January 26, 2024

Jamaican Official Urges Adventist Churches to Protect and Prioritize Children

Protecting children is not just a responsibility but also a divine calling, she says.

Nigel Coke and Inter-American Division News Staff
Laurette Adams-Thomas addresses the audience at the Youth Conference and Expo in Montego Bay, on January 13. [Photo: Nigel Coke]

“As a church community, I … implore you to answer the call to protect and prioritize our children,” Laurette Adams-Thomas, head of Jamaica’s Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), urged as she addressed a gathering of Seventh-day Adventist leaders and more than 600 church youth leaders and Pathfinders recently.

The CPFSA is dedicated to ensuring the well-being of children and families across Jamaica.

“Together with the assistance and guidance of the church we can create a safer and more nurturing environment for our future leaders — our future pastors, teachers, our builders of our nation,” Adams-Thomas said.

The newly minted national leader called on churches to make it their responsibility to protect and prioritize children during a special address at the Seventh-day Adventist Conference Center in Mount Salem, Montego Bay, on January 13.

“Every month we receive approximately 1,200 reports of child abuse, highlighting what I would say is the harsh reality that many of our children are currently facing,” Adams-Thomas said. “This issue is not just a statistic, it’s a call to action. It’s a call that echoes throughout our communities that we need to act. Global violence against our children remains a challenge, and unfortunately Jamaica is not exempt.”

According to Adams-Thomas, a study done by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), 80 percent of Jamaican children experience various forms of violence at home. Another 65 percent endure bullying at school.

“This is a stark reminder that our children need our protection, they need our support and guidance now more than ever. That is why the role of the church in protecting and prioritizing our children is so important. It’s not just a responsibility, it’s a divine calling,” she added.

The event was a Youth Conference and Expo organized by the Jamaica Union Conference of the Adventist Church in partnership with the Inter-American Division Publishing Association (IADPA) Bookstore and Deli, under the theme “Revived and Renewed.”

Adams-Thomas appealed to children and youth to report any form of abuse, to talk to a trusted adult or someone they could trust.

“The Seventh-day Adventist Church has, over the years, been educating our members and children of our God-expected responsibility for our children,” said Lorraine Vernal, director of women’s ministries and children and adolescent ministries for the Adventist Church in Jamaica. “We have a zero-tolerance approach for any type of child abuse.

“The issue of child abuse is not for the church to privately deal with, because we are guided by the Child Care and Protection Act,” Vernal said. “We inform members that any act of abuse of our children must be reported to the relevant authorities including the police.”

Adams-Thomas pointed out that the church can play a role by informing its congregants about child abuse, which can be done through its Sabbath School and youth group gatherings.

Dane Fletcher, youth department director of the Jamaica Union Conference, said it was relevant to have the CPFSA reinforce that the church’s priority is to preserve the innocence of youth and protect them from abusers. “The church is not a perfect place,” he said. “Should there be child abusers in our company, masquerading themselves as caring youth leaders, we wanted to sound the alarm that the Adventist Church has a zero-tolerance approach towards child abuse and violence towards youth.”

Fletcher said he hopes that the presentation by Adams-Thomas would stem the tide of abuse, irrespective of how mild that abuse might be.

Vernal warned perpetrators to desist from this ungodly behavior. “I call on all persons including parents, teachers, and care givers, who believe that the abuse of our children is their right and privilege, to desist from such belief and behavior, as many are marred for life,” Vernal said. “I implore you instead to seek professional help through counseling and therapy.”

The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica has more than 340,000 members worshiping in more than 730 congregations.  The church leads 9,000 Pathfinders, 2,000 Master Guides, and more than 1,000 Senior Youth Leaders.

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.