Domingo Aybar reads the stories of Joseph Smith and the early Church members and recognizes history repeated.
The Prophet and those first few men and women who accepted the restored gospel in the 1830s couldn't rely on neighbors or legacies of faith. They trusted entirely on the Lord.
President Aybar — who was called to preside over the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Villa Mella Stake while in his mid-20s — understands. The Church is still reaching its adolescence in his island nation. Prior to President Spencer W. Kimball's monumental revelation in 1978 the fulness of the gospel was not accessible to most Dominicans. But like young Joseph Smith "the Lord has prepared us for the gospel. The Spirit tells us what to do," President Aybar said.
A quarter-century has passed since President Kimball's revelation opened the gospel's fulness to all people. Waves of missionaries have forever changed Caribbean nations such as the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. These island nations, which have an combined membership of 98,000, are heavily populated by folks of African ancestry. Many, such as President Aybar, have answered the gospel's challenge — and answered fast. The Caribbean now has 130,000 members.
"In the last eight months, we have ordained 59 new elders [in our stake]," he said. "Now we are seeing [young men and women] who were born in the Church serving missions."
The Dominican Republic is a remarkable, post-revelation success story in the Church. There are some 84,700 members living in the Dominican Republic. When Arthur F. Coombs Jr. arrived to lead the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo Mission in 1983 there were about 7,000 members. When he left that number had almost doubled.
The fact that the gospel is being taught at all in the Caribbean thrills Elder Glen L. Rudd, formerly of the Quorum of the Seventy. Elder Rudd served as a mission president in Florida in the late 1960s. His area included the island nations of the Caribbean, although Church membership in those lands at that time was typically limited to American expatriates. Elder Rudd remembers when an American-born Church member who was living in Jamaica asked if they would ever see the day when missionaries would come to teach his Jamaican neighbors.
"I don't think we will in my lifetime," Elder Rudd told the man.
Years later, Elder Rudd heard the news of President Kimball's revelation and thought back to his Caribbean travels. "The first thing I thought of was the many black people that I had known and come to love," he said.
The day after the revelation, Elder Rudd visited President Marion G. Romney of the First Presidency in his home. Elder Rudd remembers President Romney pointing to the 20th verse in the opening section of the Doctrine and Covenants. The passage states "every man might speak in the name of God the Lord."
"Until yesterday this wasn't possible," President Romney said to Elder Rudd. "How could [every man] speak for the Lord if they didn't hold the priesthood?"
While the Church has grown quickly in the Dominican Republic, members in Haiti and other Caribbean nations are just beginning to realize their potential since the 1978 revelation. Leopaul Montes was 2 years old when the missionaries first arrived in his hometown of Les Cayes in Haiti. He joined the Church seven years later and learned from his mother, Caline, the importance of service and devotion. Their branch was small and thin on priesthood leadership. But Sister Montes persevered.
"My mom always acted in great faith," said Brother Montes, who served a mission in his native land. "We always did what the missionaries asked us to do."
He sometimes wonders what his life would be now without the revelation received by President Kimball. Many close friends have turned to drugs and alcohol, "but the Church has given me a lot; . . . my friends look to me as an example."
Now a student in Provo, Utah, Brother Montes recently married in the Salt Lake Temple Charlene Josue, a Bahamian who is also a returned missionary.
She is studying journalism at Brigham Young University and teaching alongside her husband at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. Sister Montes said she plans to spend a few moments June 1 reflecting on the impact of President Kimball's historic revelation.
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