The Dominican Republic occupies two-thirds of the large island of Hispaniola, about six hundred miles southeast of Florida. Haiti is on the western third of the island. A majority of today's Dominicans are black.
The "History of the Church" noted a terrible earthquake that hit the island in 1843, destroying the towns of Haytien and Santiago, killing 7,500 people.
In 1847, an influential American, General Duff Green had been promoting American settlement of Hispaniola Island (also called Santo Domingo). He wrote to the Church proposing that the Saints settle on the island: "There is no other place on the face of the habitable globe on which the persecuted Mormons could establish with any prospect of becoming an independent and sovereign nation. Here they may establish themselves in the mountains. Here they may grow and become a great people." This idea was never seriously considered by Brigham Young, because he had already proclaimed the Salt Lake Valley as the new gathering place for the Saints. (Davis Bitton, "Historians Corner," BYU Studies, 15:1:106-09)
The U.S. military occupied the country at times during the 20th century and surely there were some LDS servicemen on the island during those times.
In 1968 Glen R. Rudd was serving as the president of the Florida Mission. [He later served as a member of the Seventy]. President Rudd received a letter from a member of the Church living in Santiago, Dominican Republic. This member was Flavia Salazar Gomez. She was about twenty years old, and had joined the Church in Mexico. She later married and moved to the Dominican Republic. Her letter shared the sad news that she was seriously ill with cancer. She requested that someone come to Santiago to give her a priesthood blessing. President Rudd wrote to Brother Dale Valentine, who was living with his family in the city of Santo Domingo. He asked Brother Valentine if he would join him in traveling to Santiago to bless Flavia. President Rudd flew to Santo Domingo and together they drove by car to Santiago. They did not know where Flavia lived, but they were directed by Lord, and miraculously found Flavia's husband, who took them to Flavia. Elder Rudd finishes the story:
I asked Brother Valentine to interview her and see how close to the Church she had remained. We were delighted to know that she was still living the Word of Wisdom and prayed every day. Of course, at the time, she had no Church to attend, but she felt she was a good faithful member. Brother Valentine gave her a blessing and blessed her that she would recover from her cancerous condition, and in time this blessing was fulfilled.These handful of members living in the Dominican Republic during the 1960s and into the mid 1970s were pretty much on their own, with little to no contact with Church leaders. Missionaries would not arrive until 1978.
A month or two later, I heard from Brother Valentine that Flavia and her husband had moved into Santo Domingo. Six months later, as I was on my way to Puerto Rico again, I stopped over in Santo Domingo, and Brother Valentine drove me out to where Flavia and her husband were living. We found her in good health, looking well and happy. She told us she had been completely cured. The doctors told her she no longer had cancer, and it seemed she was going to be all right from then on. They were delighted to see us again. It was a great thrill to meet this lovely Latter-day Saint sister and realize the blessings of the Lord that had come to her. (Church News, June 18, 1994, The New Era, June 1996).
In 1978, after President Spencer W. Kimball announced that a revelation had been received to allow all worthy men to hold the priesthood, formal missionary work began in the Dominican Republic. Two LDS families started doing missionary work: Eddie and Mercedes Amparo, and John and Nancy Rappleye. When both families arrived in the Dominican Republic, in June of 1978, they both thought that they were the only LDS members in the city of Santo Domingo. A week or two later, they met in the customs office arranging for receipt of furniture being shipped. Sister Amparo felt prompted to ask the Rappleyes if they were Mormons. She later said, "I was afraid. I got hot and then cold and then hot again and finally blurted out, 'Are you Mormons?'" Sister Rappleye was astonished and said they were.
The families obtained permission to hold Church meetings in the Dominican Republic and to share the gospel. The Amparos had learned of the priesthood revelation while changing planes in Miami on the way to the Dominican Republic. They said: "You can imagine how we felt. We were returning to our homeland chiefly so we could carry the gospel to our people. . . . Hearing the announcement lifted a great cloud from our minds. We knew then we had come to the right place at the right time." ("2 Families Bring Gospel to a Nation," Church News, July 11, 1981).
The Amparos (Dominicans who joined the Church in New York and later moved to California) and the Rappleyes (Americans, from Utah) introduced Rodolfo Bodden and his family of six to the gospel. Rodolfo Bodden was an associate of Brother Rappleye at Firestone, and also, "by coincidence," was an old friend of the Amparos. The Boddens were baptized in August, 1978. [Brother Bodden would later serve as a counselor in the branch presidency, as the first district president, and as the first patriarch in the country. Ferner O. Bodden, his son, is an LDS-Gems subscriber.]
Brother John Rappleye spoke about the two families' desires to do missionary work. "We came full of enthusiasm and a desire to convert and brought a lot of literature and manuals with us. But the Amparos outshone us. They came here determined to convert the whole island and almost brought enough song books, manuals and other literature to do it." (Ibid.)
On November 8, 1978, President Richard L. Millett of the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission, sent the first full-time missionaries to the Dominican Republic. Two were transferred from Puerto Rico, and two from Florida. The first missionaries were Steven Nicholls (now of Tucson, AZ), Daniel L. Rasmussen, Thomas Seymore, and Russell Contie. Elders Nicholls and Rasmussen had been companions in the LTM in Provo back in May, 1978. These two arrived in the Dominican Republic two days before the other two elders. Elder Seymore had served as an assistant to the president in Florida and was given an extension on his mission to help open the Dominican Republic.
President Millett had previously visited the Dominican Republic to make arrangements for placing elders there. Elder Nicholls recalled that he was told by phone that he would be transferred to the country. This came as a wonderful surprise. He later said:
I didn't even know the Dominican Republic existed as a country. . . . I recall that I had always had believed that I would be called to a foreign country and would work in an area that was very undeveloped in terms of the Church. I remember when I first received my mission call to Florida, my first reaction was disappointment. After receiving the phone call regarding my transfer to the Dominican Republic, the first thing I wrote in my journal was "Here it is!" I was really going to go to a place where the Church is undeveloped. I wrote that the feeling and understanding that I had received before my mission came to pass." (Steven Nicholls, oral interview, April 13, 1998).Elders Nicholls and Rasmussen flew into Santo Domingo at 9 p.m. on November 8th and were met at the airport by the Rappleyes, Amparos, Boddens, and some eager nonmember investigators. Elder Nicholls recalled the warm greeting received from these members: "We had no idea who were meeting us, we traveled by ourselves. They [their greeters] went nuts when we came off the airplane." The elders spent the first few nights at the Rappleye home. Within a week they found a home to rent. Appointments were set up by Brother Bodden for the elders to meet with government officials, and to be interviewed by radio and newspaper. Elders Nicholls and Seymore went into the National Palace and met with an under-secretary to the president of the country. The government officials were very supportive. The daily routine for the elders during those first couple weeks was to make living arrangements during the day and teach referrals during the evening.
At that time, when the elders first arrived to the Dominican Republic, there were eighteen members of the Church in the country. Ten had joined the Church elsewhere and eight, including the Bodden family, had joined the Church in the Dominican Republic prior to the full-time missionaries' arrival.
The elders attended Church meetings at the Rappleye home for the first few Sundays. These early meetings were much like a Family Home Evening. The sacrament would be administered and then a sit-down lesson would be given on a gospel topic, followed by a discussion. Soon the Church meetings were moved to the front room of the missionaries house, which for several months served as the chapel. Elder Nicholls described these early meetings: "When we got into the Church, the meetings were a little more formal. Someone managed to find an old chord organ and we actually would have a hymn. We had Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School all wrapped into one. And then there would be a sacrament meeting." Within just a few weeks, thirty or forty people were attending the meetings.
The Santo Domingo newspaper mentioned the arrival of missionaries to the Dominican Republic and included the Rappleye's and missionaries' phone numbers. Sister Rappleye said, "We stayed home all day and the phone hardly ever stopped ringing. That's when the work really took off and it hasn't stopped since." (Church News, July 11, 1981).
The newspaper article, from the "Listin Diario" was entitled "Missionaries From Church Arrive." It read (translated from Spanish):
Four missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can be found in the country with the goal of starting a congregation of their Church. In an interview with reporters from this newspaper, these "Elders" Nicholls, Contie, Rasmussen, and Thomas Seymore tell us that the temple of this church is located at 151 Calle Hateuy. Their religious beliefs are based on the Christian doctrine of Jesus, God the Father and the Holy Ghost. As well, men are punished for their own sins and not for the transgression of Adam. Besides they believe in the atonement of Christ that all mankind can be saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. The four young missionaries are the first that have resided in this country for the purpose of carrying the message of the gospel to all those who desire to change their lives and obey the Christian commandments. They explain that their local Church will be open on Sundays at 10 a.m. for persons that desire to learn and know about the word of God and his gospel. The Church is centered in the United States with more than four million members in the world and more than 27,000 missionaries. They have congregations in countries in the Caribbean, South America and Europe. In the Socialist countries they have no congregations. Telephone number 566-3572. (Article in possession Steven Nicholls.) Elder Daniel Rasmussen recalled:One of the remarkable things about our arrival in the Dominican Republic is that, when we arrived, the people were prepared to receive us. For several years prior to the arrival of the missionaries and the revelation regarding the priesthood, the radio and television stations in the Dominican Republic had been airing the Church's commercials regarding the family. We were shown letters to the editor of the Santo Domingo newspaper which asked: "where is this wonderful church with the great commercial messages?" This made tracting a lot of fun. Our door approach was, "We are the people from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You may have noticed our commercials on television or radio." With this simple approach, we could teach dozens of discussions each week. (e-mail from Daniel L. Rasmussen on April 23, 1998).Six more missionaries arrived a few weeks after the first four elders. These ten missionaries worked together for the next few months in firmly establishing the Church in the Dominican Republic.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Seventy came to the Dominican Republic on December 6, 1978 with President Millett and his counselor, President Tally. Elder Ballard spent much of the day with the missionaries. Elder Steven Nicholls recorded in his journal that the meeting was "just ten missionaries, a few others, and a General Authority. He seemed to have an awful lot to tell us." Elder Ballard said that more missionaries would not be sent to the rest of the island until they could firmly establish Church roots in Santo Domingo.
Elder Ballard praised the ten elders for the great success that they had already experienced. But he said even though they were being very successful, that Satan still had the upper hand because they had not as yet baptized full families, just individuals. He encouraged the elders to concentrate on finding families. He promised them that as soon as they could baptize a family, Satan's hold would be broken, and baptisms would result in great numbers.
Elder Ballard told the elders that in just thirty years, they would be able to see the Dominican Republic "flourish as a strong branch of the Church." That night Elder Ballard was present at a baptismal service for twelve people.
On the next day, December 7, 1978, early in the morning, Elder Ballard dedicated the Dominican Republic for the preaching of the gospel. The service, attended by members and missionaries, was held at Paseo de Los Indios Park, in Santo Domingo. It was a beautiful setting with lush undergrowth and tall palm trees.
Elder Ballard gave some brief opening remarks and then knelt in prayer. Among other things, Elder Ballard said:We ask thee this morning in all humility, Heavenly Father, that thou will pour thy Holy Spirit out upon this people. We ask thee to bless them that they might hear and know the truth and recognize it as it is presented to them by the members of the Church and the missionaries. We acknowledge that we have but a handful of members now, but pray them to bless and prosper, Heavenly Father, this land that from this humble beginning many thousands of thy children might find the truth and that stakes of Zion might be driven down here in this land and the honest in heart who desire to know the truth. . . .Elder Steven Nicholls, one of the missionaries at the service recorded in his journal: "Although he was speaking in English, everyone could feel the Spirit testifying of the significance and importance of the dedicatory prayer."
Bless us that we might have chapels to meet in for our people that we might have all of the facilities of the Church. Bless us with wisdom that we might build the Kingdom strongly from this very small beginning that the Church might grow like unto a mighty oak tree here with branches that will reach out and touch every part of this land. . . .
We dedicate this land unto thee and now open it for missionary work and equally, Holy Father, we dedicate ourselves unto thee, our very lives unto thee that we might be found worthy, that we might ever be found doing thy will and thy bidding in the building of the Kingdom of God here in this land of the Dominican Republic. (From Dominican Republic Mission Alumni Home Page)
After the prayer, Elder Ballard proceeded to organize the first branch of the Church in the Dominican Republic. John Rappleye was sustained as the branch president. Eddie Amparo was sustained as the Elder's Quorum President and Rodolfo Bodden was called as the first Sunday School President.
Later that day, the missionaries went to the Bodden home to give Brother Bodden some quick training on what would be expected of him in his new calling as Sunday School president.
On the first Sunday as a branch, a baptismal service was held, followed by a sacrament meeting. During this meeting all those who had been baptized during the week (fifteen) were confirmed members of the Church. Elder Nicholls wrote in his journal: "We confirmed everyone. After all of the confirmations and the sacrament, we had about ten minutes left out of an hour and a half meeting."
John and Ada Davis, a full-time missionary couple from Provo, Utah, arrived in Santo Domingo during January, 1979. Elder and Sister Davis had been born and raised in the Mormon colonies in Mexico. They were fluent in Spanish and added a steady influence to the missionary work. They had a wonderful spirit and brought a calming feeling to these early missionaries laboring in Santo Domingo. They would invite the missionaries over to their apartment on their birthdays and would cheer their spirits. They were proselyting missionaries and held wonderful cozy family home evenings for many investigators.
Also during January, the Pope visited Santo Domingo. The missionaries thought it was interesting that it was also the same day that their mission president, President Millett, holding the true priesthood of God, flew in to visit with the missionaries and Saints.
By February, 1979, the missionaries had baptized about fifty people, but had still not been able to baptize a full family as Elder Ballard had charged them to do. The missionaries held a special fast to ask the Lord to help them baptize a full family, and to realize the prophetic blessing pronounced by Elder Ballard. Finally, Elder Nicholls and his companion, Mark H. Tanner had three families committed for baptism. One family did not pass their baptismal interview. The second family passed the interview, but did not show up for the baptism. But on February, 25, 1979, the first Dominican full-family taught by the full-time missionaries entered the waters of baptism. They were Luis and Rosalina Amargos. The elders had found them tracting. Luis Amargos was a fisherman. They were a wonderful family who were a strong foundation for the Church in a less affluent Ozama section of the city, on the east side of the Ozama river. From that time forward, just as Elder Ballard had promised two months earlier, baptisms started to occur in large numbers.
[At this time Elders Nicholls and Tanner hoped and prayed that the good people in the Ozama section of Santo Domingo would someday have a Church building of their own, because they had to travel so far across town to attend Church. As of 1998 this area of Santo Domingo, that Elder Nicholls and Tanner opened up, consisted of four stakes of the Church. Today, this location is now a major portion of the Santo Domingo East Mission, with about one hundred missionaries working in this portion of the city.]
Local television stations continued airing the "Home Front" series which produced great results. Short radio spots produced by the Church were also aired. John Rappleye had been called as a counselor in the mission presidency. He related that when missionaries would knock on doors that they were be greeted with: "Oh yes, you are from the Church that tells us how to have stronger families." Sister Ada Davis and Sister Mercedes Amparo put on a weekly television program teaching homemaking principles. This program was a great boost to the proselyting efforts. More missionaries were sent to Santa Domingo and the work progressed rapidly.
Most of the early baptisms were performed at the beach. They were usually held on Sunday mornings before the crowds arrived to sunbathe. The elders designed and built a portable dressing room that they stored in the trunk of a car, which was used as a changing room at the beach.
The missionaries had very few tracts available for use, translated in Spanish. They used "Plan of Salvation," "Joseph Smith's Story," and a pamphlet on the commandments. The missionaries would run out of Spanish copies of the Book of Mormon so fast that they had to go back and take away copies from investigators that were not progressing. The missionary also used filmstrips such as the very popular, "Jonny Lingo," "Ancient America Speaks," and "The First Vision." The frequent power outages in the country made it difficult at times to present these filmstrips.
Almost every night, the power would go out during their prime teaching time between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. The missionaries taught hundreds of discussions by candlelight and always carried flashlights with them.
The "Gospel Principles" manual and the scriptures were the materials used by the Dominican Saints in Church. They had no hymnals and the missionaries would face the challenge of teaching the people how to sing the hymns of Zion. Elder Steven Nicholls played the piano and would record hymns on tape for the other missionaries to use in Church or Family Home Evenings. Sometimes branch members would write out the words of hymns by hand, making many copies for the Saints to use during their singing time. Elder Nicholls said: "These are the kind of things the missionaries were faced with when taking the gospel into a brand new country. They didn't know any of the songs. We had to teach them how to sing . . . we did our best. The Dominicans of very musically inclined people, they loved to sing and dance, so they didn't have trouble learning. There were times when you would hear a 'haranguey' style of some hymn, but it just made it fun."
When the missionaries opened the little remote town of Hiteuy, they were awed by the magnificent Catholic cathedral. Thousands of people would make pilgrimages to the town because it was believed that Mary had appeared there. The missionaries set up the Church in a little house and wondered how they could ever attract people to their little Church, with such an elaborate building competing nearby. But the dedicated elders found success and the baptisms came. Elder Nicholls, serving as a district leader recalled how the town was opened. He traveled to Hiteuy, found a place for the elders to live and put a deposit on it. The elders were driven to the town, dropped off and wished good luck. They would have contact with their leaders only once a week. They were truly on their own and experienced good success.
The missionaries in San Pedro would rent chairs from the local funeral parlor for their church meetings. On one particular Sunday the chairs never arrived. The resourceful elders found bricks and took all the shelves out of the house closets to quickly put together make-shift benches for the meeting. This idea worked so well that the elders went out and found more bricks and boards, eliminating their dependance for chairs from the funeral home.
In July 1979 the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission was formed. It included the Dominican Republic. On December 12, 1979, President Tally, a counselor in the mission presidency held a party at the Shereton for all eighty of the missionaries serving in the Dominican Republic at that time. He reported that there were 581 members in the country. This was miraculous growth during of period of just over one year since missionaries first arrived. A second branch had been opened in Santo Domingo, the Ozama Branch. They held their meetings is a large two-story home. There were also a few branches organized during 1979 in some outlying areas, including the city of Santiago.
During 1980 there were 1,503 baptisms in the country. The work really started to take off. For example, in late 1979, the town of Barahona was opened by two elders. Barahona is on the far west-end of the country, on a peninsula, about a five hour journey on dirt roads from Santo Domingo. During the first two months in the town, the elders baptized twenty people. Within a few more months there were more than one hundred members in the town. The little house used for Church meetings quickly was bursting at the seams with members. The elders had great success teaching English classes on Saturday afternoons. This attracted many interested investigators. [By 1993, there was a district of the Church located in Barahona.]
During 1980, Elder John A. Davis was the supervising elder over nearly one hundred missionaries in the Dominican Republic.
On January 1, 1981, the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo Mission was created. John A Davis was called as the first mission president. (He and his wife Ada were still serving a mission in the Dominican Republic.) At that time there were 2,500 members in twenty branches. ("Mission Created in Dominican Republic," Church News, December 6, 1980). At the end of 1980, John and Ada Davis returned home to Provo, Utah for a simultaneous homecoming and farewell.
By July 1981, there were twenty-one branches in eighteen towns and cities. President Davis reported: "We probably could have had another 2,000 baptisms if we had encouraged work among the many single people. We're making our emphasis on families." (Church News, July 11, 1981).
On March 8-9, 1981, President Spencer W. Kimball visited the Dominican Republic, and a meeting was held in the ballroom of a large hotel in Santo Domingo. Nearly 1,600 people attended. President Kimball shook hands with hundreds of Saints. That night, near midnight, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin heard of a group of about one hundred Saints had just arrived from the far end of the island. They were from the Puerto Plata Branch. Their bus had broken down on the way. They were very disappointed to have missed seeing the prophet. Many were weeping. They needed to soon start their journey back home. Elder Wirthlin told President Kimball's secretary, D. Arthur Haycock about the problem.
Brother Haycock related:I knocked on President Kimball's door, and he opened it dressed in his pajamas. I advised him of the situation and suggested that I'd be glad to carry his message of love and blessing to the Saints before they started their homeward journey. He said, "Oh, that wouldn't be fair, would it? You wait a couple of minutes and I'll dress, and we'll hold another meeting." And that's what we did. By two in the morning, the President was back in bed and the Saints were headed for home, rejoicing.President Kimball shared the story in April 1981 General Conference:Sister Kimball and I had gone to bed after a long and tiring day. Upon learning of the plight of these faithful souls, my secretary knocked on the door of our hotel room and woke us up. . . . I got out of bed and dressed and went downstairs to see the members who had made such an effort only to be disappointed because of engine trouble. The Saints were still weeping as we entered the hall, so I spent more than an hour visiting with them. They then seemed relieved and satisfied and got back on the bus for the long ride home. They had to get back by morning to go to work and to school. Those good people seemed so appreciative of a brief visit together that I felt we just couldn't let them down. As I returned to my bed, I did so with a sense of peace and contentment in my soul.During 1985 there were 1,934 convert baptisms in the Dominican Republic. There were seven member districts. During June, 241 baptisms were recorded. There were more than 8,000 members in the country, in more than forty-five branches. Fifty-one of the 140 missionaries were Dominicans.
By 1986 there were 11,000 members. The first stake was created on March 23, 1986. Jose Delio Ceveno was called as the first stake president. Second only to Portugal, the Church in the Dominican Republic achieved the quickest climb in the world from the entry of missionaries to stakehood.
In June 1986, 355 people were baptized. Nearly half of the missionaries serving in the mission were natives to the country. Rodolfo Bodden, the first convert baptized in the country, was serving as a counselor in the stake presidency. He said: "Never could we give sufficient thanks for having been given the gospel. These eight years in the Church have been the best of our lives, and we owe everything that we are to our knowledge of the gospel." ("Dominican Growth: From Zero to Thousands Since 1978," Ensign, January 1987).
In 1987 the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo Mission was divided to form the Dominican Republic Santiago Mission.
In 1989 The Book of Mormon was presented to the personal secretary of the president of the Dominican Republic. Mission President Gary Sorensen said: "The Spirit was present as local leaders conversed with the leaders of the country about the organization and functions of the Church, and the efforts to spread the blessings of the gospel to the Dominican people." (Church News, July 15, 1989)
In 1990 membership reached 31,000.
On May 26, 1991, the Church's 1,800th stake was created in the Dominican Republic, by Elder John R. Lasater. The country received its fifth stake, the San Francisco de Macoris Dominican Republic Stake. There were 31,400 members in the country at that time. Elder Lasater said at the conference: "You are a people with a deep and abiding faith which I have rarely seen. Not very many years ago our total presence in the Caribbean was two branches. Now we created the second stake in four months." He asked those who had been members for less than five years to raise their hands. Most of the congregation's hands went up. "You are the pioneers in the Dominican Republic. You are the ones carrying the banner of Christ among your people. . . . In the Dominican Republic, faith is growing and the Lord has set His hand to gather His children in this land." (Stan Bradshaw, "Milestone 1,800th Stake Created in the Dominican Republic," Church News, June 8, 1981).
In 1991 the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission was created. Mark Allen Jarman was called to be the first president. President Ronald D. Jamison of the Santo Domingo Mission said that the mission was one of the most successful in the Church:There are two basic reasons for the success. First, the Dominican people are truly ready for the gospel. The mission is only 10 years old and we have had upwards of 40,000 people join the Church. The second reason is the tremendous hard work and commitment of the missionary force. By and large, the members are doing well in missionary work. They provide referrals, and we have stake and district missionaries in every stake and district of the mission. (Church News, March 23, 1991).In November, 1992, thousands of Dominican youth attended seven baseball clinics conducted by LDS major league players that included Dale Murphy, Vance Law, Scott Nielsen, and others. The clinics were held in Santo Domingo and Santiago. President James A. Norberg of the Dominican Republic Santiago Mission said of the clinics: "The whole thing, from our perspective, was a great success. Probably 95 percent of the kids were non-members." The group also spoke at firesides to hundreds of members and non-members. The baseball players participated in a live, one hour, prime-time television show in Santo Domingo. The athletes told an audience of several hundred thousand people that their membership in the Church was more important to them than their baseball careers. One of the hosts of the program told viewers to be kind to the missionaries. "When you see the missionaries with their white shirts and ties, listen to them. They're our friends. They have a message of love. They are here to help." ("LDS Athletes Share Skills, Faith," Church News, November 28, 1992).
In January 1993, President Thomas S. Monson of the First Presidency presided at a regional conference held in the Dominican Republic. Elder James E. Faust of the Twelve and Elder Stephen D. Nadauld also attended. Nearly 16,000 members traveled to the conference which was nearly half of the members in the country.
Elder Alexander B. Morrison of the Seventy, president of the Area which includes the Caribbean was interviewed by the Ensign. He explained the rapid growth of the Church in the Dominican Republic:The Dominicans are very open and warm toward the gospel. . . . There is undoubtedly a divine timetable in the spreading of the gospel. In the Lord's timetable, I think this is their time to come forward. They are a very prepared people, a believing people, a very loving, caring, warm people. ("A Conversation on the Church in the Caribbean," Ensign, June 1993).President James A. Norberg of the Dominican Republic Santiago Mission told the Church News that the number of local missionaries serving in his mission has increased from 30 to 48 percent in the past two years. Because of low income, nearly all the local missionaries are supported by the General Missionary Fund. President Norberg explained:Without the fund, we'd have maybe a tenth of the missionaries we have now. Without the fund, a ward would get together and put on a drive to raise funds, at the considerable sacrifice of the members, and maybe be able to support one missionary. . . . A number of our Dominican missionaries are serving as branch presidents. They get experience of running a little branch, being branch clerk, developing home and visiting teaching, training instructors, and doing missionary work at the same time. They develop in missions a lot of strength that they take home to their wards and branches. The best leaders for districts and branches we can find are returned missionaries. ("Local Missionaries Supported in Service by International Fund." Church News, November 13, 1993).
In December 1993, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced that a temple would be built in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. There were 45,000 members at that time.
In 1995 membership reached nearly 55,000 members in eight stakes, three missions, eleven districts, forty-one wards, and ninety-eight branches.
Elder Stephen D. Nadauld of the Seventy, President of the area that includes the Caribbean reported in 1996 to the Ensign:The Dominican Republic remains the Church's most successful field of labor in the Caribbean. The country has reached the point now that 40 percent of the missionaries serving in its three missions are Dominican natives. . . . The people of the Dominican Republic are typically very energetic and desirous to improve their lives, and many recognize the gospel as the most powerful way to gain happiness and a great sense of purpose and belonging. ("Caribbean Centers of Strength," Ensign, April 1996.)On August 18, 1996, Elder Richard G. Scott of the Twelve broke ground for the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple. Members began to gather four hours before the ceremony. Nearly 4,000 people gathered. The site for the new temple has an beautiful view of the Caribbean Sea and is "on a tree-covered, slightly elevated location in a southern, upscale area just a few minutes from the center of Santo Domingo." The location was only about one half mile from the site where Elder Ballard dedicated the Dominican Republic for the preaching of the gospel in 1978. A choir of 150 members from Santo Domingo and Santiago stakes performed at the service. About 600 full-time missionaries attended.
In April 1997, the Ensign reported that construction was progressing on the temple:The site is located in a 6.5 acre lot on a rise in the west part of Santo Domingo next to a park of the National Music Conservatory. Excavation for the temple is nearing completion, and soon a local contractor will begin placing footings for the foundation. The 64,400-square-foot edifice, which will serve members in 35 stakes, will have four ordinance rooms and four sealing rooms. The Santo Domingo temple district will include 7 stakes located throughout the Caribbean area.President Jose Castro of the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Stake said that during 1996 the Dominican Saints had organized ten temple excursions to the Lima Peru Temple. There was great excitement for the new temple in the Dominican Republic. He said:In preparation for the Santo Domingo Temple, the enthusiasm of the members here in the Dominican Republic is considerable. We are working in the area of obtaining family history information for temple work. Members are to receive help from stake family history specialists. Our goal is to have at least 170,000 names available when the temple doors open. . . . I know that a great number of the active members are preparing to receive a temple recommend. Many members are calling their bishops, and are ready to enter the temple. When the temple opens, the members want to be within its walls. They want to prepare; it is very important to them. ("Excitement Growing as Members Prepare for Caribbean Temple," Church News, January 11, 1997.)At the 1997 Women's Conference at BYU, Sister Paula Lopez Pea of the Dominican Republic spoke on a panel of sisters "Celebrating Pioneers: Then and Now." Sister Pea said:Dominicans have a deep belief in God; we are always open to hear the good news of the gospel. The first families converted still are working in the kingdom of our Heavenly Father, in different callings, helping the new generation to continue His work, showing us that we can be together forever. Today, about 50 percent of the missionaries [in the Dominican Republic] are Dominicans, and we are harvesting branch presidents, bishops, stake presidents and mission counselors. ("Seeing Firsthand Fulfillment of Prophecy," Church News, May 10, 1997).In 1997, R. Kay Holmstead was called to be the president of the newly created Dominican Republic Missionary Training Center. The Holmsteads entered the MTC in Provo on September 23. Two weeks later, it was discovered that President Holmstead had cancer. Melvin R. Robinson, of Safford Arizona, who had been serving a Public Affairs mission in the Dominican Republic, was called as the new president. Sadly, on February 2, 1998, while serving, President Robinson died of a heart attack. The MTC was temporarily closed.
In March 1998, Dominican pioneer member, Ferner O. Bodden reported on the progress of the temple:The Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Temple construction is developing really fast. The building of the four-story temple is progressing so fast it can already be observed over the fence form adjacent streets. Located in a 5983 square-meter lot overlooking the Caribbean Sea in Santo Domingo, the capital city, the temple will serve an 81,500-member district which include the South-East portion of Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands among others. Considered a great opportunity to have many in the Dominican Republic know about LDS Church and build bridges of friendship. Local members are preparing themselves by obtaining their temple recommends and focusing on family history research following the advise of the First Presidency and other General Authorities. The Santo Domingo Temple will be a blessing in the lives of the many worthy saints of the Caribbean who will have the opportunity to come and partake of the good fruits of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this we will be eternally grateful. (E-mail to LDS-Gems on March 17, 1998).The temple is targeted for completion during the fall of 1999. At the end of 1997, there were 65,000 members of the Church in the Dominican Republic, in eight stakes and three missions.