Pioneers in the Bahamas
February 2000

“Pioneers in the Bahamas,” Ensign, Feb. 2000, 77–78

Pioneers in the Bahamas

The Bahamas are a cluster of more than 700 islands, 30 inhabited, that begin about 60 miles off the southeastern coast of the United States and stretch into the Atlantic Ocean.

The population of the Bahamas has largely English, American, and African origins; however, in recent years a large number of Haitians have come to the Bahamas in search of a better life. English is the official language, but the Haitian population speaks Creole or French.

Two Latter-day Saint families, the McCombs and the Ballards, organized a small branch in 1979. It was not until 1985, however, that full-time missionaries arrived.

First Known Baptism

Clarence E. Newry Jr., the first Bahamian to be baptized a member of the Church and presently serving as branch president, joined 21 years ago as a student living in Utah. He discovered that his roommate was a less-active member, so when Brother Newry wanted to attend a Church meeting, he insisted that his roommate get up and take him there. He was introduced to the missionaries.

“I wanted to know: Where did I come from? Where am I going? Where did Christ go after His death?” says Brother Newry. When the missionaries answered his questions, Brother Newry said, “Now I know your church is true.”

Brother Newry returned to the Bahamas, where he continued to live the gospel. A good friend, Antoinette Russell, asked to attend church with him. The two were married in March 1997 in the Orlando Florida Temple.

Early Converts

Antoine and Leona Ferrier were introduced to the gospel by Alexander Paul, then the Haitian Consul General stationed in Nassau, who was also learning about the Church. The Ferriers joined the Church in 1978, and Brother Paul in 1980. When the first branch was organized, Antoine Ferrier served as branch president and Leona as Relief Society president, callings they held for many years.

The first Bahamian national to serve a mission was Keith Dean, who joined the Church while attending Brigham Young University—Hawaii Campus. Today he and his wife, Winnie, and their children attend the New Providence Branch.

Another diligent member is Talma “John” Bastian. Born in Haiti, Brother Bastian, in his 80s, was introduced to the gospel by Antoine Ferrier. Despite his advanced age, he continues to help with the upkeep of the meetinghouse and grounds.

One of the stalwarts of the New Providence Branch is Willamae Kemp. Sister Kemp began attending the branch over 20 years ago when the Ferriers invited her to a meeting. Sister Kemp serves as Relief Society president.

A Detective Investigates

As a detective inspector in the police force, Edward Smith wanted to learn Creole to help him communicate with the sizable Haitian population. He began attending free classes in Creole taught by Brother Ferrier. In appreciation for the language classes, Brother Smith decided to attend a Church meeting. “It was friendly and warm there,” remembers Brother Smith. “I felt at home from day one.” He noticed Sunday School class members used another book, the Book of Mormon, along with the Bible. He asked how he could get one and met the missionaries.

Over a period of time, Brother Smith prayed, attended church, and studied the gospel. One day, he recalls, “I was reading the scriptures and had this feeling of warmth. I knew this was the church I had been looking for. This Church is where I want to be no matter what happens in my life.”

Brother Smith and his wife, Claudina, became the first Bahamian couple to have their marriage sealed in the temple.

Today the Church continues to be a force for good. The members have a great desire to see the work expand in their islands. As true pioneers, they have dedicated their lives to their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In their faces is reflected much of the beauty of the Bahamas.

Number of members: About 440

Branches: 1

Organized: January 1981

Mission: Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission

Dedicated for missionary work: 20 November 1997 by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

Missionaries serving from area: 4

Meetinghouses: 1

Seminary/Institute students: 9

Temple district: Orlando Florida

  • Janet Thomas is assistant managing editor of the New Era.

Photography by Janet Thomas, except as noted

The Bahamas are known for their tropical beauty. Clarence E. Newry Jr. (inset) was the first known Bahamian to be baptized.

Antoine Ferrier became the first Bahamian branch president and his wife, Leona, became the first Relief Society president. (Photo by Julia Tod.)

Willamae Kemp