“Membership Milestone Reached in Dominican Republic,” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 78–79
We ask thee this morning in all humility, Heavenly Father, that thou will pour thy Holy Spirit out upon this people. We ask thee to bless them that they might hear and know the truth and recognize it as it is presented to them by the members of the Church and the missionaries. We acknowledge that we have but a handful of members now, but pray thee to bless and prosper, Heavenly Father, this land that from this humble beginning many thousands of thy children might find the truth and that stakes of Zion might be driven down here in this land and that this land might prosper as we seek out the righteous and the honest in heart who desire to know the truth.
Even now those prophetic dedicatory words, offered by Elder M. Russell Ballard, currently serving as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, are being fulfilled in this Spanish-speaking country of almost eight million inhabitants. Since that 7 December 1978 dedication, the Church there has grown to nearly fifty-five thousand members and now includes eight stakes, three missions with eleven districts, forty-one wards, and ninety-eight branches.
For the Saints who inhabit this nation of almost nineteen thousand square miles, the Lord’s hand has been apparent since Christopher Columbus discovered the land. Dominican Saints believe that the country’s first liberators, headed by Juan Pablo Duarte, were inspired. Called the Father of the Republic, Duarte carried a white, red, and blue banner with the words “God, Land, and Liberty” scrawled on it, much as Moroni did in the Book of Mormon (see Alma 46:11–14).
Local Latter-day Saints believe that the Lord’s hand is still apparent in the establishing of the country and in its preparation for the gospel. The same year that Elder Ballard dedicated the Dominican Republic for the preaching of the gospel, John E. Rappleye and his family were transferred from the United States to work in Santo Domingo. The Rappleye family contacted Church leaders and discovered that the closest branch met in Ecuador, a three-hour flight from the Dominican capital, so they obtained permission to hold Church meetings in their home. They also loaded up on hymnbooks, class manuals, Church videocassettes, pamphlets, and copies of the Book of Mormon to give away to persons showing interest in the Church. A mission president mentioned to them that one other family, Eddie and Mercedes Amparo, native Dominican members, had just moved from California back to their native land.
Remarkably, Brother Rappleye met Sister Mercedes Amparo at the airport in Santo Domingo when he was going through customs. The Amparo family was overjoyed that other Church members were now in their country.
One of the first people Brother Rappleye met was Rodolfo N. Bodden, a coworker and, coincidentally, a friend of the Amparo family. Through the next few weeks, Brother Rappleye and Brother Bodden had many conversations, and their talks almost always focused on religion. In August 1978, Rodolfo Bodden was baptized.
Membership increases have been rapid since that baptism. In 1979, 354 people were baptized. The Dominican Republic Santo Domingo Mission was organized in 1981; there were twenty-five hundred members at the time. By 1986, membership reached eleven thousand, and membership numbers now are nearing fifty-five thousand. The country’s first stake was organized 23 March 1986, and the second mission was created in Santiago on 1 July 1987.
The first temple in the Caribbean, to be built in the capital city of Santo Domingo, was announced by President Gordon B. Hinckley in December 1993.
Brother Bodden and his family have played essential roles in establishing the Church in the nation. Brother Bodden remembers traveling throughout the island fulfilling his priesthood responsibilities. He served as a counselor to the president of the first branch and was president of the first district. He currently serves as the first patriarch in the country.
“As a family, we recognize that during the age in which we learned about the Church, our children were young,” Brother Bodden says. “As they grew to adulthood, the Church has been a great blessing. We have not suffered any of the evils that exist in our society. The Church has, without a doubt, served as a vehicle that has kept us more united than we might have been, strong in the faith, in our lives, and in the truth.”
Another example of the Lord’s hand in the lives of Dominican Saints is the conversion story of Felix Sequi Martinez, a former Catholic priest. A native of Spain, Brother Martinez felt misgivings about religion and began searching for answers at a young age. Eventually he forsook his priestly vows and began studying philosophy. In 1972 he moved to the Dominican Republic, where he met and married Lubian Amaro. He and his wife, a health teacher, attended a health fair organized by Church members and held in Santiago. The couple was impressed with the clean habits and lifestyle espoused by this religion and accepted visits from missionaries.
“Because of my deep philosophical and religious thinking, I required a long time to completely accept the gospel,” says President Martinez, now a stake president. “But I owe so much to the Church for having opened the door to a new life.”