History of the Church in Guyana

David R. Crockett

Guyana is a nation in South America next to Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname. It was formerly known as British Guiana, a British colony that brought in African slaves and many people from India to work on plantations. The East Indians make up the largest population group in Guyana today. Guyana gained independence in 1966 and is part of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Guyana is about the size of Idaho. It consists of tropical land with thick forests and high mountains. Large sugar plantations and small rice farms cover the cultivated land. See page on Guyana at: http://www.turq.com/guyana/guygenrl.html

In 1852 missionaries were called and set apart to serve in British Guiana. They were James Brown and Elijah Thomas. The elders embarked on their mission from San Diego, California, sailed to Panama and crossed the Isthmus. They were unable to get passage on a ship to British Guiana, so they sailed to Jamaica to join the West Indies missionaries serving there. Because there was so much opposition against the missionaries in Jamaica, the elders were unable to find any ship's captain who would agree to let them board a ship for British Guiana. The elders finally had to abandon their British Guiana mission and sailed to labor in New York.

Over one hundred years later, on August 29, 1959, Elder Harold B. Lee of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife Fern, sailed from New York for South America on the "S.S. Brazil." Their ship dropped anchor in the bay off the city of Georgetown, Guyana. They went into the city to shop for gifts for their grandchildren. (Goates, L. Brent. "Harold B. Lee: Prophet and Seer,"

Guyana experienced tragedy in 1979 when 638 adults and 276 children died in Jonestown. These people were followers of a religious leader, Jim Jones. Jones ordered his entire group to commit suicide by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid. The tragedy was felt worldwide, and caused some governments to take a more cautious approach to foreign religions.

During July 1988, Dean Brunson and his wife Betty were assigned by the Church to visit Guyana to search out members who were thought to live there. They located the Majid Abdulla family who had been baptized previously in Canada.

The following month, a missionary couple Benjamin and Ruth Hudson, were sent to Guyana. They arrived on August 19, 1988 and started serving in a village near the capital city of Georgetown. One of their first visits was to the home of Indra Sukhdeo who had expressed a desire to become a Christian. A week later, the Hudsons asked Indra Sukhdeo if they could hold their first Church meeting in her home. She didn't think her home would be very convenient for such a meeting, but she welcomed them.

Sister Sukhdeo later recalled this Sacrament meeting held in her home during September, 1988 attended by eleven people: "I was glad to have them, I was very excited. I prepared a table and my best table cloth and a few benches for the meeting. I didn't know what to expect. We had our service for about one hour - myself, my two children, a friend [Majid Abdulla] and his family of five and the two missionaries were the congregation. The message was very inspiring and I knew immediately that the Church was the right one for me."

At the close of the meeting the Hudsons gave Indra Sukhdeo a copy of the Book of Mormon. "Within [three] weeks we were given the lessons and were very excited and looking forward to be baptized." Sister Sukhdeo was baptized on October 23, 1988, the first baptism in Guyana. She said: I was so thrilled that my wish came true and that I was a child of God and belonged to the true Church. It may sound childlike, but I went around telling people I was a Christian!" Sister Sukhdeo was called as the Relief Society instructor and later served in the primary. ("Taking Root in `Land of Waters'", Church News, May 11, 1991)

Another family joined the Church a few weeks later and Sister Suhkdeo's husband David was also baptized when he returned home from employment in New York. During February 1989 the Church gained official recognition in Guyana and the Georgetown Branch was organized in March. There were twenty-three people in attendance at the first branch meeting. Elder Hudson leased a large home which was renovated for a branch meetinghouse. The building included a baptismal font, chapel, classrooms, kitchen, restrooms, and a large concrete area outdoors for activities. Kenrick Latchmansingh was the first person baptized in the new font.

During September 1989, another missionary couple, Carvel and Lois Jackson arrived in Guyana to replace the Hudsons. [The Jacksons were from Mesa, Arizona, where Brother Jackson had worked as a coach at Mesa Community College. In 1993, the Jacksons served another mission: They were the directors of the visitors center at Cove Fort, Utah.]

On February 23, 1990, Elder M. Russell Ballard Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, and Elder Charles Didier of the Seventy and president of the South America North Area, visited Georgetown, Guyana. Elder Ballard dedicated Guyana for the preaching of the gospel. The service was held in the carport of a local member's home. There were 45 members in attendance including the Jacksons and another missionary couple, Joseph and Florence Allen. ("Services in 3 South American Nations and Island Republic," Church News, March 10, 1990).

Elder Ballard quoted the Jacksons in April 1990 General Conference: "Another example of the importance of small things comes from Elder and Sister Jackson, missionaries serving in Guyana: 'When we first arrived in the mission field in Guyana, we saw in the local Georgetown newspaper the report of the "Teenager of the Month." In the report he said his favorite food was macaroni. We took the newspaper clipping, a Book of Mormon, and a box of macaroni and knocked on his door. We have taught and baptized seven of the family since our first visit.' This small thing resulted in a great benefit in establishing the Church in Guyana."


In March 1990, the first local branch presidency was called in the Georgetown Guyana Branch. Kenrick Latchmansingh, a convert of less than a year, was sustained as president. Missionary couple Joseph and Florence Allen, who replaced the Jacksons, continued to serve in the branch.

At about this time, sixteen-year-old Sharon Shivdayal, was brought to Church by her aunt. She later told the Church News: "One day I heard that my aunt had joined a church which was new in Guyana. It took her about a year to get me to visit. On the first Sunday I was very nervous. I mean, when we got there. After Church I was kind of surprised and shocked, but I was feeling great about myself and I couldn't wait for next Sunday to come! I began to feel great about myself in school. The other kids couldn't believe it. I am not a bad person, but I could still feel myself changing after only one week. I was baptized on the 14th of April, 1990, my birthdate, by Elder Allen. I know that I am a better person now. I like what I have become. I am not a doctor or anything but the fact that my Heavenly Father is my best friend is quite reassuring." ("Taking Root in `Land of Waters'", Church News, May 11, 1991)

Ralph James, another convert also shared his conversion story: "Elder Allen invited me to Church and the love and fellowship I experienced there were true and very apparent. I felt I had to belong. I have investigated many other churches and I never felt the way I felt when I went to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Spirit guided me and I knew that at last I had found what I was looking for. It was what I wanted. I can never forget the sweet, beautiful tingling in my head and in my heart that made me want to weep when the elders laid their hands on my head and Elder Allen said, 'Receive the Holy Ghost.' Since then I have had a deep fullness in my chest. The Holy Ghost in me is like a breath of life. I feel secure. I believe that someday, the Church in Guyana will extend into all corners of the country." (Ibid.)

Elder Allen commented in 1991: "Our members come from areas as far away as 25 miles to attend the meetings. Transportation is difficult here. It's very costly, and on Sundays, the mini-buses, which are Guyana's mode of transportation, are very limited and require waiting for long periods of time." Five of the members had cars and offered many rides to other members. Several of the members walked to meetings and others rode bikes. (Ibid.)

During March 1991 the first four full-time elders were sent to Guyana under the direction of the South America North Area presidency. The branch membership soon numbered one hundred members. Later in the year Guyana became part of the newly created Trinidad Tobago Mission. Elder Stephen D. Nadauld later explained why Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana were part of this mission: "This trio of countries used to be part of the Church's South America North Area, but geographical barriers such as jungle and the Amazon River cause travel, commerce, and communication of these countries to flow more toward the Caribbean. So it makes sense for the Church to include the three countries with the Caribbean administratively." ("Caribbean Centers of Strength," Ensign, April, 1996).

In 1992 LDS-Gems subscribers Harold and Margene Severson served as a missionary couple in Guyana. There were 130 members of the Church when they arrived and about ten to fourteen full-time Elders served in the country.

On September 15, 1992, Elder Stephen D. Nadauld of the Seventy and President J. Richard Toolson of the Trinidad Tobago Mission met with Guyana's president, Desmond Hoyte. At the luncheon, which was arranged by the Seversons, President Hoyte was assured that Guayanese Church members supported the government and strived to abide by the laws of the land. (See "Guyana Leader Hosted," Church News, November 7, 1992.) Many other government and business officials attended. Full-time elders Bell and Leavitt set up a display and copies of the Book of Mormon were presented all in attendance.

In 1993, the first Guyanese convert, Indra Sukhdeo had moved to New York. She said: "The gospel has really made a difference in my home and in Guyana. I hope one day we'll have many branches, wards and stakes. I hope everyone will be able to have a delicious taste of the gospel. In a world as ours, we need to know and live the gospel. We need to live in harmony." (Present-Day Pioneers: Many are Still Blazing Gospel Trails," Church News, July 24, 1993).

By the end of 1993 there were about 270 members in Guyana. By 1996 membership grew to about five hundred and another branch had been organized.