History of the Church in Haiti

David R. Crockett

Haiti occupies the western third of the island Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. Haiti was under American rule from 1915 to 1934 and for a time was occupied by the U.S. military. The country is very poverty-stricken and has been politically unstable. Haiti's population is ninety-eight percent black, descendants of African slaves brought in by French colonists. The people speak Haitian Creole, a blend of French, African, Spanish, and English.

In 1977 Alexandre Mourra was a storekeeper in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He was of Jewish-Arabic descent. His family was from Bethlehem, and they had immigrated with their family to Santiago, Chile, where Alexandre was born. When he was six months old, his family moved to Port-au-Prince.

For years Alexandre had sought for the truth and had prayed to the Lord to help him find it. One day in 1977 he went to a cousin's store where he saw his sister-in-law reading a book. She had previously lived in Miami for six years. Brother Mourra related:

I felt that I should ask her to lend it to me, not even knowing what it was about. She refused to lend me the book, which she said was a religious book by the name of the Book of Mormon, but she did give me a brochure which told the story of Joseph Smith. . . . When I returned to my store and read the story of Joseph Smith, I immediately knew that it was true, that he was a prophet of God, and that he had spoken with Jesus Christ. I knew nothing more than that, but I was beside myself with excitement, because never before in my whole life had I had a similar experience. Immediately I wrote to Salt Lake City and to Miami for more information and for a copy of the Book of Mormon. Then I reread again and again the wonderful story of the boy prophet. (Hartman and Connie Rector, No More Strangers, 4:124).
A month passed, and no book arrived. Brother Mourra again wrote a letter requesting a copy of the Book of Mormon. The new mission president of the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, Richard L. Millett explained:
Our first experience with Haiti began in July of 1977. We had just arrived in Ft Lauderdale and were getting acquainted with the priesthood leaders and our members. A letter had just arrived from Haiti as President and Sister Nielsen were being released. President Nielsen showed it to me and told me that he had not answered it, thinking that it would be better for me to do so as I was arriving soon. The letter was from Alexandre Mourra from Port Au Prince, Haiti. In the letter he mentioned that "he would like to be baptized for the remission of his sins." He also mentioned that he would like to have a Book of Mormon. (Richard Millett, "Haiti, A Land of Contrast.")
President Millett mailed two copies of the Book of Mormon, one in French and the other in English. Finally the books arrived. Brother Millett was excited to receive them.
It was five o'clock in the afternoon, so I quickly closed the store and went home. I could not eat because of excitement, and therefore I went outside to begin reading. My wife thought I was sick. What a wonderful illness! Later I came into the house to continue reading. I was crying tears of joy as I read and understood the words the Lord had given to his ancient prophets in the Americas. I could not stop. As the light of dawn began to break, I came to the promise of Moroni. It was a wonderful promise, but I had already been praying in my heart as I read the book. I did not need to ask for an answer. I knew that it was true, for the Holy Ghost had been witnessing to me of its eternal truths all through the hours of the night. I wept again for joy. (No More Strangers, 4:125)
That same morning, Alexandre Mourra phoned President Millett asking for an interview. He wanted to be baptized. He made arrangements for a flight to Miami several days later. After he arrived he again called President Millett, who was away to Puerto Rico. President Millet said:
Upon returning, there was a message waiting for us informing us that Alexandre Mourra was in Miami. I called Mr. Mourra and visited with him on the telephone. Once again he told me he desired to be baptized. He asked if there was a hotel or motel close by in Ft Lauderdale where he could come and stay while he learned more about the Church. I informed him that there was a motel just a few blocks away; and I sent my assistants, Elders Duncan and Russell, to Miami to pick him up. (Richard Millett, "Haiti, A Land of Contrast.")
Alexandre Mourra arrived in Fort Lauderdale and went to President Millett's office. He recalled:
Well, the Book of Mormon does not say anything about cigarettes or coffee, so when I came to President Millett's office I had a pack of cigarettes visible in my pocket. I told him I had come to be baptized and told him my story. Can you imagine what was going through his mind? Here was this strange man with a pack of cigarettes in his pocket, asking to be baptized, and he had not even heard of Mormon missionaries. (No More Strangers, 4:125)
President Millet remembered clearly this interesting interview. He made arrangements for his two assistants to teach Alexandre over the next two days. President Millet related:
During our conversation he motioned to his pocket and said, "What about these?" I could see the outline of a pack of cigarettes in his pocket. I assumed he was asking if we smoked in the Church, and I reached for the wastebasket and extended it to him. He took the pack of cigarettes and his matches from his pocket and said, "If that is what the Lord expects, I'll quit right now even though I have smoked three to four packs a day for years!" It wasn't until three years later when he came to the Provo Temple to get his endowments that he said, "Oh, President Millett, when I first met you and asked you about my cigarettes, I was asking you for permission to smoke, not if one was permitted to smoke in the Church." At any rate, Brother Mourra stopped smoking from that time forward. (Richard Millett, "Haiti, A Land of Contrast").
Over the next two days, the missionaries taught him the lessons. It was an unusual experience for them. They would flip a page of their flip chart and Brother Mourra would tell about it. The missionaries just had to guide him through the details. During this teaching period, he had lunch with the missionaries and President Millett. Alexandre noticed that the missionaries didn't drink coffee. He asked about it and was told that coffee was also part of the Word of Wisdom. He said, "That's fine, I drink 20 to 30 cups of black Cuban coffee a day, but I'm willing to do what the Lord wants." He stopped drinking coffee that day.

Plans were made for his baptism on Sunday in the mission home swimming pool. He attended all the Church meetings and was baptized in the evening. He was ordained to the priesthood on the following day. Brother Mourra returned to Haiti, the first and only member of the Church in that country. He said: "I returned to Haiti, where I began to tell everyone what had happened to me. At fifty-eight years of age, I had become as a child -- clean and pure before the Lord. I could hardly believe it when others did not accept the truth I tried to teach them. It was all so clear and wonderful to me." (No More Strangers, 4:126)

During the spring of 1978, President Millett visited Haiti for the first time. He flew there with his counselor, President Frank Talley, and their wives. President Millett desired to visit the Mourra family and ordain Brother Mourra to the office of Elder. They had a wonderful visit with the family and shared their testimonies with them. President Millet recorded in his journal: "After dinner President Talley and I visited with Brother Mourra and then I personally interviewed him for advancement in the priesthood, after which we invited his wife to witness his ordination to Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. He was pleased and Sister Mourra also."

In June 1978, President Richard Millett phoned Brother Alexandre Mourra to tell him about the wonderful news of the priesthood revelation. President Millet recalled that Brother Mourra asked him when he would be coming to Haiti again. President Millet recalled:

I said, "I'm not sure, is there a reason that we should come?" He said, "Yes, we have some people to baptize!" He informed us that he had been teaching a number of people the Gospel, including several Presbyterian ministers. This was not surprising; nobody could come in contact with Brother Mourra or come into his store without hearing the message of the restoration. It did not matter if they were a Catholic priest, nun, Seventh-day Adventist or Baptist minister; Brother Mourra would share the Gospel with them. (Richard Millett, "Haiti, A Land of Contrast").
When President Millett and his counselors arrived, they were amazed to find several ministers who had testimonies of the gospel. Brother Mourra wanted to take President Millett into the countryside, to a village named Hatte Marie, to teach some of the people in the minister's congregation. President Millett wrote in his journal:
I suggested to Brother Mourra that we would like to talk to Philippe Des Rosiers, one of the ministers, and discuss how he feels about the Gospel. Philippe is a big man, about 6'2" and around 200 pounds, with a strong spirit and an apparent humble heart. As we visited, it became clear that he had a testimony of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon and the need for a living prophet upon the earth.

Philippe told us how he had found Alexandre Mourra. It had been revealed to him in a dream that he was to seek him when he had never seen or met him before. He found Alexandre Mourra in his store, where he had been directed to go in his dream, and told him that he had been sent to him and wanted to be taught and receive what Alexandre Mourra had for him. We interviewed him and found him worthy and ready to be committed to living the Gospel. We also talked to him about the twenty or so others that Brother Mourra said were ready for baptism. (Richard Millett, "Haiti, A Land of Contrast").

Brother Mourra took them to meet the people in Hatte Marie, about a 45 minute drive from Port-au-Prince. President Millett recalled:
There we found a little chapel constructed of cinder-block with a tin roof, dirt floor and openings for windows and doors through which wandered chickens and skinny dogs. People began to come from the countryside and within a period of time, they had filled the chapel to overflowing, some sitting on the ground when the wooden benches became full. Each of the mission presidency taught the message of the restoration for the first time in a church meeting in Haiti. There was between 100-120 people in attendance at the meeting, and we announced to them that there would be a baptism in the stream that ran in front of the chapel. Almost everyone wanted to know if they could be baptized, but we felt that only the ones who had been taught all of the missionary discussions by Alexandre Mourra would be interviewed and considered as candidates for baptism. (Ibid.)
On July 2, 1978, twenty-two Haitians were baptized, the first converts to be baptized in the nation of Haiti.

In September 1978, J. Frederick Templeman a member of the Church from Canada, came to Haiti, to work in the Canadian Embassy in Port-au-Prince. He was the first secretary to the Ambassador of Canada. Brother Templeman helped missionary work progress and was able to help the mission monitor the progress better. He taught two young men the gospel and prepared them for baptism. One of them was 23-year-old Fritzner Joseph. [Fritzner Joseph would later be the first Haitian full-time missionary and would later serve as a mission president.]

From President Millett's journal:

We had a lovely meal with the Templemans in the evening along with Brother Mourra and immediately following our meal, Philippe came over with some of the other new converts of several months ago. Brother Templeman has been teaching these two young men for a long period of time. They are both very sharp and brilliant. They know how to read and are very anxious to be baptized.

We had the baptismal service for one young man, but Brother Joseph did not come. We held the confirmation and then Brother Joseph arrived after the service was over and was visibly upset. He thought that he was not going to be able to be baptized because he had arrived late. He had tears in his eyes. He is a special young man, so we proceeded to baptize him.

Brother Templeman had informed us previously that the baptisms would take place in the swimming pool at one of the consulate's other homes, as the Templeman's filter was broken and the pool was half full and was not the cleanest. Of interest was the fact that the Templeman children had caught a small crocodile, and it was swimming in the pool. Some of the brethren attempted to corral the crocodile in the corner of the pool as Brother Mourra took Fritzner Joseph into the water to be baptized. It got loose and went directly to where the two men were standing just as Brother Mourra raised his hand to the square to perform the baptismal service. I have never seen anyone come out of a swimming pool so fast as these two did. (Richard Millett, "Haiti, A Land of Contrast").

The first missionaries couples arrived in May 1980 from the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission. The missionaries had been transferred from the Paris France Mission. In October, 1980, the first branch was organized in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In April 1981, Fritzner Joseph was called to serve a mission in Puerto Rico.

In 1982 President Kenneth Zabriskie sent twelve elders from Florida to serve in Port-au-Prince. These elders later called themselves "the Original Twelve." The elder had more referrals than you could teach. The Port-au-Prince branch grew so rapidly that it was divided in December 1982. The Haiti District was created with Ludner Armand as president. Missionaries were sent to open the city of Cap Hatien.

On April 17, 1983 Elder Thomas S. Monson came to Haiti and dedicated the land for the preaching of the gospel. He also dedicated the first chapel site in Port-au-Prince. Sixty members of the Church, including President Kenneth L. Zabriskie attended the service. The ceremony and prayer were held on a mountain overlooking the city. During his visit, Elder Monson also spoke to 289 people in Port-au-Prince and spoke to sixteen missionaries serving in Haiti. (Church News, May 22, 1983).

In July, 1983 Haiti became part of the new West Indies Mission with President Zabriskie as the new mission president.

During 1983 selection from the Book of Mormon were translated into Haitian Creole by Luckner Huggins, a Haitian convert. He also translated several hymns into Creole. At the end of 1983, there were 485 members in Haiti.

One of the challenges faced in converting Haitians to the gospel is the widespread practice of voodoo mixed with Christianity. This practice is difficult for many to abandon. Some poor members sometimes fell back into this practice when they saw voodoo participants doing well financially.

On August 4, 1984, the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission was created. There were 550 members in the Port-au-Prince Haiti District. James S. Arrigona was called as the first mission president. He had previously served as a mission president in Belgium and France.

By 1986 there were 1,685 members in Haiti, in fourteen branches. President Arrigona was released. David S. King was the new president. At that time there were 76 missionaries in the mission, 28 of them Haitian.

During 1988, Fritzner Joseph accepted the position of the Church Educational System coordinator in Haiti. There were 2,200 members in Haiti that year.

On May 1989, a district conference was held which was attended by 1,200 of the 3,000 Haitian members. Forty-nine men were ordained elders.

In September 1989, Clair W. Andrus, of Provo Utah became the president of the Haiti Mission, succeeding David S. King. [in 1990 President and Sister King were called to be the president and matron of the Washington D.C. Temple. In 1994, President King was ordained patriarch of the Washington D.C. Stake.] During 1989, there were 185 students attending students in Haiti.

In January 1990, the Haiti Port-au-Prince District was divided into the Port-au-Prince North and Port-au-Prince South districts. There were 3,500 members in the country and about 140 missionaries. Among these missionaries were 26 native Haitians.

As political tensions increased in the country, all sister missionaries were evacuated to other missions during January, 1991.

In 1991 there were eighteen branches of the Church in Haiti. Referring to the severe poverty of the country, Fritzner Joseph said: "Even though it might be hard for the rest of the world to believe, we need the 'word that proceedeth forth out of the mouth of God' before we need even bread. Can poor people live the gospel? Yes! Jesus said to everyone -- rich and poor -- to put the kingdom of God ahead of their earthly problems. Then, and only then, do blessings come." (VanDenBerghe, "Haitian Saints See Hope in the Gospel," Ensign, March 1991).

Eddy Bourdeau, the president of the Port-au-Prince South district added: "Some members try hard, some members don't, and some really show you the meaning of faith, happily doing whatever they're asked. Often, they'll come to church dressed up and smiling, but will go home to no food in the house. Yet they still keep coming." (Ibid.)

In 1991, Robert O. Hickman, of Edmonds, Washington, was assigned as president of the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission, succeeding Clair W. Andrus. [In 1994 President Andrus was called to serve as the president of the Zaire Kinshasa Mission in Central Africa.]

During 1991, political problems arose as Jean Bertrand Aristide, the freely-elected president of Haiti, was driven out of office by a military coup. The new government restricted almost all foreigners from entry the country. This drastically affected the number of LDS American missionaries serving in Haiti. In October 1991, all American missionaries left the country as requested by the U.S. State Department. The United Nations imposed an embargo against Haiti. Also leaving was the mission president, Robert O. Hickman. Eight missionaries were given early releases. President Hickman presided over the mission from Miami, Florida.

Fritzner Joseph, the CES coordinator, was given the assignment to watch over Church property and supervise the remaining Haitian missionaries. By early 1992, it was determined that the American missionaries would not be able to return soon, so they were assigned to different missions. Twenty-four missionaries were affected. Fritzner Joseph was called to be the mission president in Haiti. In June, President Joseph and his wife Marie Gina traveled to the Mission Training Center, in Provo, Utah, for a mission president's seminar. On the day before the seminar, Gina Joseph gave birth to their first child, a son, in a local Utah hospital.

In July 1993, President Joseph reported to the Church News:

We are working for the goal to have the first stake, but this is very difficult to reach because of the political problems. But we have faith that this has been a blessing. We have had the opportunity to work together. In the past we had leaders from the United States and it was very easy for the members. This past year has been a very good experience for them. I have also learned a lot. It has also been a very spiritual period because we have members preparing to go to the temple. We had six couples married in the temple in Guatemala. The Haitians know that they are the Church in Haiti. And I am really having a good experience as mission president. My wife and I are grateful for this opportunity and we are trying to do our best. (Avant, "Present-Day Pioneers: Many are Still Blazing Gospel Trails," Church News, July 24, 1993).
Conditions in Haiti worsened in 1993. The Haitian military dictatorship went back on their word to allow President Aristide back into the country. The United States led an embargo against Haiti. A military invasion by the United States looked inevitable. Many of the Haitian Saints were starving. The mission office arranged for rice, beans, and other food to be sent to the needy members. Some of the branches grew gardens for the poor. Edouard Joseph, a member of the mission presidency said: "Things are hard now but God won't let us down. We are holding together and God will hold us."

At the end of 1993, there were about 5,000 members in Haiti.

The Members in Haiti were excited about the announcement of a temple in the Dominican Republic. President Joseph said: "They are very excited. They feel great about it. This will be a great blessing for us in Haiti." Traveling to the Guatemala Temple was very difficult for Haitian members. They also encountered language barriers at that temple. There were twenty-two missionaries serving in the Haiti mission, in 1994.

During 1994, massive waves of refugees left Haiti, hoping to enter the United States. Refugee camps set up on the outskirts of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. About 14,000 Haitians were divided into camps of between 2,000-3,000. LDS Chaplain Philip G. McLemore was assigned to one of these camps on September 6, 1984. Chaplain McLemore said: "When I looked at the blessings and opportunities I have while seeing the poverty and struggles and uncertainty these people faced, I was so grateful. That made me want to help their lives to be a little better and I wanted them to know that someone cared." (Hill, Service in Refugee Camp Touches Chaplain's Heart," Church News, February 18, 1995).

On September 18, 1994: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter intervened and spearheaded a deal with the military junta, thus avoiding a U.S. invasion that was scheduled for the next day. Conditions improved in October 1994

when Haiti was restored to a democratic government, and President Aristide returned.

In 1995, President Fritzner Joseph (mission president) reported that the members in Haiti were doing well and the conditions had generally improved. He said that there was a shortage of trained priesthood leaders and that the missionary force was too small for the missionaries to serve in branch leadership positions. This challenge prevented the creation of new branches. He said: "We have to work very closely with some branches. The situation is not very stable, but it is better. It will take some time." He added that frequent power outages continue to restrict the activities of residents. (Church News, February 25, 1995).

He added that the members came to the realization that "in many ways they are the church in their land, and the Church is theirs. The gospel flourishes in Haiti because of their efforts to carry out Heavenly Father's will."

In 1996, Elder Stephen D. Nadauld, the Area President said:

Most members are probably aware that not long ago a political situation in Haiti resulted in that country's being isolated from much of the world for a while. . . contact with Church headquarters became very limited. Yet we were gratified to find the Church in marvelous condition when we visited Haiti in December 1994 for the first time in three and a half years. As we toured the mission's two districts and numerous branches, we found that despite economic and other challenges, the Church was well organized, meetings were faithfully held, buildings were maintained, and members had continued paying tithes and fast offerings. Their understanding and practice of gospel doctrines and programs remained sound, and their leaders are more dedicated than ever.

Haiti's time of isolation was overall a strengthening experience as far as the Church is concerned. . . . During their few years of isolation, Haitian members learned that in many ways they are the Church in their land, and the Church there is theirs. The gospel flourishes in Haiti because of their efforts to carry out Heavenly Father's will. Thus, the Church is doing well in Haiti. A challenge remains, however, to replenish the nation's missionary force. ("Caribbean Centers of Strength," Ensign, April 1996).

In 1996 Harold W. Bodon became the new president of the Haiti Mission. In June the mission was again opened up to foreign missionaries.

During November, 1996, a Methodist minister from Saint Michel approached the president of the Gonaives branch, Ablar Jogger, and told him that his congregation of 125 members wanted to join the LDS Church. Because of the remote location, mission president Harold W. Bodon could not immediately investigate the situation. A few of these people started to attend the Gonaives branch, making a six-hour round trip. In January, 1997, President Ablar informed President Bodon that there was a second village, Plaisance, where one hundred people wanted to join the Church.

On February 14, 1997, the Methodist minister from Saint Michel traveled seven hours to see President Bodon. He wanted to know why missionaries had not yet been sent to his village. President Bodon told him that they were planning to visit his village the following week. The man said that it was about time, because there were now four hundred people interested in the Church.

President Bodon and branch president Ablar arrived at Saint Michel on February 21, 1997. They entered the Methodist chapel crowded with ninety people, far past its capacity. The people started to sing and clap. The minister introduced the visitors to the congregation. After the visitors sang to the people, President Bodon addressed the congregation. He later wrote:

We felt the Spirit. These were humble people who needed their faith just to live from day to day: they loved to hear about God and Jesus Christ. They were glad we came to share our testimonies with them. We were glad we came too! They wanted us to know that we were welcome and that they would like us to come back. Our hearts were full. We shook many hands and exchanged many hugs and smiles. We took a lot of pictures. (The Haitians love to have their picture taken!) It was hard for us to leave. But we had to. The minister came with us since he wanted us to see a piece of land on which we could build a chapel. I was impressed. It really was a beautiful piece of land. Then he showed us a house where the missionaries could live. I must admit, that man had done his homework. We presented him with ten Books of Mormon, about three hundred pamphlets, and a 10x14 picture of Christ. He was a happy man.
On the next day, they traveled to Plaisance. The mayor greeted them and took them on a walking tour of the little town. A town crier was seen calling the people to attend a meeting at noon. About seventy people attended the meeting and their reaction was the same as at Saint Michel. They wanted missionaries to teach them. It was very apparent that the mountain people of North-East Haiti were prepared to hear and receive the gospel. (Bodon, "The People of Saint Michel, a Mountain Village in Northern Haiti." See http://www.greatbasin.net/%7Enetworth/haiti/bodon2.htm )

On September 21, 1997, the first stake in Haiti, the Port-Au-Prince Haiti Stake, was created by Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy. It included seven wards and two branches. Reynolds Antoine Saint-Louis was called as the first stake president. He is the owner of a pharmaceutical business. He chose Edouard Joseph and Judex Joseph as his counselors.

In 1997 there were about 5,300 members in Haiti.

In 1998 Donald Kent Miller was called as the new president of the Haiti Mission.