History of the Church in the Bahamas

David R. Crockett

The Bahama Islands consist of a chain of nearly eight hundred islands that lie north of Cuba. See map at http://www.bahamasvg.com/bahmap.html One of the islands, San Salvador, was the first island that Columbus set foot on in 1492. In 1973 the Bahamas became a free and sovereign Commonwealth. The inhabitants speak English and French Creole. For more general information about the Bahamas, see a tourist page at: http://www.bahamas-on-line.com/

As Latter-day Saints emigrated from the British Isles during the 19th century, many of the ships bound for New Orleans would pass through the Bahamas. One such ship was the Ellen Maria, in 1853, with 332 Saints onboard. While sailing through the Bahamas, the Ellen Maria experience a terrible storm and nearly capsized. The Saints prayed for protection. Sister Hannah Cornaby penned her feelings with this poem:

We know that there is danger, yet there's potency in prayer, And in this trying moment, ask our Heavenly Father's care; Our spirits feel its soothing power, and patiently we wait, The few brief moments, which we know must soon decide our fate. The captain, for a moment, comes inside the cabin door, And in his face we read a look we never saw before; He gazes on the passengers, but utters not a word, Yet plainly then we learn our fate, altho' no sound is heard;

My husband now comes in; his face looks pale, but calm; He sits down close beside me, takes our babe upon his arm; Then seeks, with tender loving words to know if I'm aware, Unless Jehovah's power prevents, death must be very near. We tell each other of our hope, beyond the reach of death, Which will not fail us, even though we should resign our breath, And though, perhaps, all human power is impotent to save, Our trust is stayed on Him who can control the wind and wave.

The wind is hushed, the danger past, oh, how the tidings come, To all who now expect to meet a sudden watery tomb! Life comes to us instead of death; joy takes the place of grief, But how describe the feeling of the wonderful relief?. The vessel righted, now her course again can be controlled, And with the morning light the distant coast we can behold. (Quoted by Rulon A. Walker; BYU Studies l:27:63)

Missionary work apparently had a brief appearance on San Salvador in 1902. In a letter written by the First Presidency (including President Joseph F. Smith) they mentioned that one missionary had been sent to San Salvador during 1902. In April 1906 General Conference, Ben E. Rich, president of the Southern States Mission said: "Recently it has been my privilege to investigate the conditions in some of the islands of the sea. I have visited the Bahama Islands. We have Elders laboring on the Island of Key West, and I have had the privilege of bearing my testimony also upon the Island of Cuba."

Since that time, throughout the years, LDS members visited the islands as tourists or for business conventions. On June 7, 1973, Elder Howard W. Hunter, of the Quorum of Twelve, spoke at the Beneficial Life Insurance Convention at the Xanadu Hotel in the Bahamas. His talk was entitled, "The Need to Listen." He used the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-8, to discuss four classes of "hearers." He said: "In business we are headed for failure unless we listen to the lesson that will help us succeed, or the advice of persons that might give us the key to turn a collision course with failure into success. Of course, we need to talk, but we must listen to the other view in order to increase our understanding sufficiently to make an intelligent decision. A listening ear can oftentimes make the difference." (Williams, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter).

Missionary work did not begin in ernest until 1979. During the early part of that year, Richard Millett, president of the Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission, visited with two LDS families from the United States who were planning to move to Nassau in the Bahamas. They were interested in having missionaries sent to the islands so the Church could be established there. These two families were Larry and Marge McCombs, and Albert and Karen Ballard. They moved to the islands during the summer of 1979.

In July, 1979, President Glen Stringham became the new mission president of the Ft. Lauderdale mission which had recently been divided. He soon received permission to send missionaries to the islands, and did so during the latter part of 1979.

During September 1979, President Richard Millett, now president of the Puerto Rico Mission, received a phone call from Alexandre Paul, the Haitian Consul General to the Bahamas. Mr. Paul had always been interested in religion, and after reading about the Church, had called Salt Lake City for more information. They referred him to President Millett, in Puerto Rico. Mr. Paul expressed interest in learning more about the Church. President Millett referred Alexandre Paul to President Stringham, because the Bahamas were part of the Ft. Lauderdale Mission.

President Millett related:

I asked Mr. Paul for his name, address and phone number and told him I would get in touch with President Stringham and have the missionaries come visit him and his family. Within a matter of days, Elders Carter and Tanner called on the Pauls. These Elders had been two of our finest missionaries in Florida, having served as either zone leaders or assistants to the president. Of interest is the fact that Elder Carter was also one of the first black missionaries to be called on a mission and to be assigned to our mission. The Pauls were very much interested in the Gospel message, and after a few weeks they were baptized into the Church. (From a history provided by LDS-Gems subscriber, Richard Millett).
Brother and Sister Paul were baptized in the Bahamas on January 6, 1980. Sadly, the missionaries were soon denied visas and were asked to leave the islands. They left in May, 1980.

Brother Paul, certainly an influential diplomat in the Caribbean, was invited by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin to attend General Conference. Arrangements were made, and Brother Paul and a wonderful experience. During the Spring of 1980, missionaries were allowed to go into Haiti, thanks to the influence of Alexandre Paul. Richard Millett adds this footnote on Brother Paul: "In 1991 we had the pleasure of meeting Brother Paul face to face for the first time. Following the years of service in the Bahamas, the Pauls were assigned to England and to Miami, Florida. Because of the unrest in Haiti, they moved to Orem, Utah, where Brother Paul took some classes at the Brigham Young University Law School. How excited and pleased we were when they moved not only to Provo, but into our ward and neighborhood."

A branch of the Church was organized in the Bahamas and the first branch conference was held on September 12, 1981. There were 48 members and investigators in attendance. A missionary couple, Thomas and Donna Bauman arrived on December 11, 1982, and provided leadership and instruction to the small group of Saints. Full-time missionaries were allowed to return in March, 1985.

On May 9, 1988, mission president Robert E. Coates, sent two missionaries to open up the city of Freeport on Grand Bahama Island. There were already five members in the city.

By 1988, there were two branches in the Bahamas, the English-speaking Nassau Branch (80 members), and the French Creole-speaking Soldier Road branch (60 members). On May 8, 1988, the first meetinghouse in the Bahamas was dedicated. It is located on Nassau's New Providence Island. The meetinghouse served both branches. Six full-time elders were serving in Nassau at that time. (Church News, March 19, 1988).

On August 23, 1992, Hurricane Andrew hit the Bahamas and the next day battered south Florida. Also during 1992, a missionary couple, Lynn and Georgia Evans, donated a collection of LDS books to the library of the College of the Bahamas. The presentation was arranged by Antoine Ferrier, former branch president for 13 years, and was made by the current branch president, Edward Smith. (Church News, December 5, 1992)

By the end of 1995, there were about 400 members in the Bahamas, in two branches.