Four hundred students from six secondary schools and six correctional facilities in St. Lucia recently completed the church-run STOP ‘n’ THINK crime reduction program on April 22, 2023.
STOP ‘n’ THINK is the Adventist Church’s response to assisting the St. Lucia government in addressing the growing crime rate on the island, church leaders said. The three-month program was designed to educate and sensitize individuals, especially young people, about the consequences of their actions and the impact of crime on society.
After a series of homicides occurred in the town of Vieux Fort, in the southern part of the island, in March, the government implemented round-the-clock police patrols in response to seven gun-related murders. The goal was to engage civil society and business leaders in brainstorming possible solutions to the problem, even as neighboring islands called for peace on the island, explained Dr. Neals Chitan, an international social skills consultant and crime reduction specialist for the church-run program.
Joachim Henry, Minister of Equity, Social Justice and Empowerment, had called on members of the faith community in 2022 to “get off their pews and get involved” in social transformation of their island nation, considering the steep rise in homicides. In 2021, St. Lucia registered 74 murders, a record at the time. The increase in 2022 to 76 murders meant the country had broken its homicide record for a second consecutive year.
“We had to do something to support our communities,” said Caius Alfred, Family Ministries director for the St. Lucia Mission. “Realizing the state of crime in our community, President Roger Stephen requested that we as a church respond in supporting the state in addressing the crime situation on the island. The church is not only concerned about the salvation of individuals but in the holistic development of every human being, and as far as possible, we partner with non-governmental organizations and the government to help make a difference.”
According to Dr. Chitan, the intervention program targeted most of the communities deemed unsafe due to gang violence and crimes, including addressing the root causes of crime—poverty, lack of education, and unemployment—and focused on promoting positive behavior, building self-esteem, and providing job training and placement opportunities.
“We unlock strategies to help individuals, families, and communities to deal with a number of behavioral issues and criminal tendencies,” said Chitan. There is a grave danger that the occurrences may become accepted as the norm, he explained. “There is insufficient outcry in our communities, and there appears to be even amusement at times in social media by some misguided individuals.”
The initiative provided a safe, supportive environment for participants to engage in educational, recreational, and social activities, which helped to keep them away from crime and violence, said Dr. Chitan.
Additionally, the church partnered with other community organizations, law enforcement agencies, and the government to provide a holistic approach to crime prevention.
According to organizers, the program consisted of high-impact, heart-gripping social skills sessions designed to drastically reduce the rate of crime and violence, truancy, disrespectful confrontations, revenge, and other social dysfunctions in communities targeted.
One of the male participants, Dwane, attested to a life-transforming journey at the sessions. “Little did I know that my life was about to be changed,” he said. “After 30 minutes sitting in the session, I had to make a decision to change my life or continue down the old path. If people will take the gift that Dr. Chitan is giving, I am 100 percent sure that all types of crime will be significantly reduced.” Before the sessions ended, Dwane said his outlook was different and his grades had picked up again.
Dr. Chitan said the goal is to form a “STOP ‘n’ THINK” club that will provide ongoing support for vulnerable, at-risk youth.
There are nearly 15,000 Seventh-day Adventists worshiping in 44 churches and congregations in St. Lucia. The church operates a radio station, three primary schools, and one secondary school.
To learn more about the Adventist Church in St. Lucia, visit stluciaadventist.org.