From Rasta to pastor: Sara Cowan-Conner shares journey to ministry
“Man, I don’t know how you make it without God, seriously,” a beaming Pastor Sara Cowan-Conner told The Sunday Gleaner.
She was talking about her dad, esteemed producer and musician Tommy Cowan, beating physical illness twice in the ‘90s and giving his life to God – one of many miracles she has borne witness to. Perhaps the greatest of all is her own testimony of being the child of a Rastaman who found herself in a church courtesy of a dare, a decision that would change her path forever.
“My dad’s father was a Methodist preacher, but as far as I remember, we never went to church ‘cause at the time, he did a lot of work with Bob Marley, so we were very Rasta-oriented,” she shared. “Our gate had the star of David, and it was painted red, gold and green, and our staircase had red, gold and green. Haile Selassie was in this big picture on the way out the door, so you’d see him every time leaving out. We also had a ganja tree in the backyard, so I didn’t really know about Jesus outside of Christmas.”
Her mother, pioneering female reggae producer Valerie Chang-Cowan, had a Catholic background but passed on her Chinese culture, further distancing Sara away from “God-consciousness”. She did, however, deem God “horrible because He kicked out His two kids in the garden; that’s the story I knew of Adam and Eve… so I kind of stayed away from Him and thought He stayed away from me”.
This changed when she enrolled at Queen’s High School and started hearing about God. It was a tough period for Sara, whose mother was addicted to drugs and her dad a touring, studio-busy producer. She found distraction in the party scene while being raised between her divorced parents’ homes and met a Christian girl one summer while staying with her mom.
“She kept inviting me to church, and I told her that I don’t do church and church people are horrible,” Sara recalled. “She just kept telling me to come every week and come to youth group, and eventually she convinced me, and it was like a dare.”
A sceptical Sara found herself at her first church, Church on the Rock on Clifton Drive, among a sea of teenagers with their hands held high praising God. It was a weird experience as she said she had no inkling of what Hallelujah meant nor why everyone was looking at the ceiling. Though at the back of the church, she was listening to every word Pastor Andrew Keane said, a portion of which led to her conviction.
“He preached John 3:16, and the line that got me was he said you can come to God as you are… . To really hear that God could accept you when you’ve had a lot of rejections was the best thing ever. I opened my eyes, and I was at the altar praying a prayer. I had no idea what was happening; I don’t remember actually walking to the altar. After I left, I had my friends come get me, and we went to a party ‘cause that was my MO. When I went, I felt so awkward. I didn’t feel the same.”
Confused, she called the church the next day, asking them to “undo what they did”. After explaining herself, they said she was born again and gave her a Bible. She started immersing herself in the scripture and became a regular churchgoer, but not all her family members were supportive. Sara recalled walking to and from church, even at night, and then eventually moving in with a church leader, Yvonne Moore, for some time. The moving around wasn’t disruptive or odd for Sara, who said she even lived in Trench Town with her mother at one point. These experiences made her respect and have a good rapport with people from all walks of life, a staple in her ministry today. However, the environment did expose her to sexual predators, which she said affected her deeply. The murder of her mother in 1992 also affected her overall health and challenged her relationship with God. Sara said her mother had given her life to God and was crack-free for under two years when it happened. Sara was studying at Church for the Nations in Montego Bay at the time and questioned why God wanted her to minister. The truth is, she didn’t see herself doing anything else.
More than two decades in, Sara has published books and devotionals and has ventured into business, operating Clarity Group USA, which offers courses to equip people with resources to navigate life. She is also a certified counsellor and positions her ministry outside church walls and in the streets with everyday folk.
“I want to get more into business, so that’s what I’m pursuing. People don’t like to make Christianity and money mix, but I like money because I want to be able to give scholarships away and things like that. We just founded a new non-profit called Generocity People, so we’re working with school districts in Texas to help feed nine through 12-grade students and writing programmes… . My big dream is to build a school in the area of Trench Town, which I’ve been thinking about since I was nine.”