Trinidad and Tobago

By Ian Greene, and Clive P. Dottin

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Ian Greene

Clive P. Dottin is currently the field secretary and the Public Affairs and Religious Liberty director of the Caribbean Union Conference. He has served on the Police Service Commission (2006-2009). He assists several non-governmental organizations such as Servol: Roman Catholic Youth Development Programme, Alcoholic Anonymous, and the Loveuntil Foundation which empowers youth in crime-saturated areas. His qualifications include a D. Litt. from the University of the Southern Caribbean (USC) for community service, an M.P.H. from Loma Linda University, and a B.A. in Theology from USC. In 2014, he received the National Award of Trinidad and Tobago the Chaconia Silver for his work in rescuing endangered youth from gangs and the drug trade. His publications appear in the Bell Journal and the Youth Horizon.

First Published: November 28, 2021

Background

Trinidad and Tobago has been an independent state since August 31, 1962. It is composed of two islands separated by a channel nineteen miles (thirty kilometers) in width, situated off the northeastern coast of Venezuela, South America. Their combined area is 1,980 square miles (5,130 square kilometers. English is the official language. Spaniards arrived in Trinidad in 1498 and met Carib and Arawak settlers. The island was captured by several groups of Europeans in the sixteenth century. It became a British territory in 1814.

In 1889 Tobago was incorporated with Trinidad to form the colony of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago became a republic in 1976. The Roman Catholic Church has the largest number of adherents; other religious groups on the islands include Hindus, Anglicans, Muslims, Methodists, and Jehovah's Witnesses.1

Religions: Roman Catholic 21.5 percent, Hindu 14.1 percent, Pentecostal 12.0 percent, Muslim 8 percent, Anglican 5.7 percent, Spiritual Baptist 5.7 percent, Seventh-day Adventists 4.1 percent, Presbyterian 3.0 percent, Unaffiliated 2.2 percent, Jehovah’s Witness 1.5 percent, Baptist 1.2 percent, Methodist 0.1 percent, Orisha 0.1 percent.2

Ethnic Groups: East Indians 35.4 percent, African 34.2 percent, Mixed 23.0 percent, and Asian, European, Middle Eastern 8.4 percent.3

Early Beginnings

Adventist teachings were probably introduced to Trinidad and Tobago through literature sent from Southampton, England, around 1879 through the efforts of John Loughborough. 4 As early as 1880 or 1881 a group of Sabbath keepers led by James P. Braithwaite met in Tobago. By the early 1880s, Adventist literature was sent to Trinidad and Tobago by the International Tract and Missionary Society (ITMS) in the United States. Early in 1883 the ITMS reported at its annual meeting that literature was sent from the society to many places including Tobago and Trinidad.

Unfortunately, the group in Tobago did not develop into a permanent congregation. The first specific positive response to Adventist teachings in Trinidad came through a copy of Ellen White’s book, Patriarchs and Prophets, which was purchased by a minister from another island, passed on to a catechist, and then to an individual who became one of the first Sabbath keepers on the island.

An American colporteur, William Arnold, canvassed in Trinidad in 1891 and 1892, selling many copies of The Great Controversy and other books. In 1892, L. C. Chadwick of the ITMS visited Trinidad and reported that Arnold was engaged in literature evangelism. When William Arnold left the Caribbean for England, the Foreign Mission Board invited Charles D. Adamson, a West Indian, to work in Trinidad as a self-supported colporteur-evangelist in response to a call for further instruction with people interested in Adventist teachings. Among those interested were Louis J. Briggs in Princes Town, St. Clair M. Phipps in Couva, George Maitland in Carapichaima, James Braser in California, and Elvira Nurse in Port of Spain. Adamson organized Sabbath-keeping groups in Couva and Port of Spain. When W. G. Kneeland, an American missionary en route to British Guiana, spent Christmas Day in Trinidad in 1893, he met several people who had become acquainted with Signs of the Times and other Adventist publications.

In February 1894, a minister, Andrew Flowers, and his wife, Rachel, arrived as missionaries. In April, Flowers conducted evangelistic meetings in Couva at the Heart and Hand Lodge. The following month two American canvassers, F. B. Grant and his wife, began working in Trinidad. Flowers contracted yellow fever and died in Port of Spain in July 1894, but his wife, and the Grants returned to the United States two months later. For the next fourteen months there was no Adventist minister stationed in Trinidad. However, during that time the Adventist work was consolidated by Adamson with the assistance of Phipps and others.

The first Seventh-day Adventist church was organized at Couva, Trinidad, with twenty-eight members, on November 23, 1895. From 1896 until her death in 1905, Stella Colvin, an American nurse in Trinidad, engaged in medical missionary work.5 In January 1897, the first Seventh-day Adventist church building on the island was dedicated at Couva. Five months later on June 5-6, the Port of Spain church was organized with eighteen members. By the end of September of that year, members in these two churches and those scattered throughout the island totaled seventy-two. Dr. J. O. Johnston, another American missionary, held evangelistic meetings in Indian Walk, following which he organized a church. In 1900 there were about 160 members in three churches, and a church school had been started in Couva. Late in 1899, two Jamaican canvassers worked in Tobago. In 1903, W. G. Kneeland held evangelistic meetings and four people were baptized. He was assisted by James Matthews, a West Indian who had been a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.

Shortly after, another former AME minister, T. L. M. Spencer, took charge of the work in Tobago. In the same year, 1903, the East Caribbean Conference, embracing the territories from St. Thomas in the north to the Guianas in the south, was organized. The publication of the Caribbean Watchman, a sixteen-page monthly evangelistic journal with a color cover, was so successful that by 1906 a small printing plant was set up at Port of Spain.

Growth and Development

In 1906 Trinidad and Tobago and several other islands were reorganized into the South Caribbean Conference with headquarters in Port of Spain. By the end of 1913, there were 632 members in Trinidad and Tobago meeting in twelve congregations. In 1926, the Caribbean Union Conference was organized with headquarters in Port of Spain. It became operational in January 1927, and in August, Caribbean Union College was established. During the 1930s, several churches were organized in Tobago as a result of the evangelistic work of T. J. Warner. In 1945, the South Caribbean Conference and other conferences in the region were reorganized as missions.6

At this juncture, it would be useful to assert the perception of Adventism as described by E. J. Murray in the 1920s and 1930s. "If the Seventh-day Adventist Church now finds general acceptance as a religious body in Trinidad and Tobago, this was not the case during the early years of its existence. The Port of Spain Gazette in its editorial on April 26, 1927, called for the stern refusal of Government to countenance in any way the work of Seventh-day Adventists in Trinidad."7

A similar feeling towards the Adventist presence in Trinidad and Tobago was reflected in a notice that appeared on the front page of the Trinidad Guardian of February 9, 1932.

Here is part of the notice:

NEW CREED FOR ARIMA? SEVENTH DAY ADVENT CAMPAIGN “Bible’ Lectures

Activities of Seventh-day Adventists in Arima are causing much stir among the other religious bodies here.

The Adventists have completed their newly erected “Tabernacle” which accommodates hundreds of people, and it is always packed to a maximum since they have started their religious lectures.

The sermons and new explanations of the Bible appear to convince many people and before the end of the six months’ campaign many converts are expected.8

As the church grew in numbers and influence, however, the same St. Vincent Street Daily was moved to editorialize on September 3, 1966:

The Community Hospital is doing sterling service today. It was launched at a time when state hospital services were most deficient and immediately made its mark.

Again, in a country which is not so very puritanical, within which the established churches had improvised an understanding of evils of the flesh, the SDA has stood foursquare for temperance, absentation from smoking, plain eating and clean living.

This has been the outward symbol of an inner strength and sense of service which we all appreciate.9

In 1948 a clinic was established, followed by a nursing home in 1953. The mission was restored to conference status in 1950. By that time there were several talented and articulate national workers, including Samuel L. Gadsby and Charles Manoram. By 1955, three secondary schools had been established—Bates Memorial High School, Harmon School of Seventh-day Adventists, and Southern Academy—and there were new developments in youth work, including camping and the Pathfinder Club.

In 1966, E. E. Cleveland, an African-American minister from the United States, conducted an evangelistic effort in Port of Spain in which 824 people joined the church. Since then, there have been many outstanding evangelists in Trinidad and Tobago. These have included several American preachers such as George H. Rainey, Ron Halvorsen, C. D. Brooks, and Don Crowder, and Caribbean evangelists Peter J. Prime, Stephen Purcell, K. S. Wiggins, Earl Baldwin, Roosevelt Daniels, Fitz Henry, and Claudius Morgan. In 2011, Claudius Morgan baptized over 700 individuals in Port of Spain at the Good News Gospel Explosion Crusade.10

It should be noted that while Cleveland broke the world evangelistic record in 1966, powerful Jamaican lay-evangelist Fitz Henry broke the record in 1993 at Queen's Park Savannah. Over 1,200 people were baptized and the Maranatha church was formed.11

Evangelism in Indo-Trinidadian Territory

The work among East Indians grew steadily in central and southern Trinidad beginning in the 1960s with Jacob Budhoo leading many to the Seventh-day Adventist church. Jacob Budhoo, a stellar lay evangelist who accepted the challenge of preaching in Hindu territory, went where very few evangelists wanted to go. With relentless vigor, he proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ and raised up several companies and churches between 1963 and 1979. He also mentored Victor Ragobar, who became a powerful evangelist. In 1984, Ragoobar conducted his first crusade under the tutelage of Budhoo.

Murray describes the dynamic influence and mission potency of this dedicated soldier who accepted the Lord in 1958:

He raised up a company of believers at Cunupia in 1963 and another in Tacarigua in 1965, the same year when he was designated Layman of the Year in the South Caribbean Conference. In 1969, he conducted a successful lay effort in Sangre Grande. Eighty-nine members were added to the Church. By this time Brother Budhoo had received an invitation to join the conference working force as a Bible instructor.

But Brother Budhoo never lost the conviction that he was meant for evangelism. While conducting an evangelistic crusade in Felicity where eventually he raised up a company of believers, Brother Budhoo was often slapped in the face by Hindu women who resented the coming of a Christian faith to the community.

But Felicity was not the only place where Brother Budhoo encountered opposition. Through it all, however, he succeeded in raising up companies of believers in the following places: Brazil (1971), Felicity (1974), Caroni (1976), Chase Village (1978), and Longdenville (1979).12

Electrical Engineer Accepts Jesus Christ

Victor Ragoobar accepted the Lord Jesus on August 31, 1974, while working as a senior electrical engineer at the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission. He went to Caribbean Union College (now University of the Southern Caribbean). He displayed great cultural skills as he also preached the gospel in the Indo-Trinidad communities and established several companies. Many of his children were products of Christian education and became extraordinary workers in the Adventist Church.13

Hindu-Speaking Evangelist

The Caribbean Union continued to diversify its evangelistic initiatives by extending a call to Pastor Justin Sher Singh, his wife and three children. According to Murray:

Pastor Justin Sher Singh, his wife, and three children arrived in Trinidad on August 9, 1983, from India. They have come in response to a call from the Caribbean Union for a Hindu-speaking evangelist to work among the East Indians in our territory. Prior to accepting this call, Pastor Singh served as youth director of the Southern Asia Division for eight years.

Before launching out in his first evangelistic crusade, Pastor Singh conducted a community health project which resulted in a lot of goodwill and favour and provided a list of several hundred names of individuals who were served. His six-week evangelistic campaign being held in Felicity, Trinidad, began on January 5.14

Introduction of Life Hope Centres

The Life Hope Centres15 are a strategic, cross-cultural mission initiative designed to build bridges between the Church and the Hindu/Muslim communities. The Life Hope Centre Project was initiated by Dr. Clifmond Shameerudeen with financial contributions from all levels of denominational structure from the General Conference to the local church district. The goal of this program was to respond to the needs of the community and ultimately to plant a church. Several social programs were conducted such as homework classes, counseling, physical fitness, and health screening. There are three centers in Trinidad and Tobago: Orangefield, Brickfield, and Southeast Port of Spain.

Dr. Fazadudin Hosein and Dr. Clifmond Shameerudeen developed the Katha, which is a unique cross-cultural evangelistic strategy designed to meet the Hindu community. Between 2013 and 2019, more than seventy-five people were baptized due to the influence this project. In addition to outreach in Trinidad and Tobago, Katha also included an exchange program of evangelistic teams between the islands and Guyana.

Institutions

As of March 31, 1996, there were 48,629 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 169 congregations in Trinidad and Tobago. The denomination operates the University of the Southern Caribbean (formerly called Caribbean Union College), a tertiary level institution, and the Community Hospital of Seventh-day Adventists. The headquarters of the South Caribbean Conference is at Deane Street, St Augustine.16

2004: Tobago Moves On

In 2004, Tobago became a mission; the South Caribbean Conference now consists of only the island of Trinidad. There is an excellent relationship between the South Caribbean Conference and the Tobago Mission with a constant exchange of ideas and expertise.17

Sources

Green, Ian. Restoring the Heritage: Pioneers and the Mission. Maraval, Trinidad: Caribbean Union of SDA, 2010.

Henry, Aura Stewart. “South Caribbean Constituency, Approves Recommendations for Mission Status.” Caribbean Gleanings, First Quarter, 2001.

Morgan, Claudius. Caribbean Union Gleanings, 3rd Quarter 2011.

Murray, Eric J. A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Trinidad and Tobago 1891-1981. Port of Spain: College Press, 1982.

Murray, Eric J. Caribbean Union Gleanings, 1st Quarter 1984.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second revised edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996. S.v. “Trinidad and Tobago."

Trinidad and Tobago 2011 Population and Housing Census Demographic Report. Port of Spain: Central Statistical Office, 2012. Accessed April 3, 2022. https://www.tt.undp.org/content/dam/trinidad_tobago/docs/DemocraticGovernance/Publications/TandT_Demographic_Report_2011.pdf.

Notes

  1. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, second revised edition (1996), s.v. “Trinidad and Tobago.”

  2. Trinidad and Tobago 2011 Population and Housing Census Demographic Report (Port of Spain: Central Statistical Office, 2012), 18, accessed April 3, 2022, https://www.tt.undp.org/content/dam/trinidad_tobago/docs/DemocraticGovernance/Publications/TandT_Demographic_Report_2011.pdf.

  3. “About Trinidad and Tobago,” PAHO (Pan American Health Organization), retrieved August 4, 2020, https://www.paho.org/en/trinidad-and-tobago/about-trinidad-tobago.

  4. Much of the information in the sections “Early Beginnings” and “Growth and Development” has been adapted from Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, second revised edition (1996), s.v. “Trinidad and Tobago.”

  5. Eric J. Murray, A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Trinidad and Tobago 1891-1981 (Port of Spain: College Press, 1982), 26-27.

  6. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, second revised edition (1996), s.v. “Trinidad and Tobago.”

  7. Eric J. Murray, A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Trinidad and Tobago 1891-1981 (Port of Spain: College Press, 1982), 56.

  8. Ibid., 65

  9. Trinidad Guardian, September 3, 1966.

  10. Claudius Morgan, Caribbean Union Gleanings, 3rd Quarter 2011, 13.

  11. Ian Green, Restoring the Heritage: Pioneers and the Mission (Maraval, Trinidad: Caribbean Union of SDA, 2010), 5

  12. Eric J. Murray, A History of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Trinidad and Tobago 1891-1981 (Port of Spain: College Press, 1982), 141-142.

  13. Victoria De Coteau, telephone interview by author, August 3, 2020.

  14. Eric J. Murray, Caribbean Union Gleanings, 1st Quarter 1984, 5.

  15. “About Life Hope Centers,” Adventist Mission, accessed April 5, 2022, https://am.adventistmission.org/lhc.

  16. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, second revised edition (1996), s.v. “Trinidad and Tobago.”

  17. Aura Stewart Henry, “South Caribbean Constituency, Approves Recommendations for Mission Status,” Caribbean Gleanings, First Quarter, 2001, 2.

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Greene, Ian, Clive P. Dottin. "Trinidad and Tobago." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 28, 2021. Accessed June 27, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7C3M.

Greene, Ian, Clive P. Dottin. "Trinidad and Tobago." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 28, 2021. Date of access June 27, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7C3M.

Greene, Ian, Clive P. Dottin (2021, November 28). Trinidad and Tobago. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 27, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=7C3M.