Jamaica’s beautiful beaches attract teenagers and young people every year in March and April for spring break. During this week-long break from high school or college classes, thousands flock to sunny beaches to party, drink and – all too often – engage in risky, promiscuous behavior.
In response to this trend, Darren Brown saw opportunities for youth to be involved in ministry during spring break, even while enjoying high energy, fun activities, beautiful scenery and tourist attractions. He was inspired to reach out to these youth by Dr. Doug McCloy, a Nazarene who used to come to Negril for spring break himself.
In coordination with Burnt Savannah Church of the Nazarene, in Westmoreland, Brown founded Elasha Ministries and launched its first day-long spring break event in March 2009.
Encouraged by the first event’s success, Elasha Ministries (which means Doings of God) staged a weekend event last year in Negril which blossomed into this year’s week-long event called Elasha Spring Fest. The festival involved students from Jamaica, the United States, Guyana, Barbados and the Bahamas.
Activities included a service project of painting and maintenance of institutions, as well as witnessing in the town, a beach gospel party, a youth extravaganza and a grand gospel concert with international and local gospel artists to close out the week.
Brown and Mcloy make a point to provide opportunities for young people to express themselves artistically during the festival.
“Christian youths need a channel to express their faith through the arts as most of the times, due to the proliferation of secular activities, there is nothing really exciting and grounding to encourage youths to remain focused on Christ,” said Brown, who serves as Elasha Ministries president and director. “Hence, I am convinced that youths ought to be given the opportunity to express their God-given talent in a wholesome environment…”
Opportunities for artistic expression include a youth talent show, a Karaoke competition and the gospel concert.
A festival highlight was the service project at the Sav-la-mar Infirmary, which is the home of almost 100 indigent and homeless people. The youth painted buildings and conducted maintenance. They also fed the clients and a number of street people.
“I was so moved when, after much dialogue with one of the elderly, [a] lady says ‘Thank you, my daughter. I have never experience this care in my life,’” said Kristal Morgan, a student at the University of West Indies, Kingston Jamaica. “God reminded me in that moment through his word ‘He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.’” (Proverbs 19:17)
The week’s activities closed with the Grand Gospel Concert, including youth from Trevecca Nazarene University, in the United States, local and overseas gospel singers and worship leaders. It attracted hundreds of participants.
“It has been great to see the growth and the development of the program over the year and is an exciting opportunity for college kids to serve,” said Seth Thompson, a resident director at Trevecca. Thompson has attended the festival two years in a row. “I truly experienced God in new ways, as I ministered and worshiped with the Jamaican people. I look forward to many more years of attending and being a part of the Elasha Spring Fest experience.”
Every year, youth have accepted Christ for the first time, or recommitted their lives to Him during the festival, Brown said. Those counseling the new believers collect their contact information for follow-up, and encourage them to attend a nearby Nazarene or other Christian church.
The Jamaica Tourist Board lists the ministry in its public calendar of spring break events.
“The ministry has evolved from just a Nazarene predominantly-based [ministry] as there has been tremendous response from other youths from varying denominations,” such as Youth for Christ, Brown said.
An accountant by vocation, Brown is a musician at Richmond Park Church of the Nazarene, and works with youth, including directing Nazarene Youth International (NYI) camps in Jamaica.