“We never dreamt where we were born and grew up, persons would be birth spiritually.” ~
Minister Eleanor Ferguson-Williams
By Hadassah Deleveaux (née Hall)
There’s a building through Woods Alley, off Market Street, which has become a safe haven for many youth in the over-the-hill area.
It’s a multi-purpose building, having replaced a structure once owned by Bishop Cephas Ferguson and his late wife, Clothilda. That structure was their dwelling place, until it was demolished to give way for the vision of their son, Pastor John Wesley Ferguson.
Pastor Ferguson is on a mission. Twenty five years ago, he was undoubtedly called by God to minister to the youth of the area and surrounding neighbourhoods.
“I went through the corner where I grew up and I saw so many young people wasting their time. A distinct voice came to me saying, ‘This is your harvest.’ I went home and wrestled with it, but it wouldn’t go away,” recalled Pastor Ferguson, who is also a minister in the Church of God of Prophecy and husband to Debbie Ferguson (née Goodman) of Tarpum Bay, Eleuthera.
In 1995, the Big Harvest Community Sunday School was born with 35 children, Pastor Ferguson, his family and a few volunteers. Today, there are over 500 children registered with the non-profit organization, with 80-100 attending every Sunday afternoon.
They are of different nationalities and come from various economic and social backgrounds to Woods Alley, formerly Choke Neck Alley.
“As you can appreciate, these pockets over the hill are where crime is manufactured. Criminal activity and poverty almost go hand in hand, but in the Woods Alley area, we don’t have all that criminal activity because of the transformative effects of the Sunday school,” said Pastor Ferguson, who is also a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police and a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Virginia.
The family man is also father to a son and daughter, has a granddaughter and a son-in-law.
Standing tall in this neighbourhood, the building is a place for the young and not so young to learn about God, conflict resolution, manners…life itself. The organization, for 25 years, has been seeding into the lives of whomever is willing to listen. Coaching and mentoring takes place within those walls, with the teachings of Christ as guide. The hope is the young people, in particular, would not become loyal to the streets around them. The hope is they would not be influenced by the underground way of life, instead becoming grounded, law-abiding citizens.
11-year-old Ludema Sira has been attending the Big Harvest Sunday School for the past four years. She is a soft-spoken girl, who lives on East Street and makes the trek to the centre with her eight-year-old brother, most Sundays.
“They teach me about God’s word. I learn about the Bible. I go to church on Sundays, but I come here too,” she said of the Sunday school, which meets between 3 pm and 6 pm.
“Some things I didn’t know about God, I’m learning, such as the Ten Commandments and the fruits of the spirit,” said Ludema.
The youngster added that she receives some necessary items as well. The community centre, which houses a mini computer lab and library, also serves as a food and clothing bank.
“They are great people. They give clothes, food, things that you need,” said Ludema.
Meanwhile, on Sunday past, Big Harvest held its 19th annual Sunday School Rally in the Alley and awards presentation.
Scores of people turned out in support, including Member of Parliament for Bain and Grants Town, Travis Robinson, former cabinet minister, the Honourable Brent Symonette, heads of neighbouring churches including Senior Pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy, East Street, Bishop Hulan Hanna and pastor of Mt. Olive Baptist Church, Meadow Street, Reverend C. B. Moss, among many other clergy.
Attending the service was Tyrone Miller, a supporter of what Pastor Ferguson is doing within the community.
“He teaches them how to be someone in life and about the Lord every lap. He does church anywhere. If he goes on the park or in the bush, he’ll grab somebody’s attention,” said the 33-year-old Martin Street resident, who attends Big Harvest every so often.
There are Sunday School classes for adults too – some whom are parents, accompanying their children. The adult classes are held outdoors, often attracting neighbouring passersby.
Further, each year, Pastor Ferguson recognizes dedicated Sunday and Sabbath School teachers; seven of them received the 2020 Conquering Lion Award: Vernelle Butler; Lay Minister, Kelsey O. Jones Sr.; Louella Eneas; Elder Alvin Collie; Sonia Marshall; Alphanette Grant and Rico Seymour. The Honourary Conquering Lion Award went to Angela J. Robinson, who resides in Miami, Florida.
They were nominated by their respective churches, having succeeded against odds and remained faithful in their contributions to the development of their local Sunday Schools, and by extension the community. In fact, one of the honourees was a Sabbath School teacher.
“Jesus was all inclusive and that is who I choose to pattern,” said Pastor Ferguson, adding that the faithful honourees show up and serve their respective Bible classes “whether it is rain or sunshine.”
Additionally, it was on the property where the building now sits where John and his eight siblings grew up.
His sister, Minister Eleanor Ferguson-Williams, spoke highly of her brother’s vision.
“He saw so many displaced children running through the corner. When he returned, he saw it again and then he heard a voice say, ‘This is your harvest.’ I call it prophetic,” stated the supportive sibling, who lives in Freeport, Grand Bahama, but returns each year to attend the event.
“We never dreamt where we were born and grew up, persons would be birth spiritually. There has been transformation in this area,” she concluded.