Rev. Dr. Jasmin Sculark

In Laventille, Trinidad, dreams are hard to come by. For its residents, the beauty of the Caribbean Sea just beyond them and the towering edifices of the nearby capital of Port-of-Spain belie their hardscrabble existence in the hillside ghetto that is rife with poverty, crime and gang warfare. In this place, where life is an often-wasted commodity and hope has long fled, dreams are but wishes for survival or escape.

That is why the Rev. Dr. Jasmin Sculark, who grew up in the beleaguered Laventille, remains amazed at her induction, this week, as senior pastor of the Jericho City of Praise, a megachurch in Landover, Md.

“Coming from Laventille – a poor neighborhood, a devastated neighborhood, a dangerous neighborhood – you had dreams but not dreams this size,” Sculark told the AFRO.

But then the appointment is just another example of the miraculous work of God in her life, said the senior pastor-elect, whose national reputation as a pint-sized preaching powerhouse has earned her the moniker, “Daughter of Thunder.”

“This new position in ministry means a number of things. No. 1, it lets me know that God is faithful to who He is. It’s God doing what God promised he would do, even before the foundation of the world,” said Sculark, also affectionately known as “Dr. Jazz.” “This new position also means that there is a shifting of what God is doing, that this is the season of the underdog. For me to leave from Trinidad and land at Jericho just tells the nation and people who read this article that God is taking the least of these and putting them in mega places, in mega platforms, in megachurches so God can get a mega glory.”

By any worldly definition, Dr. Jazz is an underdog. Bereft of both parents—her mother died at an early age and she never knew her father—Sculark said she grew up in a “dysfunctional” family, in which an older sister was the only bulwark between her siblings and the mayhem and bloodshed of the streets.

And even there, God found her. When an Open Bible church bravely ventured into Laventille—the only one to do so that Sculark can recall—to host a crusade, she immediately gave her life to Christ.

“Once I heard the gospel that Jesus loves me, I did not even hesitate,” Dr. Jazz said. “I gave my life to Christ because I wanted to hear some kind of good news. And the moment I did that, I wouldn’t tell you that a million dollars fell , I wouldn’t tell you that everything became perfect, but what I would tell you is that I had this unbelievable peace, this assurance on the inside. And, I knew there was nothing that I could not do.”

Shortly after, Sculark decided to devote her life to ministry. In another-dream-come-true, she immigrated to the United States, working in a factory, where she affixed labels to suits she could not afford, while going to school. A graduate of the Practical Bible College in Vestal, N.Y., and the Washington Bible College in Lanham, Md., she was licensed to preach Feb. 4, 1992, at the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

She also received a master’s in theological studies from the Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, and a doctoral degree in ministry from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Along her ministerial journey, Sculark said, God always sent the right people at the right time.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Booth, for example has been her “father in ministry,” and the person she still consults on matters related to preaching. Pastor John K. Jenkins, of First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Prince George’s County, Md., also has been a mentor for her, particularly on matters related to pastoring, during her 11 years as senior pastor of the Shiloh Baptist Church in York, Pa. And, just last year, God connected her with the renowned megachurch pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes, likely in preparation for her move to Jericho, Dr. Jazz said.

Faced with this new assignment, however, Sculark said she identifies with Saul, in the Old Testament, who went hiding when it was time to crown him king of Israel.

“You better have some fears, if you don’t have any you must be crazy,” she said. “It’s a mountain of an assignment, a mountain of a challenge the fear is I know my own inadequacies, I know my own limitations and my own struggles. But the one thing I’m assured about is that God is faithful, and if God calls you, He is going to do it.”

Among the challenges Sculark faces is an ongoing schism and legal battle for control of Jericho’s multimillion campus that erupted after the death of Apostle Betty Peebles, Jericho’s co-founder, in October 2010. Now-Bishop Joel R. Peebles, son of the founders, expected to inherit leadership, but was ousted by the church’s board of directors, who claimed they were acting on Apostle Peebles’ bedside wishes. Since then, the congregation has been divided.

And then there are the supersized problems that come from dealing with a bigger church, including balancing the responsibilities of overseeing the entire Jericho enterprise, which includes a 10,000-seat sanctuary, senior citizens’ complex, school and other components.

“So being able to manage the time of it and not burning myself out…balancing the personal and the professional,” Sculark said, would be one of her greatest challenges. “You know we, particularly as women, nurture everybody but don’t take care of ourselves.”

And there are the demands of church members, who often want to have direct contact with the pastor. But, like Moses, Sculark said, she realizes that trying to take on all the responsibilities of leadership would be detrimental to her spiritual and physical health. So, not only is she creating a “dream team” of elders and pastors to work alongside her, but she’s also taking advantage of modern-day tools of ministry.

“I am one of these preachers and pastors that believes social media is one of the greatest gifts that has ever come our way. I’m not one of those pastors that’s reluctant to use the Internet or sees it as the Antichrist. I see it as a method to get the gospel from Timbuktu, to Australia, to wherever you need to,” she said.

For example, since her appointment in April, Dr. Jazz has implemented the means of paying tithes and offerings via mobile text and credit card, reflecting 21st century methods.

It is that kind of innovative thinking and fire-in-the-belly enthusiasm for the gospel that makes Dr. Jazz the right fit for Jericho, many have said.

“I see myself as an Esther, a woman for such a time as this,” Dr. Jazz said. “Timing is so important, and I believe when it’s your time and your turn there is nothing that can stop you.”

See part two of the interview with Dr. Jazz in next week’s AFRO.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO