by Dyhann Buddoo-Fletcher
If you sat in the audience in the Portland Ball room at the Sunset Jamaica Grande in St. Ann, and listened for the first time to Heather-Dawn Small, addressing the hundreds of women from across Jamaica during their recently held Adventist Women’s Conference, you would not have known that such a strong high-spirited woman that depicted sheer elegance, joy, and grace was once silenced by clinical depression.
Heather-Dawn Small the Women’s Ministries Director of the Adventist World Church, said that it began 13 years ago after a series of spiraling difficult experiences. It was in Trinidad and Tobago, her homeland, while living with her husband Joseph who she is married to for 32 years that she was diagnosed.
Mrs. Heather Dawn Small
“Clinical depression is something that I struggle with. It's a chemical imbalance in my brain and before I was first diagnosed 13 years ago, I was even suicidal. As a result of my diagnosis, I take medication every day to help correct the imbalance."
“But”, the emphasis came with a pointed finger and a smile, “God is my strength and joy. It’s His grace that has kept me.”
While Small credits God, she also praises Him for the constant support of her husband and two adult children, her daughter Dalonne and a son Jerard.
"My wife lives a victorious life in Christ. She is an inspiration to me because of her strength and her commitment to her ministry and the women she serves. The road is not easy for her, but she takes it one day at a time. She loves to say, 'There is nothing God and I can't do’,” said Joseph who pastors a small Seventh-day Adventist Church in Washington D.C.
Mrs. Heather Dawn Small, Women's Ministries Director of the General Conference of seventh-day Adventists receives signatures for the ENDITNOW campaign on Sunday, October 30, 2011.
Heather further explains that depression comes in many forms, “For some of us it's a lifetime challenge. Sometimes it's situational or seasonal. Whatever the form, we all need help and I urge anyone with depression to get the medical help they need.”
As to the scepticisms surrounding mental illness, she discovered that even in the church, there is a huge problem dealing with mental health issues.
“As a matter of fact," Small says, "I just attended a global health conference at Loma Linda University in California with Adventist Church leaders and many representatives from 60 different countries. The reason for this conference was that, as a church we need to educate ourselves on this issue of mental illness, how we can help, and the correct way to respond to those with these problems. We find that many church members believe that for a Christian to be depressed it means that there is a spiritual problem. People tell you, ‘If you have depression you need to read your Bible more’ or ‘Maybe there is some sin in your life why this is happening to you.' But that's not true."
Mrs. Heather Dawn Small, Women's Ministries (second right) listens to Mrs. Judith Forbes (third left), Administrative Assistant at Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists during a handing over of books written by her to Mrs. Small at the JAMU headquarters on Monday, October 31, 2011. Looking on from left are: Ms. Princess Lawes, Bible School Coordinator of JAMU, Pastor Eric Nathan, Family Ministries Director at JAMU and Mrs. Loraine Vernal, Women's and Children's Ministries Director of JAMU.
Small continues, "We must be careful what we say to some who are depressed, for our careless words can cause them to spiral down even further to feelings of complete helplessness and possible suicide."
Having found her voice once again, Heather who was once school teacher could not be silenced. She proceeded to educate and testify of God’s goodness.
"Heather inspires me,” says Princess Lawes, Coordinator of the Bible Correspondence School and Resource Centre at Jamaica Union Conference.
“She is a warm, caring, joyful person. Despite her health challenges she is always cheerful. She is an excellent role model for women. God has called her for this special purpose and He is using her to give effective leadership to women throughout the world. We must keep her in our prayers."
In 2001 Heather Dawn Small was called to work at the highest level of the church, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Prior to this, she held the position of Children's and Women's Ministries Director for the Caribbean Union Conference located on the twin island republic of Trinidad and Tobago for five years.
“I am called to serve my sisters around the World Church,” she says.
From her office in Silver Spring, Maryland, USA., Small and her Associate, Raquel Arrais spearhead programmes such as: Touch a Heart, Tell the World, Scholarshipping Our Sisters, Women's Community Projects and many more. But more prominent is the "enditnow” campaign, recently launched in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
“The main goal for this campaign is to raise awareness and to educate the church and the community about the problem of violence against women and children,” she said.
As it relates to the magnitude of this problem, Small said, “The United Nations calls it a pandemic. That's just to tell you how severe this is. It is seen as a disease because so many women and children have died and continue to die globally.”
“The largest part of this particular issue is the domestic violence issue; the abuse issue. But in addition to that, you have a number of other issues such as female genital mutilation (FGM), early childhood marriages, dowry murders, honor killings, trafficking of women and children, forced prostitution, rape, that's a huge one. For example, in the United States rape is our second biggest issue after domestic violence. A woman is raped every 16 seconds in this country. And so that is one of the areas we are focusing on in this particular part of the World Church.”
While her ministry continues, Small is also working to complete her Masters degree in Leadership with an emphasis in Pastoral Care for Women.
“And when all is said and done, I would love to minister at the church level so that I can focus my ministry on the care of our women,” she said.
Small continues to live an abundantly fulfilled life. With her six foot frame, she once played goalkeeper on her high school netball team; but now she enjoys air travel, reading, embroidery, scrapbooking and stamp collecting. Her favourite word is ‘Joy’ and she vows never to let anyone steal her joy.