The event of 50 years ago triggered church growth across the U.S. Virgin Islands and beyond.
Seventh-day Adventists from Central Seventh-day Adventist Church in St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, gathered recently to commemorate the culmination of a historic evangelistic campaign held in a large tent 50 years ago, on October 30, 1971.
The success of that campaign, which resulted in 226 baptisms, surprised even the organizers.
“The Virgin Islands were considered difficult terrain for evangelism, but the leaders pressed on in faith,” Thomas Rose, who currently leads the Central church and spoke at the commemoration, said. The celebration was held on the very spot where the big tent stood, just five miles (eight kilometers) from where the Central church building is now located.
Others who were there in 1971 also gathered at the commemoration.
Lloyd Henry, a member of the original planning committee, spoke of the excitement as the tent went up on September 12, 1971, and onlookers stopped by to lend a hand. “It was a thrill to see a busload of guests arrive at the meetings,” Henry said. “Something big was about to happen.”
The Central Seventh-day Adventist Church in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, was built in 1977 and grew out of the large tent evangelism campaign that resulted in 226 baptisms on October 30, 1971. [Photo: North Caribbean Conference]
A combined choir consisting of members of different age groups from Seventh-day Adventist congregations in St. Croix sang on October 30, 2021, at the very spot where the tent evangelism campaign saw 226 new believers baptized on October 30, 1971. [Photo: North Caribbean Conference]
Attending the recent celebration were New Jacob (left) and Steve Roberts (standing), part of the group baptized on October 30, 1971. Sitting is Charles Richards (left), who was baptized in a later baptism, and Ivan Sargeant, who assisted in preparing the tent evangelism campaign. [Photo: North Caribbean Conference]
Kembleton Wiggins preaching at the tent campaign on St. Croix in 1971. [Photo: North Caribbean Conference]
Lloyd Henry, a member of the planning committee for the evangelism campaign, helped build the church. Seated behind him is Claudette Andrews, who was baptized in the first baptism and went on to become a pastor and an evangelist. [Photo: North Caribbean Conference]
Reginald Michael, first pastor of the Central Seventh-day Adventist Church, shares memories of the evangelistic campaign in 1971. [Photo: North Caribbean Conference]
Mary Kent, one of the original ushers, described her life journey, bringing her back to recommitting her life to Jesus.
Reginald Michael, a retired pastor, shared some of his early memories of preparing the field for the campaign and talked about the challenge of locating the right spot. He spoke of the excitement of learning evangelistic methods from the evangelist Kem Wiggins. Michael, one of eight pastors at the evangelism meetings, kept two of the original bumper stickers that were distributed to advertise the campaign. The bumper stickers read, “Follow Me to the Big Green Tent.”
“Opening night on September 26 saw a packed tent,” Annette Walwyn Michael, wife of Reginal, who also assisted in the campaign, said. “The rainy September weather and the mud did not deter the standing-room-only crowds. Wiggins kept the audience engaged and edified,” she said.
Among those baptized were Claudette Andrews, Dorliss Marshall, Ophelia Walters, and hundreds of others. They were some of the new members who became dedicated leaders after their baptism. “Those baptized were mainly young people with young families, with lots of energy but no church home,” Annette Michael said.
For Claudette Andrews, the recent celebration commemorates her baptism. Andrews, a retired commissioned pastor of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, became an evangelist and led hundreds of men and women to Christ throughout the Caribbean for nearly 50 years.
Steve Roberts, who was also baptized on October 30, 1971, has been preaching on the local television station in St. Croix for more than 14 years. New Jacob, also baptized on that day, went on to become an international evangelist, taking the Word of God to distant lands, Annette Michael said.
Alvira Brooks and Ophelia Walters, who became members after attending the tent meetings in 1971, are still active members. They helped grow the St. Croix Seventh-day Adventist School, whose enrollment almost doubled as children of the new believers joined. “Whole families joined the school,” they said.
A year after the historic baptism, the congregation’s membership had reached more than 300, and the church was officially organized. After that, the congregation found a plot of land, drew up plans, and began construction.
By the time the Central church was dedicated in 1977, the membership had doubled, and the Hope and Bethel Adventist churches grew out of the Central church. The church remains one of the largest in the North Caribbean Conference territory.
The recent celebration included poetry, youth presentations, and a praise team that sang “Since Jesus Came into My Heart,” the theme song of the 1971 evangelism meetings.
As Andrews spoke to the gathering, she said that celebrations would continue in the coming months at the Central church to continue to praise God for the blessings that came out of the October 30, 1971, baptisms and what followed over the decades since then.
The Central church, which has a membership of 1,000, is one of six English-speaking churches in St. Croix. There are also two Spanish-speaking churches.