Pioneers, former Mormon missionaries celebrate first stake, growth of LDS Church in Jamaica

Published: Thursday, July 17 2014 8:10 p.m. MDT

“I looked her in the eye and said, 'You don’t know what you are saying. This is the work of the Lord and no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing,'” Nugent said, quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Three months later, the woman was demoted and transferred out, Nugent said. To his surprise, her replacement was his elementary school teacher and friend, Sir Howard Cooke, who eventually became the governor-general and a prominent Jamaican leader. Cooke was cautious at first, but Nugent earned his trust and missionaries were allowed into the country again. The number of missionaries on the island eventually surpassed 100, Nugent said.

“That was a testimony-building experience,” Nugent said.

As membership grew and the need for a chapel increased, Nugent assisted in the long, difficult process of getting the church officially recognized by the Jamaican government. When it finally happened, one impressed minister of the parliament committee said something that reminded Nugent of the Apostle Paul and King Agrippa (see Acts 26:28).

“Almost you convince me to be a Mormon,” the man told Nugent.

Joseph Hamilton

The LDS Church was frequently in the Jamaican media during the 1980s and 1990s, said Joseph Hamilton, a church leader during that time.

"We were constantly in the media. As a young branch president, I had to answer questions about the church and what we were all about every week," Hamilton said.

Hamilton had a public relations job at the U.S. Embassy. One afternoon, he was at his desk when the phone rang. He answered and identified himself.

"Is this the Joseph Hamilton who is the head of the Mormon church in Jamaica?" said a female voice.

"You could say that — I am the branch president," Hamilton said.

The woman, a member of the local media, informed Hamilton he was live on the evening news.

"This conversation is being broadcast throughout the entire country," she said. "As a black man, how do you feel joining this church amid all its controversy and persecution?"

Unruffled, Hamilton thanked the woman and said her call was a blessing.

"I have always wanted the church to be known in Jamaica and here you are giving me the best exposure that I can think of," Hamilton said. "She was so upset with me sharing that testimony that she hung up the phone right away. Everybody said 'Oh Joe, we heard you on the news. What beautiful testimony that you have. I didn’t know the church was that big in Jamaica.' It was a blessing."

Hamilton remembers sending a photo of about 30 Jamaican members to LDS Church President Spencer W. Kimball and receiving a tender response from the prophet.

"He said, 'President Hamilton, I love this little group. I tell you what, why don’t you go and look for a piece of land and build a chapel,'" Hamilton said. "That was another great highlight for me."

Hamilton eventually moved his family to Florida when he got a new job, but he plans to return to Jamaica at some point.

"My vision is to go back and to continue to help build the kingdom," said Hamilton, whose son-in-law Andrew Lue is the new stake president. "I've gained a lot of knowledge and experience here. When I retire, I will go back and help them. That’s my goal."

Matt Fowles

Matt Fowles served in the Jamaica Kingston Mission under President David R. Calvert from 1994-1996. He was delighted to hear the news about the new stake.

"They have worked hard for it," said Fowles, now an auto mechanic living with his family in Garland, Box Elder County.

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