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WHEN Pastor Linton Bailey relocated to Port Antonio with his wife and four children three years ago, he immediately started looking at the needs of the people and ways in which he could help to improve their lives.

"My wife and I looked at how we could impact life [and] how we could touch lives in the community," he said. "One of the things that we looked at was evening classes and outreach programmes and other programmes that we intend to start in the coming year."

As pastor of the Port Antonio and the Norwich Church of God in Jamaica, Bailey partnered with several individuals and agencies to start these projects which he says have been successful so far. The evening classes especially are highly sought after, as residents seek to improve themselves academically.

"The persons do the classes here free of cost and then they pay for their CXC (Caribbean Examinations Council) examinations at another institution," explained the pastor.

The evening classes are held at both churches on weekdays and on Saturdays, and are taught by a group of young professionals in the parish who have volunteered their time to prepare the students for their exams. Apart from Mathematics and English, students also get the opportunity to receive tutorials in Human and Social Biology and also Social Studies.

The Norwich church alone currently has over 100 students enrolled for English and 98 students for Mathematics. It was after seeing this demand that Bailey introduced the evening classes at his Port Antonio Church in September 2010.

Fifty-one-year-old Perline Peters, credits the grade one level pass she received in CXC English this year, to the dedication of the teachers who taught her at the church in Norwich.

"To be honest with you, I went to the classes for fun," she told the Sunday Observer.

The Port Antonio resident said a friend had encouraged her to attend and she did so after leaving work at 5 o'clock in the evenings. Despite attending the classes faithfully, she was not expecting such a good result.

"When I got the result, all I could shout was 'to God be the glory'," Peters shared.

She lauds the efforts of the church in offering the classes free of cost and has since been encouraging other persons to make use of the opportunity. Currently she is attending the Human and Social Biology classes and plans to pursue Mathematics although she admits that she is afraid to do so.

"It's a very very good venture," said Peters. "It gives young people and people like myself a chance to go back to school, because when you check it out, most places are charging you over $3,000 to learn a subject and they are doing it free."

Peters said she was particularly pleased with the commitment of her tutors who up to the last week of Christmas were still having classes.

"Believe me, I cannot pay them back, but they deserve more than a medal," she said.

Seeing the benefits of a good education, pastor Bailey is currently looking at ways to improve the offerings at the George Cohen Basic School which is located next to the Port Antonio Church of God. He has started formalising plans to have a computer lab set up at the school to benefit the over 90 students enrolled there. He believes adding Information Technology to the school's curriculum would help them to maintain its good standing at the highest ranked school in the parish for the last three years.

But apart from education, the church also believes in improving the lives of the less fortunate. In December, members from both churches conducted a survey in their immediate areas to ascertain the needs of residents. Following this, the church packed and distributed packages containing groceries and toiletries to these individiduals.

"We had some clothing as well, it wasn't that much, but what we had was a blessing, it went like hot bread. There was a need mostly for children's clothing," explained Bailey's wife Marilyn.

This project saw the Member of Parliament for Eastern Portland, Dr Donald Rhodd and several other individuals and agencies coming together to fund the endeavour. Bailey hopes to partner with the police in the parish to bring about the next project geared towards persons between five -15 years old. He wants to see more interaction between these children and members of the security forces, who he believes can positively influence them.

"I am looking at them (children) and say, if we can start to mold them from a tender age, help them through the police to do some early detection and try to help these young people, then we will see a better environment around," he pointed out, while adding that he has already written to the superintendent in the parish.

The pastor said that churches have been making an effort to develop the parish and fortunately persons who have seen the work they have been doing continue to donate to the ministry. His churches also host concerts to raise funds and members who have migrated also donate money to assist the cause.

"Persons sometimes just see the church as preaching on a Sunday morning and teaching the word, but persons need to see that the church doesn't only preach and teach, but we look at the whole man," said the pastor. "We take a holistic approach where we want to care for the whole aspect of the man, your physical need [and] your spiritual need."

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