July 24, 2020

Seventh-day Adventist Appointed to President’s Cabinet in Suriname

Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

Saskia Walden became the first Seventh-day Adventist in Suriname to be appointed as a cabinet official to the new chief of state and head of government, President Chandrikapersad Santokhi. Walden was sworn in as the Minister of Economic Affairs, Entrepreneurship, and Technological Innovation during a special ceremony of the National Assembly in Paramaribo on July 16, 2020.

Minister Walden, a native of Suriname and a member of the Central Seventh-day Adventist Church in Paramaribo, has served the church in the Caribbean Union and Europe for several years. She was prayed for by Adventist Church president in Suriname Edward Blackman during a televised swearing-in session among other new cabinet members and government leaders.

“We congratulate you on this memorable day and wish you a lot of insight, wisdom, mostly courage, and discernment to do your work with honor,” Blackman said in Dutch. “A very well known quotation within our fellowship of believers, which you have certainly heard, is the following: ‘We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us, and His teaching in our past history.’”*

Devoted to God and the Church

Blackman read Isaiah 41:10 and Numbers 6:24-26 as he pronounced a prayer of blessing for Walden as a minister in Suriname. “I know her responsibilities will not be easy, but we include her in our prayers, and her colleagues in the government,” he said. Blackman, a fellow Surinamese and friend of Minister Walden, said she has grown in the church and been very active throughout the years. “This was big news in the Adventist Church,” he said.

According to Blackman, several church members have made it to leadership positions in parliament in the past, but none had reached the level of a presidential cabinet member. “She is a leader, goes for her goals and achieves them,” he said.

Former Netherlands Union Conference president Reinder Bruinsma remembers Walden as devoted to her God and her church. Walden served as treasurer of that union conference from 2003 to 2005, during Bruinsma’s administration.

“I got to know her quite well and have very good memories of that time,” Bruinsma said. Church leaders had hoped she would stay longer, but her visa and work permit cut short her time in office.

“I am not very surprised that in the years since she was with us, she built a successful career in Suriname and that she has now been selected for a high national office,” Bruinsma said. “We are very proud to know her!”

Minister Walden is an accounting expert with more than 15 years of international work experience and has led her consulting firm in Suriname for more than 15 years.

Her church service experience also includes two years as senior teacher responsible for business curriculum at the St. Lucia Adventist Academy in Castries, Saint Lucia, as well many years as a student literature evangelist throughout Trinidad and Tobago.

Blessed and Challenged

About her recent appointment, Minister Walden said that she feels blessed and challenged by the task at hand.

“God has given me the opportunity to serve others, because one of God’s missions for us is that we have to look out for others, and I trust that He has led me in the past and will be able to lead me through this.” The challenge ahead is to talk with government leaders about ways to solve problems and find common ground to move the country forward, she said.

“It is my intention to provide Surinamese the facilities to be gainfully employed or able to start their own business,” Walden said. By coming up with the right treaties, the right commissions and boards, more opportunities could be available to entrepreneurs in the country, along with establishing strong relationships with Europe, the United States, and Asia. “We have to provide a level playing field for entrepreneurs in Suriname, so there will be fair competition. New entrepreneurs can obtain some government assistance with visible transparency within the government.”

As far as technology and innovation are concerned, she said, she wants to establish closer relationships with developed countries to improve technology and upgrade opportunities for a high potential of success in Suriname.

Economic Lessons From the Bible

“Many people know that I am a Christian and believe in God,” said Walden, who has her church family praying for her in her five-year-term position. She draws economic and financial lessons from the Bible.

“Everything about Jesus’ message applies to the economy and finance,” Walden said. “In the parable of the talents, He teaches that we need to use what we have, encouraging people to achieve the best they can achieve within the gifts God makes available to them.”

“You have to stick to the Branch to become the fruit,” she said. “You must look after another, just like He taught in the parable of the Samaritan. When we look after each other, the community does better. That’s the big spiritual lesson.”

Her message has been clear during the years she worked in the community. “Whatever God wants you to achieve, you can achieve, as long as you achieve the highest God wants for you,” Walden said. “It’s about helping someone else get the best out of themselves.”

She reflects on Bible stories of the great giants like Daniel, Esther, Joseph, and others who, at the time, were surrounded by many who didn't believe in God. “We can be a blessing to the community, even if it is just a few of us. We must have love for each other.”

The corruption, immorality, and public injustices she saw led her to speak out and get involved in community projects that could better the lives of citizens and entrepreneurs, amid an economic downturn challenging the nation for more than a decade, she said. As Walden spoke out, she said she was offered a platform to get her message across in a more public way and work toward change in Suriname.

Learning to Speak Up Early On

From the time she studied at the Suriname Adventist primary school in Paramaribo, Minister Walden remembers participating in the Ingathering campaigns to raise funds to help others, distributing literature, and taking part in community projects.

"It was during that time, at six years old, that I learned to speak up to help others,” she said.

Saskia Walden earned a Master of Business Administration degree in accounting and business management in 2011 and received a Bachelor of Business Administration from Andrews University in 1999, through its extension campus at the University of the Southern Caribbean in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

Steven Tulp contributed to this article.

The original version of this article appeared on the Inter-American Division news site.


*Ellen G. White, Counsels for the Church, 359.