A Burden for the Backslidden
The U.S. Caribbean Fellowship of the Assemblies of God, now in its sixth year, includes churches with origins in Jamaica, Haiti, Belize, Cuba, and Trinidad and Tobago.
But most of the participant congregations, as well as leaders, are from Guyana. John E. Cummings is in his second year as president and succeeded Samlall Ramphal, who directed the fellowship originally. Many of the ethnic group’s churches are in the New York City area, which has attracted a sizable influx of Caribbean immigrants, including Guyanese. Most of the congregants in Caribbean Fellowship churches became Pentecostals before moving to the U.S.
Cummings is no exception. He first visited the U.S. in 1975 for an evangelism convention he considers life-changing. At the time, he pastored a church in Guyana plus worked as an itinerant evangelist throughout the Caribbean. However, a visit to New York, engaging with fellow Guyanese, proved troubling.
“I met a lot of people in New York who became sidetracked going after the American dream,” Cummings says. “I went to the Lord and lamented, This is not right. The Lord urged me to do something about it.”
Even though he pastored a church with 400 adherents in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital, Cummings felt called to relocate to the Big Apple to reach those Guyanese who had lost their way.
“The burden became heavy to begin a church to reach backslidden brothers and sisters and their unsaved relatives,” Cummings says.
Cummings, 74, started Restoration Temple in the living room of his mother’s Brooklyn home in 1988. The church now consumes two-thirds of a block, with all the property paid off. Adherents come from 10 mostly Caribbean nations, such as St. Lucia, Barbados, and Jamaica. Many are professionals: physicians, schoolteachers, government workers, entrepreneurs.
Lately, Restoration Temple is focusing on the importance of children’s ministry.
“We want to emphasize the church of tomorrow,” Cummings says. “We don’t want to become a museum.”
For the Caribbean Fellowship, Cummings would like to see membership expand beyond its current Guyanese dominance.
“We don’t want to be identified as just one nation,” Cummings says. “We want to be a reflection of the U.S. — for all people.”
The senior assistant pastor at Restoration Temple, Cecil Moonsam, likewise came to the U.S. in 1988 from Georgetown. In 1973, at the age of 16, Moonsam accepted the Lord as Savior under Cummings’s ministry. Later, Moonsam’s daughter Esther married Cummings’s son Shaun. Esther is now involved in youth ministry with Shaun, who is a music minster and worship leader.
Moonsam is vice president of the U.S. Caribbean Fellowship of the Assemblies of God. He also is a U.S. Missions volunteer Critical Incident Ministries endorsed chaplain, ministering primarily to law enforcement officers with the New York Police Department, as well as to firefighters. He also is a New York Ministry Network sectional presbyter.
A key goal of the Caribbean Fellowship, Moonsam says, is planting churches and discipling immigrant pastors. Like Cummings, Moonsam is concerned about Guyanese Christians moving to America and allowing their faith to dissipate.
“One of our primary functions is to see that pastors maintain the passion they brought with them,” says Moonsam. “We want to provide spiritual guidance and mentoring, to come alongside immigrants and help them adjust to life in America.” That includes building bridges with the overall U.S. Assemblies of God.
“We don’t want them to feel alone,” Moonsam says.
Like Cummings, Moonsam, 64, sees the importance of discipling and mentoring youth.
“As we get older, we want to see younger folks take up the mantle of ministry leadership,” Moonsam says. “We want to pass the baton so they can run with it.”
Photo: Longtime friends John Cummings (left) and Cecil Moonsam lead the Caribbean Fellowship.