On the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Kitts, a core of strong Church members plan to celebrate the achievements of the pioneers - those who sacrificed nearly 150 years ago to build the Church in Salt Lake City and those who are sacrificing now to build the Church on their island.
St. Kitts, also called St. Christopher, is home to more than 40,000 people. Of those, just more than 30 are active members of the Church.They attend their meetings, participate in weekly activities, go to seminary or institute classes and are dedicated to the gospel.
But it is not easy for them, said their 27-year-old branch president Terry Lewellyn Hanley in a recent Church News interview. He frequently talks with members about withstanding the daily pressures that come from living on an island where the Church is not readily accepted.
Pres. Hanley said members living on St. Kitts, where missionaries first organized the branch in 1985, make "very heavy sacrifices" and are "persecuted" for their beliefs. During a recent visit to St. Kitts, Roy R. Valentine, president of the West Indies Mission, told members they are laying the foundation of the gospel on the island.
"Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing," Pres. Valentine read to them from D&C 64:33, "for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great."
Pres. Valentine told the Church News he likens the message to the building of the Salt Lake Temple. "It took 40 years to build the temple. I am sure there were some who laid the foundation of the temple who never saw it completed. I tell these people they are the pioneers (for the Church)," he said.
He added that members on St. Kitts are similar to members throughout the West Indies Mission as well as many other parts of the world: "Faithful, extremely dedicated people who exercise beautiful faith and testimony." He said that many members on the island hold temple recommends, even though the nearest temple is more than 1,000 miles away.
Pres. Hanley called the youth - such as Ajal Farrell, the 18-year-old counselor in the branch presidency - the backbone of the Church. "They are very strong and they are really going out and doing missionary work, because there are some less-active youths," Pres. Hanley said. "For some time we have been using our youth to teach the adults by example."
He said his counselor has worked with some of the teens in the branch to reactivate others. The teens, Pres. Hanley explained, look out for less-active youths, "calling them to ask, `How was your day? How are things going?' or sending them a card telling them they missed them at Church."
Frank and Pauline Bingham, who returned from a mission to St. Kitts in January, also called the youth on the island "strong."
"It isn't easy to be a member of the Church in St. Kitts. There is a lot of opposition," Brother Bingham said, explaining that many of the youth lost their friends when they joined the Church.
The youth, Brother Bingham continued, are working together to change their neighbors' attitudes about the Church through service. In February 1995, a small group of Church members went to the government and asked permission to clean up a park in the center of town.
"Every Friday evening our youth would go to the park and pick up trash," Brother Bingham remembered. "People would come by and say what a great job we were doing.
The youthT still are doing that."
Pres. Hanley said many of the youth look forward to a mission.
Full-time missionaries no longer serve on the island, so any missionary work that is done is completed by the branch missionaries (two sisters who served full-time missions in the United States) and the other members. Mainly, Pres. Hanley explained, the active members are working to reactivate and strengthen the less-active members.
He believes because of the members' faithful service the Church will eventually prosper in the area.
One year ago the Church acquired property on the island where members now hold their meetings in a remodeled house and hold Church activities on the property.
About that same time, Church members on St. Kitts began looking for ways to celebrate - with other Church members around the world - the 150th anniversary of the pioneers arriving in Salt Lake Valley.
In preparation for the 1997 event, members buried a time capsule. In it they placed letters that they wrote to themselves, expressing their testimony and goals. Next year as members celebrate the 1846-47 pioneers, members on the island will open their time capsule and hold a celebration for the pioneers in St. Kitts.