Reaching the Nations

Trinidad and Tobago

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area:  28,051 square km.  Located north of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean, Trinidad and Tobago consists of the larger, more populous island of Trinidad and the smaller, less populated island of Tobago.  The islands experience a tropical climate subject to a rainy season from June to December and have few hills and small mountains.  Forests cover undeveloped landscape.  Water pollution and deforestation pose the greater environmental hazards.  Trinidad and Tobago are administratively divided into nine regional corporations, two city corporations, three borough corporations, and one ward. 

Population: 1,227,505 (July 2011)

Annual Growth Rate: -0.087% (2011)

Fertility Rate: 1.72 children born per woman (2011)

Life Expectancy: 68.51 male, 74.3 female (2011)

Peoples

East Indian: 40%

African: 37.5%

Mixed: 20.5%

Other: 1.2%

Unspecified: 0.8%

British colonialism brought East Indians and Africans to the islands for work on plantations.  Mixed ethnicity claims those from both Indian and African backgrounds.  Other ethnic groups include Chinese, Arab and those with mixed ancestry which include native peoples.  The negative population growth rate results from high emigration to the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States combined with a low birth rate.  East Indians form the largest percentages of the population in central and southern Trinidad.  Tobago is populated primarily by individuals of African descent.

Languages: English and Creole English are most widely spoken.  English is the official language.  Less spoken languages include Hindustani, French, Spanish, and Chinese.  English is the only language which numbers over one million speakers, with many speaking Creole or English as a second language.

Literacy: 98.6% (2003)

History

Arawak Amerindians settled the islands thousands of years prior to Spanish discovery and colonialism which began at the start of the sixteenth century.  Greater immigrant populations began to settle the islands for the following centuries.  The British took control in the early nineteenth century and heavily cultivated sugarcane.  African slaves worked in the plantations until the end of slavery in the British Empire in 1834.  Indentured servants from India arrived between the mid-nineteenth century and 1917 to increase sugar production after the end of slavery.  In the early twentieth century, oil was discovered and led to increased exports.  Independence from the United Kingdom occurred in 1962.  Trinidad and Tobago benefits from a diversified economy that has brought greater wealth than most other Caribbean nations.

Culture 

The British have influenced many areas of society ranging from law to customs.  East Indians and African have also maintained many of their native customs and traditions.  Christian, Hindi and Muslim holidays are all celebrated nationally.  Recently arrive immigrants have also infused local culture with their own food and customs.Cigarette consumption rates rank higher than the worldwide average whereas alcohol consumption rates are comparable to the worldwide average rate alcohol use. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $21,200 (2010) [44.7% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.736

Corruption Index: 3.6

Trinidad and Tobago enjoys some of the strongest, consistent economic growth in the Caribbean and serves as the region's economic center.  Most of the economy's success comes from oil and natural gas revenues, which produce 80% of the exports and 40% of the GDP.  The industry sector employs only 12.8% of the population whereas 62.9% of the workforce is in services.  Tourism is an important and growing part of the economy, especially on Tobago, which is not as developed as many other Caribbean nations.  Greater diversification of the economy will likely continue as foreign investment continues in manufacturing industries including aluminum and plastics.  Trinidad and Tobago supply cement and many manufactured goods to nearby island nations.  Agriculture accounts for less than one percent of the GDP and primarily produces cocoa, rice and citrus.  The United States is the largest import and export partner.  Important export partners include Spain, Jamaica and the Netherlands whereas major import partners include Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia. 

The level of corruption is comparable to Mexico.  Drug traffic from South America often transits  Trinidad and Tobago to the United States and Europe.  Marijuana is widely produced.  Crime is often punished according to law but increasing favoritism and flexibility of law toward officials and politicians has raised concerns. 

Faiths

Christian: 57.6%

Hindu: 22.5%

Muslim: 5.8%

Other: 10.8%

Unspecified: 1.4%

None: 1.9%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic: 319,788

Anglican: 95,936

Baptist: 88,557

Pentecostal: 83,637

Seventh Day Adventists  63,415  146

Jehovah's Witnesses  8,978  112

Latter-day Saints  2,885  12

Religion

Most Trinidadians of African descent are Christian and a few are Muslim.  Most East Indians in Trinidad are Hindu or Muslim with some Christians.  Hindus and Muslims have the strongest concentrations in southern Trinidad.  Catholics and Anglicans report decreasing Church attendance and clergy.[1]  Tobago is primarily Christian.  Rastafarian ideology has influenced Christian groups the most.  Many Protestants experience steady growth.

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution and government protect religious freedom.  Government does not favor any religious group and seeks to promote religious harmony and prosecute crimes targeting religious groups.  Foreign missionaries may operate without limitations except that they must represent a registered religious group, cannot stay longer than three years, and are are limited to no more than 30 foreign missionaries per religious group at a time.[2]

Largest Cities

Urban: 13%

San Fernando, San Juan, Port of Spain, Arima, Marabella, Point Fortin, Tunapuna, Sangre Grande, Tacarigua, Chaguanas.

All cities over 5,000 people have a congregation within city limits or within five miles.  25% of the national population lives in the 10 largest cities.

LDS History

Missionaries returning from South Africa in late 1940 stopped in Trinidad briefly and taught a congregation.  Elder Ezra Taft Benson stopped in Trinidad during a tour of the Caribbean in 1955.  The first Trinidadian members joined the Church in other nations and returned to their homeland in the mid-1970s.  The first sacrament meeting occurred in November 1976.  The first convert baptisms occurred in 1977; the same year formal missionary work started in Port of Spain under the direction of the Venezuela Caracas Mission.  Three years later, the first LDS branch was organized in the city.  Difficulty in obtaining missionary visas and restrictions on proselytizing limited missionary work until the late 1980s.  The first 18 missionary visas were obtained in 1988, which increased to 35 a few years later.  Trinidad and Tobago was transferred to the West Indies Mission in 1983 and in 1991, an independent mission was organized in the country which operated for three years.  The Trinidad and Tobago Mission was discontinued in 1994 and the headquarters of the West Indies Mission, which included most of the islands in the Caribbean, was transferred from Barbados to Trinidad.[3]  Elder M. Russell Ballard dedicated Trinidad and Tobago for missionary work in February 1990.[4]  Seminary and institute began in the early 1990s.  In 2006, the Caribbean Area was created and included Trinidad and Tobago.  A year later, the West Indies Mission was realigned and the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission was split to create a third mission, the Puerto Rico San Juan East Mission.  As of early 2010, the West Indies Mission also included Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Maarten.  Following the closure of the Puerto Rico San Juan East Mission in 2010, the West Indies Mission also administered Barbados.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 2,695 (2009)

When the Trinidad and Tobago Mission was created in 1991, there were 600 members in its boundaries which also included Guyana and Suriname.[5]  There were 700 members in Trinidad and Tobago by 1993, increasing to 1,100 by 1997.  There were 1,682 members at the end of 2000.

Membership growth increased slowly during the early 2000s to 1,770 at the end of 2003.  Accelerated growth began in 2004 with membership reaching 2,115 in 2006 and 2,489 in 2008.  Starting in 2004 around 125 converts joined the Church per year, increasing to 234 convert baptisms in 2008.  When the application was submitted for the Port of Spain Trinidad District to become a stake, there were 2,130 members in the district. 

Annual membership growth rates ranged from -0.5% to 3% during the early 2000s.  Growth rates steadily increased from -0.5% in 2003 to a high of 9.6% in 2008.  The drop in membership during 2003 was likely due to emigration and few convert baptisms.  By 2008, there was one LDS member for every 421 people. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 5 Branches: 6

In the 1990s, additional branches were created in San Fernando, Arima, Sangre Grande, Couva, and Curepe.  The Port of Spain Trinidad District was created in 1996.  In 1997, there were five branches.  By the end of 2000, there were six branches.  The number of branches increased to seven in 2002 and fluctuated between seven and eight during 2003 and 2004.  In 2005, the district was split to create a second district for southern Trinidad in San Fernando.  Branches numbered 10 in 2005 and increased to 11 in 2006 and 12 in 2008.  New congregations created in the 2000s included branches in Chaguanas, Princess Town, Siparia, Port Fortin, and Tobago.  The first branch on Tobago was created in 2007.

In 2008, San Fernando Trinidad District was discontinued in order to prepare for the establishment of a stake.  A second branch in San Fernando was created in the 2000s, but a couple years later was recombined with the first branch to increase the number of active members to organize a ward.  Another branch was consolidated in the Arima area to prepare other branches to become wards.

The first stake was organized in March 2009 and included the Arima, Couva, Curepe, Port of Spain, San Fernando, and Sangre Grande Wards and the Chaguanas and Princess Town Branches.  In 2010, branches in Port Fortin, Siparia, and Tobago reported directly to the mission.  The Arima Ward was downgraded to a branch in 2010.  Missionaries were working to establish a congregation in Caparo in late 2009, which is located southeast of Chaguanas. 

Activity and Retention

108 attended the dedicatory services for missionary work in 1990.[6]  900 members from Trinidad and neighboring islands attended President Hinckley's visit in 2002.[7] 750 attended the organization of the first stake in 2009.[8] The average number of members per congregation fell from 280 in 2000 to 207 in 2008, indicating that active membership had increased or the number of active members per congregation had decreased.  The strength of the older branches is manifest as all branches created before 2000 became wards in 2009.  Mission branches have small active memberships.  The Siparia Branch had 35 active members out of 80 in late 2009 and the Tobago and Port Fortin Branches likely had less than 50.  Active membership is likely around 1,000, or 40%.  Total active membership in the West Indies Mission was 2,600 out of 10,000 in late 2009, with the highest activity likely occurring in Trinidad.  171 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2008-2009 school year. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Arabic, Chinese, Hindi, Spanish. 

English has all LDS scriptures and the widest body of church materials available of any language.  No materials are available in Trinidadian English Creole or Tobagonian.  Materials and all LDS scriptures are available in Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish.  The Book of Mormon and some church materials are translated into Hindi, but none are available in the dialect of Hindustani spoken on Trinidad. 

Meetinghouses

Most units in the Port of Spain Trinidad Stake meet in church-built meetinghouses or renovated buildings.  Recent economic growth has increased property prices, creating greater financial problems in obtaining land for additional meetinghouses.  Mission branches typically meet in rented spaces or renovated buildings.  Some members travel up to two hours to attend church meetings.

Health and Safety

Floods and hurricanes are natural hazards.  Medical infrastructure is limited.  Dengue fever and other tropical diseases are present in Trinidad and Tobago, but uncommon.  Violent crime has escalated over the past decade.  Homicides have quadrupled since 2000.  Smoking rates are similar to the United States.  HIV/AIDS infects 1.5% of the population. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has completed few humanitarian projects as most do not suffer from inadequate living conditions.  Professional basketball players offered basketball training clinics in 1991 under the Church's name.[9]  Wheelchair donations were made as early as 2002.[10]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church faced problems with obtaining missionary visas during early years of its presence, and continues to face limitations on the number of missionaries that can serve in the country.  The Church's quota for missionaries has increased in recent years and had not reached the limit until missionaries were reassigned from other areas of the West Indies Mission in 2009, although the increased mission staffing is likely to be temporary.  The Church has likely received exemption from the law prohibiting religious groups having more than 30 foreign missionaries. 

Cultural Issues

The large range of cultures complicates efforts to unify members in congregations, as converts come from a wide range of religious and social backgrounds.  Religious harmony typically prevails but segregation often occurs on a social level.  Rastafarian philosophy conflicts with many Church teachings, including drug use and doctrinal issues pertaining to the gathering of Israel.

National Outreach

The small size of Trinidad allows for a single stake to meet the needs of members in the stronger congregations throughout the island.  Although LDS congregations serve all of the largest cities, 75% of the population lives outside the 10 largest cities.   Several administrative corporations do not have a congregation including the regional corporations of Diego Martin, Penal-Debe, and Rio Claro-Mayaro with a combined population of around 220,000 or 18% of the national population.  These lesser reached regional corporations may have some missionary areas and all likely have less active and active members who attend nearby congregations.  Diego Martin and Penal-Debe especially provide good opportunities for the Church to establish additional congregations in areas with higher population densities which likely have a few active members capable of leading new congregations. 

No lasting mission outreach occurred on Tobago until 2007.  With only 50,000 inhabitants on the island, missionaries travel throughout its territory.  Church meetings are only held in Scarborough which creates challenges for outreach to areas on the northwestern half of the island.  

Delays in obtaining missionary visas resulted in limited missionary work until the late 1980s and limited national outreach as proselytism has been primarily limited to the last two decades.  Since the relocation of the West Indies Mission to Trinidad, limited outreach has resulted from the large burden administrating the other nations within the boundaries of the mission.  The combined population of the islands covered by the mission in early 2010 was four million, with 30% of the population in Trinidad and Tobago.  A larger membership and greater receptivity in Guyana has also drawn away a large amount of missionaries and resources.  Other islands or nations which draw large amounts of missionaries also include Suriname and Guadeloupe.

Many of the rural areas of Trinidad are unreached by current mission outreach centers.  These areas are difficult to assign full-time missionaries to, as they have small populations scattered over a large geographic area.  The implementation of cottage meetings and organization of dependent groups and branches may help establish congregations in unreached areas of the country, especially in the corporations of Diego Martin and Penal-Debe. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Trinidad's robust active membership provides great opportunities.  The greatest strength in member activity is in the older congregations as these units have had more seasoned members and larger active and total memberships.  Wards have more resources for fellowshipping and the branches usually have few baptisms and limited active membership. 

No increase in member attendance at important national church events in recent years may indicate problems with member activity.  The establishment of a stake does suggest that active membership has experienced some increase.  The number of congregations has nearly doubled since 2002, yet membership has increased at a slower rate. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Trinidad enjoys widespread tolerance and cooperation between differing ethnic groups.  Separateness between unlike religious and ethnic groups may carry over to church congregations.  Differences in culture likely create additional issues for leaders to address in fellowshipping and teaching both seasoned members and recent converts.

Language Issues

The widespread use of English requires fewer language-specific resources to conduct outreach.  There are adequate materials for teaching minority groups in their native languages, but outreach among groups lacking English proficiency is difficult as few missionaries or members speak these languages.  Creole languages have not had translations of Church materials. Translations in these languages appear unlikely to be forthcoming due to  their vernacular nature and small number of speakers.

Missionary Service

Three missionary zones divide Trinidad into northern, central, and southern sections.  Many new proselytizing areas opened as missionaries were relocated from Guyana following visas issues in the fall of 2009.  The number of full-time missionaries assigned to Trinidad appears adequate at present.  Around 36 Trinidadian members have served missions.  Three were currently serving missions and six were working on their mission papers in late 2009.  Local leadership anticipates that increasing numbers of Trinidadian returned missionaries will provide for greater membership growth and activity in the future.[11]  Many  members are not married.  Marriages between members occur frequently, but it is challenging to for members to marry in the temple due to long distances and financial constraints.  Increasing numbers of Trinidadian youth serving missions is a welcome development which will contribute to strengthening the body of LDS leadership in the years to come.  Attendance in seminary and institute rose dramatically in the late 2000s and appears a major contribution toward increasing the number of local member serving missions.

Leadership

The Church in Trinidad and Tobago benefits from enough active priesthood holders to fill leadership positions notwithstanding small general membership.  This allows greater attention to new converts and less active members.  A significant policy shift occurred in mid-2009 when a new mission president arrived.  Local leadership has demonstrated self-reliance despite the short amount of time in which it has developed.  The Church has also benefited from small branches lead by willing and local members who often work with senior couple missionaries to increase active membership and the number of convert baptisms. 

Temple

Trinidad and Tobago is assigned to the Caracas Venezuela Temple district, but members often attend the temple in the Dominican Republic due to the political situation in Venezuela.  Temple attendance requires great sacrifice for members to participate in temple ordinances due to distance, travel expense, and time.  In 2010, mission president Gamiette challenged missionaries and members to increase the number of endowed members to 1,000 to increase member activity and to prepare the way for a future temple.    Family history work is challenging due to limited genealogical records, as many arrived as slaves or indentured servants. 

Comparative Growth

Trinidad and Tobago became the first English-speaking nation in the Caribbean to have a stake organized.  Other English-speaking Caribbean nations have had a Church presence for at least as long as Trinidad and Tobago, yet have few LDS members, low member activity rates, and do not have a stake.  Non-English speaking nations have experienced the strongest growth in the region.  The Church first arrived in the Dominican Republic in the late 1970s and in late 2009 had 115,000 members, 18 stakes, 11 districts, a missionary training center, and a temple.  In 2009, Trinidad and Tobago was the country with the fewest members to have a stake.

Most Christian denominations have a strong presence despite Christians numbering half the population.  Many of the Christian denominations have functioned in the country many decades before the LDS Church first arrived.  Pentecostals and Evangelical churches have experienced rapid, sustained growth over the past fifty years.

Future Prospects

Mission branches in Port Fortin and Siparia may join the Port of Spain Trinidad Stake once membership and priesthood holders increase and the congregations become less dependent on missionaries to function.  An additional branch may be created in Caparo.  Areas which may see additional congregations include the populous area between Port of Spain and Arima and larger towns in unreached areas of southern and northwestern Trinidad.  The West Indies Mission may divide and retain Trinidad and Tobago and islands to the north, which would allow for greater outreach in Trinidad and Tobago.  A second stakes appears unlikely to be organized until greater membership growth and stronger retention occur.


[1]  "Trinidad and Tobago," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127406.htm

[2]  "Trinidad and Tobago," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127406.htm

[3]  "Trinidad and Tobago," Country Profile, 8 October 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/trinidad-and-tobago

[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]  "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

[6]  "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

[7]  "Visit to West Indies because 'We love you'," LDS Church News, 1 June 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/41901/Visit-to-West-Indies-because-We-love-you.html

[8]  Beck, Mark.  "Worth the wait in Trinidad and Tobago," LDS Church News, 7 March 2009.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/56717/Worth-the-wait-in-Trinidad--Tobago.html

[9]  "Ex-BYU cagers offer free clinics in Trinidad, Tobago," LDS Church News, 21 September 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21263/Ex-BYU-cagers-offer-free-clinics-in-Trinidad-Tobago.html

[10]  "Hundreds more wheelchairs distributed," LDS Church News, 28 December 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/43004/Hundreds-more-wheelchairs-distributed.html

[11]  "Into All the World: Episode 15," Mormon Channel, retrieved 5 February 2011.  http://radio.lds.org/eng/programs/into-all-the-world-episode-15