Rt. Rev. Joy Evelyn Abdul-Mohan is moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago. She shares reflections on the role of prayer in developing a healthy democracy, and the unique challenges of her nation and her faith community.
What are the priorities of the Presbyterian Church of Trinidad and Tobago?
Rev. Abdul-Mohan: The church in its outreach has taken a stance to help and assist the Venezuelan migrants through giving basic needs as a short-term measure. The long-term goal is to collaboratewith other stakeholders and provide Learning Centres to help educate Venezuelan children who would not be initially integrated into the school system. The church continues to sensitize its member churches through educational programmes by networking with other stakeholders, especially in the areas of ministering to migrants and asylum seekers. We continuously address the exclusion, marginalization, stigmatization and criminalization of migrants and pray that the interreligious, civil society and inter-governmental partners will have a common basis and conviction that all human beings are created equal and that the rights of persons must be equally respected and protected. The fear of the “other” or stranger must be addressed from a sound theological and biblical perspective.
Pray that we be more compassionate towards the migrant community extending hospitality and not hostility.
There is need for the Global South to be recognized as the post-colonial missionaries, contextualizing the uniqueness of each people, race and culture, and the new methodologies of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Global North.
How does prayer connect with voting and democracy?
Rev. Abdul-Mohan: Voting in my humble opinion (and estimation) is the civic duty of any citizen. The strong women and men of Trinidad and Tobago fought tooth and nail to have that right to vote. Voting gives you the individual and collective responsibility to be your sisters’ and brothers’ keepers and to keep a check on or hold accountable the elected leaders from each branch of government: legislative, executive and judicial.
To achieve all the above we definitely need the prayers of the people of God! You see, prayer is not just words but also action. We must be willing to work for that which we pray! We must play an integral role in answering our prayers by taking action and acting appropriately. Faith without works is dead!
Unfortunately, we cannot legislate the intangibles like compassion, care and concern for others but we can definitely use the power of prayer to initiate change.
What can the power of prayer bring to your nation?
Rev. Abdul-Mohan: The power of prayer can instill characteristic qualities such as compassion, hospitality, gratitude, kindness, listening, peace, reverence, justice, vision, and hope within the citizenry.
For example, we are a nation of quasi disenfranchised people as a result of minimal transparency in election finances. Not all citizens have the opportunity to access the institutions of education, health care, the church (spiritual guidance) or even the traditional institution of family. Not all citizens vote. Why? There is a subset of the population who are younger and more knowledgeable. They have greater access to technology and are critical thinkers. Their discontent and lack of confidence in leadership are increasing daily.
There is a degree of institutionalised voter suppression.
Transparency in election financing is required to ensure that we can hold our leaders accountable for their actions, and to ensure that citizens are motivated to lend politicians their political power for five years.
Doing justice is a central imperative in Christianity. This practice applies to the whole range of human interactions, and today it is also being extended to the animal kingdom and the environment. It means that we base what we do and say on the principles of fairness recognizing the equality and dignity of all. It requires that we work to insure that all people, especially the marginalized and disenfranchised, have access to equal opportunities. Certainly, when we say we have a government by the people and for the people, we have to keep what is just in focus.
Through fervent prayer by a nation, justice and righteousness will become a lived reality.
Prayer helps us put our ears to the ground and listen to the voices of the grassroots, as well as the clarion call for more ethical, moral and spiritual values at every level, but especially at the political level.
If we as a religious community fail to engage active prayer, there will be gradual creep towards anarchy, which can lead to the collapse of our society and a greater crisis in the major national institutions.
Prayer helps to regain trust from the general population, so that words like honesty, integrity, ethics, fairness, justice, equity and democracy will not be used loosely or become foreign to the people of Trinidad and Tobago or its leaders. These words will become a lived reality. When we speak at every level, people will have respect and the words that we say will be honourable.
Call it idealistic but we do need to recapture some ideals which have been the foundation of the democratic process from time immemorial. This is the heart of natural and divine law, according to John Calvin: “The Church should act as the conscience of the State.”
What can the ecumenical family pray for you?
Rev. Abdul-Mohan: It is important to note that Trinidad and Tobago is one of the many (or few) countries that is blessed with a culture of unity in diversity – multi-religious, ethnic, racial, religious and pluralistic community, “a rainbow people.”
Please pray that we maintain and grow in our ecumenical and interfaith relations as a rainbow people.
Truth be told, the only time that racial discrimination rears its ugly head is during the country’s general elections, where politicians directly and indirectly create polarization among our people triggering an avalanche of racial comments on social media. Racial discrimination is more covert in our culture, subtly rearing its head in workplaces and families. Nevertheless, racism it is as real as life and as serious as death.
Please pray that citizens be true to the words of our national anthem, “that every creed and race find an equal place and may God bless our Nation,” especially during our general elections.
Please pray that during this global pandemic, the church will become more relevant in this new normal and create a Ministry of Mission Rebound.