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

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

One of his most memorable missionary experiences happened during December 1995. Amos Chin, the first native Jamaican missionary and a local LDS Church leader, proposed the idea of transforming the chapel into a visitors center with Christmas lights, decorations and guided tours, like Temple Square.

Chin spearheaded the project. He petitioned members for lights and even repaired old lights from Temple Square. The missionaries pitched in, and everything was ready in time for the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. The resulting crowds caused traffic jams, and bus routes had to be reconfigured, Fowles said.

"Once we got it all together, it was absolutely beautiful. The grounds were packed each night. Those who came felt serenity and peace," Fowles said.

While their visitors center attracted large crowds, it didn't immediately lead to convert baptisms. Fowles was initially discouraged but with time realized good seeds had been planted. Nugent confirmed that fruit did come from their efforts.

"We got converts out of that activity," Nugent said. "There were so many misconceptions spread by other churches. Whenever we were able to get people to come in and see things for themselves, they liked what they saw."

Debbie Pearce Wilson

Debbie Pearce Wilson never knew her parents. She was raised in Kingston by her grandmother during the 1960s and 1970s. Her best friend conceived her first child at age 13 and had three by the time she was 19.

"As I looked at my friend's life, I realized I wanted something better for myself. I wanted a home and a family," Wilson wrote. "I knew I had to leave the ghetto."

Wilson recorded the story of her Latter-day Saint conversion in a 1991 church magazine article titled "A Prayer from the Ghetto."

She began investigating and attending different churches and eventually joined the LDS Church in 1984. Wilson was the fifth native sister missionary sent out from Jamaica. She served in the Utah Salt Lake City South Mission where one of her highlights was teaching the gospel to former BYU basketball star Jeff Chatman.

"Many of the girls I grew up with never left the ghetto. I could not have made it without following the desires of my heart and trusting in my father above to lead me," Wilson wrote. "I was blessed with the chance to leave the ghetto, be baptized a member of this church, gain an education and fulfill a mission in Utah. I know Heavenly Father loves us all and is mindful of our circumstances no matter where we are. He desires above all things our happiness."

Today Wilson lives in Maryland and serves as a Sunday school teacher for the 14- and 15-year-olds. She was not able to attend the Kingston stake organization, but rejoiced at the news. She is planning to return in August for the baptisms of two family members. She anticipates the church will continue to grow and hopes for the day when Jamaica will have a temple.

"The people are still receptive. They are seeking for truth and they are finding it," Wilson said. "Most of the pioneers of the church have migrated, but our heart is still with the people and the work there. Whenever anything big happens in the church there, we are there also."

Email: ttoone@deseretnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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