From obscurity to prominence: The story of the full gospel fellowship
By Winston McGowan
March 4, 2004
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Next month marks the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of the Full Gospel Fellowship of Churches in Guyana. From very obscure inauspicious beginnings in April 1964 in an old rented house at the corner of Waterloo and Murray (since renamed Quamina) streets in Georgetown, the Fellowship has developed into one of the leading Christian denominations in Guyana today. Now a national organisation, the Fellowship presently consists of about 150 churches located in all ten administrative regions of our country and served by over 200 ministers.
After forty years it continues to pursue vigorously the objectives outlined in its Mission Statement which asserts that "The Full Gospel Fellowship is an Apostolic Ministry Consisting of Apostolic Teams and Churches, pioneering and establishing autonomous local churches in the towns and villages of Guyana in particular, the other Guianas, the Caribbean and other nations. Such churches should be in strategic areas and function as Models and Bases to express Kingdom of God Concerns. The Apostolic Teams and Churches will train, develop and release ministries, resources and services in the communities and nations."
The birth of the Fellowship was due largely to the vision, initiative, and faith of Philip Mohabir, one of the unsung heroes of Guyanese church history. Born and brought up in the village of Enterprise on the East Coast of Demerara, Mohabir was converted to Christ as a teenager in 1952 as a result of reading the gospel of Mark in secondary school.
This important experience resulted in a remarkable change in the nature and direction of his life while still a teenager. As the inside cover of his most recent book, Hands of Jesus states: "In a personal encounter with Jesus he heard a distinct call to be a missionary. In obedience to that call he arrived in the United Kingdom in 1956 totally trusting the Lord to meet all his needs."
According to Mohabir, on two occasions while he was abroad, in December 1956 and 1963, he received a vision from God directing him to return to what was then British Guiana to do pioneer evangelism and church planting in eleven specific areas. These areas were Skeldon in the upper Corentyne, Rosehall in the Lower Corentyne, New Amsterdam, Buxton, Georgetown, Leonora/Anna Catherina, Vergenoegen/ Parika, Bartica, Mabaruma, Moruka and some unidentified villages on the East Bank of Demerara. He understood that these would be the strategic places where the work which he was being directed to undertake would be established, serving also as bases for its expansion.
Philip Mohabir returned to his homeland in April 1964 to fulfil this vision. With him were his wife, Muriel, a Jamaican trainee nurse of African descent whom he had met and married in London in 1958, their three young children and two friends, a white English couple, Bryn and Edna Jones.
With such limited human resources and virtually no finances, the task seemed impossible. Surprisingly, however, this small, apparently ill-equipped team, was able to pioneer what today is the Full Gospel Fellowship, the name under which the organisation was incorporated under the laws of Guyana in 1968.
The leaders of the fellowship attribute its remarkable success, above all, to two factors which sceptics will find difficult to understand and appreciate, namely, divine purpose and providence. They also acknowledge the importance of several other factors, two of which will be mentioned in this article.
One of them is the genuinely multi-ethnic character of the Fellowship throughout its history. This was particularly critical in its early years when the country was torn by ethnic friction and violence. The unity and love demonstrated especially by Indian and African ministers and church members, and visibly exemplified in the life of Philip and Muriel Mohabir, enabled the early pioneers to gain considerable respect and influence in a country where people needed reconciliation both to God and each other.
This factor is emphasised by Philip Mohabir in his instructive autobiography, entitled Building Bridges. He observes: "The remarkable thing about this band of people who worked together in Guyana, a country torn at the time by inter-racial feuds, is how mixed we were, both in race, culture and social class. People of African and Indian descent working together in love and harmony in Guyana in the early nineteen sixties and onwards - truly it was a miracle only God could have achieved."
The second factor which has contributed immensely to the Fellowship's progress is its full-time residential missionary training programme, conducted initially at Stanleytown on the West Bank of Demarara, but since 1975 at Hauraruni on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway. This programme a rare feature among Christian denominations in Guyana, has provided a steady flow of trained personnel to maintain and expand the work of the Fellowship, in spite of the high incidence of outward migration witnessed in recent decades.
The Fellowship's most important single activity each year is what it calls a "Ministers and Leaders' Conference." Held for many years in the somewhat remote location of Hauraruni, the event this year will be staged in Georgetown at the National Cultural Centre from Tuesday, March 9 to Thursday, March 11.
The morning sessions of the conference, which begins at 9:30, will be restricted to ministers and local church leaders, while the evening sessions, which start at 18:30 hours and to which admission is free, are open to the public. A team of able local and foreign speakers will address the Conference's pertinent theme, "The Guyanese Church and Nation - The Way Forward."
One of the main sessions of the conference will be its official opening next Tuesday evening, to which many of the country's political and civic leaders and other important personalities have been invited. At that session the Fellowship's current leader and superintendent, Elsworth Williams, will deliver the keynote address on the subject "The Guyanese Nation -The Way Forward: A Christian Perspective."
Like the main founder of the Fellowship, Philip Mohabir, Williams, the Fellowship's chief apostle, has had a remarkable life. Brought up in the deprived area of Albouystown in southern Georgetown, he was converted to Christ in his youth.
After serving in the police force for a few years, he felt a call to the Christian ministry. He has been instrumental in the establishment or development of two of the Fellowship's largest and most vibrant churches, one in Plaisance and the other in Cooper Street in Albouystown, where he presently serves as Senior Pastor in addition to his other important functions.
Like the other leaders and members of the Full Gospel Fellowship, Rev Williams is humbled by the progress the work has experienced over the past forty years.
He acknowledges that it is ultimately due to God's sovereignty and grace that the Fellowship, an indigenous body, has been able to move from obscurity to a position of greater influence.