Reaching the Nations

Guyana

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 214,969 square km.  Located in northern South America but generally categorized as culturally part of the Caribbean, Guyana is geographically the largest of the Guianas and borders Suriname, Brazil, Venezuela, and the North Atlantic Ocean.  Tropical climate occurs in most areas marked by two distinct rainy seasons in the summer and winter.  A low coastal plain occupies northern areas whereas dense tropical rainforest and hilly terrain dominate the interior.  There are some areas of savanna in the south in highland areas.  Major rivers include the Essequibo, Courantyne, Berbice, and Demerara.  Flash flooding is a natural hazard.  Environmental issues include water pollution and deforestation.  Guyana is divided into ten administrative regions.  Large portions of the eastern and western interior are claimed by Suriname and Venezuela, respectively. 

Population: 744,768 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: -0.44% (2011)    

Fertility Rate: 2.34 children born per woman (2011)    

Life Expectancy: 63.27 male, 71.07 female (2011)

Peoples

East Indian: 43.5%

black: 30.2%

mixed: 16.7%

Amerindian: 9.1%

other: 0.5%

Guyana supports one of the most diverse populations in the Western hemisphere with no ethnic group constituting a majority.  East Indians constitute 43.5% of the population and initially arrived as indentured servants by the British whereas blacks account for 30.2% of the population and descend from freed African brought to the colony prior to the abolition of slavery in the 1830s.  East Indians and blacks reside in coastal areas whereas Amerindians populate rural, interior areas and account for 9.1% of the population.  The remainder of the population consists of mixed ethnicities or other ethnicities.

Languages: Guyanese Creole English (87%), Amerindian languages (4%), other and unknown (9%).  English is the official language.  Caribbean Hindustani is spoken by some East Indians.  Macushi is the Amerindian language with the most speakers (9,500).   

Literacy: 91.8% (2002)

History

Denoting a "land of many waters" in Amerindian languages, present-day Guyana was initially settled by Arawak and Carib Amerindians.  The Dutch were the first Europeans to colonize the region but the British occupied the territory in 1796.  A formal establishment of British sovereignty over the colonies operating in Guyana occurred in 1815.  The British cultivated sugarcane and staffed the plantations with African slaves until the abolition of slavery in the 1830s.  Indentured servants primarily from India were relocated to Guyana to work on the plantations until 1917.  After the price of sugar fell dramatically in the late 1800s, the economy transitioned to growing other crops and mining.  Guyana gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1966 and autocratic president Forbes Burnham enacted socialist, one-party policies and ruled until 1985.  In the late 1970s, Guyana received international attention due to a mass suicide in Jonestown by American members of the Peoples Temple cult where over 900 people perished.  Democratic institutions and government were established in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[1]  Guyana has experienced population decline or stagnant population growth for nearly two decades due to ongoing emigration.

Culture 

Guyanese culture reflects the eclectic demographics of the population as evidenced in cuisine, language, religion, and cultural customs and practices.  Caribbean culture is a major contemporary influence on society today.  East Indian dishes are widely consumed among all ethnicities.  With the exception of predominantly East Indian Hindus and black Rastafarians, all ethnic groups are found among the country's major religious traditions.  Creole is widely spoken and represents the fusion of ethnic groups.  Notwithstanding the mixing of cultural traditions and practices, many ethnic groups retain their individual ethnic and cultural identities, particularly East Indians and Amerindians.  Cigarette consumption rates are lower than the world average whereas alcohol consumption rates are slightly higher than the world average.  Due to complexities and expenses surrounding legal marriage, many couples cohabitate and have children together but are not legally married.   

Economy

GDP per capita: $6,800 (2010) [14.3% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.611

Corruption Index: 2.7

Rice, sugar, timber, and mining dominate the Guyanese economy.  Poor infrastructure and lack of educated and skilled individuals resulted in little economic growth for the past couple of decades.  Major flooding in 2005 damaged the country's economy and stunted economic growth.  Socialistic policies followed during the first several decades after independence culminated in a lack of integration with the world economy.  Currently the government is focusing on mining, agriculture, and exporting raw materials.  Primary trade partners include Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.  Most Guyanese are likely employed in agriculture. 

Corruption is perceived as widespread.  Guyana is a transshipment point for illicit drugs produced in South America destined for Europe and North America.  Human trafficking for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation is a major concern as many are placed in forced labor in mining camps in remote, interior areas.  Women and girls are trafficked with neighboring countries for sexual exploitation.  

Faiths

Christian: 57%

Hindu: 28%

Muslim: 7%

other: 4%

none: 4%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Pentecostal  126,610

Catholic  59,581

Anglican  52,133

Seventh Day Adventists  56,039  148

Latter-day Saints  5,016  13

Jehovah's Witnesses  2,575  45

Religion

Slightly over half of Guyanese are Christian.  Pentecostals are the largest Christian group and constitute 17% of the population.  Other major Christian groups include Catholics (8%), Anglicans (7%), and Seventh Day Adventists (5%).  Hindus account for 28.4% of the population whereas Muslims account for 7.3%; both religious groups are concentrated among East Indians.  There are small numbers of Rastafarians concentrated among black Guyanese.[2] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  The government is secular and there are no restrictions on individuals changing their religious affiliation.  All religious groups worship freely.  Major Christian, Hindu, and Muslim holidays are recognized national holidays.  To operate in the country, religious groups must register with the government and obtain recognition.  Religious groups must obtain the permission of local village councils to operate in areas populated predominantly by Amerindians.  There have been no instances of societal abuse of religious freedom reported.  In 2009, 40 foreign Latter-day Saint missionaries were detained and requested to depart Guyana due to visa regulations.  News media reported that the government was suspicious of the LDS Church for its independent charity work in the interior and alleged ties with opposition figures.[3]

Largest Towns

Urban: 29%

Georgetown, Linden, New Amsterdam, Anna Regina, Corriverton, Bartica, Parika, Rose Hall, Rosignol, Mahdia

Towns listed in bold have no LDS congregations. 

Six of the ten most populous cities have an LDS congregation.  16% of the population resides in the ten most populous cities. 

LDS History

The first missionaries entered Guyana in 1988 and consisted of a single senior missionary couple serving under the West Indies Mission.  The first sacrament meeting occurred in September 1988 and a branch was organized in March 1989.  23 members attended meetings when the branch was officially organized.  In February 1989, the Church received official government recognition.  Guyana was assigned to the newly-organized Trinidad and Tobago Mission in 1991 and was reassigned to the West Indies Mission upon the closure of the Trinidad and Tobago Mission in 1994.  During this period greater numbers of missionaries were assigned to Guyana.  Seminary and institute commenced in the mid-1990s.  In 2000, the first LDS branch was organized outside of Georgetown in New Amsterdam and in 2009 Linden became the first city in the interior to open for missionary work.  The number of full-time missionaries assigned to Guyana steadily increased in the 2000s due to high rates of receptivity. 

In September 2009, the Guyanese government requested the Church to remove foreign missionaries serving in the country who were claimed to have expired missionary visas.  Missionaries reported that they were incarcerated for a day due to visa violations.  The Guyanese government enforced a new limit on the number of foreign LDS missionaries able to serve in Guyana to around 20.  Later that month the Church complied with government officials and withdrew about 40 of the 60 missionaries serving in Guyana.  Local members were provided with the opportunity to serve as full-time missionary companions in order to keep proselyting areas open, but this approach was not sustained.  Government officials expressed concerns that the Church had a larger missionary force than most Christian churches in Guyana notwithstanding fewer members than many denominations. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 5,016 (2010)

There were 300 members in 1993 and 700 in 1997.  By 2000 membership totaled 1,036.  Moderate rates of membership growth occurred for the first half of the 2000s whereas rapid membership growth occurred during the latter-half of the 2000s.  Membership increased to 1,251 in 2002, 1,607 in 2004, 2,072 in 2006, 3,935 in 2008, and 5,016 in 2010.  During 2008 and 2009, there were over 100 convert baptisms a month in Guyana.  Annual membership growth rates in the 2000s ranged from a high of 53% in 2008 to a low of 3.5% in 2010 but generally varied between 7% and 20%.  In 2010, one in 148 was nominally LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 13

There was one branch in 1993.  By the end of 1994 a second branch was organized in Garden Park; a suburb of Georgetown.  A third branch was organized in 1996 in Patentia.  By 2000, there were four branches.  The number of branches increased to five in 2003, six in 2004, eight in 2005, 11 in 2006, 12 in 2007, and 16 in 2008.  The number of branches declined to 15 in 2009 and 13 in early 2011.  During the 2000s, most new branches were organized in the Georgetown and New Amsterdam areas and districts were established in each city in 2003 and 2005, respectively.  A third district briefly operated in Diamond during the mid-2000s.  In the late 2000s, branches were organized for the first time in Crabwood Creek, Bushlot, Parika, and Linden. In the late 2000s and early 2010s, branches were discontinued in Parika, Georgetown 2nd, Georgetown 3rd, and New Amsterdam 2nd.  In the late 2000s, groups also functioned in East Linden and in Skeldon.  In the early 2010s, the Crabwood Creek Branch was consolidated with the Skeldon Group to create the Corriverton Branch and the Patentia Branch was renamed the La Grange Branch.  In early 2011, the New Amsterdam Guyana District was discontinued and branches were placed under the West Indies Mission.  In mid-2011, groups or dependent branches may have operated in Parika and East Linden.     

Activity and Retention

Guyana experienced moderate rates of convert retention and member activity until the late 2000s as many of the thousands of converts who joined the Church between 2007 and 2009 were not retained due to minimal prebaptismal teaching and poor new convert fellowshipping support.  The apostasy of some members appears to have also significantly impacted overall activity rates, especially in New Amsterdam.  Member activity rates appear higher in Georgetown than in New Amsterdam as quick-baptism tactics were more consistently applied in New Amsterdam.  The average number of members per congregation increased from 259 in 2000 to 334 in 2010.  The number of members enrolled in seminary and institute increased from 127 during the 2007-2008 school year to 296 during the 2009-2010 school year.  Most branches appear to have between 50 and 100 active members.  Nationwide active membership is estimated at 1,000, or 20% of total church membership.  

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English

All LDS scriptures and materials are available in English. 

Meetinghouses

The first meetinghouse in Guyana was dedicated in 2003.  By early 2011, there were approximately eleven LDS meetinghouses, most of which consisted of renovated buildings and rented spaces. 

Health and Safety

The risk for infectious disease is high, particularly for leptospirosis, dengue fever, malaria, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, and bacterial and protozoal diarrhea.  HIV/AIDs infects 1.2% of the adult population. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The LDS Church has provided valuable humanitarian and development assistance in Guyana, completing at least 24 projects that included donating school supplies and equipment, wheelchairs, furniture, hygiene kits, bedding for orphanages, school uniforms, and food and clothing for the needy.[4]  In 2011, a senior missionary couple was assigned to Georgetown to help the unemployed find sustainable employment. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church benefits from full religious freedom for its members to meet, proselyte, and worship without societal or government interference.  Past visa challenges with foreign missionaries limits the number of North American full-time missionaries which can be assigned.

Cultural Issues

High receptivity to Christianity, few ethnic tensions, high literacy rates, and shared language have contributed to rapid membership and congregational growth for the LDS Church in Guyana over the past decade.  Guyana provides a unique opportunity to extend outreach to Hindus and Muslims with no legal restrictions and develop culturally-tailored proselytism approaches which can be utilized among Hindus and Muslims elsewhere.  A strong sense of community in many areas can create sustainability for the LDS Church if a sizeable following of members is maintained.  Low standards of living, low levels of commitment to a particular Christian denomination, and community opposition are cultural challenges which impede greater growth for the LDS Church.  The complex religious background of many Guyanese merits missionary approaches which are flexible and varied.  Although the poverty of many of the people in Guyana likely has made them more receptive to the gospel message, many struggle with unemployment, low living standards, and few financial resources to support the Church in Guyana.  The Church has sought to meet economic and humanitarian needs through a variety of projects and opportunities for additional aid continue to abound.  The lack of legally-married couples presents challenges for LDS outreach and can result in some potential converts losing interest in the Church if they are unable to get legally married.  LDS missionaries have played a crucial role in preparing and arranging marriage ceremonies for potential converts. 

National Outreach

Notwithstanding Guyana's small urban population, 63% of the national population resides in cities, towns, and villages with an LDS congregation.  This relatively high degree of national outreach has been achieved only within the past decade as a result of the organization of congregations on the outskirts of Georgetown and New Amsterdam and the expansion of missionary activity into several of the most populous, previously-unreached cities in coastal areas and Linden.  Five of the ten administrative regions have an LDS congregation and account for 84% of the population.  90% of the national population resides in coastal areas.[5]

Opportunities for expanding national outreach appear most favorable in the most populous, lesser-reached or unreached towns in coastal areas such as Skeldon, Charity, and Bartica as these towns are within close proximity of LDS outreach centers and have sizeable populations.  Holding cottage meetings to ascertain local receptivity and church growth potential in these and other locations can facilitate national outreach expansion through the smart allocation of limited missionary resources.  The Church in the recent past has been flexible and dynamic in surveying growth opportunities as evidenced by the establishment of a second home group in Linden before the organization of the first independent branch and the regular opening of groups and dependent branches in the late 2000s when foreign full-time missionaries were plentiful.  Recent government-set caps on the number of foreign LDS missionaries permitted to serve in Guyana pose a major setback in expanding outreach.  Local member and leadership capabilities are insufficient in meeting their own administrative and ecclesiastical needs and require mission support.  This results in delays in expanding outreach into unreached and lesser-reached communities to plant new congregations.  Reliance on full-time missionaries and low member activity rates and local leader sustainability are chiefly responsible for congregation consolidations in the late 2000s and early 2010s which left unchecked may continue in the coming years and reduce the current level of national LDS outreach.

There have been no concentrated efforts to extend LDS outreach among Amerindian groups or in the sparsely populated interior largely due to the unfeasibility of assigning full-time missionaries to villages difficult to access and with few inhabitants.  Expanding outreach to these areas will require dedication and effort on the part of senior missionary couples and local members and leaders. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

There are many obstacles for the Church in improving member activity and convert retention rates including little long-term commitment of converts who received minimal teaching prior to baptism, the large number of children and youth baptized with no parental or congregational support, few capable leaders who are reliable and knowledgeable in church administration, the lack of returned missionaries, counter-proselytism efforts by other denominations, and transportation challenges to attend church meetings.  Transportation in Guyana is difficult and expensive.  Oftentimes members will be picked up in trucks or wagons, especially for conferences.  Rain can dramatically lower the number of members who come to Church on a given Sunday. 

Distance from mission headquarters in Trinidad has likely reduced missionary accountability for baptizing converts and exacerbated convert attrition issues.  Less emphasis was placed on the quality and quantity of teaching for investigators who were baptized in the late 2000s.  Sacrament meeting attendance is poor in places such as New Amsterdam where many branches rely on the missionaries to function properly and has been a major contributor to the consolidation of congregations in recent years.  The mass exodus of full-time missionaries in 2009 and the inability of local members to sufficiently compensate for their loss is reflected in ongoing administrative challenges which included the dissolution of the New Amsterdam Guyana District in 2011 notwithstanding the district formerly including six branches.

Senior missionary couples have assisted in convert retention through organizing seminary and institute programs and young-single adult activities.  Seminary and institute commenced in Linden within months of the assignment of the first full-time missionaries and was a smart move which may curtail inactivity through solidifying convert testimonies and provide socialization opportunities with fellow members.  Increasing attendance in seminary and institute in the late 2000s is a positive development indicating that active membership has likely increased in this period despite convert retention issues.  In 2009, mission policies regarding convert baptismal standards were revised in an effort to improve retention resulting in a major slowdown to membership growth rates in 2010.  Time will tell whether these reformed policies will be reflected in improved member activity and retention rates. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

LDS missionaries report that there have been no major ethnic integration issues at church notwithstanding the ethnic diversity of the Guyanese population.  Common usage of Guyanese Creole English has facilitated ethnic integration despite differing cultural practices and attitudes among differing ethnicities. 

Language Issues

There are no LDS materials in Guyanese Creole English, but many are able to utilize standard-English LDS scriptures and materials for personal study and gospel instruction.  Literacy rates are high notwithstanding low living standards.  Translations of LDS materials such as basic proselytism tracts into Guyanese Creole English may be warranted for culturally-effective outreach.

Missionary Service

Few local members serve full-time missions but the number of local members serving missions appears to have increased in recent years as a result of increasing the emphasis of missionary preparation for youth.  In 2010, the LDS Church in Guyana appeared to supply between one-third to one-half of the full-time missionary force in the country.  The disruption of foreign full-time missionary service severely affected the overall health of the Church in Guyana and demonstrates the reliance of many leaders and members on missionary support.  Efforts to have local youth serve mini-missions with a full-time missionary companion appeared to have yielded few long-term effects and no noticeable sustainability largely due to the approach carried out hastily in the wake of the removal of two-thirds of the missionary force in late 2009.  More carefully-organized, consistent programs for local members to assist in missionary efforts could yield greater long-term results.

Leadership

The LDS Church in Guyana has faced consistent frustrations in developing and increasing the number of self-sufficient priesthood holders to lead congregations and maintain the organization of districts as indicated by two of the three districts being consolidated or closed by 2011.  In 2011, nearly all the branches appeared to be led by local members notwithstanding these challenges.  Mission leadership worked diligently to establish the first LDS stake in Guyana in Georgetown since 2008, but as of 2011 these efforts had not come to fruition due to leadership sustainability and member activity issues.  An application was sent to Church headquarters for a stake to be organized in 2008 but was not approved.  One of the obstacles that prevented a stake organization was a lack of full-member families in Georgetown.  A senior couple was sent to Georgetown and given the specific task to prepare the district for becoming a stake in the spring of 2009. 

With two-thirds of the foreign missionary force now gone, local leadership will have to efficiently delegate responsibilities to full-time missionaries and commission local Church members and branch missionaries to assist in reactivation and member missionary work efforts.  President Gamiette of the West Indies Mission began his tenure in mid-2009 and immediately turned full-time missionaries' focus towards the reactivation of lost new converts and strengthening leadership.

Temple

Guyana is assigned to the Caracas Venezuela Temple district but due to political conditions in Venezuela many members attend the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple.  Organized temple trips occur regularly for members, but travel costs and distance limit the frequency members may attend the temple.  Prospects for a temple closer to members in Guyana may be forthcoming for a temple in Trinidad and Tobago one day, but few members in the region and low member activity rates prevent a temple announcement. 

Comparative Growth

The LDS Church in Guyana experienced some of the most rapid membership and congregational growth rates among nations with fewer than 10,000 members in the 2000s but also appears to have exhibited one of the lowest convert retention rates.  Member activity rates are among the lowest in the Caribbean and comparable to many Latin American nations.  The percentage of members in the population is lower than most Latin American nations but higher than most Caribbean nations.  In 2010, Guyana was the country with the eleventh most members without a stake. 

Other Christian churches and organizations with a strong missionary focus have seen modest to exceptional growth in Guyana.  The Seventh Day Adventists have experienced great growth in Guyana, numbering 54,201 members in 148 churches in 2008.  Membership for the SDA Church increases by about 2,000 every year and claims about 7% of the population in the country.  Jehovah's Witnesses have seen more modest growth and reported about 2,400 members in 40 congregations in 2008.  These and other missionary-minded Christian groups appear to have much higher convert retention rates than the LDS Church as greater emphasis is placed on member-missionary work and prebaptismal preparation.

Future Prospects

Ongoing member activity and local leadership challenges continue to frustrate church growth potential for the LDS Church in Guyana notwithstanding high rates of receptivity.  Improved standards for convert baptisms and efforts directed toward reactivation and strengthening congregations and leaders may yield more lasting church growth results.  Pending steady improvement and greater consistency in convert retention and member activity, the district in Georgetown may become a stake within the next decade and a district may be reorganized in New Amsterdam.  Increasing numbers of youth and young adults serving missions may lay a foundation for greater, more experienced local leaders who can reduce the administrative burden on mission leadership.  The creation of a separate mission to administer Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana is warranted in order to improve interaction between local and mission leaders, reduce the administrative burden on mission leaders in the West Indies Mission, and improve accountability over the long term for convert baptisms in the Guianas.  Visa restrictions on the number of foreign missionaries deters from opening additional areas of proselytism but may improve leadership development by demanding greater self-sufficiency. 

 


[1]  "Background Note: Guyana," Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 4 April 2011.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1984.htm

[2]  "Guyana," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148760.htm

[3]  "Guyana," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148760.htm

[4]  "Projects - Guyana," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 21 May 2011.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-118,00.html

[5]  "Background Note: Guyana," Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 4 April 2011.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1984.htm