History of the Church in Belize

David R. Crockett

Belize is a small country (about the size of New Hampshire) on the east coast of Central America, on the Yucatan Peninsula. It was formerly known as British Honduras and received its independence in 1981.

On May 5, 1980, missionary work began in Belize. President Samuel Flores, president of the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission, traveled to Belize with Elder Robert Henke. Ten other missionaries arrived the following day. Elder Merlin Mikkelson was set apart as the president of a newly organized branch. The first sacrament meeting was held on May 11, 1980, with a small group of missionaries in a hotel room in Belize City. The first convert, Ernesto Alay, was baptized on June 1, 1980. Elder Hugh W. Pinnock visited the country on August 30, 1980. (1997-98 Church Almanac)

Helen Reynolds was baptized on November 22, 1980, in the ocean near Belize City. She recalled that the branch had only 15-20 members, and met in an army barracks. Soon, her son George followed her into the waters of baptism. He recalled that the small branch was like a family.

One of the early converts in 1981, who later became a leader of the Church in Belize, was Harold Smith. He had talked to the missionaries on the street and invited them to come to his home. He later said: "At that time I was really looking for something. I had just quit attending another church because I had become dissatisfied. I was convinced we were supposed to serve the Lord, but I didn't know how. I fasted and prayed, and asked the Lord to show me the right way. When the missionaries came and taught me of the restored gospel, I realized that was the answer to my prayers." When he and his wife first attended meetings in Belize City, there were only about twelve members attending.

Another early member was Wilfred E. L. Nicholas of Belize City, who was baptized about 1981. During the day, some missionaries knocked on his door. Brother Nicholas related: "My wife told me some white men were here to talk to the head of the house. The following day they talked to me and said they were missionaries and that they would like to come back to talk to me concerning the gospel. I said 'Sure.'" They were taught the lessons and were soon baptized. He explained that after his baptism, home teachers visited him and read scriptures and "from then on, I didn't have the mind to turn back." ("Belize: 'Great manifestations of faith,' Church News, February 7, 1998).

On April 17, 1983, the Belize District was organized with Harold Smith as president.

In 1987, there were about 1,000 members in Belize, in seven branches. Meetinghouses were completed in Orange Walk and San Ignacio. Harold Smith, still president of the Belize District, said: "We have many members who introduce friends and relatives to missionaries. We are also sending out more full-time missionaries. Right now, we have two missionaries serving in Honduras, and we've had others who have already served and returned. In the past two years, we have run out of missionary application forms twice." ("Fisherman finds a 'real treasure," Church News, September 19, 1987).

President Smith said of Belize members: "One of our biggest challenges is that many members must go away for two or three weeks at a time in order to find work. This takes members out of their home branches."

As of 1987, about thirty Belizian members had received their temple ordinances. They traveled to the Guatemala City Temple by bus and plane. A few members would also travel by bus to the Mexico City temple. This trip was cheaper, but much further.

Also in 1987, Hilberto Casanova, who was baptized in 1984, became the first missionary to serve from Belize City. He was called to serve in the Honduras Tegucigalpa Mission

In 1990, the Honduras San Pedro Sula Mission was created. It included the country of Belize. At that time there were 1,100 members in the country.

On Dec 7, 1992, Belize was dedicated for the preaching of the gospel by Elder Russell M. Nelson. The ceremony took place in the suburb of Burrell Boon, nineteen miles west of Belize City. About thirty-six members gathered in a secluded, grassy garden on a farm. These members included the district and branch leaders. Rain fell before and after the service, but only a light sprinkle fell as Elder Nelson offered the prayer.

Elder Nelson dedicated Belize "for the purposes of bringing a rich harvest of choice souls unto thee, our beloved Father. . . . We pray that thou wilt help us to raise up a generation of obedient and faithful souls who will be worthy of all the blessings that thou has in store for thy faithful sons and daughters."

Elder Ted E. Brewerton spoke at the service and explained: "When a member of the Twelve dedicates a country, the work goes forth with greater haste. . . . We have noticed dramatic blessings that have come to the [dedicated] nations because of the blessing of the Twelve upon those nations. It is a distinct blessing to have such a thing happen in the marvelous country of Belize, so our work can go forth with greater haste and so each of us will have an increased ability to achieve the mission of this, the Church of Jesus Christ." ("Tiny Nation of Belize is Dedicated," Church News, December 19, 1992).

Later that evening, 289 members gathered to dedicate the new Belize City meetinghouse. District President and pioneer member, Harold Smith, spoke to the gathering. "I feel the events of this day will rest upon all the people of Belize. I feel that this blessing will eventually touch all the lives and hearts of the people of this country. This marks the beginning of something new for us -- the strengthening of faith and of testimonies."

In 1992, there were 1,300 members in Belize, in three districts and seven branches. In July, 1993, the Guatemala North Mission was realigned. It included the country of Belize.

On November 13, 1997, the Saints in Belize were delighted to receive a visit from President Gordon B. Hinckley. About 1,200 members gathered in St. John's College Gymnasium. They had arrived in buses from all over the country. A small group even traveled by boat.

President Hinckley said: "It is a great pleasure to be with you. I have never before been to Belize. No president of the Church has ever before been to Belize. This is a small country, but a very important country. And I am grateful for the privilege to be here. . . . Yesterday, we were at Chichen Itza, and a young man who had served a mission there and learned the Mayan languages, sang to us in Mayan. He sang, 'I Am a Child of God.' It was beautiful. I hope my dear friends, that every one of you can sing, 'I Am a Child of God,' that you will never forget, whether there be adversity, whether there be trouble, that there is something of divinity within you, something which came from your Eternal Father, who is our God."

President Hinckley encouraged the Saints of Belize to pay their tithing. "[The Lord] expects us, my brothers and sisters . . . to pay a full tithing. Now many of you are very poor, I know that, and you [may] say you cannot afford to pay your tithing. It is a matter of faith. And if we expect the Lord to bless us as He has promised to do, we must do what He has asked us to do, that is, to pay our tithes and offerings. The Church does not take any money out of Belize. Instead, the Church puts a great deal of money into Belize so you never need feel that which you pay in tithing will leave this part of the world. You will help build the kingdom of God here in your native land, if you will do so." (Pres. Hinckley speaks to 75,000 in Mexico, makes visit to Belize," Church News, Saturday, November 22, 1997).

Also speaking to the gathering were Elder L. Tom Perry of the Twelve, Elder Julio Alvarado, Area Authority Seventy, and President Josue Ricardo Perez of the Honduras San Pedro Sula Mission.

By 1998, there were about 2,000 Belizians Church members, comprising three districts and fifteen branches. Additional branches were expected to be created soon.

Belize District President P. Joel Munoz said: "The Lord's way of life can work and it is working everywhere, and it is working in Belize among members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have seen great manifestations of faith among the membership of the people here in Belize." The Saints in Belize face economic challenges. President Munoz said: "As we can see, there are many poor living in the country of Belize who are faithful members of the Church, who pay a faithful tithe, and who have received a testimony of that law, and know of a surety that it is a commandment of the Lord, because they have seen the blessings in their lives. . . . For us, tithing is a living testimony because we live it day to day. That's the way it is with people everywhere who live this law, especially the people in our country of Belize. The testimony grows to be a tremendous testimony, an unshaken testimony." ("Belize: 'Great manifestations of faith,'" Church News, February 7, 1998).

Hilberto Casanova, the branch president of the Belize City Branch, reported that the Church was growing slowly in the branch. They have experienced between 40-50 new members each years and have had difficulty with convert retention. He said: "If we could keep up our home teaching and our visiting teaching, then we would always have contact with our members and bring them back to Church." The English-speaking branch had an average attendance of about 115-125 people.