A Vision for the Islands

“Surely the islands look to me…”

Isaiah 60:9a

In 2012, I sat in my living room watching the Summer Olympics. I ran track in jr. high, high school, and college (800 & 1500 meters), so the Summer Olympics is a genuine treat for me. That Summer though, I was struck by all the Caribbean nations represented in the track & field events. Of course, there was Jamaica with Usain Bolt and the rest of their world class sprinters. But then there was the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, Puerto Rico, Grenada, Cuba and others. Twenty-two in all were represented in London in 2012. For the previous decade, much of my global disciple-making focus was in East Africa, helping Sonlife’s global partner, J-Life, expand into Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. Watching the Caribbean shine in London, I felt like God was saying to me, “The Caribbean is like having Africa in your backyard. Who will bring Sonlife’s disciple-making training to them?”

That very day, I reached out to Dann Spader, Sonlife’s founder, and asked who, if anyone, was equipping leaders in the Caribbean with Sonlife’s training. A decade earlier, there were some things happening in the Bahamas. I had been training in Haiti since 2003, and in 2008 started the School Of Youth Ministry there. The vision for SOYM was to have a 10 month residential disciple-making training program for young leaders to raise up the next generation to impact their nation. Other than that though, nothing was happening in the Caribbean.

In that email exchange, Dann confided that he was prayerfully seeking a younger leader to take the reins of Sonlife. I had no idea that six months later those prayers would lead to him asking me to be Sonlife’s President. With Sonlife’s geographical focus being North America, I asked, “Other than the US and Canada, what would be included in our North American focus? What about the Caribbean?” We have global partners focused on Latin America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Who would focus on the Islands?

I asked for Sonlife to have that privilege.

Back in 2012, after my Olympic epiphany, I jumped on Google and began to search for information on every country or territory in the Caribbean. Here’s what I found.

These are the Island nations and territories in the Caribbean:

  • Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curacao, Cominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, “Guadaloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Puerto Rico, Saba,  St. Barts, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Martin, Saint Maarten, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Sint Eustatius, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos, US Virgin Islands.
  • Of these Islands, 14 are countries, 2 are US territories, 6 are British territories, 4 are French territories and 6 are Dutch territories.
  • Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago all have populations of over one million. Five more have populations between 250,000 and one million, while 15 have populations of under 100,000. The total population of the Caribbean region is roughly 45 million.

The strategy for the Caribbean was simple.

PRAY! God’s heart for the nations includes the Caribbean.

“He will not falter or be discouraged till He establishes justice on earth. In His teaching the islands will put their hope.”

Isaiah 42:4

As I read the Scriptures, I see that God has a heart for the Islands. He wants His Word to reach the Islands. He wants the Islands to put their hope in Him. When Jesus said, “Therefore, Go and make disciples of all nations,” His mandate included the Islands. Before He ascended back to the Father, Jesus’ final reminder was that His disciples would “be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth!” Have you ever been on an Island? It can certainly feel like the ends of the earth. The Great Commission includes the Islands. God has not forgotten the remotest of us all.

LOOK! God will lead us to persons of peace.

“Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.”

Isaiah 42:10

Many churches across the US and Canada do mission work in the Caribbean. Many churches across the US and Canada have denominational ties to the Caribbean. Your church might be one of them. Perhaps your focus in the Caribbean is service projects or children’s ministry, taking a team to build a church or run a VBS program. But what if your church’s involvement could be more strategic? What if you were a part of a disciple-making movement among the Islands? What if you were a part of equipping Islanders in relational disciple-making according to the Son’s life? Your church might be, or know, a person of peace for one of the Islands and you hadn’t realized it.

There are many from the Caribbean who have emigrated to the US or Canada for school or work, but still have a heart for their home. They want to see it reached with the gospel. A few years ago, I was training 4 Chair Discipling for the Nazarene District in Toronto. In the room, we had leaders from Belize, Haiti, Jamaica and several other Caribbean countries. Steve Ottley, the District Superintendent, is from Belize himself. Steve became our person of peace to bring training to leaders in Belize.

MOVE! Be ready for open doors.

“Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands.”

Isaiah 42:12

This week, I was in a meeting in Orlando with global organizational leaders focused on the next generation. We were getting reports from regions around the globe, and the first region to be asked to share was the Caribbean. Imran Richards leads a sports movement in the Caribbean. He lives in Barbados, the easternmost island in the Caribbean. He shared that just four years ago, their ministry was in 9 of the countries/territories in the Caribbean. Today, they are in 31 of the 32 Islands! God is on the move! Imran is passionate about disciple-making and movement building, and we quickly hit it off. He’s excited about the potential of seeing Sonlife training equipping leaders throughout the Caribbean. We’re talking about a visit to Barbados this Spring to explore partnering together and to introduce key leaders to Sonlife’s disciple-making training. We’ll begin in Barbados, see what God does, and move throughout the Islands from there.

“My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm.”

Isaiah 51:5

What’s your part in God’s vision for the Islands?

Pray. Ask the Father if He’s inviting you to be a part of His vision for the Caribbean.

Look. Are there any Caribbean “persons of peace” you can involve in this vision?

Move. Would you or your church support this vision for the Caribbean by either giving or going?

“I will set a sign among them… to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.”

Isaiah 66:19