PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A new temple, the first-ever for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Haiti, is already a beacon of hope and change for the community.
Labor Day weekend, while many Americans enjoyed a long weekend of cookouts and family gatherings, church leaders heard a choir sing “The morning breaks” as they exited the temple for its cornerstone ceremony.
Elder David A. Bednar told them there could not have been a more appropriate hymn.
Then he asked them to change one word in the first verse. Instead of, “The dawning of a brighter day/Majestic rises on the world,” he asked them to sing, “Majestic rises on Haiti.”
The choir sang again, their voices rising to the heavens as they drew out the name of their beloved country, Haiti.
A Utah connection
A number of Utahns helped make the project happen by working for their companies on the project, often for several months at a time.
The project had challenges for the landscapers from Stratton and Bratt, based in Pleasant Grove, Utah. They couldn’t find good enough quality plants, and the sod for the Temple grounds was being cut by hand by machete in uneven chunks.
“Take palm trees. There’s not a nursery in Haiti that grows them. But we would find a local guy to go out, and find people who had palm trees (often hours away in the Dominican Republic), and he would buy them and bring them to the temple site,” said project manager Tim Maynes.
Maynes says they overcame the challenges to make a beautiful place.
“We are building something that is not in existence in this area,” he said.
Growing local skills
Electrician Howard Borst spent six months in Port-Au-Prince, working with Westland Construction on the indoor and outdoor lighting of the Temple. He helped train local workers from Haiti on site.
“Countless people came away with a skill they didn’t have before,” he said, adding that many people he worked with were able to then start their own small business or go on to have better jobs with their new skills.
Borst and Maynes talked about the term, “Temple Quality.” It’s a way to describe the above-excellent demands and standards for a temple project. It is also built to withstand another natural disaster.
“There’s no cutting corners. You know you have to get it done exactly right, and there’s no other way to do it,” said Borst. He added that he was proud to have hung the chandelier in the celestial room that you can now see in the video of the Haiti Temple interior.
They always tried to buy local and source local supplies. But Haiti is a poor nation, and doesn’t have the same things you would expect in another country for example. So when they flew back to Utah for a visit, they would often take parts and supplies back to Haiti with them in suitcases.
A temple for Haiti’s Latter-day Saints
Crews suffered setbacks and delays because of political unrest. At times, the conditions around them made Maynes question why Haiti was getting a temple when other places have more members of the church.
“There were these little kids, playing on the side of the road. And the inspiration came into my mind, that we are building this temple because Heavenly Father loves these children,” said Maynes.
Maynes says the world might forget about Haiti, but the Lord does not.
They believe the Temple will bless Haitians for years to come.
“Even the ones who are not a member (of the church) were welcoming that building. It’s such a beacon of hope, especially in that neighborhood. it just lights up,” said Borst.
Blessing the youth of Haiti
At a youth devotional for those aged 12 to 19, Elder David A. Bednar told those gathered that doing family history and working in the temple would bless and protect them.
“Always live, so that you will be worthy to be in the temple,” said Elder Bednar.
He told them that nothing that could prevent them from being in the temple can bring lasting joy.
Elder Bednar asked the youth, “What will you do to not become spiritually lazy?” now that the temple is here. He told the youth that they are the future of Haiti, and can connect to their ancestors by taking names to the temple.
“It makes a difference when it is someone you know something about,” added his wife, Sister Susan Bednar.
They also took questions from some of the youth, and in response to one of them said, “Don’t ever apologize or be embarrassed about being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Near the end of the meeting, Sister Bednar bore her testimony in French, to the delight of the congregation.
“The future of Haiti is in this room,” concluded Elder Bednar. “I bless you.”
Afterward, some of the youth spoke through an interpreter.
“I felt the spirit really strongly,” said one, while another said they would work hard to stay worthy: “We are now the generation of the Temple, and we have to take that forward.”
Dedicating the Haiti temple
Children were invited to help put in the mortar on the cornerstone. Elder Bednar joked that the professionals would not need to do any touch-ups after that.
The building features palm leaf and hibiscus patterns throughout, with vivid blue, green and gold coloring representing the colors found throughout this island nation.
“It’s amazing how the temple is a source of light, not only spiritually, but temporally,” said Elder Bednar before the first dedicatory session.
23,000 Latter-day Saints live in this part of the island shared with the Dominican Republic, and people there say the new temple is one of the most beautiful — if not the most beautiful — buildings in the nation. There was so much interest on Sunday that 23 members of the press came from far and near.
‘A place of supernal peace’
Haiti has slowly been recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake. Many people say the new temple will be a place of peace and inspiration to them. Elder Bednar said the Temple will bless the nation.
“It is a place of supernal peace, which prepares you to go back into the world more stronger, and perhaps more purposeful than we were before,” he said.
Several former church missionaries who served in Haiti came back for the dedication, including Richard Bird and Ben Penrod, from Mapleton and Salem, Utah, respectively. They served from 1998-2000.
“I think the progress you see in the members from the time we were here to now, is huge. The temple will bind those families together, and it will be impactful for them and for future generations,” said Penrod.
Dangerous conditions and political unrest in the last few years has meant that only Haitians now serve missions in Haiti.
“One of the most amazing things, is that missionaries have been pulled in and out, and Haitians have stepped up and gotten stronger,” said Bird. “For us to come back and see how much the church has grown, is really heartwarming.”
What a difference a year makes
There is a stillness and peace that can be found on the temple grounds, members said. A peace that Marie Claire Jean-Jacque desperately needed last July when there were riots in the streets and her husband could not get home.
“I said to myself, if the temple had been there, I would have gone to the temple and spent the day in the House of God and felt peace. It was the only place where I could feel peace,” Jean-Jacque said.
Bernado Jean-Jaque also believes the temple will bring the nation more peace.
“The temple will affect every part, every part [of the country],” he said.
Before this temple was dedicated, Williamson Sintyl says church members would make an expensive trip lasting anywhere between 8 to 12 hours across the island to the Dominican Republic.
For many members of the church, they made that trip traveling by crowded bus or in the back of a pickup — options that have grown more dangerous and more expensive. Many members could not do it.
“Haitian people used to travel 12 hours on the bus because they didn’t have the money to pay for an airplane,” he said, becoming emotional. “Sometimes we don’t have the money to come back to Haiti because there is a government problem.”
Blessing a nation
In Juvenat, up and down hilly, windy roads and behind another gate, down some steps made out of discarded tires on a steep hillside, Shella Privert lives in one of many homes the church built after the earthquake of 2010. She is grateful for the addition of a temple to her city. She says the temple gives her life purpose and hope.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a miracle to Haiti,” she said. “And the temple makes me happier. I will do my very best to be able to go to the temple.”
Just before dedicating the temple, Elder Bednar said it would bless not just members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but the entire nation.
“As you travel to places with economic challenges,” he said, “it’s amazing how the temple is a source of light, not only spiritually but temporally. So if we come back in 15 years, this neighborhood will be different, and Haiti will be different.”
“That’s the number one thing Haiti needs – instead of giving them stuff, they need a temple,” said Sintyl. “They need to feel like they are not alone. They need to feel like they are a part of the Lord’s people. That the Lord is aware, and he is here with us.”
Sophia Lundy sees this temple from the eyes of an engineer and architect.
“We have a great nation, but we have so many setbacks. The temple is a testimony that anything great and beautiful can be built in Haiti,” she said, adding that she helped in the beginning stages of the project.
Lundy says many groups who build in Haiti cut corners or didn’t care about code. But the temple was built carefully, solidly, and beautifully.
“It doesn’t matter if it is a country that is struggling when you are building the house of the Lord. When you are doing anything to benefit the children of God, you do it right,” said Lundy.
“There is a new era in Haiti. There is new hope,” said Marie Claire Jean-Jacque.
To hear the whole Conference radio special, click on the podcast below.
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