Reaching the Nations

Bahamas

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 13,880 square km.  Consisting of over two dozen islands and hundreds of cays and islets, the Bahamas are located in the North Atlantic Ocean southeast of Florida and northeast of Cuba.  The islands are built upon ancient coral reefs and limestone, resulting in generally flat terrain or swamps on land, with coral reefs surrounding many islands.  Tropical maritime climate prevails year round which is modified by the Gulf Stream.  Brief periods of cool weather have occurred occasionally.   Wind and flood damage resulting from hurricanes and tropical storms are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include coral reef decay and waste disposal.  The Bahamas are divided into 21 administrative districts.

Population: 307,522 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.925% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 2 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 67.48 male, 72.43 female (2010)

Peoples

black: 85%

white: 12%

Asian and Hispanic: 3%

Legal and illegal Haitian immigrants constitute a sizeable minority estimated between 30,000 and 60,000.[1]

Languages: English is the official language and spoken by the nearly the entire population.  Most speak Bahamas Creole English in informal settings.  Haitian Creole is spoken among Haitian immigrants. 

Literacy: 95.6% (2003)

History

Lucayan Amerindians inhabited the Bahamas prior to the first arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World on San Salvador Island in 1492.  The entire Lucayan population vanished after 25 years following their relocation to Hispaniola to work in the gold mines.  Due to the complexity of the islands' geography and proximity to major shipping lanes, the Bahamas became a haven for pirates in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  The British began settling the islands in 1647 which were made a colony in 1783.  Some American colonists who remained loyal to Britain following the Revolutionary War relocated to the Bahamas and helped establish plantations to improve the local economy.  Slavery persisted until 1834 and many Bahamians today trace their genealogies to slaves brought from West Africa.  Independence from the United Kingdom occurred in 1973.  The Bahamas has achieved greater prosperity than much of the Caribbean due to tourism, geostrategic location between the United States and the Caribbean, and international banking.  The Bahamas have also been a major drug and illegal immigrant trafficking location.[2] 

Culture 

Bahamian culture blends European and African customs and traditions and shares many similarities with other English-speaking Caribbean nations regarding food, music, and language.  Christianity is a dominant influence of daily life.   Art and handcrafts are made from materials abundant in the islands, such as coral and straw. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $29,700 (2009) [64% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.856

Corruption Index: N/A

Tourism and international banking drive the economy.  Construction and manufacturing related to the tourism industry constitute 60% of the GDP and employ half the work force.  The global financial crisis in the late 2000s severely hurt the economy and future growth and development will most likely depend on the tourism sector.  Services account for 84% of the GDP and industry generates 15% of the GDP.  Limited agricultural activity produces citrus fruits, vegetables, and poultry.  Major industries include tourism, banking, cement, oil shipping, salt, and rum.  The United States, Singapore, and South Korea are primary trade partners. 

Overall low levels of corruption and high levels of economic freedom compared to other Caribbean and Latin American nations have contributed to  economic prosperity.  Official corruption is prosecuted and anti-corruption laws are enforced.  However, the Bahamas have major corruption issues regarding illegal drug trafficking, illegal immigration, money laundering, and increases in violent crime.[3]  

Faiths

Christian: 96.3%

none/unspecified: 2.9%

other: 0.8%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Baptist  108,863

Anglican  46,436

Catholic  41,515

Pentecostal  24,909

Seventh-Day Adventists   15,605  42

Church of God  14,761

Methodist  12,916

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,670  32

Latter-Day Saints  917  2

Religion

Most the population is Christian and is religiously active.  Despite a small population, a mosaic of Christian denominations flourish.  Most Christian denominations  are racially integrated.  There are few non-Christians or Christians who maintain aspects of cultural religious worship, mainly Haitians and immigrants from other Caribbean nations.[4]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  Individuals are free to choose or change their religious status and legislation is in place which prohibits discrimination.  The government observes major Christian holidays and the constitution proscribes that Christian values are to be respected.  There are no requirements for religious groups to register with the government, but a religious group must be legally incorporated to purchase land.  Religion is studied in public schools, but is not mandatory.  The only religious restrictions imposed are upon witchcraft and some aspects of voodoo.[5] 

Largest Cities

Urban: 84%

Nassau, Freeport, Marsh Harbour, Nicholls Town, Dunmore Town.  

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregation.

Two of the five largest cities have an LDS congregation.  81% of the national population resides in the five largest cities.  Nassau accounts for 69% of the national population. 

LDS History

The first known Bahamian to join the Church was Clarence E. Newry Jr. who was baptized in Utah in 1977.[6]  Latter-day Saints have lived in the Bahamas since 1979 when two LDS families moved to Nassau.  Missionaries were first assigned in December 1979, but the government asked the missionaries to leave and refused visas.  In 1981, the first branch conference occurred with 48 in attendance.[7]  Seminary and institute began in the 1980s.  Missionaries were sent to open Freeport to missionary work in 1988.[8]  In 1992, senior missionaries placed LDS scriptures and famous books authored by Church leaders in the library of the College of the Bahamas.[9]  Elder Neal A. Maxwell dedicated the Bahamas for missionary work in November 1997.[10]  The Florida Ft. Lauderdale Mission administered the Bahamas until the creation of the Florida Tampa Mission in 1998.[11]  In 2004, the Church gained national legal status.  Prior to this point, legal status was only obtained on New Providence Island.[12]  In 2006, the Bahamas became part of the newly created Caribbean Area.[13]  The Jamaica Kingston Mission began administer the Bahamas shortly thereafter.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 917 (2010)

In 1988, membership stood at approximately 80 in the Nassau Branch, 60 in the Soldier Road Branch, and five in Freeport.[14]  By year-end 2000, there were 608 members in the Bahamas.  Membership grew slowly in the 2000s, with two years experiencing membership decline (2001 and 2005).  The Church generally added 20 to 80 members per year and annual membership growth rates ranged from -4% to 18%.  In 2009, membership increased by 143, but much of this increase was due to convert baptisms in the Turks and Caicos Islands which the Church included in membership figures for the Bahamas.  Bahamian membership was likely around 800 at the end of 2009.  In 2006, there were 70 members on Grand Bahama Island.[15]  In 2009, one in 380 was nominally LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 2

Branches operated in Nassau and on Grand Bahama since the late 1970s.  In 1986, the Soldier Road Branch was created.[16]  In 1998, two branches functioned in the Bahamas in Nassau: The Nassau Branch (English speaking) and the Soldier Road Branch (French and Haitian Creole-speaking).[17]   However by the end of the year the branches were consolidated into the New Providence Branch with services in English with Haitian Creole translation available.[18]  The first district was created in 2002. 

During the 2000s, the New Providence Bahamas District Branch administered members meeting in small groups outside of Nassau and Grand Bahama.  In 2010, the Church discontinued the New Providence Bahamas District and groups meeting on isolated islands fell under the Jamaica Kingston Mission Branch as the district branch was discontinued.  One area known to have a small group of Latter-day Saints is Exuma Island.[19]

Activity and Retention

Member activity rates appear low as manifest by no enrollment numbers for seminary or institute released by the Church since 2008.  In 2010, missionaries reportedly only a handful of baptisms per month in Nassau.  The consolidation of the two branches in Nassau in 1998 and discontinuance of the district in 2010 also likely indicate poor member activity and involvement throughout the country.  In 2006, 60 attended the groundbreaking for the first meetinghouse on Grand Bahama Island.[20]  The New Providence Branch may have as many as 100 or more active members and the Grand Bahama Branch likely has no more than 50 active members.  Total active membership for the Bahamas appears around 150, or 20%.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Haitian Creole

All LDS scriptures are available in Haitian Creole.  General Conference has had Haitian Creole translations at least since the early 1990s.  Most Church materials are translated, including mission, temple, youth, priesthood, primary, Relief Society, and unit resources.

Meetinghouses

The first meetinghouse was dedicated in 1988 in Nassau.[21]  The New Providence Branch continues to meet in the same meetinghouse.  In 2010, the Grand Bahama Branch met in a Church-built meetinghouse in Freeport.  Church services in other locations likely meet in members' homes.

Humanitarian and Development Work

Little humanitarian or development work has occurred by Latter-day Saints.  The Church donated $250,000 worth in humanitarian supplies to Grand Bahama following the destruction left by Hurricane Francis in 2004.[22]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church has been legally recognized in the Bahamas and faces no restrictions regarding proselytism or church activity.  There have been past challenges obtaining visas for foreign missionaries, but it appears that these issues have been resolved.  Misinformation about the LDS Church has resulted in some isolation and ostracism from the rest of the Christian community.

Cultural Issues

Negative social attitudes and misinformation about the LDS Church have been widely circulated in the Bahamas even prior to the establishment of the Church in the late 1970s.  Senior missionaries assigned to Grand Bahama Island in the mid-2000s met with ministers throughout the island and helped improve relations with the general Christian community.[23]  Many Bahamians may be receptive to the Church, but are too deeply entrenched in their current churches to consider learning about or attending the LDS Church or have no interested based on false information propagated over the decades.  Some investigators stop meeting with the missionaries once they encounter negative information from others or the Internet about the Church.  However, the strong Christian background of many provide a foundation of belief upon which  Latter-day Saint local and full-time missionaries can build.

National Outreach

Mission outreach centers on New Providence and Grand Bahama Islands may potentially reach up to 77% of the national population.  New Providence is key to national outreach as nearly 70% of the population resides on this small island.  Most inhabitants on either of the two most populous islands know very little about the Church due to the lack of members and inconsistent missionary outreach over the past several decades.  The nearly one-quarter of the population residing on small, remote islands will be challenging to reach as few mission resources are dedicated to the Bahamas.  Holding periodic cottage meetings with contacts of Church members and active church members in these locations may facilitate the expansion of national outreach in these remote, often difficult to access, areas.  

Distance from mission headquarters ever since the commencement of missionary activity has been a major obstacle in assigning full-time missionaries and training members and leaders.  High administrative maintenance and reliance on full-time missionaries in Jamaica may led mission leaders to hesitate dedicating greater missionary resources to the Bahamas.  Though Internet access may be limited in some areas, Church websites in English provide correct doctrinal and historical information for those seeking out the Church.  A Bahamas Church website tailored toward the needs, concerns, and prospective of Bahamians may facilitate efforts to expand outreach and correct false information. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Sister missionaries and local Priesthood leaders held firesides regularly with members and invited investigators and the community to attend.  The Church has assigned few full-time missionaries in recent years, possible in an effort for local members to rely less on full-time missionaries for church administration and finding investigators.  Recent convert retention rates appear good, but membership growth rates are low. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Missionaries report challenges with Bahamians and Haitians meeting in the same congregation, especially from investigators.  Some Bahamians view the Church as Haitian and are unreceptive to missionaries.  The reestablishment of a Haitian Creole-speaking branch may help strengthen membership among both ethnicities over time, although current leadership potential may be too limited to warrant such a decision.

Language Issues

The widespread use of Haitian Creole among Haitians has in the past warranted the creation of a Haitian Creole-speaking congregation.  Assimilating English and Haitian Creole speakers in the same congregation may have reduced member activity rates due to miscommunications and language barriers. 

Missionary Service

In 1988, there were six missionaries serving in Nassau and two missionaries serving in Freeport.[24]  In the summer of 2010, sister missionaries were assigned to the Bahamas for the first time and were the only full-time missionaries in Nassau.  The Bahamas remains dependent on foreign missionaries to staff its full-time missionary force as few natives are currently serving missions.  Youth-oriented proselytism approaches, trainings, and church education may help attract and retain youth converts who later serve full-time missions. 

Leadership

Local members appear to lead both branches, but the branches likely do not have all leadership positions filled as a result of few active Priesthood holders.  Local leadership appears too underdeveloped to staff additional congregations on New Providence island.  The dissolution of the New Providence Bahamas District in 2010 likely occurred in order to have local and mission leaders focus on individual congregations rather than concentrate on the Bahamas collectively.  Returned missionaries are important in sustaining self sufficiency.   

Temple

 In 1997, the first temple marriage for a Bahamian Latter-day Saint couple occurred followed by several others.[25]  In October 2009, the Church announced the construction of a temple in South Florida which would include the Bahamas in the future temple district.[26]  Temple trips do not appear to occur regularly for members in the Bahamas and likely occur on an individual or family basis.  Entering the United States for some members may be a challenge due to visa regulations.

Comparative Growth

The Church has experienced slow growth in the Bahamas, characteristic of many other English-speaking island nations in the Caribbean, such as Barbados and the Virgin Islands.  The percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population is comparable to Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda.  Many Caribbean nations had a Church presence established prior to 1980 and remain with fewer than 1,000 members today.

Seventh Fay Adventists have achieved steady membership growth over the past decade, growing from 9,300 members in 1998 to 15,212 in 2008, yet only one new congregation was added during this period.  Jehovah's Witnesses have experienced modest growth in membership. 

Future Prospects

Low receptivity, negative cultural attitudes concerning the Church, and a high rates of church attendance in other faiths create significant challenges for future growth.  Prospects for the creation of additional congregations appear poor until member reactivation efforts improve member activity rates and increases in convert baptisms occur.  Traveling missionaries holding cottage meetings while visiting members and investigators on currently unreached islands may be a means of beginning missionary work in these locations. 


[1]  "Bahamas," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127377.htm

[2]  "Background Note: The Bahamas," Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 21 June 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1857.htm

[3]  "The Bahamas," 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, retrieved 13 September 2010.  http://www.heritage.org/index/country/Bahamas

[4]  "Bahamas," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127377.htm

[5]  "Bahamas," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127377.htm

[6]  Thomas, Janet.  "Pioneers in the Beautiful Bahamas," Liahona, Aug 1998, 31

[7]  "Bahamas," Country Profiles, retrieved 13 September 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/bahamas

[8]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 19 March 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/17980/From-around-the-world.html

[9]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 5 December 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21759/From-around-the-world.html

[10]  Thomas, Janet.  "Pioneers in the Beautiful Bahamas," Liahona, Aug 1998, 31

[11]  "New missions created; total now 331," LDS Church News, 10 January 1998.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/31386/New-missions-created-total-now-331.html

[12]  Hart, John L.  Out of obscurity: Helping in Grand Bahama," LDS Church News, 26 February 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46914/Out-of-obscurity-Helping-in-Grand-Bahama.html

[13]  "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

[14]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 19 March 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/17980/From-around-the-world.html

[15]  "Historic groundbreaking," LDS Church News, 4 February 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/48481/Historic-groundbreaking.html

[16]  "Bahamas," Deseret News 2010 Church Almanac, p. 428

[17]  Thomas, Janet.  "Pioneers in the Beautiful Bahamas," Liahona, Aug 1998, 31

[18]  "Bahamas," Deseret News 2010 Church Almanac, p. 428

[19]  "Bahamas," Deseret News 2010 Church Almanac, p. 428

[20]  "Historic groundbreaking," LDS Church News, 4 February 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/48481/Historic-groundbreaking.html

[21]  "Bahamas," Country Profiles, retrieved 13 September 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/bahamas

[22]  Hart, John L.  Out of obscurity: Helping in Grand Bahama," LDS Church News, 26 February 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46914/Out-of-obscurity-Helping-in-Grand-Bahama.html

[23]  Hart, John L.  Out of obscurity: Helping in Grand Bahama," LDS Church News, 26 February 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46914/Out-of-obscurity-Helping-in-Grand-Bahama.html

[24]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 19 March 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/17980/From-around-the-world.html

[25]  Thomas, Janet.  "Pioneers in the Beautiful Bahamas," Liahona, Aug 1998, 31

[26]  "News of the Church," Ensign, Nov 2009, 127-28