BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS
During a conference broadcast Sunday, Jan. 25, President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the First Presidency, spoke from Jamaica to congregations “gathered as Latter-day Saints across the Caribbean.”
Those gatherings included a faithful group of about 40 assembled in the meetinghouse on the beautiful tropical island of St. Kitts. The congregation met in the chapel to watch the conference proceedings on television, hearing counsel from President Eyring, Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Presidency of the Seventy, Elder Daniel L. Johnson of the Seventy and president of the Caribbean Area, and Sister Silvia H. Allred, first counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency.
The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, with a population of about 40,000, is located in the Leeward islands about 250 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. Because of the British flavor of its culture, the shape of the 65-square-mile island of St. Kitts is aptly compared to that of a cricket bat. The 36-square-mile circular island of Nevis, two miles to the southeast, is the cricket ball. An economy once centered on sugar cane now relies primarily on tourism. Island resorts and a pier capable of docking the largest cruise ships in the capital of Basseterre attract visitors to its beaches, golf courses, shopping and other activities.
Full-time missionaries were sent to St. Kitts in 1984, according to the Deseret News Church Almanac, and the Church has grown into the St. Kitts Branch with a smaller branch on Nevis.
Visible from a cruise ship in the harbor is the steeple of the meetinghouse. It is about a mile away on an upward slope where the far side of Basseterre rises to mountain peaks brilliant green with vegetation. Members speak enthusiastically about their small building and its dedication in January 2004 by President Gordon B. Hinckley. It was one of the stops on his journey to Africa to dedicate the Accra Ghana Temple. Up until his visit, the members on St. Kitts had seen General Authorities only on television, according to longtime member and branch clerk Nijoe Farrell.
A touching memory expressed by those in the St. Kitts Branch who remember the dedication was the blessing of having Sister Marjorie Pay Hinckley there accompanying her husband a few months before she passed away.
Missionary work is a challenge on the heavily Christian island where attitudes are similar to those elsewhere in the world: “Mormons aren’t Christians.” Nevertheless, the branch has a solid base of members, some with impressive conversion stories. Current full-time missionaries Elders Casey Jones and Adam Brewer confirmed that years after his baptism, a notation remains in the St. Kitts tracting record next to the name of Jason Benjamin that says, “Tracting miracle!”
Baptized on May 22, 2004, the “miracle” is now branch president. Speaking after the conference broadcast, President Benjamin said that though he and his wife, Shaveti, were members of another church back then, they were looking for something. When the missionaries knocked on their door, they were invited right in, he said.
“It was not too long before my wife and I knelt down and had a prayer,” he recalled. “We thought maybe this was what we were looking for.”
The first time he attended Church was on fast Sunday, and he was impressed by the testimonies he heard. Afterward, he tried to slip out quickly, but was surrounded by fellowshipping-conscious members. He returned to Church with his entire family and soon joined.
Brother Farrell grew up in the Church. According to his own knowledge of the small congregation, he was the first person to follow the progression through Primary to a full-time mission and temple marriage. He said his grandmother, Eunice Farrell, was one of the island’s first converts, with other members of her family following.
The first native president of the St. Kitts Branch, Terry Hanley, is now president of the St. Kitts District that includes three branches. He and his extended family are another part of the Church’s strong base on the island.
Those attending the conference broadcast were a typical mix of the weekly attendance at meetings. Along with the local members were missionaries and temporary residents living on St. Kitts as businessmen or students. Chad Burt from Logan, Utah, a counselor in the branch presidency who is attending veterinary school in St. Kitts, said on most Sundays tourists from cruise ships in port who are members attend meetings. On this day, those tourists were Fay and Jim Amos from Washington, Utah, who had previously served a mission together in the Caribbean.
Jeremy Sowards from Colorado is also in veterinary school on St. Kitts and attends the branch with his wife, Jaimie. Precious Edosomwan from Nigeria adds to the strength of the St. Kitts Branch while attending nursing school. The family of Adrian Allred, an executive at the nearby Marriott resort, is in the branch.
With its nearly ideal climate, colorful flowers, waving palm trees and miles of clean, sandy beaches, St. Kitts seems securely positioned to continue attracting tourists seeking paradise. With a core of strong islander members joined by missionaries and others, the Church also seems positioned for a bright future on St. Kitts.