Merchant seeking truth opened way for Church

In 1977, Alexandre Mourra, a Port-au-Prince mercantile businessman involved in a personal search for religious truth, felt impressed to visit his cousin's bookstore. There, he found his cousin's wife reading a copy of the Book of Mormon. She had been given the book by missionaries in Miami, Fla., and wasn't about to share it until she had finished it. He couldn't wait that long. He borrowed a pamphlet of Joseph Smith's testimony, which he read immediately and then wrote to the mission in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for his own copy of the Book of Mormon.

Alexandre Mourra baptizes one of 22 new members on July 2, 1978.
Alexandre Mourra baptizes one of 22 new members on July 2, 1978. Photo: Photo by Rolf Koecher

When his copies — one in French and one in English — arrived by mail, he stayed up all night reading. In July of that year, he flew to Fort Lauderdale and was baptized and ordained a priest. As the sole member of the Church in Haiti, he began teaching others. A year later, on June 8, 1978, he received a phone call from mission President Richard L. Millett that all worthy male members of the Church could be ordained to the priesthood.

"I have people ready for baptism," he replied. "When are you coming down?"

The result was a historic event for Haiti. On July 2, President Millet and his counselors arrived in Port-au-Prince. They held a 9-hour marathon of meetings that ended with 22 people being baptized, including several families. Nine of them were lay ministers.

The mission president and his counselors didn't wear coats, thinking to avoid being over dressed, said Rolf Koecher, one of the counselors, now a bishop's counselor in the Val Verda 3rd Ward, Bountiful Utah Val Verda Stake. But the candidates were "dressed immaculately in suits and ties and dresses. There were flowers in the chapel. They had been digging a baptismal font in the rear of the chapel but it wasn't done yet."

Brother Mourra performed the baptisms. Not long after that, another Church member, J. Frederick Templeman, employed as first secretary to the ambassador to Canada, moved to Haiti with his wife and four children. The small nucleus of members worked hard to qualify for a branch, an event that took place in October 1980, with Alexandre Mourra as president. Missionary work started that same year in May when missionaries from the Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission under President Glen E. Stringham were assigned to Haiti.

On April 17, 1983, when President Thomas S. Monson, then of the Quorum of the Twelve and now first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel. Haiti's first stake was created in 1997.

— John L. Hart

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