Kamla: Baptist prayers saved my father

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. – File photo by Lincoln Holder

OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar said Baptist blessings had once saved her father from a grave illness and she thought the faith’s prayers could now save Trinidad and Tobago.

She was addressing the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist Day celebrations in Moruga on Saturday when she related how she had become a Baptist, as a child in a liberal Hindu family.

First she thanked Baptist elders for their tireless contribution to churches, communities, families and the nation, as “a beacon of hope and stability.”

Persad-Bissessar said she was baptised into the faith, “which is very important to me personally,” and that had changed her life for the better.

“My parents were Hindus, but very liberal, so we were taught to embrace all religions and ethnicities.

“When I was a little child, in 1961, living in Siparia, my late father, Lilraj Persad, became very ill.”

The public hospital did tests but could detect nothing wrong.

“He was bedridden at home, and possibly dying.” An aunt convinced him to attend the Spiritual Shouter Baptist Church in Quarry Village, she related.

“He went for many weeks to receive blessings and prayers, and he miraculously began to get better.

“So he decided to be baptised, along with his wife and children, in the Spiritual Shouter Baptist faith, and we began attending the church on Sundays.”

Persad-Bissessar recalled being baptised by an elder mother, in charge of the congregation, at Quinam Beach.

“As she ducked my head into the ocean, she announced that I was one of God’s children now, under His care and protection.

“And as my head emerged from the waters, Mother said to me, ‘From this day forward, child, you must put God in front and walk behind.’

“And all my life, I have put God in front and walked behind!”

Persad-Bissessar hoped Baptists would now pray for TT.

“But even as we stand here in joy today, I say our country desperately needs your powerful prayers.

“As you know, we are currently facing a destructive, unprecedented crime and violence wave that threatens our very survival as a nation.

“So today, I ask your great community to please say a special prayer for Trinidad and Tobago to overcome this darkness. Pray for us, as a nation, to triumph over evil as your fore-parents did, knowing that:

Weeping may endureth for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning, Psalm 30:5.”

Persad-Bissessar said she welcomed the 1951 repeal of the 1917 Shouters Prohibition Ordinance, but Baptists still faced some discrimination years later.

She fondly recalled the Basdeo Panday government granting March 30 as a Baptist holiday in 1996, when she was Attorney General.

“Back then, I was the only parliamentarian on both the PNM and UNC sides who would wear the beautiful garbs of this great faith.

“But it did not end there. Under that 1995-2000 UNC administration, under my tenure as Legal Affairs Minister and Education Minister, we passed the Miscellaneous Laws Act in 2000, which removed from the statute books several discriminatory laws that affected your freedom to practise your religion and culture.”

That government also did justice by passing the Orisha Marriage Act, recognising Orisha marriages.

Persad-Bissessar said the UNC government gave the Spiritual Shouter Baptists the deed for lands to erect a primary school, plus land for an African spiritual park.

She accused the 2002 PNM government of not honouring the UNC government’s promise to the Baptists.

“But my friends, when I became Prime Minister in 2010, I fulfilled that long-awaited promise. I built St Barbara’s Spiritual Baptist Shouter Primary School, the first of its kind in the world!

“And in 2014, we also built and then opened the Spiritual Baptist Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Centre on this sacred holiday.

“So UNC’s trailblazing policies have ensured that the Spiritual/Shouter Baptist community is now widely recognised and celebrated for their immense contributions to our nation’s cultural, social and religious development.”