A senior pastor within the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands (UCJCI) has disclosed that at least two students at the Oberlin High School were baptised and 12 others went to church the first weekend following a spiritual encounter at the St. Andrew-based institution.
The pastor of the Shortwood United Church, Rev. Sylvan Hinds, was one of several persons who volunteered to visit the institution to offer support at the request of the UCJCI, which started the school in 1946. The pastor disclosed during a virtual forum, organised by Choose Life International (CLI) on Sunday, November 6, that he went to the school the Tuesday following the “bizarre” encounter which occurred on Wednesday, October 26 during a general devotion at the school.
“When I went up there, the first persons that I wanted to speak to were the teacher and a student, who they said triggered the event, because I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth,” he recounted.
It is understood that the teacher who was leading devotions shared a message with the students. She was later joined on the platform by a student, who also shared a message from the Lord.
“First of all, she [the teacher] said she didn’t go up to do the devotion, expecting what happened to happen. She said her message wasn’t anything new or strange, because [it is] the usual message they have given to the students. She spoke about the fact that they should cut out the conflicts, the bad word cursing, the drug use, the fighting, and all of that that is happening at the school. Then she told them that God is not pleased and they need to repent, then [she] spoke in tongues.”
Rev. Hinds said the guidance counsellor and others who were present at the devotion confirmed that the teacher only challenged the students about their behaviour in the message delivered to them. At least one other pastor from the UCJCI was present as the senior pastor recounted the series of events.
“The student, now when we spoke to her, said that while the teacher was talking, she felt the presence of the Lord. She began to shout and she began to share a message. They took her up to the platform. She said she didn’t speak in tongues. One of the things we were hearing is that she spoke in tongues also, but she said she didn’t speak in tongues, she knows she spoke in English. She said she didn’t remember exactly what she said.”
According to 1 Corinthians 14:27- 28, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two or at most three, should speak in turn, and someone must interpret. But if there is no interpreter, he should remain silent in the church and speak only to himself and God.”
The student, who is a Christian was then taken to the nurse’s quarters, and while there, she reportedly saw other students with “demonic characteristics”. Rev. Hinds was told that “some were slithering like snakes.”
A voice came out of one of the students, threatening the female student whose name and grade were not disclosed during the public forum, which was moderated by Dr. Daniel Thomas, president of the Love March Movement, a youth Christian NGO.
According to the account given by Rev. Hinds, “The Lord told her to speak into the ears of the student, ‘I love you’. She said when she did that, the student came back to herself.”
Rev. Hinds, in describing her as a “wonderful student” based on his interactions with her, reported that the student is from the Church of God denomination. She shared that she usually goes outside whenever there are such spiritual encounters at her church because she is afraid.
“She said that particular day when the thing happened, she had completely no fear,” the UCJCI pastor remarked.
He said a teacher has since disclosed to him that two of the students got baptised and 12 others attended church on the Sunday immediately following the encounter. Of those students he counseled, two of their parents said they were backsliders, while two others said they did not normally attend church.
The situation at Oberlin High was brought to national attention after several reports were given and videos started circulating that students at the co-ed institution were fainting and having seizures during the general devotion. Some bloggers, hoping to capitalise on the interest of the public, insinuated that students had died during the encounter. There have been no official reports of such from the Jamaica Constabulary Force, the Education Ministry, or officials at the school.
The matter has also re-ignited calls for devotions to be taken out of schools and elicited a statement from Education Minister Fayval Williams that protocols for devotions were being explored. She has since advised administrators of the Oberlin High School to restrict devotions to the classroom for this school term.
“While we encourage devotion in school, our school leaders have a responsibility to exercise caution as to content and likely impact on students as evidenced by the reaction of students at Oberlin High School this morning,” Williams said in a statement to the media the same day of the incident.
Some have questioned the minister’s speedy attention to the issue of devotion in schools, given the myriad of challenges plaguing the education sector, including the spate of violence in public schools that have resulted in the deaths of students, as well as the discontent among teachers which has resulted in the mass migration of several seasoned educators in recent times. The Jamaica Teachers’ Association and the newly formed Association of Christian Communicators and Media (ACCM) were among those cautioning Williams.
“The ACCM firmly asserts that the role of the Church as moral and spiritual guide, Godly presence, and peacekeeper must not be dismantled, diminished, or dismissed. Despite our penchant for violence and disorder, Jamaicans, at the heart, are a God-fearing and peace-loving people and the Church must be at the forefront of this battle for the soul of our country”, the ACCM quickly countered.
Freedom Come Rain Online has since been informed of similar encounters at other public institutions following the Oberlin High experience. Administrators have however quickly implemented measures to ensure they do not come to the public’s attention. This includes warning students against speaking about their encounter.
Rev. Hinds said the UCJCI continues to roster pastors to visit Oberlin High to offer support. Several students were traumatised following the encounter, resulting in a low turnout at the institution up to two days following the general devotion. Of the 1700 students currently enrolled, only 70 attended classes on the Thursday, and 90 the Friday. By Monday, attendance had improved a little, after 1200 students showed up for classes.
“My summary of the whole situation is that it was three-fold. There was certainly a move of the [Holy] Spirit; it caused a counter move of the demonic forces and for sure, there was the psychological and emotional, the anxiety and the panic attacks,” concluded Rev. Hinds.