Retirement is not something scary for Pastor Sydney Gibbons. Last week the 63-year-old stepped down as the leader of the Hamilton Seventh-day Adventist Church, after a 40-year career.
He is now gearing up to start a new chapter — in international evangelism.
“Retirement, for me, feels very freeing,” he said.
“Not in terms of being free from bondage or in a negative way, but freedom to focus on a path in ministry that is closest to my heart.
“As a pastor there are multiple roles you have to fulfil — from teaching and preaching, to administration, leadership and community service.
“Over the years, I have been able to identify my particular strengths, gifts and passions and now I will be able to put 80 per cent of my time into those areas of ministry.”
Mr Gibbons and his wife, Katherina, will move to Britain in April, where he plans to grow an online evangelism training platform called Lites.
A version of the programme has been taught live, to more than 100 people, through The Bermuda Conference of Seventh-day Adventists since 2013.
Lites aims to equip believers to be better evangelists, said Mr Gibbons.
Through video tutorials it discusses topics such as: how to get to know Christ as your own personal Saviour; how to be effective when it comes to sharing the Gospel; speaking God’s word or leading Bible studies with others, and the history of the church and how that informs the heritage of each institution.
Mr Gibbons got his start in ministry as a teenager.
He was working in construction, having just completed his studies at the Bermuda Technical Institute, and had a few friends who had rededicated their lives to Jesus. Because they wanted to grow their relationship with God, they started to meet each week for prayer and Bible study.
“During those meetings we asked God to tell us what He wanted us to do with our lives,” Mr Gibbons said.
“It was during one of those meetings I felt this overwhelming call to be a pastor.”
He started talking to people in leadership positions in the church. Doors eventually opened up for him as a junior elder.
“I took that as another sign,” he said. “It became a conviction and I settled in my mind, I’m going to apply for college and this is what I’m going to do. And from that time I just knew this was my path.”
His ministry has taken him to some unexpected places.
In 1992, he travelled with his wife and children, Meliseanna and Gianluca, on an international mission to Cameroon in Central Africa. The family lived there for six years.
“People were looking at us like, ‘What are you doing?’ Our families supported us, but they were also fearful about where we were ‘taking [their] babies’,” he said.
“The move proved to be the most valuable contribution to our development as a family and gave our children a world view that is rooted in service because they were able to mingle with people who looked for the blessings in life and were thankful for whatever they received.”
He continued: “Our lives and our children’s lives were shaped by cross-cultural missions. We learnt to speak French fluently and encountered God in new and deeper ways. We also adopted our second daughter, Mystere, who was one of my daughter’s friends from Cameroon.”
God had always spoken to him very clearly, Mr Gibbons said. Once he hears the call, he has to act. “It started with the call to ministry and then the call to missions and then the decision to teach at my alma mater, Northern Caribbean University in Jamaica,” he said.
“I also felt called to return to Bermuda in the early 2000s and felt led to start the school of evangelism. I wanted to make that a final contribution to my home in Bermuda, and now beyond.
“It begins with wanting to be intimate with God. He is a personal God and wants to give us a personal relationship with Him. We only need to accept that gift, which was made available to us when Jesus died on the cross, and discover its power and presence in our lives.”
Watch a tribute to Mr Gibbons at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3K-pSOFCZjE&feature=youtu.be