History of the Church in French Guiana

David R. Crockett

French Guiana is located on the northeastern coast of South America, surrounded by Suriname and Brazil. It is about the size of the state of Indiana. France established a colony there by 1817. Slaves were brought from Africa to work on sugar plantations. The local industry collapsed after 1848 when slavery was abolished. France then used the colony as a penal settlement and sent about 70,000 prisoners there from 1852 to 1939. Henri 'Papillon' Charrihre was one of them. Henri Charrihre's later wrote the novel "Papillon" about the penal colony on Devil's Island. After World War II, French Guiana became a department of France. French is the official language and most of the people also speak the native creole, French Guianise. The European Space Centre is at Kourou, attracting many from other countries. See a tourist page on French Guiana at: http://www.traveldocs.com/gf/index.htm

The first known natives of French Guiana to join the Church were Charles Fortin and Rosiette Fauvette. They both joined the Church in France and returned to their homeland. In the early 1980s the two met at Brother Fortin's home in Cayenne for sacrament meetings. Brother Fortin introduced the Church to others and invited them to also attend. Other members moved to French Guiana and joined with the small group. In 1986, Brother Fortin died. Meetings were moved to the Masinski home and later in January 1987 shifted to Kourou, at the home of Sister Fauvette.

On March 4, 1988, Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy visited French Guiana and organized the group into the Kourou Branch. On November 5, 1988, the first baptisms were performed. Serge and Christie Bonnoit of France were the first people to be baptized into the Church in French Guiana.

The first full-time missionaries to be sent to French Guiana arrived in 1988. They were Wilbur and Jacqueline Wortham. They were followed in 1989 by Edward and Louise Schmidt. On June 26, 1989, the branch was divided and the Cayenne Branch was created with about twenty-three members. On July 1, 1989, Michaela Papo became the first native Gianaise convert. (1997-98 Church Almanac)

On February 27, 1990, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of Twelve, and Elder Charles Didier visited French Guiana. They first held a fireside in Kourou with about forty-five members. They then went up on a hill five miles from Kourou where Elder Ballard dedicated French Guiana for the preaching of the Gospel. Elder Didier translated the prayer into French.

Elder Ballard later said: "All the group rejoiced that they could hear the words of encouragement and great blessings that were given for their country. . . . Worshiping in humble circumstances with no chapel was a very special experience . . . to see the gospel light shining on the faces of those wonderful members of the Church." Elder Ballard shared how he had dedicated Jamaica and the Dominican Republic in 1979, and since that time the Church has seen wonderful growth. He said: "I re-lived what was going to happen as the gospel starts to touch lives." ("Services in 3 South American Nations and Island Republic," Church News, March 10, 1990).

In 1991 the Trinidad Tobago Mission was created and it included French Guiana. In 1994 it became part of the West Indies Mission.

In 1993, David and Sally Taylor, of Orem, Utah, served as a missionary couple in French Guiana. Among their other acts of service, they helped people participate in the Church's literacy program. They taught a member family of East Indian descent. Sister Taylor related the change that came over the family has they learned and progressed:

Every Monday and Friday at 4 p.m. we arrived at their home, took off our shoes at the door and entered their humble apartment. I sat at the kitchen table with the father and son going lesson-by-lesson through the course. Elder Taylor sat on the front porch with the mother helping her learn French, and the youngest son sat at the coffee table and colored pictures or played with his toys. . .

What a joy and blessing it was for us to watch the progress of this wonderful family as the ability to read and write changed their lives. And what sweetness it was to see the father kneel at the sacrament table and bless the bread. Also, what sweetness to see the young man in his bright, white shirt passing the sacrament. ("Literacy Changed Their Lives," June 3, 1995).

By 1995 there were about two hundred members in the two branches.