[We are very pleased to have received the following submission from Cecile Nugent, who shared these inspiring memories. When she was a child, her family became the first family in Jamaica to join the Church. Cecile does not have e-mail access, but she does work at the LDS Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City. Stop in and thank her! Or write to 45 N. West Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84150 ]
I am grateful for the unusual blessing in my life of growing up in and with the Church as a pioneer member on the island of Jamaica. I was a young witness to the faith of my parents as they struggled to make decisions that would change the course of our lives forever.
In January of 1974, my parents and my older brother were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I was given a name and a blessing at that time -- an ordinance usually associated with infants -- but I find it significant, as shortly thereafter the presence of Priesthood holders on the island would be greatly missed, and the memories associated with that day, and since, would bind our family and sustain our faith.
I remember the feelings of that baptismal day -- feelings of calm, happiness, and peace. I had enjoyed my family's association with families as the Schmeils, Palmers, DeBerrys and others. These expatriate families were Americans living and working in Jamaica on contract. They would faithfully and regularly hold Sunday meetings in their homes, complete with Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School, Relief Society and Priesthood Meetings and Primary. I made friends with their children, was instructed by the adults, and felt a general sense of well-being.
It was here that I was first told of the love of the Savior. Sister Schmeil would reiterate this in our Primary class, sharing her testimony of His life and His atonement. Although I didn't understand all the words, the spirit testified to a child as young as I, and I have never forgotten this.
See a picture of the primary at the Schmeils in 1974 at: http://www.ldschurch.net/f/nugentv/page10.html
I enjoyed singing the hymns with my family and our new friends. I would follow along in the hymn book, trying to memorize and even understand the words. I knew the principles we learned here were changing our family's way of living, and even as a child, I wanted to be part of it.
The changes in my home were significant. As my parents testimonies grew, their patience with our childish antics increased. I felt their love for us as they would teach and apply the gospel principles as they learned them.
Soon after we were baptized, the families who had fellowshipped us all left and returned to the United States. Their employment contracts were up. What seemed like a daunting prospect was actually, as it sometimes is, a blessing for which we were being prepared all along. Their departure meant that their would be four member of the Church on the island -- my parents, my brother Peter, and myself.
We continued to hold Church meetings in our home even though our mentors and friends had gone. Daddy would write the minutes of our Sunday proceedings in a notebook and save them until they could be delivered to the nearest Priesthood authority -- in Florida, three hundred miles away! Our meetings were simple, but filled with the Spirit of God as we learned His word together, reading from the scriptures and bearing testimony of the truths we had come to know were true. We would sing an opening hymn, offer an opening prayer and then discuss the gospel in plainness. I loved hearing my father read from the book of Psalms: "For a day in they courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord then to dwell in the tents of wickedness."
Other favorite lessons were the five "R's" of Repentance, lessons on choice and consequences, the Word of Wisdom, and the Ten Commandments. Gospel principles were brought to life with flannel cutouts, visual aids and filmstrips. My parents carefully and creatively planned the lessons each week so that all four of us could learn and grow together. It was a very special time in my memory, a time replete with deep spiritual growth and challenge. We would often fast and pray for opportunities that some would take for granted: the opportunity to fellowship with other members of the Church; the chance to partake of the Sacrament; the hope that another expatriate family (one with a father who held the Priesthood) would move to Jamaica and augment our numbers.
In July of 1976, my brother Mark was born. Not only did we have a new addition to the family, but we also welcomed a new member of the Church! Now our concern was how to afford him the ability to receive a name and a blessing and officially have his name on the records of the Church. It was decided that we would make a trip to Florida, where we could attend a Sacrament Meeting and have this ordinance performed. I know that on this trip overseas we may have visited Disneyworld. We did some shopping, contacted relatives, went sightseeing. In any case, my memories of Church that Sunday were the strongest. I was amazed to see a sea of friendly, welcoming faces. I attended a large Primary class and soon made a friend, Heidi, with whom I corresponded for several years. Most significantly, we were able to partake of the Sacrament. What a blessing!
Again we took these feelings home with us, cherishing the memory and expressing our gratitude to the Lord for the opportunity.
In April of 1977, still with no Priesthood holder on the island, we were again faced with a challenge. I had reached baptismal age and would need to be baptized. I had looked forward to the day when I could be baptized. I realized the importance of this ordinance. My mother had made a beautiful long white dress with puffed sleeves for my baptism. Again we made the trip to Ft. Lauderdale, and I was baptized in the swimming pool of the mission home there by one of the missionaries whose photograph I carried around with me for months to follow.
Upon my return, I was asked to tell about my vacation in my classes a school. I remember exuberantly talking about my baptism and what it meant to me. I think this was my first missionary experience. Sadly and ironically enough, I also think it was the first time I realized that no one but my family understood the context of my spiritual or religious life and growth. I felt truly alone and misunderstood.
My best friend would tell me that I didn't really go to church. She was a member of the Catholic faith, and would explain to me that church meant having a priest preach to you, participating in ceremonies, standing, sitting, singing, praying, etc. Since I stayed at home on Sunday, I wasn't really going to church at all, she maintained, and therefore must not have a religion. I didn't every really believe her. I had felt the Spirit and had learned to recognize it. I had been baptized for the remission of my sins, in the same manner that Christ had been. I understood what it meant when hands were place on my head and I was commanded to receive the Holy Ghost. If this was a challenge against my testimony, I would remain steadfast and not deny it.
I loved sharing the gospel with my friends. I was blessed with good friends of other faiths. My parents supported me in my need to cultivate good friendships, but were wont to remind me of my responsibilities as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
One experience that is in the forefront of my memory concerns a choice I had to make about attending Church. I was given permission to spend the weekend at my friend's house with the express condition that I return in time for Church on Sunday. I was to make arrangements with my friend's mother and I was expected to comply by these rules. The weekend was fun-filled with dolls, treats, music, reading, playing and drawing. Saturday night rolled around and I reminded my friend that I would need to return by the next morning. It was suggested to me that I simply attend Church with their family. I knew this was not an option, but hoped my parents would understand if perhaps I didn't get back in time.
Needless to say, when I arrived late on Sunday, our little branch (or should I saw "twig"?) which consisted of Victor, Verna, Peter, Cecile (me), and Mark Nugent, was all waiting for me to start our meeting! I learned a valuable lesson about the Sabbath Day that Sunday, one that would never be forgotten.
I was the witness to many miracles and deeply spiritual experiences during those very early years of the Church in Jamaica. It was a joy and a blessing to grow with my family and with the church. Prayer played an integral role in our lives and we learned to trust the Lord and accept His will.
One of the most joyous years we experienced together was 1978. In 1977 we had begun to fellowship a family, the Tuckers, in an effort to heed the counsel of President Kimball. Brother and Sister Tucker had two children, a boy, Dwight, who was Peter's age, and Debbie, their daughter who was my age and who shared many of my talents and interests. They readily accepted the gospel teachings, but we were concerned that there would be on one to baptize them should they accept the challenge! So one of those miracles occurred. A family (the Paul Morris family) from the United States moved to Jamaica. They had four sons, each of whom held an office in the Priesthood! Another family, the Jones family, moved to Jamaica also. Their daughters, Amy, Ann, and Debbie, became my dear friends, and remain so to this day! Ann and I were roommates at BYU years later, and our friendship continues to thrive.
Our nucleus and expanded with members who had joined the Church in other countries and were returning to Jamaica.
Then, in June of 1978, twenty years ago from this month, came the revelation that would forever change our lives. My parents had decided to live with an eye single to the glory of God, hoping for Priesthood blessings in their lives but never knowing whether such blessings would be extended to them in this lifetime. They would have been content to be members of the Lord's kingdom, serving Him in diligence until the very end of their lives if the Lord so chose. The Lord had much more in store for us all. What a wondrous, glorious, miraculous day it was when my father and brother were ordained to the Holy Priesthood!! What a blessing it was, a few months later, to kneel around the altar in the House of the Lord and be sealed an eternal family unit! I will never forget those moments, and, most importantly, will never forget the lessons they have taught me.
Many years thence, I go about my day-to-day activities, grateful for the gospel in my life, but sometimes forgetting the challenges that have forged my testimony. There is so much to be thankful for in life, so many blessings the Lord has yet to grant. When I become discouraged and tempted to dwell on the things I lack, I thank Heavenly Father for the experiences that have helped me to maintain a testimony of Christ, a reverence for His gospel and the sacred ordinances of the Priesthood. I am thankful for temples and the opportunity I have to receive the blessings.
When I consider my family's experiences in the early days of our Church membership, I am reminded that the Lord is mindful of all His children. I know that His ways are not ours, but that His timetable is the right timetable. I am reminded that patience is a great teacher, that our Father in Heaven hears and answers our prayers. He may not answer our prayers the way we want them answered, but He always answers them.
I have been faced with many trials and challenges in my life, but my faith and trust in Christ, fostered by diligent, loving parents, has helped me through them all. I know that whatever the Lord requires of us is right. It is my prayer that I can seek and do His will, until the very end of my days.