This year marks 20 years that five African-American churches in Peoria have been in a ministry partnership with 16 churches in the southeastern Caribbean. The five Peoria churches are Star of Hope Full Gospel Church, Heaven’s View Christian Fellowship Church, St. Paul Baptist Church, New Life Christian Church, and Greater City of Refuge Worship Cathedral. The name of the Peoria churches is GIPC- Group of Independent Peoria Churches. The Caribbean churches represent the Evangelical Church of the West Indies (ECWI) in Trinidad and Tobago.
The partnership began in 1997 when World Team Associates, which recruited short-term mission participants, responded to a request from an American missionary in Trinidad. Edith Johnson, a white woman, asked for a black woman from the United States to be the feature speaker for the 1998 ECWI Annual Ladies Retreat. The black woman recruited was Peorian Linda Butler who was a talk-show host on WPEO Christian Radio. After her first mission trip, she was encouraged by the mission organization to become a gatekeeper between African-Americans and southeastern Caribbean Christians. Since then Rev. Butler has become the U.S. Representative for the Peoria churches. She coordinates the exchange visits between the two groups.
Between 1998 and 2018, Butler returned to the Caribbean country with others from the Peoria churches. Fourteen teams, 36 persons have participated in ministry activities in Trinidad and Tobago. The mission trips have included outreach ministry and church development of church leadership. A total of 10 pastors and church leaders from ECWI have participated in ministry at the Peoria churches. Together ECWI and GIPC have met with Trinidad and Tobago government officials and with representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago to discuss community transformation ministry through housing, employment, education, and health care. Both church groups shared in the training and financial support of Trinidadian missionaries serving in South America.
In July a Peoria team traveled to Trinidad to honor and the partnership with ECWI. Their activities included a celebration event that featured ministry highlights over the years. The team met with church leadership regarding past and future ministry. Rev. Butler spoke at the National Women’s Rally. Rev. Deveraux Hubbard spoke at the dedication of the Valencia Evangelical Church facility addition. St. Paul Baptist Church participated in the four-year facility expansion, which was completed this year. It provides youth programs throughout the year. Previously youth activities mostly occurred during the island’s dry season. Rev. James Conyers provided music ministry at the dedication and celebration event. Others on the team were Kelly Motley and Tamara Butler. In honor of the Caribbean and American partnership, Mr. John McIntyre of the U.S. Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago attended the dedication service. He extended an invitation to ECWI to work along with him to address civil and social issues in the country.
Next year two of the GIPC pastors will attend an ECWI international conference. Church leaders from St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Grenadines, Barbados, and French Guyana will hear about the international partnership between the Peoria churches and Trinidad and Tobago. The Peoria churches are looking forward to ministry partnerships among those Caribbean churches.