PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti As Michael F. Moody opened and read his mission president assignment letter in February 2000, his call to Haiti didn't come as a surprise.
About a year and a half earlier, as the Church's chairman of the General Music Committee, he had visited Haiti and been touched by the love of the people.
"Being here in Haiti is being in another world," he had written home. "It is one of the most poverty-stricken places in the world. It's hot and humid, and the people fill the unpaved streets and the mountain paths like ants, going to and fro. But I love this place and its people; I did from the moment I arrived."
Such a spirit of love is shared by all the members here, although the Church is relatively new to this Caribbean island nation of 7 million.
It was just 20 years ago on April 17, 1983, that Elder Thomas S. Monson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve and now first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated Haiti. He was accompanied by Kenneth Zabriskie, then president of the West Indies Mission, and a small group of Latter-day Saints eager to participate in the dedication. They drove to the top of Mount Boutilliers, the prominent mountain overlooking the city of Port-au-Prince. There was heavy fog at the top of the mountain. Elder Monson began his remarks by saying that although the view was limited, President Zabriskie had said that the fog would be over in ten minutes, and "he's in charge of all the timetables on this trip."
Indeed, as the dedication took place the sun began to shine. And the sun has been shining ever since upon the Church in this beautiful country, on an island shared with the Dominican Republic called Hispaniola.
Membership has grown in two decades from fewer than 500 in 1983 to nearly 12,000 today in Haiti's stake, two districts and four mission branches. There are 13 chapels, with others in various stages of planning and construction, and the future is bright.
Through the years following the dedication, the Church has experienced extraordinary growth despite a period of about five years, from October 1991 to July 1996, when missionaries from North America were removed from Haiti because of civil strife.
A little smaller than Maryland, Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. One of 10 babies die at birth, annual income is $1,700 a year, and most families work the soil for sustenance despite badly deforested terrain.
Even though Haiti suffers some of the difficulties often found in developing areas of the Church, members and leaders move forward undaunted by their challenges. For example, on February 15, nine people were ready to be baptized at the stake center. Unfortunately, there was no water to fill the font. So friends, members and missionaries took the new converts in small trucks used for transportation, called "tap taps," to the neighboring chapel in Delmas. They had water, but the pump was broken. So two more candidates, plus more friends, members and missionaries boarded a large truck to the next-nearest chapel in Petion-Ville. There had already been eight baptisms take place at the Petion-Ville chapel, and the font had been drained. Never mind, the font was refilled, and by nightfall, 19 people were baptized.
To commemorate the 20 years since the dedication a special committee made up of local leaders and members was organized to plan various activities that could help in wards and branches throughout the country. Such activities included open houses, firesides, special talks and music in sacrament meetings, service projects, and the collecting of testimonies and spiritual experiences.
Alexandre Paul was asked to head the committee. Brother Paul joined the Church in 1980 while serving as Consul General for Haiti in the Bahamas. On April 6, 1998, he was put in prison for political reasons, and was released on June 22, 2001, having spent three years, two months, and 16 days incarcerated under extremely difficult conditions. He said that he was sustained through the prayers and faith and love of Church members, friends and family.
"Before my ordeal I had a testimony of the Church," he said, "but the spirit of love and kindness shown me by my brothers and sisters in the Church has given me a testimony of the members."
Haitian saints such as Brother Paul "are the future of the country," said Osmick Julien, president of the Gonaves District, Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission. "They are full of faith, of courage, of patience, and of love. They share and learn together in peace, righteousness and truth."
They also take religion very seriously. In 1983, Eddy Bourdeau felt the missionaries should pass a test before he would be baptized.
In Brother Bourdeau's words: "We used to drink coffee every day in my family. So during my baptismal interview I told the missionaries that I drank some coffee during the week. Obviously, it was not true. My test to them was simple, but serious. If they had told me that it was not a big problem and that I could be baptized, they would have failed, and I would probably never have become a member of the Church. But their answer was kind, yet firm: "You cannot be baptized this week."
"When I realized that they passed the test, I told them that it was a joke; that I had not really had coffee at all since they began teaching me the gospel, and that I was ready for baptism.
"But they insisted that I should wait another week before I could be baptized."
When Elaine S. Dalton, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, visited Haiti in January of this year, she asked Brother Bourdeau, now first counselor in the presidency of the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission, what those at Church headquarters could do to help the Church in Haiti. Brother Bourdeau replied, "Tell them we love the gospel. We need to bring the truth to the people here; the Church will be the salvation of Haiti. Tell them to fast and pray for us. We must do the rest ourselves."
Indeed, the sun continues to shine upon the Church and its members in the beautiful island country of Haiti.