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Southeastern helping islander return home with added skills

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–On the island of Antigua, the last thing many tourists think of while enjoying the beautiful surroundings is their relationship with God. But as a child, islander David Henry could see God everywhere, even though he came from a family that was hardly religious — much less Christian.
“I was very young, about 7 or 8, and for some reason a few guys and I went to church,” Henry recalled.
Henry said when the offering plate was passed around, his friends told him they would take something out. Henry said he didn’t participate because he felt that God was speaking to him that day.
“The one thing I remember was the memory verse in Sunday school class, 1 Timothy 2:5, ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,'” Henry recited. “The gospel was being preached to me in a very unusual way.”
Then as a 13-year-old, Henry said, God spoke to him again, this time through a substitute teacher.
To illustrate a lesson on not taking things for granted, Henry said the teacher challenged the class to read whatever they came across, including paper carelessly tossed on the ground.
Deciding to follow through, Henry picked up a piece of paper, which had John 14:6 on it: ”Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
“I understand that experience to be God’s hand directing my life, drawing me to him by faith,” Henry said.
Two years later, Henry attended a youth camp and later accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior while attending Vacation Bible School.
Since then, God has used Henry in many capacities. He has served as a youth minister, music minister and pastor. As a native of Antigua, he has shared the gospel with islanders and the hundreds of tourists who visit the Bahamas each year, making tourism Antigua’s cash cow.
Henry’s testimony may not have been any louder than in September 1995 when Antigua was hit by Hurricane Luis, one of the worst hurricanes in the history of the island. The storm pounded the island for 36 hours with winds reaching 175 miles per hour. Three people were killed, 160 injured and thousands were left homeless.
The island, 14 miles long and 11 miles wide, with a population 75,000, was nearly blown off the map as the hurricane damaged 75 percent of the island’s homes and knocked out water supplies and electricity for months. The total damage was estimated at almost $400 million.
“Usually people attach spiritual significance to things like hurricanes,” Henry said. “People become more religious, and even the radio stations play gospel music and the whole tone of the broadcast will change in the face of a hurricane and especially in the aftermath.
“That’s a very, very good time for the church to demonstrate Christian values and concerns for people in crisis, and then also, you can use that time to share, because people are more open and willing to listen.”
Local church members, the then-Brotherhood Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and other volunteers helped rebuild approximately 20 houses, Henry said.
Henry said the hurricane relief efforts helped validate his ministry in the eyes of the community and the government. “You get to show people the relationship between the physical and the spiritual, because first of all you can lose everything in a flash, in just a few hours, and then it’s about rebuilding. You really get a good opportunity to share the gospel.”
When the opportunity came for Henry to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological College, he took a step of faith and walked away from his business and moved his wife, Dronette, and three children to Wake Forest, N.C., to attend school in the fall of 1997.
“It was tough, but the overwhelming thing in our lives is just what God was doing in our lives and the calling that I have,” Henry explained. “That was the one thing that gave us peace, that the sacrifice will be worth it.”
After graduation, Henry plans to return to Antigua and minister alongside the Southern Baptist missionaries already there. “Most of what you learn, you learn from the missionaries there,” Henry said. “(The International Church) is still one of our biggest supporters.”
Henry said the lack of education among church leaders on the island is a significant problem. He plans to take what he learns at Southeastern back to the island to aid in discipling workers and leading churches based on sound biblical doctrine.
The Anglican church has the largest presence on the island as Antigua is a province of the United Kingdom. The religious breakdown of the island includes Anglican, Methodist, Moravian, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist and Jehovah’s Witness.
“People are just not caught up in the right doctrines and teachings of the Bible, and you have a lot of little groups coming up of no particular denomination,” he said.
He said three false doctrines taught by many churches in Antigua are: personal experience is elevated above God’s Word; material possessions are seen as the only measure of God’s blessings; and speaking in tongues is the only proof of true conversion.
Henry said there are only five churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention on the island. He plans to help plant new churches when he returns to Antigua.
“I’m ready to go right now,” Henry said.

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  • Greg Carpenter