Reaching the Nations

French Guiana

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents

Geography

Area: 83,534 square km.  French Guiana is located in northern South America and borders the Atlantic Ocean, Brazil and Suriname.  Hot, tropical weather occurs year round with little variation in seasonal temperature.  Wet winters and dry summers characterize the climate.  Most the terrain consists of coastal plains with some hills and small mountains in the interior.  Sparsely populated dense rainforest covers the interior making it nearly inaccessible.  Thunderstorms and flooding are natural hazards.  French Guiana is administratively divided into two arrondissements which are divided further into 22 communes. 

Population: 221,500 (2008)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.96% (2006)

Fertility Rate: 3.21 children born per woman (2000)

Life Expectancy: male 72.77, female 79.6 (2000)

Peoples

Black/mulatto: 66%

White: 12%

East Indian/Chinese/Amerindian: 12%

Other: 10%

Blacks are descendents of slaves brought to French Guiana or the Caribbean, some of which mixed with Amerindians giving rise to the mulatto ethnic group.  Many blacks are Haitians.  Whites are primarily French or European.  Other ethnic groups include Hmong, Laotians, Indians, Lebanese, Latin Americans, and individuals from other Caribbean nations.  Approximately half the population was born in French Guiana. 

Languages: Guianese Creole French (77%), other (23%).  French is the official language, widely spoken and used for business.  Other languages include Amerindian dialects and immigrant languages such as Spanish, Arabic, Hmong, Haitian Creole, English Creoles, and Chinese dialects. 

Literacy: 83% (1982) 

History

Prior to French settlement, French Guiana was inhabited by Amerindian groups.  The French arrived in the 16th century but failed to establish any large colonies as many of the settlers died.  Some plantations were established, but many closed due to the abolition of slavery in 1848.  Devil's Island served as a penal settlement for nearly 100 years starting in the mid-19th century.  In the 20th century, France relocated refugees from French Indochina to French Guiana.  French Guiana has been an overseas department of France since 1946.  There has been little support for an independence movement in recent years.

Culture 

French customs and culture heavily influence French Guiana.  However the small population is accommodating to the many minority groups including Vietnamese, Hmong, Chinese, and Amerindians.  There is a major divide in education, living conditions, and everyday life between coastal urban areas and the rural interior. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $17,300 (2006) [39.5% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.862

Corruption Index: N/A

The French Guiana economy relies heavily on France for sustenance and support.  The French Space Center is located in French Guiana and provides additional economic support to the overseas department.  Primary economic activities include logging and fishing.  Services employed 61% of the workforce in 1980.  Primary trade partners include France (with which over 60% of goods are exchanged), the United States, and other European nations.  

Faiths

Christian: 80%

Other: 20%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic   166,125

Seventh Day Adventists   2,346  10

Jehovah's Witnesses   1,963  35

Latter-day Saints   316  2

Religion

Most French Guiana natives and immigrants are Catholic.  Many Christian groups have a presence in the urban areas although no Protestant denomination claims more than 10,000 members.  Most Christian groups report slow growth.  European connections with the space industry have increased secularism.  Most non-Christians are irreligious.  There are small groups of Muslims, Baha'is, and other non-Christian religious groups. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is generally upheld by the government.  Discrimination towards some small, socially unaccepted religious groups regarded as cults occurs.[1]

Largest Cities

Urban: 76%

Cayenne, Saint-Laurent-du Maroni, Kourou, Matoury, Remire-Montjoly

Three of the five largest cities have a congregation.  55% of the population lives in the five largest cities.  About 100,000 or 45% of the total population live in Cayenne and surrounding communities.

LDS History

A native of French Guiana named Charles Fortin joined the Church in France and returned to French Guiana in 1980.  Fortin held Sunday meetings in his home and invited others to Church meetings.  Fortin died in 1986, but by this time several members were attending meetings.  In March 1988, Elder Charles Didier visited and organized a group and the first convert baptism took place in November.  In 1989, two branches were organized in Kourou and Cayenne.  Senior missionary couples were first assigned in 1989 to both congregations.  The West Indies Mission administered French Guiana prior to the creation of the Trinidad and Tobago Mission in 1991.  French Guiana returned to the West Indies Mission following the consolidation of both missions in 1994.  French Guiana was assigned  to the North America Southeast Area until it was transferred to  the Caribbean Area in 2006.[2] 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 316 (2009)

In 1990, there were fewer than 100 members.[3]  By 2000, membership increased to 250.  Between 2000 and 2006 the number of members remained static and numbered 248 in 2006.  In 2007 and 2008, greater membership growth occurred, increasing to 287 and 306.  Although many members are natives, there are many Spanish-speaking members in Cayenne from Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru. 

Congregational Growth

Branches:  2

The Cayenne and Kourou Branches began operating in the late 1980s.  A third branch was organized in Matoury when the first district in French Guiana was created in March 2009.  In early 2011, the Cayenne French Guiana District and the Kourou Branch were discontinued.  It is unclear whether members in the Kourou area continue to meet as a group or dependent branch.

Activity and Retention

In 1990, 45 members attended a fireside held prior to the dedication of French Guiana for missionary work.[4]  In early 2010, the Matoury Branch had 20-30 attending meetings and the Kourou Branch had comparable sacrament attendance.  The Cayenne Branch had 50-70 attending Church meetings.  26 were enrolled in seminary or institute in the 2009-2010 school year.  Active membership is likely around 120, or 35-40% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: French, English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Chinese, Hmong, and Vietnamese.

All LDS scriptures are translated in French, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese.   An LDS version of the Bible is available in Spanish.  Only the Book of Mormon is translated in Hmong.  Most Church materials are available in French whereas some Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, young women, missionary, audio/visual, and family history materials are available in Chinese, Hmong, and Vietnamese.  Most of these materials are available in Arabic and Haitian Creole. 

Meetinghouses

The Cayenne Branch meets in a Church-built meetinghouse.  The Matoury Branch met in the Cayenne chapel until early 2010 when meetings began to be held in the home of a newly called branch president in the community of Matoury.  The Kourou Branch meets in a renovated or rented building. 

Health and Safety

Malaria is endemic to French Guiana outside of Cayenne.  Dengue, filariasis, and other tropical diseases also occur.  HIV/AIDS epidemic spread in the 2000s and is the highest among overseas departments of France. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has performed little humanitarian and development work.  Service projects appear limited to full-time missionaries' weekly service hours and branch service projects. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

No laws limit the LDS missionary program.  The Church has sent missionaries to French Guiana with little or no challenges. 

Cultural Issues

Urban areas contain the majority of the population yet have increased secularism and greater wealth which have posed challenges to proselytism.  French Guiana's status as an overseas department allows many to emigrate to France in search of better employment and living conditions. 

National Outreach

French Guiana's remote location and small population has reduced mission leadership visits and likely prevents the assignment of additional missionaries.  The West Indies Mission serves a population of approximately four million in the southern Caribbean and the Guianas, of which French Guiana's population accounts for only 5.5%.  Future outreach in terms of the frequency of missionary visits, the number of missionaries assigned, and the assignment of a senior missionary couple must be allocated with the demands throughout the West Indies Mission as the mission administers to many small, island nations with burgeoning congregations.

The highly urbanized population along coastal areas provides opportunity for national outreach among most inhabitants with few outreach centers.  Established congregations provide outreach in the communities of 49% of the national population (including Kourou).  Remire-Montjoly, a commune on the outskirts of Cayenne, has 19,000 inhabitants (8.6% of the national population) and is only five miles from congregations in Cayenne and Matoury which likely allows for some additional limited outreach.  Remire-Montjoly and other large communes on the outskirts of Cayenne appear likely locations for expanding mission outreach. 

Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni appears the most promising location for future national outreach that is distant from established Church centers.  The commune has the second largest population with 34,000 inhabitants (15.3% of the national population).  11 of the 22 communes are in remote areas in the interior or are distant from larger cities.  These 11 communes account for only 12% of the population but 77.5% of the geographic area.  These locations will be very challenging to reach due to their small populations distributed over a large amount of terrain which is difficult to access. 

Small groups or cottage meetings held in remote communities may facilitate greater national outreach as they require few resources and can result in strengthened local members, investigator finding, and teaching potential converts for baptism.  It does not appear that there is an emphasis on cottage meetings in French Guiana, but some worship services have been or are currently held in members' homes when there is no nearby chapel for a small group of members. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member inactivity is a serious problem which limits the Church's future growth in French Guiana.  Congregations in Matoury and Kourou have had few active members resulting in fewer fellowshipping resources for potential converts.  Member activity and convert retention is partially influenced by geographical distance as some members cannot attend meetings regularly.  However, active members existed in large enough numbers to justify the creation of a district in 2009.  In the past, immigration to France has slowed membership growth and likely reduced active membership.[5]

Convert retention appears to have been poorest in the 1990s as membership grew from fewer than 100 members to 250 members, yet there was no increase in congregations.  Retention appears highest in Cayenne where many members can  fellowship with other members of their same ethnic group.   

Ethnic Issues and Integration

French Guiana has ethnic integration issues primarily caused by language barriers.  There does not appear to be much friction between ethnic groups based on other issues.  Haitians, Latinos, and French Guiana natives have show desires to work together to resolve issues stemming from cultural differences.  There appears to be little outreach among the Asians and Amerindians likely due to their limited numbers, differences in language, and distance of these communities from current outreach centers.

Language Issues

Misunderstandings and challenges with members speaking different languages create barriers between language groups.  In Cayenne, French and Spanish-speaking members have experienced difficulties integrating into the same congregation and sometimes do not attend meetings or leave worship services early when talks are primarily in a language they cannot understand.  In early 2010, the Cayenne Branch received a new branch president who only spoke Spanish.  This decision was likely partially influenced by the greater receptivity of Spanish-speakers in Cayenne and the willingness of Spanish speakers in participating in member-missionary work.  Many members have shown willingness to make accommodations for other language groups, but face many frustrations due to language barriers.  Many of the Asian languages spoken have a large number of Church materials which can be utilized for future outreach.  Unreached Amerindian groups do not have Church materials in their native languages. 

Missionary Service

In June 2009, six missionaries served in French Guiana and were assigned to the Suriname zone of the West Indies Mission.  Very few members from French Guiana have served missions.

Leadership

Local members lead congregations in Cayenne and Matoury.  In April 2010, the Kourou Branch had an acting branch leader indicating that the branch presidency was in transition.  The closure of the branch was likely due to lacking local leadership.  The creation of the first district and its closure less than two years later indicates that there are some capable and qualified leaders, but they  remain too limited in numbers or are too inconsistent to sufficiently staff a district.  Leadership potential is highest in the Cayenne Branch but severely limited in other branches.  Emigration has likely contributed to local leadership challenges.

Temple

French Guiana belongs to the Caracas Venezuela Temple district.  Many members likely travel to the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic temple instead due to challenges in entering Venezuela.  Temple trips likely occur once or twice a year with very few members due to constraints on distance, time, and money.  A closer temple is unlikely to be built in the near future as membership is small and young throughout the Guianas and southern Caribbean.   

Comparative Growth

French Guiana has experienced slower LDS growth than Guyana and Suriname.  In the 2000s, only a few other Caribbean nations such as Antigua and Barbuda and Grenada experienced such small increases in membership..  French Guiana ranks among nations in the region with the smallest percentages of LDS members.  The number of full-time missionaries assigned to French Guiana is comparable to many small Caribbean nations.

Christians have struggled to address the unique challenges of French Guiana's emigration of natives, ethnic diversity, secularism, small population, and unreached Amerindian groups.  Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses have seen slow, consistent growth over the past decade.  Adventist membership grew by nearly 1,000 and congregations increased by four; however, membership growth rates have generally slowed from year to year.  Jehovah's Witnesses experience slow, consistent growth. 

Future Prospects

The outlook for future growth is positive as mission leadership has been dynamic toward meeting the needs of receptive language groups in French Guiana.  The creation of language-specific congregations in Cayenne appears likely in the future in French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish.  Immigration of French Guiana natives to France threatens growth among the largest ethnic group.  However the growing diversity of the population will allow for unique opportunities and challenges for proselytism.  Long-term sustained church growth will largely depend on outreach efforts among various ethnic groups, the retention of converts, local leadership development, and local member involvement in missionary work nationwide. 


[1]  "France," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127310.htm

[2]  "Southeast area divided; Caribbean Area created," LDS Church News, 10 June 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49062/Southeast-area-divided-Caribbean-Area-created.html

[3]  "Six new missions to be created missions are added in Europe, Africa, Caribbean, and U.S.," LDS Church News, 23 March 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20711/Six-new-missions-to-be-created-missions-are-added-in-Europe-Africa-Caribbean-and-US.html

[4]  "Services in 3 South American nations and island republic," LDS Church News, 10 March 1990.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20438/Services-in-3-South-American-nations-and-island-republic.html

[5]  "French Guiana," Country Profiles, retrieved 10 April 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/french-guiana