“I never promised God retirement,” says Pastor Derek Bignall, the longest serving worker of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica. He was recognized for 51 years of dedicated service to the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Jamaica up to 2016 during the “Year of the Adventist Worker” Recognition and Awards Ceremony for 2017 held recently at the Northern Caribbean University (NCU).
Bignall, through the years, has combined his jovial charm with music, stories and comedy grounded in a solid Biblical base to win hundreds of souls to Christ.
During his more than half a century of work for the Church, he has served as educator, district pastor, Conference director and president and secretary, and president of the former West Indies Union Conference (WIU) now Jamaica Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (JAMU).
Raised in the Adventist Church, he was deeply influenced in his youth by Pastor Arthur H. Hunter. Hunter impressed Bignall so much that he felt pastoral ministry would be a good use of his own life.
After two years teaching at the Adventist School in Buff Bay, he enrolled at West Indies College (now NCU) in 1970 to study Education and Theology.
“My mother told me I should be a teacher but in my soul I wanted to do theology. When I came to college I said ‘God, I will study both and may the one that I do better in be the one’. I got better grades in Greek than I got in Spanish. I did better in all my Theology courses,” he says.
Fresh out of seminary, he was asked to teach at the Portland High School. One year later he interned as pastor at the North Street Adventist Church and after six months, he was called to pastor a district of seven churches in Yallahs, St. Thomas.
Bignall has gone back and forth between serving as district pastor and as administrator at the conference and union levels. Regardless of his post, he retains the personal touch.
“I love my (district) church(es). When you reside where the people are, you can really minister to them,” he says.
He especially enjoyed church camps which is where he met his wife Yvonne. The union produced one daughter, Shelli-Gaye, which meant he had to create balance between ministry, family and a personal devotional life.
“The pastor must be honest and give the required hours per week. But the pastor’s time is flexible and sometimes when my wife who worked in sales had to travel out-of-parish, I took that day as my day off and I’d go with her. I schedule time for God and family. It doesn’t come by wishing,” he says.
Currently in his 53rd year of service to his beloved Church, he now serves as Assistant Professor in the School of Religion and Theology at NCU and enjoys helping his students understand the gospel.
“When a student says ‘Sir, I’m going to be baptized and I got this conviction in your class’, it’s one of the sweetest feelings,” he says.
Bignall wants to complete his PhD degree before he retires. After retirement, he hopes to continue documenting the church’s history and reigniting a love for the Bible in a generation where nothing seems sacred.