Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's History! We have a Stake!

About 750 Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church in Trinidad gathered together at 9 a.m. this morning (Sunday, March 1, 2009) in the Cascadia Hotel Conference Center for the creation of the first stake in the West Indies Mission (first English-speaking Stake in the Caribbean).

The approval to create the stake was given on February 12, 2009 in a meeting of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Elder Neil L. Andersen (Senior President of the Presidency of the Seventy) and Elder Francisco J. Vinas (First Counselor in the Caribbean Area Presidency) were assigned by the Brethren to create the stake.

Elder Neil L. Andersen

Emrol Gould, who was baptized February 12, 1989, was called to be the first stake president. Christopher Danzell was selected to be the first counselor and Michael Rupa was chosen to be the second counselor.

President Danzell (1st counselor), President Gould (president), President Rupa (2nd counselor)

President Emrol Gould

Elder Andersen invited Nicholas Victor to tell the story of how he introduced President Danzell to the church. Both of these fine men served with us as missionaries in the West Indies Mission - what a privilege it was to work with them!

Elder Vinas (1st counselor in the Caribbean Area Presidency) gave counsel in the Saturday night priesthood meeting

There will be six wards and two branches in the new stake. The following are the new bishops:

Arima - Bishop Ali
Couva - Bishop Vishel Patel
Curepe - Bishop Alleyne
Port of Spain - Bishop Hooker
San Fernando - Bishop Ramdeen
Sangre Grande - Bishop Suepaul

The branches of Siparia, Point Fortin and Tobago are not in the Port of Spain, Trinidad Stake but rather are mission dependent branches.

What was it like to be there?

What must hundreds of missionaries who have served in Trinidad be thinking on this glorious day?

The history of establishing the Church in Trinidad has been challenging. The first missionaries to come to Trinidad in 1976 were turned away, but midway through the following year, the first converts were baptized. Early pioneer names like Payne, Borde, Raphael, and Balfour will forever be recorded in the historical records of laying the foundation for this work. Pioneers like Bishops Alleyne, Ramdeen, Hooker and Suepaul each were leaders in the districts. The new stake president Emrol Gould has been carefully tutored as a district officer and an executive secretary in the mission presidency during his twenty years as a member. However, it took hard work from the Trinidad saints, many mission president tenures, as well as the tireless labors of couples and elders preaching the gospel to bring about this wonderful day. And, it took years to obtain authorization for legal missionary permits. Ten years after the first converts were baptized, a new member named Kelvin Diaz was able to begin efforts to secure this authorization. By the end of 1988, he was able to secure 18 missionary visa permits. Progress was made to obtain 35 a few years later and in 2007, the government allowed the mission to apply under two different associations (Trinidad and Tobago Association and West Indies Mission Association).

In 2005, the country was divided into two districts by the mission president Henk Dorenbosch: the San Fernando District and the Port of Spain District. In 2007, under the direction of the new area presidency, President Reid A. Robison requested to have the two districts merged back into one district in anticipation of qualifying to become a stake. Prior to the creation of the stake, the Port of Spain, Trinidad District consisted of eleven branches: Port of Spain, Curepe, Arima, Sangre Grande, Couva, San Fernando, Chaguanas, Princes Town, Siparia, Point Fortin and Tobago. During the four years prior to stakehood, the country had approximately 125 to 130 baptisms per year. In 2008, members joined with missionaries to introduce friends to the church and 234 people were baptized. At the time of the application to become a stake, there were 2130 members in the Trinidad District.

The increase in baptisms and membership was the result of focused efforts of goal-oriented missionaries, an increase in the number of couple missionaries, and the quality of the proselyting program introduced with the "Preach My Gospel" manual. For the past three years, members have adopted the Basic Unit Program as a practice and as a curriculum. New member and seasoned member alike, sat together as they learned from the Gospel Principles manual in Sunday School, the Latter-day Saint Woman in Relief Society, and Duties of the Priesthood for Priesthood.

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