July 13, 2021 | St. Croix, US Virgin Islands | NCC Staff and Inter-American Division News

A group of members from the Maranatha Seventh-day Adventist Church in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI), ventured to create a ministry based on walking. An evangelistic health-focused initiative, the “Newstart Walkers” ministry saw local church get involved in a practical way to live the gospel, organizers said.

Every Sunday morning at 5:30 a.m., the group walks from the church’s newly renovated parking lot to the sound of meaningful chatter and occasional mild outbursts of laughter. The routes normally provide different exotic, breathtaking but relaxing views that participants regularly record on their devices.

A group of the New Start Walkers of the Maranatha Adventist Church in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, pose for a photo after a recent Sunday morning walk. The new walking ministry was created during the pademic lockdown and has been effective in reaching many in the surrounding community. [Photo: Khoy Smith]

Local church Pastor Jerome Bevans explained the rationale for the initiative. “Individuals are generally unwilling to accept a Bible study from a stranger or a strange belief system,” Bevans said. “However, they are more accepting of healthy lifestyle information to boost the immune system during the current pandemic.” It is reason, Bevans said, that the initiative has created several opportunities to reach the community in a practical and innovative manner.

Ministry coordinator Tessa Smith said that the ministry came to light shortly after coming out of the strict lockdowns in 2020. “We were unable to fellowship at the church — we were spending lots of time online, which was not conducive to the healthy lifestyle we encourage,” Smith explained. “We wanted to use that time to encourage healthy living through exercise in the sunshine and fresh air. We also wanted to use that opportunity to fellowship, which we were unable to do for quite some time and encourage the community to join us.”

Elder Khoy Smith, personal pinistries leader for the Maranatha Church, has not missed a step in the 8-month-old ministry. For him, this has been a great opportunity to employ Jesus’s method that guarantees success in evangelism. “We have seen a reconnect with many members who were not in attendance,” Smith shared. “We have also gained new friendships and a couple even visited our regular Sabbath service. The walk serves as an opportunity to talk about life’s problems and provide practical and spiritual counsel to our guests,” he added.

Several make their way during a Sunday morning walk with the outreach ministry. [Photo: Khoy Smith]

The Maranatha Church is a tightly-knit congregation with a track record of innovation in pioneering several outreach ministries. In 2008, the church was responsible for the launch of the Spanish-speaking work among the growing Hispanic population in BVI. More recently, it approved initiative headed by church planter Wil Davis to reach the minority Caucasian population.

Church members have been participating in other activities to engage with the community, including attending gyms and engaging intentionally in the marketplace, local church leaders reported. They are always ready to reach out to offer help as they try to improve people’s health and support residents when they go through challenging life experiences. Against this background, the new initiative seeks to increase the opportunities of knowing and interacting with the community, ministry organizers said. “The work is slow, difficult, time and resource consuming but God have been opening doors to reaching hearts,” they said.

Bevans said he understands the great benefits of participating in a group that walks as Jesus walked. “The group is a safe place,” he emphasized. “It provides for visitors to attend and experience true and genuine friendship without being pressured. This ministry has been providing opportunities for contacts and forging friendships that will eventually, by God’s grace, will ‘walk’ through the pearly gates.”

Tessa Smith also detailed some of the goals of the ministry and shared some of the group’s plans. “Our purpose moving forward is to continue to bring awareness of the need to maintain a healthy lifestyle among the members and the community. As simple as it seems, our weekly walk provides opportunities for us to build bonds with our community and each other outside of the walls of the church,” Smith said.

She also explained the group’s method. “The formula is simple. We get outside together every week in nature. We invite our friends, community members, to join. We talk, we laugh, sometimes we cry, all while building bonds of friendship and staying active and healthy. Nothing complex,” Smith explained.

But above all, Smith said, the group is mission-driven and mission-oriented. “Our goal is to win souls for Christ,” she said.

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