CARTERSVILLE — Saint Vincent and Union Island of the Grenadines in the Windward Islands have been one of the primary targets of Tabernacle Baptist Church’s mission efforts for almost a decade. In July, 31 members from Tabernacle and First Baptist Cartersville made the trek to these Caribbean islands for the purpose of bolstering the work they initiated years ago.
Making the connecting flights from Atlanta to Miami to the Port of Spain, Trinidad to Kingstown, St. Vincent is generally a challenge, but the trip this summer was particularly daunting for Tabernacle’s pastor, Don Hattaway, and his 16-year-old son, Daniel.
Checkpoint, and a discovery
The journey progressed fairly much according to schedule until the mission team arrived in Trinidad. Hattaway, also the president for our Georgia Baptist Convention, was to preach at a church at their mission outpost on Sunday morning, but the plane that was to transport him and the rest of the team on the last flight of the trip was cancelled on Saturday. They also discovered that there were no flights scheduled for Sunday.
Weary and somewhat frustrated that circumstances were preventing them from fulfilling their mission, the team patiently waited for the Monday morning flight. When Daniel proceeded to pass through the security checkpoint to get on the flight to St. Vincent, he was stopped. His backpack was searched and the transportation security agent found 22 empty bullet shells in his bag.
Daniel had already passed through several airport security checkpoints during the course of the trip without incident. He had placed the shells in his bag after practicing his marksmanship at a shooting range weeks earlier and had forgotten they were still there.
However, the airport security officials regarded the empty shells as weapons. For three hours Daniel was interrogated. He was then taken to a police station where he was booked and fingerprinted.
The elder Hattaway called the U.S. embassy and was told that the best course of action would be for Daniel to plead guilty and pay whatever fine was assessed.
Shortly thereafter, Daniel was transported to yet another police station where his photo was taken with him holding up an identification card. Then they took him to a juvenile section where his father was not permitted to go.
‘What are we doing here?’
The concerned father and pastor then stated, “It was during this time of extreme duress that I received a text from Wayne Bray (pastor of Beulah Baptist Church in Douglasville). The text message simply stated that God had somehow directed Wayne to pray for us at that particular time.”
In the midst of a whirlwind of activity Don thought, “What are we doing here? I thought of Daniel in the lion’s den and Joseph and his trials in the land of Egypt. I tried to witness, but I couldn’t concentrate. All kinds of legal issues had been thrown at us.”
After what seemed an eternity Daniel was taken to a courtroom to appear before a judge. At this point his father was permitted to stand with him. The judge asked, “This is a serious matter and could lead to a nine-year jail sentence. Where is your attorney?”
The Hattaways acknowledged that they had no attorney. The judge looked toward a woman who sat nearby and asked her if she would provide counsel for the defendant. It just so happened that the woman was Pennelope Beckles, one of the most prestigious attorneys in Trinidad. She gathered the necessary information from Don and Daniel and agreed to speak to the judge on their behalf.
The GBC president explained, “The attorney represented Daniel well and recommended that the judge fine him and set him free. When the judge questioned Daniel, his answers were sound and appropriate. I was proud of him.
“The judge set the fine at 10,000 TTD, the Trinidad and Tobago dollar that would be the equivalent to $1,500. He also stated that Daniel would have to be incarcerated overnight until the currency exchange could be completed.”
Pleading, then a turn
The attorney, knowing the corruption of the juvenile incarceration system, pled with the judge to suspend that part of the sentence. Don even offered to be jailed in place of his son. The judge agreed that Daniel would not have to spend the night in jail if someone would permit him to spend the night in his/her home. At that point Don asked the attorney if she would allow Daniel to spend the night in her home.
Lawrence Williams, the airport security officer who found the shells in Daniel’s bag, was in the courtroom. Kim Flanders, a lady who was an airport customs agent, was also present and spoke up in Daniel’s defense. With tears of compassion in her eyes she volunteered to allow Daniel to stay in her home for the night.
Then, in a strange and providential turn of events the judge released Daniel. His dad euphorically commented, “Just when it looked like we were on the brink of disaster, the situation turned and we were delivered. We got to the airport in time for the 7:20 p.m. flight to St. Vincent; and true to tradition the plane was two hours late in departing, but we made it.”
‘Is it worth it?’
“The next morning we traveled on a small plane to Union Island to fulfill our mission. After our work was completed, we boarded a catamaran for a 4-hour boat ride back to St. Vincent on a very turbulent sea and I found myself asking, ‘Is it worth it?’ After all, we spent five days in transition going to and from our mission post.
“It was then that I realized that I was asking the wrong question. The correct questions were, ‘Is Jesus Lord?’ and ‘Am I going to be obedient?’”
Those two questions need to be asked by every Christian every day.