Planning a Latter-day Saint-themed tour across the Caribbean? You’d be wise to download a versatile translation app.
The region’s linguistic diversity signals its rich history and culture. Many Caribbeans will greet you with a Buenos dias — while others will offer a Bonjou, a Good morning or even a Goedemorgen.
A traveler can drop in on a Relief Society or Sunday School lesson in, say, the Dominican Republic and hear the gospel taught in Spanish. Drive across the border into Haiti and expect to hear that same message in Haitian Creole or French.
English, meanwhile, is spoken in Jamaica, Barbados, The Bahamas and several other island nations. And in the baseball-mad lands of Aruba and Curaçao, you will hear chatter in both Dutch and Papiamento.
That mixture reflects the rich wonders defining the tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints living across the vast Caribbean Area, Elder Ulisses Soares told the Church News following his recent visit to the region.
“There is a diversity in that area that is very attractive and beautiful to see,” he said. “There is a mixture of cultures — you have influences from all over the world.”
But most important, the diverse Caribbean members remain anchored to their shared devotion to the Lord’s Church. “We learned of their faith and their desire to learn the gospel of Jesus Christ,” said Elder Soares.
Elder Soares’ 11-day tour (Feb. 14-24) marked his first visit to the Caribbean Area. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles member was accompanied by Elder José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy, along with their wives, Sister Rosana Soares and Sister Filomena Teixeira.
“When we read in the scriptures about the ‘isles of the sea’ we tend to think of, maybe, the Pacific or other parts of the world,” said Elder Teixeira. “But the Caribbean Area is also truly the ‘isles of the sea.’ With the exception of the three countries on the northern tip of South America (Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana), everything else is an island.”
That island culture, he added, is embodied by kindness, families and hard work. It’s an ideal, promised land for the gospel to flourish and grow.
Dynamic moments for Caribbean Saints
Elder Soares’ and Elder Teixeira’s recent travels came at a dynamic moment in the Caribbean Area.
The area’s only temple — the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple — was dedicated almost 20 years ago. But that’s about to change.
The Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple is expected to be dedicated this year. Meanwhile, hurricane-battered Latter-day Saints in Puerto Rico are still celebrating last fall’s announcement to build a temple in the capital city of San Juan.
For many Latter-day Saint Caribbeans, traveling to the Santo Domingo temple “is not easy,” said Elder Soares. Members from Trinidad and Tobago, for example, often have to fly to Miami, Florida, and then boomerang back to the Dominican Republic and visit the temple. Such travels exact both time and money.
“It was beautiful to see how many of the members have received the ordinances of the temple, and I praised them for their sacrifices,” he said.
Reviewing plans for the future temples were key highlights for the visiting Brethren during their annual area review of the Caribbean Area (Feb. 18-19). Elder Soares and Elder Teixeira also participated in ministering-focused leadership meetings for local priesthood and auxiliary leaders. They presided over member meetings and met with missionaries serving in various nations — including a tender gathering of missionaries in the Dominican Republic mourning the recent death of Elder Brennan Conrad.
They were joined at many events by the Caribbean Area Presidency — Elder Walter F. Gonzalez, Elder José L. Alonso and Elder Eduardo Gavarret.
History was also made in the Caribbean during an Apostle’s visit.
On Feb. 20, Elder Soares dedicated the island nation of Curaçao for the preaching of the gospel. Members, missionaries, local journalists and many others from the community gathered in the branch meetinghouse in the capital of Willemstad to listen to the visiting Apostle’s dedicatory prayer and counsel.
During the meeting, a pair of Curaçao “pioneers” — Ingeborg Zielinski Reni and Yvonne Antersijn — shared experiences from their decades of resolute Church service and dedication in a “corner of the vineyard” still young and largely undeveloped.
“You can see the influence of these two great sisters on the island,” said Elder Soares.
A former Miss Curaçao, Zielinski Reni joined the Church in Holland in 1970. When she returned to her native land she hosted an hourly radio program, frequently drawing upon family home evening lessons and other gospel messages. She became the face of the Church for many on the island.
Missionaries first arrived on Curaçao in 1978 and the island’s first branch was created in October of 1979. Growth followed the 1982 decision to conduct Church meetings in Papiamento. The Curaçao meetinghouse was dedicated in August 1988.
Dedicating the country and worshipping with the Curaçao members “was a beautiful experience,” said Elder Soares.
“The Church has a great future in Curaçao,” he added. “The people are faithful and willing to receive the gospel. ... I could see in their eyes the hope that the gospel brings to them.”
Enjoying Christ’s gospel
The Feb. 16 leadership meetings in Santiago, Dominican Republic, offered further glimpses into the hearts, minds and capacity of the Caribbean Area members. They are “happy people” focused on the gospel and the guidance offered by President Russell M. Nelson and their other leaders.
“They asked about how they could become closer to Christ and how they could show Christ-like love to one another. They wanted to know how they can utilize the power of the Holy Ghost. They asked questions about issues related to their families and their youth,” reported Elder Teixeira.
Elder Soares noted the relative “newness” of the Church in the Dominican Republic and other Caribbean nations.
Prior to the 1978 revelation that gave all people full access to the blessings of the priesthood and the temple, the Church was all but non-existent in the Caribbean — a region with a large population of people of African descent.
“The Caribbean members are focused on strengthening their family in the gospel,” he said. “There is great joy — the people are enjoying the gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives.
“I see a great future for the Church in the Caribbean Area. They are good people who are dedicated to their families and their desire to serve the Lord.”