We have frozen this blog as a historical, yet informational view at what life is like in the West Indies Mission for all those called to serve. This blog was designed for the families and friends of those missionaries serving in the West Indies Mission from July 2006 to July 2009. Every six weeks, photos taken at zone conference as well as a new slide show including every person baptized were posted on the blog. All of the slide shows are also available on our You Tube channel. The current West Indies Mission blog can be found here. Posts on our missionary experience can be found here and earlier. And finally, if you are a returned missionary who served in the West Indies, there is a current blog for you. Click here or visit westindiesrm@blogspot.com

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Who Were The First Missionaries in Trinidad?

Elders O. Ned Kirkham, Max W. Simkins, and Richard G. Sharp were suddenly called home to the States by President Heber J. Grant upon news of the pending war in 1940. The three elders boarded ship in Cape Town, South Africa on November 9, 1940 for New York. On Sunday, November 24, 1940, their ship made a stop at a port of call in Port of Spain, Trinidad.

"As we were walking down one of the side streets, we heard some singing coming from a local church a block or so away. When we came near, Elder Kirkham said 'lets go in,' so in we went. We sat down on the back row and listened to some of their songs being sung in the real old, dramatic spiritualist style. As we sat there listening for a few minutes, one of the old gentlemen came back and gave us a hymn book turned open to the page on which they were singing. We all three looked on the same book and entered right into the swing of it, singing along with them. (The songs were familiar Christian hymns.) The minister came in the back door of the chapel up behind the pulpit and sat up on the stand, reading some of his books while the singing went on, brushing up on his sermon, I presume. There was one little boy, about eight or nine years old, sitting a couple of rows ahead of us who was singing out at the top of his voice. They were really putting their hearts and souls in it!

After we had been there about ten or fifteen minutes, Elder Kirkham leaned over to the gentleman who had brought us the book and said we would have to go, but that we would like to talk to him outside for a few minuites. We all went out and Elder Kirkham explained to him that we were missionaries, that we were returning from South Africa to our homes in America and that our ship had stopped in their port that day, so we were paying them a brief visit on their island. The old fellow was very kind and asked if we would like to say a few words to the people. Elder Kirkham said 'yes, we would very much like to talk to them.'

The old gentleman let us back inside and up to the front and directed us to sit up on the stand by the minister. Then he went over and talked to the minister, telling him about us. The singing went on and at the close of the song, the minister got up and told the congregation that, 'we are very happy to have three young missionaries visiting with us tonight. They are on their way from the land of our fathers, in Africa, to heir homes in America. They have just 'escaped from a ship,' and have come to visit us here in Port of Spain today.' He emphasized that 'escaped from a ship' part of it as if he were telling them a ghost story and was trying to throw a scare into them! Then he said, 'we will sing one more song and then these good brethren will speak to us for a few minutes.'

After they finished the song, one of the sisters in front stood up and, with a shouted 'hallelujah,' she started leading off into another song. But the old preacher thought they had done enough singing and now it was time for some talking. As she was leading away with gusto and the others began to join in, the minister came to the pulpit and shouted out in an overpowering, deep, base voice, 'AMEN!, Sister, AMEN!' 'For convenience sake, AMEN!' emphasizing it with a few sharp, slicing cuts with his hand. This brought the singing to an abrupt halt and he introduced us again emphasizing that 'escaped from a ship' feature again. Then he turned the time over to us.

Elder Kirkham got up and talked to them for about five or six minutes, and when he finished, I got up and spoke to them for several minutes, talking briefly about Joseph Smith and the Restoration and bearing my testimony to them. Then Elder Simkins talked for a few minutes. All the while we were talking, the congregation was shouting 'Amen, Brother,' 'Praise the Lord,'and 'Hallelujah!' and all that sort of distracting encouragement. Whenever we mentioned the name of the Lord or said something that pleased them, out came a burst of praise, indicating their approval of what was said, all of which was very confusing.

When Elder Simkins finished speaking, the preacher got up and started talking about how pleased he was that we had come to visit them and that he was gratified that some younger people were showing an interest in religion, etc. He was very sincere and from his speech and his general demeanor, we could see that he was quite well educated and that he had a good mind. Then he went on with his preaching.

As he was giving his sermon, we did not know how long this would go on or when we might be able to make an appropriate exit, because we thought we had better be going as we did not want to miss the launch that was to take us back out to our ship in the harbor. So Elder Kirkham made a move to get his hat, that one of the ladies had taken from him when we came in. The minister told us to wait a minute, and he took a piece of paper from his books and wrote his name and address on it and gave it to Elder Kirkham. The minister then told the people that we had to get back to our ship, but he never did explain the paradox of why we were voluntarily returning to the ship we had just 'escaped from.' Then he had them all stand up and sing 'God Be With You Till we Meet Again.' They all stood and sang and really put the old-time Pentecostal fire into it! We stayed and sang the first verse with them, and as they sang the second and third verses, we walked down through the congregation. They were all waving goodbye, reaching up to touch us an dshake our hands as we walked down the aisle, shaking hands with everyone we could reach and waving back to them. We walked out of there 'In a Blaze of Glory.' When we got outside the little boy who was singing at the top of his voice when we first went in, came to us and asked for a penny.

After that memorable experience, Elders Kirkham, Simkins and I walked through the streets of Port of Spain, trying to find our way back to the pier, talking of what had just happened to us and of the humble sincerity of those good people. They seemed to stand out in stark contrast to the atmosphere of the city around them, where immorality runs rampant. Even as we were walking along we had several young people come to us and offer us 'bargains for women.' This was a typical seaport town.

The Deseret News Church Almanac 1998-1999 records that missionary work was introduced into Port of Spain, Trinidad in 1977 and the first branch was organized there in 1980. The record does not show that three Mormon Elders were in Port of Spain and preach the gospel there on November 24, 1940."

And that is the rest of the story....

We received this journal entry from Richard G. Sharp of Bountiful, Utah. Brother Sharp, who served a mission 69 years ago is the father of our good friend Ned Hill, former Dean of the Marriott School of Business at BYU.

1 comment:

Ked Kirkham said...

A delightful story as the KIrkham Family approaches its 150 years in
Utah. Thank you for the post!
Ked Kirkham, Sunset Utah