It’s been a week since Eleanor received her call, and unsurprisingly it has dominated our discussions and our thoughts. As it’s an area of the world that we are unfamiliar with and had not really considered when thinking about where she might go, some of the last week has been spent researching it.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was formally organised in 1830; the first missionaries reached the British Isles in 1837. As such we have been used to the Church history spanning the last couple of centuries. While I was aware that it reached other countries later in the 19th Century, and the former communist bloc countries later in the Twentieth Century, I hadn’t really considered that the Church was only recently established in other areas of the world. The first indication that this was the case for the Caribbean was a Facebook friend’s comment on one of the many statuses we had put up. He said:
I served in the Florida Ft. Lauderdale mission from 1975 to 1977. At that time, this mission included not only the southern tip of Florida but ALL the Caribbean… We did not proselyte in most of that area–only Puerto Rico, in fact. And so it amazes me that now there are missions in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic (and a temple), in Haiti, and even in Barbados. I am bowled over. What wonderful things have happened. Have a great mission!
Needless to say some research ensued. The first thing we found was that the countries and territories in the Barbados mission (according to www.caribbean.lds.org) and their histories include:
Barbados: Members have been in Bahamas since 1979. Two families who were members of the Church, Larry and Marge McCombs and Albert and Karen Ballard, moved to Nassau in the summer of 1979. Missionaries arrived in December of that year but were refused visas and were asked to leave. Missionaries were allowed to return in March 1985. Alexandre Paul, consul general from Haiti to the Bahamas, and his wife were baptized 6 January 1980. Some 48 friends and members of the Church attended a conference of the first branch (a small congregation) in 1981. A number of members in the Bahamas have since served full time missions to other parts of the world. A new meetinghouse was dedicated in 1988, and within a few weeks the branches began to outgrow the building.
Guadeloupe: Among the first converts in Guadeloupe was the Claire Dinane family. Dinane came into contact with the Church because of his duties as a customs officer where he met Latter-day Saints. His family soon moved, but a nucleus of members had joined the Church through contact with Dinane. The Guadeloupe Branch (a small congregation) was organized in June 1982.
Guyane Française (French Guiana): Charles Fortin, a native of French Guiana, was baptized in France and returned to his homeland in 1980. Rosiette Fauvette, also baptized in France, returned to French Guiana in July 1981
Grenada: Although some Church members lived in Grenada while attending medical school, little permanent missionary work started until after the 1983 coup and subsequent invasion of Grenada by United States and United Nations forces.Under the direction of President Kenneth L. Zabriskie of the West Indies Mission, Elders Robert W. Hoffmaster and Leonard C. Gill arrived in Grenada in May 1985. They met with a medical student and their children. A branch (a small congregation) was established in St. George on 3 September 1985.
Martinique: Andre Condoris, a young man baptized in France while serving in the military, returned to his homeland in August 1980 and was the first known convert from the country. In July 1983, West Indies Mission President Kenneth Zabriskie visited Andre Condoris and Joell Joseph-Agathe, who had also been baptized in France.
St. Lucia: A. Clarieta Philgence joined the Church in England in July 1982 and soon returned to her homeland, St. Lucia. In August 1983, after learning about Philgence, West Indies Mission President Kenneth Zabriskie visited St. Lucia and met with Philgence and Al and Julie Nuttal, who had transferred from medical school in Grenada to St. Lucia. Zabriskie was accompanied by Elder Ronald E. Poelman of the Seventy (one of the governing bodies of the Church). In November 1983 President Zabriskie sent Elders Todd Hardy, Paul Jackson, Jay Schroeder and Marty Harris to begin missionary work. The first baptism in St. Lucia was Caren Cotter in September 1984.
Saint Vincent: Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, then of the Seventy (one of the governing bodies of the Church), visited St. Vincent in January 1980 along with President Richard L. Millett of the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission. Steven B. Wooley and Terry Williams were sent to be missionaries in the country in March 1980. Among those attending the meetings was Ebenezer Joshua, the first chief minister of the country who helped St. Vincent obtain independence from England. Joshua was one of the earliest converts and served in the branch (a small congregation) presidency.
We were also able to find the stories of some of the earliest Caribbean Latter-day Saints (though from Jamaica not the Barbados mission):
The mission itself is only about a year old after it was split from the West Indies Mission. The Church has only really had a presence in the Caribbean for the last 30-40 years. As such it is exciting for Eleanor to be involved in an area of church growth that is relatively new.
There were two other aspects of Eleanor’s calling that we are interpreting to suggest which areas she may serve in. The letter mentioned that she would be preaching the Gospel in the French language and work in the Guadeloupe Mission Region. On closer examination the Guadeloupe district includes:
- French Guiana
- St Martin
Interestingly, the first three areas are all part of France and as we searched for flags they actually use the Tricolore. So in essence Eleanor will be serving in the EU! There are a total of six branches of the Church in these four areas (12 across the mission). Each of these six are specifically French speaking areas (except St Martin which it seems is English, Dutch and French). As such we envisage (though we may be wrong) that Eleanor will serve in some/all of these areas during her 18 months. Although she has been called to the Barbados mission we don’t think she will go to the English speaking islands very often, rather her service will be focussed in the French speaking areas. As an aside her first six weeks will be spent in Provo, Utah for some missionary and language training.
We know a little more about the area now but we still have lots of questions and things to discover. We’ll explore some of these and what is expected of Eleanor as a missionary in future blog posts as we get closer to her departure date in November.