Although the beginning of Seventh-day Adventism in Guyana has been traced to a roll of religious papers reluctantly carried by a sea-captain in 1883 on the request of W.J. Boynton of the International Tract and Missionary Society (ITMS) office in New York City, the earliest specific reference to SDA work in Guyana indicates that SDA teachings first found its way to Guyana through Joseph Brathwaite; who went there and circulated literature which led several persons to embrace the SDA message.
By November 1883 at the annual meeting of the ITMS it was reported that clubs of Signs of the Times (Signs) and old periodicals had been distributed to many places including Guyana, and that a demand existed for more literature. In November 1885 R.L. Jeffrey attended the annual meeting of the ITMS in Battle Creek, Michigan, reported; that there were over twenty persons observing the Sabbath, and called for ministerial help. Jeffrey had hoped to study in the United States in order to be of greater service to his countrymen on his return. A committee which was chosen to consider the matters raised reported that he should be assisted to attend school for a few months, and recommended that the General Conference look into the matter, of sending a missionary to Guyana.
Around the same time, the South American Tract Society was organized and a report for the first quarter of 1886 appeared in the Review and Herald indicating that the membership of the society stood at twenty-one, and that the members were engaged in several activities including a letter-writing ministry, literature distribution, and Bible readings. Among the journals used were Signs, Good Health and Pacific Health Journal. In the second quarter 2,870 periodicals were either sold or distributed free of cost. On September 30, 1886,• the quarterly meeting of District No. 1 of the South American, branch of the ITMS was convened at New Amsterdam, Berbice. Branches of the society had already been formed in Demerara and Berbice counties. By the end of the year there were some thirty-seven persons considered to be church members.
According to George Enoch, an individual traveling from Africa accepted SDA teachings through the influence of S.N. Haskell in Boston, proceeded to Guyana “and for two or three years faithfully distributed all literature sent him.” Enoch stated that this colporteur reported in the Review and Herald’s December 2, 1886 issue. However, although there was no issue on that date there was one on November 2, 1886 in which a report on the South American Tract Society appeared with names attached, Thomas E. Amsterdam and S.A. Blair, president and secretary respectively. In their report they indicated that some persons of the “better class” were among those who attended public meetings, and noted that the Tract Society was considered heretical by ministers of other denominations.
At the General Conference session held in Battle Creek, Michigan in November 1886, a decision was taken to send Elder G.G. Rupert to Guyana. He left New York on January 18, 1887 accompanied by George King, the pioneer SDA canvasser. They arrived in Georgetown at the end of the month and through their efforts some $500.00 worth of books and periodicals were sold and a church and Sabbath School organized. While in Guyana Rupert baptized thirty persons and the Sabbath School was organized with a membership of forty.
The success of Rupert and King was undoubtedly due to the efforts of Brathwaite, Jeffrey, Amsterdam, Blair and others whose work had resulted in the development of a reasonable interest in SDA teachings. The baptisms were therefore substantially due to the efforts of those brethren and the periodicals which had been circulating.
Following the return of Rupert and King to the United States a report cited the “promiscuous character of the inhabitants” and the intense heat as factors that militated against sending missionaries, and recommended that evangelization be done mainly through the dissemination of publications.
In 1891 William Arnold an American Colporteur spent some time canvassing in Guyana and sold several hundred books. In addition, supplies of literature continued to arrive in the country including issues of Signs, Present Truth, The Youth Instructor and Good Health. In 1892 L.C. Chadwick made a Caribbean tour on behalf of the ITMS, and spent twenty-two days in which he baptized sixteen in Georgetown including three Hindus, and eight persons in a region eighty-five mi1es from Georgetown. In the capital Chadwick ordained elders and deacons•at the church which in May had a membership of forty-one.
Warren G. Kneeland and his wife arrived in Guyana on December 29, 1893 as the first resident SDA minister. The absence of a minister based in the territory undoubtedly contributed to the instability of the church. Kneeland reported that death and apostasy had “taken many away”, and stated that he was obliged to “dis-fellowship quite a number for various causes.” Among those identifying with the church were an Anglican minister who was baptized, and Peter Fon, an Indian Governor who attended Sabbath services at Bootooba, the location of the second SDA church in Guyana, which Kneeland had organized in July 1895. In this church were three aboriginal Indians. Efforts by a Guyanese SDA resulted in work being started among the Indian tribes living near the mouth of the Essequibo River. A church was dedicated in December 1896, but shortly after a small pox epidemic swept through the Indian settlement, and as a result, the Indians moved further up the Essequibo and located at Tapakuma Creek where they erected a new church building. By 1897 in addition to the churches at Georgetown, Bootooba and Essequibo there were groups of members in Friendship, East Coast Demerara and New Amsterdam in Berbice.
The first Guyanese to accept Adventism, study in the United States and return to serve in his homeland was Philip Giddings who was introduced to SDA teachings through publications which passed through the office where he was employed as postmaster. In 1891 Giddings left for Battle Creek College where he studied nursing and Bible, graduating in 1895. He worked for several years in Guyana before pioneering the efforts of the SDA church in Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe. Other Guyanese who were active in their homeland include W.T. Downer, Reginald Hyder, and Bro. Shand.
Guyana was part of the East Caribbean Conference organized in 1903 with headquarters in Trinidad. In 1906 SDA work in the Caribbean was reorganized and the British Guiana Conference was formed consisting of twelve churches and a membership of 350.
An attempt had been made to begin medical work with Dr. B.J. Fericot but he was unable to practice in a British territory. However in 1908 R.N. Graves, a Guyanese returned home with a British medical diploma and practiced for some time. Educational work also began early in the century. By 1909 three schools were operating, two near Georgetown, and one in the Essequibo area which was supported by an Adventist member in the United States and taught by Johannah Hazel Daw. Other church school teachers in Guyana around that time were Ella A. Burrows and Blanche Haynes.
The SDA church developed a keen interest in the Guyana Amerindians with Elder Ovid E. Davis, an American missionary pioneering efforts deep in the interior. Davis died among the Indians at Mt. Roraima on the Guyana-Venezuela-Brazil border. The following quotation describes his work and the faithfulness of the Indians even without a missionary.
"He stayed with them for a time, built three humble churches, and baptized 300 people. They had not yet learned very much when Elder Davis became ill and died there among them. They lovingly buried him, and then continued as best they could in the things he taught them, remembering his promise that some-one else would come to teach them. They waited and waited. The Arekunai turned down many offers of the Catholic Church to come in and teach them believeing that Elder Davis’ successor would come. After twelve years, during which time there still had been no funds to send a .worker to them, their chief hiked weeks to Georgetown to plead with the mission office for a worker.”
In 1925 two missionaries C.B. Sutton and W.E. Baxter visited the “Davis Indians” and located the grave of Elder Davis.
In 1927, the Mt. Roraima Indian Mission was organized but it was absorbed within the Guiana Conference before being reopened again in 1938. It consisted of groups of members of Wakipata Mission, Kurupung and Mazaruni River. Roy Brooks, a native of Nicaragua left Guiana in 1961 after spending thirty years most of which were with the "Davis Indians." At time of writing, one "Davis Indian," Lloyd Henrito was an ordained SDA minister in Guyana.
SDA work continued to grow in Guyana and at the beginning of 1917 there were groups meeting in fifteen places many as full-fledged churches and a few as companies. Among the fifteen were three groups of Amerindians including one at Tapakuma where there was a membership of forty and a school conducted by William Lewis. Among the ministers in Guyana at the time was Trinidadian-born Adolphus Eleazar Riley. In the 1930s there were several workers from elsewhere in the Caribbean, based in Guyana. These included the Barbadian E.S. Greaves, and the Trinidadian Charles Manoram.
In 1935 Guyanese William A. Osborne was among three students in the first twelfth grade graduating class at Caribbean Union College in Trinidad. In 1944 Tobago-born evangelist Victor Mc Eachrane became perhaps the first centurion evangelist in Guyana, baptizing 110 persons in a crusade on the East Coast of Demerara.
In 1945 the British Guiana Mission was organized and Dutch Guiana was separated and known as the Suriname Mission. In the mid 1950s medical work by Adventists began in Georgetown and the Davis Memoria1 Hospital was opened in 1955. A portion of the worldwide Thirteenth Sabbath Offering overflow in 1960 was used to help finance a new hospital which was officially opened in 1967.
By 1973 the SDA church had been operating eleven elementary schools, four of them state-aided, and one secondary school. However in 1976 the government of Forbes Burnham took full control of the education system and all denominational schools were closed.
In 1974 a committee appointed by the Caribbean Union Conference recommended that the “request of the Guyana Mission for a change of status from that of a Mission to that of a Conference has merit.” Guyana received Conference status in 1976 and Roy McGarrell was elected president. Since then, Gordon Martinborough, Gershom G. Byass, Hilton Garnett, Lindon Gudge and Philip Bowman have been presidents. The current president is Pastor Avert Jamest, who was elected to serve at the Conference 's Quadrennial Session held in 2011.