Newland Martin was a member of Bethel Baptist Church in Kingston, Jamaica. She was also well known for her work with people who are vulnerable and marginalized. She served several organizations locally and internationally including the YMCA where she was general secretary (Jamaica) for many years. She was also very involved with the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network (EDAN), and was registered to represent the Jamaica Baptist Union as one of its delegates at the upcoming WCC 11th Assembly.
Newland Martin was a huge tree in the disability movement within the WCC. She represented persons with disabilities in various forums, having been at the formation of EDAN at the WCC 8th Assembly in Harare. After the assembly, she quickly became involved in the mainstreaming of disability within the member churches through organizing for workshops, trainings and dialogues with the churches.
During that assembly she was elected as a member of the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME). As a member of the commission, she was involved in organizing for the mission conference that took place in Athens in 2005 and was a member of the study group on Mission and Healing of WCC which was formed to carry out the mandate of some of the work of the Christian Medical Commission.
She was actively involved in promoting health and wholeness for all. She also represented the WCC in the People’s Health Movement Assembly that took place in Quencha, Ecuador in July 2005. Newland Martin was a panelist in the first session on the assembly theme at the WCC 9th Assembly in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006 and continued on as a member of the CWME Commission until the WCC 10th Assembly in Busan.
She committed much of her life to raising awareness and providing education about disabilities. She served as chair of the Ministry to Persons with Disabilities Committee of the Jamaica Baptist Union, and spearheaded a project to produce a handbook entitled “Church of All and for All” which speaks to the need for integration, inclusion and interaction as we engage with people with disabilities.
She died on 8 June after a short hospitalisation.
WCC deputy general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri said that Newland Martin’s leadership and insights had a positive impact on countless communities.
“We heard her powerful testimony when we visited Jamaica in 2018 during the commemoration of 20 years after the Decade of Churches in Solidarity with Women,” said Phiri. “We pray that the peace of God which passes all understanding be with her family and her church.”
Rev. Merlyn Hyde Riley said: “We crave your prayers as we come to grips with her unexpected loss.
Riley added that Newland Martin took her responsibilities very seriously and was actively engaged in the Caribbean region’s pre-assembly in April. “One of her final ‘instructions’ to the group was to ensure that special provisions were made for those with disability attending the assembly,” said Riley.
While eulogizing her, the WCC-EDAN International Reference Group remembered Newland Martin as a proactive advocate in networking on behalf of human rights for girls and women with disabilities. The reference group recalled that she was "committed to clear any obstacles that came her way towards ensuring that people live a life of dignity despite the barriers society put in their way.”
Dr Mwai Makoka, WCC programme executive for health and healing, recalled Newland Martin’s hospitality when he visited Jamaica in February 2018 on a study tour on the health ministries of the churches.
“She took me to Trench Town and showed me the school where they train unemployable youths with basic skills so they can get jobs even as housekeepers,” recalled Makoka. "She was personally looking for placements and employment opportunities for these youths.”
Makoka also met the young people who had been given hope and a new lease on life.
“But now, I mourn her passing and rejoice to have had a personal encounter with such a wonderful angel,” said Makoka.
Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men, reflected that Newland Martin personified the adage that in Christ, we can do all things. “Sarah never permitted herself to be defined by what she was unable to do, but helped to affirm the value of all people of all abilities and gifts in all places,” said Ashwood. “Sarah impacted the ethos of the ecumenical community in her strong support for the rights of the marginalized, particularly persons with disabilities.”
Ashwood said that it was not uncommon for Newland Martin to help persons understand that depression and self-pity were not the answer to life’s problems. “Sarah was a problem-solver and not only spoke up for others, but put those in practice, drawing others alongside her in her mission for unity and inclusion among the people of God,” said Ashwood. “It was hard to remember that Sarah was an ‘amputee’ as one was first impacted by her winsome engaging smile, her passionate faith and her courageous disposition.”
Ashwood added that Newland Martin’s ability to listen as though you were the only item on her agenda was heartening. “She had a wonderful sense of humour and invited no pity for herself or others,” said Ashwood.
Dr Manoj Kurian, coordinator of the WCC Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, reflected that Newland Martin was a fantastic leader who inspired, mentored and trained numerous young men and women over the years, guiding and equipping them to lead fruitful and productive lives. “For me, she was a fountainhead of compassion and dynamism who lived her life to its fullest,” said Kurian. “She carried many people with her on her adventurous and courage-filled journey of life. Her tremendous legacy has set very high ecumenical standards and she will continue to inspire us for generations to come.”
Newland Martin described her relationship with God as “more powerful than anything else in the world and under grace I have more than my own resources,” she said. “As a result of my transformed life, the lives of many individuals have been positively impacted, in particular the young people.”
Newland Martin, through her mother, is a relative of United States vice president Kamala Harris, and was able to meet Harris, after Harris was sworn in, for a cup of coffee.
Sarah Newland was born in Kingston, Jamaica to biological parents who seemed unable to cope with a baby with physical disabilities, so she was placed in state care. Her early life was shaped by experiences at the Maxfield Park Children’s Home and the Mona Rehabilitation Centre, now the Sir John Golding Rehabilitation Centre.
Her legs were amputated at an early age and she was fitted with prosthetic legs. She accepted her physical condition with courage. She later excelled in an early career as secretary at the Town Clerk’s office of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation. Her calling to serve, however, led her through advanced studies and into other areas of occupation.
Over time, Newland obtained certification in Principles and Practices of Social Work, Therapeutic Counselling, Child Psychology, Supervisory Management and Strategic Planning. These studies prepared her for a vocation and career in social work, counselling, and programme implementation for persons with disabilities and for youth, particularly some who desperately need a “second chance.”
Swimming formed a significant part of Newland’s physiotherapy and water became her friend. Her relationship with water resulted in her exemplary achievement in the sport of swimming at home and abroad. It was the Cross the Harbour Race in 1965 that brought to light her extraordinary courage, sporting talent and will power.
She was aware that many of her colleagues at the Mona Rehab community had “given up” on life and, for her, the Harbour Race was an opportunity to demonstrate to them that guts and effort could bring unimagined success. In the race, she demonstrated her prowess in the sport by setting a long distance swimming world record for persons with disabilities.
Newland became a special Sports Ambassador for Jamaica in international sports including representation in the Pan American wheel chair games and the Paralympics. She garnered 39 medals during 12 years of competitive sports. Her belief was: “Do not allow the world to determine who you are. The mind is perhaps the most powerful instrument of the body. It does not help for anyone to accommodate self-pity. Believe that God loves you and unearth the hidden talent, gift or skill that He has given to you.”
The name Sarah Newland Martin is almost synonymous with the Young Men’s Christian Association. She held the top position at the institution – administrator/general secretary—since 1988 and implemented numerous programmes. She had a deep passion for the rescue and development of marginalized youngsters, particularly young men on the street corners and girls who have been victims of sexual abuse. She rejoiced when they stayed out of trouble, praised them for outstanding achievement and always prayed for them.
She was a member of Bethel Baptist Church, Half Way Tree, where she was baptized in 1968. Over the years, she served in several of the ministries of the church, including chair of the Jamaica Baptist Union Committee on Ministry to Persons with Disabilities.
Her advocacy for persons with disabilities resulted in worldwide travel and various assignments in many countries including a visit to Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It was as she closed a conference at Edinburgh in 2010 that she shared on the joy of forgiveness. Prior to meeting her mother at age 24, she encountered deep pain. She said, “There were many nights as a child when I wondered about my mother and why I did not have a mother like the children at the institution where I grew up. Their parents visited, I did not have any.” She shared however, how in later years, through the teaching of the church and particularly a series of Bible Studies on “forgiveness” she yielded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to forgive her mother.
Newland was married to Dervent Martin for 14 years before he passed in 2007.
In recognition of her achievements, in 1980, the government and people of Jamaica conferred Newland Martin with the prestigious Order of Distinction Officer Class. Newland Martin has demonstrated to the world that physical disability is not a sentence to self-pity and non-achievement. She availed herself of the riches of God’s grace and has soared from being a ward of the state, to providing relief for the poor – the materially poor, as well as the poor in spirit in love and in nurturing.