The Jamaican Diaspora Day of Prayer & Fasting: Origin and Development

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By Rev. Newton Gabbidon

Despite living thousands of miles from their native home, members of the Christian community in the Jamaican Diaspora have for the past six years annually observed a special day of prayer and fasting for their homeland in the eager hope that the island will one day be transformed. For those Jamaicans who might still be critical about the practical significance of such an exercise, or for others, who are supportive of the initiative, but might still be desirous of knowing more about it, we find it necessary to provide a brief history of its origin and development.

Background and Rationale

Many historical accounts exist of nations whose destinies have been positively influenced by the amazing power of fasting and prayer. The United States of America serves as one of the most fascinating cases in modern times of a nation whose history has been clearly influenced by the power of prayer and fasting.  A  reading of President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation, calling for a national day of prayer and fasting during a time of great national crisis in the American Republic, clearly demonstrates this fact.  The most important principle, which may be derived from Lincoln’s Proclamation for a national day of united prayer and fasting in the American Republic, is clearly expressed by the late Rev. Dr. Derek Prince, in his book, Shaping History through Prayer and Fasting:

“This proclamation unequivocally acknowledges the overruling power of God in the affairs of men and nations. It indicates that behind the political, economic, and military forces of history, there are divine spiritual laws at work; and that by acknowledging and submitting to these laws, a nation may change its destiny, averting threatened disaster and regaining true peace and prosperity. In particular, the proclamation sets forth one specific, practical way in which a nation may invoke on its own behalf the overruling power of God – by united prayer and fasting.”

This principle has for more than five decades set the tone for the National Day of Prayer, which is hosted annually by the Evangelical Christian community in the United States, since President Truman in 1952, following in the steps of Lincoln, declared and signed into law the National Day of Prayer based on a joint resolution of the United States Congress. This is probably one of the most important principles that is at the foundation of the Jamaican Diaspora Day of Prayer and Fasting.

But how would such a proclamation for a national day of prayer and fasting for Jamaica relate to the Christian community in the Jamaican Diaspora thousands of miles away? Perhaps, the best reference to which we can turn is Jewish history during the 5th Century BC, following the 536 BC declaration by Cyrus, King of Persia. This declaration had called for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed during the time of the invasion of Judah and the carrying off of the people into captivity to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC (Ezra 1:1).

This declaration of King Cyrus in 536 BC effectively set the stage for the end of the Jewish captivity in the Persian Empire and paved the way for the first migration of Jews to Judah to rebuild Jerusalem and temple, the center of Jewish worship. But in the early 5th Century BC things were not going well morally, socially, politically or economically in Judah and the bad news concerning the great distress of the Jewish population in Judah, would travel back to the Jewish Diaspora in Persia. One of these Persian Jews was Nehemiah, a public official, employed in the Palace of the King of Persia (Neh 1: 1 – 10 ).

In response to the depressing news, which he had heard from those returning from Judah to Persia, Nehemiah was led to fast and pray for the Jewish State. This period of fasting and prayer set the stage for a period of spiritual revival in the Jewish state, climaxing in the restoration of Jerusalem politically and economically. It is this particular case from Jewish history that the proclamation for an annual day of prayer and fasting for Jamaica in the Diaspora is based.

Origin, History & Development

The Jamaican Diaspora Day of Prayer and Fasting proclamation was conceived, as a special project, in March 2004 at a meeting in Bronx, New York, by Rev. Newton Gabbidon (IPMI President), Rev. Dr. H. Dennis Campbell, (Senior Pastor of Rehoboth Open Bible Church and IPMI Advisory Board Member) and Rev. Dr. Samuel Vassel (Senior Pastor of Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene).

The vision for the Proclamation was born out of a concern commonly shared among Jamaicans in the Diaspora about the growing moral declension on the island of Jamaica, marked by an escalating murder rate, which places Jamaica amongst the nations with the highest murder rates in the world. (Currently Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world, led by only South Africa and Columbia ). The following statistics reveal the number of recorded murders on the island for one decade beginning 1994. In 1994 there were 690 murders; 780 in 1995; 925 in 1996, 1038 in 1997; 953 in 1998; 949 in 1999; 887 in 2000; 1138 in 2001; 1045 in 2002; 975 in 2003 and approximately 1500 in 2004.

It was against this background of moral and spiritual declension on the island, marked by an escalating murder rate, that the proclamation came from this small group of concerned Jamaican clergy, calling on all Christians within the Jamaican Diaspora in the Tri-state area to observe August 6, 2004, as a day of Fasting, Prayer and humble collective petitioning to God to liberate Jamaica from this spiritual enslavement, marked by a vicious spirit of death that has taken hold of our people.

Jamaican Christians within the Tri-State area were being invited to fast and pray during the day on August 6 from 6:00 AM- 6:00 PM and to join together at various designated prayer centers throughout the Tri-State for a special prayer service, scheduled from 6:00 PM-8:30 PM. In 2004 culminating prayer services were held at Rehoboth Open Bible Church in Brooklyn and Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene in the Bronx. In 2005 the event was expanded to include a number of congregations in the tri-state, most of which also held a special prayer service for Jamaica.

At the first meeting of the planning committee in 2005, which was expanded to include Rev. Andrew Bennett of Elim Missionary Church in Patterson, New Jersey and Ms Lilly Webb of Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene, the decision was taken to change the date of the event from August 6 to August 1, Jamaica’s Emancipation Day, given its historical and spiritual significance, as well as to avoid a conflict with the various activities which are generally celebrated on August 6 to mark Jamaica’s independence.

To facilitate the event as an inter-denominational affair supported by various denominations in the tri-state and also to allow for its expansion throughout the Jamaican Diaspora as an annual event, the decision was also taken to have the day of prayer and fasting initiative hosted in association with the Intercessory Prayer Ministry International, a 501 © (3) non-profit non denominational organization, which has been in operation in New York City since 1996. Over the past three years hundreds of Christians of various denominations throughout the tri-state participated in the event each year.

In 2008 the Jamaican Diaspora Day of Prayer and Fasting was officially recognized as an important Diaspora initiative by the Consulate General of Jamaica, New York and since then it has been included annually among the activities the Jamaican Consulate promotes to commemorate Jamaica’s independence here in the North East. It was also in 2008 that the committee took the decision to host the event on the first Monday of August. In 2009 the event picked up the endorsement of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Governor General. 2009 also marked the year of the expansion of the Jamaican Diaspora Day of Prayer and Fasting beyond the Tri-state to Florida, Canada and the United Kingdom. This expansion of the event to Canada and the United Kingdom has paved the way for thousands of Jamaicans across the Diaspora to become involved in this annual prayer and fasting initiative for Jamaica.

In this brief reflection on the origin and development of the Jamaican Diaspora Day of Prayer and Fasting project it is quite heartening to note the enormous hope for a spiritually renewed and transformed Jamaica that has characterized the growing number of Jamaicans in the Diaspora that support the initiative.  May God respond to the urgent cries of His people in the Diaspora for  spiritual renewal and transformation in the homeland.

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