types of abuse in order to protect children, so that the church is a safe place for them to grow.
The renewed call came from Inter-American Division Adventist Risk Management account executive Rocio Roberts during a virtual child protection certification program on January 28.
“The church is an easy target for sexual predators because they believe church people are naïve,” Roberts said. “They know that church members are still saying it can’t happen in our churches.” She advised leaders to regularly refer to the “five-point-rule,” which includes the open-door policy to strengthen safety responses to children at risk of abuse.
Referencing the policies already outlined in the church manual, Roberts encouraged leaders to screen volunteers who are responsible for the care of children.
Presenters agreed that because churches welcome people from all backgrounds, knowing the signs can act as a deterrent against people with harmful intentions.
“Child abuse thrives in secrecy, and the time has come for us to talk about it in our congregations, in our schools, and in our communities,” Debra Henry, Caribbean Union children and adolescents ministries director, said. Upon learning that child abuse was on the rise during and after the pandemic, she spoke to her regional leaders to promote more awareness through training across the region.
“What we see in society can also be reflected in situations that may happen in our church as well, so it’s an urgent matter to address,” she said.
Henry said the training seminar is proof of the church’s commitment to child protection and gives administrators, pastors, teachers, children ministries leaders, and youth leaders the tools needed to implement the Child Care and Protection Plan as supported by the various laws in the individual island territories. The virtual event saw more than 1,000 church leaders registered and connected during the certification training.
Marvyn Smith, youth ministries director of the Caribbean Union, said that with greater sensitization and training, the efforts of safeguarding children will be strengthened.
Kern Tobias, president of the Caribbean Union, said the training session was important since child abuse issues not only affect membership but bring focus to the heart of the matter. “We have seen and heard in the media within recent times, some children are not even being given a chance to live, while others, if they do live, are abused in various ways,” he said.
Attorney-at-law Telisha Williams, who works with the Childcare and Protection Agency of the Ministry of Social Protection in Guyana, said that through education and sensitization, leaders and members are advised to adhere to the tenets of the Child Care and Protection polices as advocated by the church and state. “If there is an allegation of abuse, parents, guardians, or caregivers are expected to immediately report the matter to the relevant authorities,” Williams said.
Training facilitator Dolstan Morian underscored the need to “still commit to spiritually assisting abused and abusive individuals and their families in their healing and recovery process, and to holding church professionals and church lay leaders accountable for maintaining their personal behavior as is appropriate for persons in positions of spiritual leadership and trust.”
While it may seem like a daunting task to achieve all of these standards, Henry said, the church is guided by the fact that “the Bible condemns child sexual abuse in the strongest possible terms. Any attempt to confuse, blur, or denigrate personal, generational, or gender boundaries through sexually abusive behavior is a gross violation of personhood. The leadership and members of the Adventist Church condemn such actions.”
Child protection awareness training will continue for church members April 29-30, as well as for church pastors in May, Henry said.
The Caribbean Union Conference is an administrative headquarters for the Adventist Church comprising six conferences and four missions and more than 235,000 church members. The union operates 711 churches and companies, 51 primary and secondary schools, a university, and two hospitals.