“Using the dead as our seeds will not yield life.” This was the message I took away from listening to speakers at the 100th Anniversary celebration meetings of Seventh Day Baptists in Guyana, South America.
The closing Sabbath service at the Bona Ventura SDB Church on the Pomeroon River brought in delegates from across Georgetown and up and down the river. A significant portion of the service was spent looking back at the past 100 years, but the point was brought back repeatedly that we cannot rest or even tarry long on the achievements of the past.
I felt compelled to echo this sentiment, but as a visitor I was reluctant to diminish the sacrifices of those who built the Guyana SDB Conference. Though I saw new faces and new families, many in attendance were part of generations of ministry history. Some had done extensive research and shared the history of those who came before us. It was in one of those looks backward that I was freed to speak about learning from the past, with a focus on the future.
After introducing myself, I shared reasons that Guyana is a particularly special place for me. For one, the first time I ever packed my bag to work with a missions ministry was five years ago when I joined a SDB team Guyana. I helped for a couple weeks in constructing a men’s camp dormitory. Another reason was that the SDB Missionary Society, where I am currently the executive director, has decades of partnership in ministry with the Guyana Conference. And then I discovered I had family history, as well.
One of the speakers mentioned a relative of mine among the early contributors to the Guyana mission. Wardner and Bertha Fitz-Randolph had been active in the work in Jamaica, and later Wardner came to help minister in Guyana. Wardner was one of my great-grandfathers. He died 10 years before I was born and I knew very little about him or the work he had done.
However, Wardner Fitz-Randolph’s importance that day was how I could speak of setting aside our families’ achievements and look toward the future. They agreed with me that if we build on anything but Jesus, our work is in vain. This included building on the fallen bodies of those coming before us. Only Christ and his work through them and us was what mattered.
They were lost sinners, too. In many ways our predecessors had given their lives for others, which there is no greater love. But we have to keep in mind that none of their works counted toward their salvation, nor towards ours. Only by the grace of God are we all not cast out.
It is with this message we have to turn toward the next hundred years, or the next year, or especially this next day. It is in this next day that we join God in starting a new church plant, in discipling a brother or sister, in showing the love of Christ to someone not yet part of the Church. Introducing Jesus to a new believer today inspires a celebration in heaven.
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By Clinton R. Brown