The Full Story
Bishop Owen Martin is determined to change the community that helped to shape him into the spiritual leader he is today.
Born and bred in the community of Savannah District, Hayes, Clarendon, the New York-based pastor is committed to impacting young lives through what he described as an “academic mission”, dubbed, ‘Operation Change, Let the Children Come’.
Bishop Martin tells JIS News that his mission started during the COVID-19 pandemic when he examined his community, saw the need and decided that he wanted to help.
“I bought 50 tablets with the help of a lot of people from New York and other places, [along] with book bags, books and everything that the children would need for school purposes during the pandemic,” says Bishop Martin.
He informs that 50 children were randomly selected from homes within the community to participate in the programme, which also taught them the teachings of the Bible and other life lessons.
Bishop Martin further notes that the number of children who were impacted by that intervention increased to 80 in 2022 and to almost 90 in 2023.
He explains that a big part of his mission is to see the children in Savannah District succeed in their academic pursuits as well as to empower them to become the best versions of themselves, ultimately becoming “valuable people within the community”.
Bishop Martin, who is the Head Pastor at Life Worship Center Church of God of Prophecy in Bronx, New York, says given 10 years, “I will change my community by training and developing their minds”.
“They (children) could look beyond where they now live and understand that there are some greater things out there. Life is out there that they can tap into and become an agent of change, not just in the community, but in Jamaica and by a larger extent, the entire world,” he adds.
Another element of the mission is that it exposes beneficiaries to places outside of their community. In 2022, the children along with their parents were taken on a field trip to Port Royal and Hope Gardens.
This year, the group was taken on a more targeted trip to the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, in St. Andrew, to open their eyes to the possibility of pursuing higher education at the institution.
“Seeing is believing. So, I believe that when they grasp the UWI, it is opening their minds to say, this is where I am coming [ to study], whether it’s to be a preacher, lawyer, doctor or a politician,” says Bishop Martin.
He further states that beneficiaries who graduated from high school this year received laptops to enhance their future studies as they move on to sixth-form or colleges.
“Please come back; remember how this thing started; come and help the other kids. Let’s push them further; that is the idea of the whole thing,” Bishop Martin urges the 17-year-olds who will be moving on.
The work being done by Bishop Martin is not only hailed by those whose lives are impacted directly but also by Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles Jr., who is Member of Parliament for the area.
“What an encouragement [and] inspiration it is to see someone from the community return with support, upliftment, and true contribution,” says Minister Charles.
He was speaking with JIS News at the Hayes New Testament Church of God in Clarendon on August 18, where the 2023 beneficiaries of ‘Operation Change, Let the Children Come’ were being engaged in fun activities and empowerment sessions.
“I think it sends the right message in terms of this community’s development and the country’s development and the fact that when you really are determined to make a difference you can,” says Minister Charles Jr.
He indicates his intention to work with Bishop Martin and his team to do much more within the community for years to come.
The Minister says the goal is to “give people opportunities to break the cycle and to become independent and to make sure that we can create more Owens”.
“I really appreciate that they have come back, not just with educational resources but to give their time and to impart principles beyond just academics that will help these children to develop themselves as constructive citizens and contributors to the country’s development,” he adds.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Octavia Salmon, who was among the close-to-90 children who benefited from the recent engagement, says she is happy for the programme in the community.
“This initiative, as well as the things that we were taught about how to be a positive impact in this world, is a good way to help [us], especially the younger ones, to learn new things and to have the mentality where [we] say that… I can be anything that I want to be,” says Ms. Salmon.
Another beneficiary, 10-year-old Joshua Bartley, credits the Mission for helping him and several other children within the community during the pandemic.
He points out that the tablets they received helped to alleviate the burden from parents, as many were unable to purchase the much-needed device for their children to attend online classes during the pandemic.
For her part, Dodian Bailey-Mitchell, a proud parent who has two children who benefited from the intervention of ‘Operation Change, Let the Children Come’, also had high praises for the Mission.
“It came two years ago and impacted our lives as a community tremendously… . I just want to say a big thank you, because a lot of the parents could not afford the tablets,” she says.
Ms. Bailey-Mitchell also credited the team for teaching the children about self-care and other topics she says her children would come home and discuss with her.