“A Conversation on the Church in the Caribbean,” Ensign, June 1993, 78–79
The Church presence in the Caribbean has now grown to eight missions, eleven stakes, and twelve districts. To find out more about members there, the Ensign talked with Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, president of the North America Southeast Area, which includes the Caribbean.
Question: How many Latter-day Saints are there now in the Caribbean?
Answer: About 60,000. The majority of them are in the Dominican Republic, where we have seven stakes. We find a very receptive people there. The Dominicans are very open and warm toward the gospel.
Q.: And the Church is also well established in Puerto Rico, isn’t it?
A.: Yes. It has been there longer. We have four stakes there, and we are experiencing steady growth in both numbers and depth. By depth, I mean in maturity of our leadership—both sisters and brethren—and in understanding among members of what it means to be a covenant people.
It is difficult to compare growth between countries, but the proportion of Latter-day Saints in the populations of both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic is about the same—just under one in 200.
Q.: What do you think is the reason for the rapid growth in the Dominican Republic?
A.: There is undoubtedly a divine timetable in the spreading of the gospel. In the Lord’s timetable, I think this is their time to come forward. They are a very prepared people, a believing people, a very loving, caring, warm people.
President Thomas S. Monson, Second Counselor in the First Presidency, Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Elder Stephen D. Nadauld of the Seventy, first counselor in the area presidency, visited the Dominican Republic in January for a regional conference. It was estimated that there were between 15,000 and 16,000 members in attendance; that is nearly half the members in the country. Many of them traveled for hours, by any means they could find, just to be there to hear President Monson.
Q.: What is the progress of the Church in other areas of the Caribbean?
A.: We have missions in Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago, and the West Indies. In total, there are thousands of members in these areas—more than 4,700 in Haiti, for example, and more than 2,300 in Jamaica.
Yet our biggest challenge in the Caribbean is to bring the Church out of obscurity. In some areas where we are not well known, we have faced old prejudices, stereotypes, and wrong ideas about who we are. Those prejudices fall away in direct proportion to the number of members we have—whose lives are the best examples of what we believe—and the exposure people have to the Church.
For the Church as an organization, there are also challenges in dealing with the number of languages and the many different governments in the island nations of the Caribbean. Each government may have different laws or regulations governing religions and proselyting.
Q.: What are some of the challenges members face?
A.: The largest one is unemployment or underemployment. The economy of the Caribbean is precariously balanced on tourism, agricultural products, and small-scale industry, and the poverty in some areas of the Caribbean is as bad as anywhere in the world. For many people, living standards are low and life is tough. Sometimes it can look like a hopeless proposition.
But the people of the Caribbean retain their hope. In general, they have a sweet, gentle humility that helps them recognize their daily dependence on God for life itself. They depend on him not only to help them survive in spite of their living conditions but to protect them against the power of nature—the hurricanes that sometimes sweep across the islands.
Our members are not immune to problems with poverty and disaster. But in addition to that humility and dependence on the Lord that is typical of the people of the Caribbean, they have the gospel and the link to eternity that it provides. It gives members a perspective on God’s love and on who they are. It helps to sustain them.
Q.: What future do you see for the Church in the Caribbean?
A.: It is always difficult to predict the future. But I believe the growth will continue and become even stronger. When we think of the Caribbean, we should think of a humble, spiritual people coming to Christ in increasing numbers.