Trinidad and Tobago
Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
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The West Indies islands of Trinidad and Tobago are at the south end of the Windward Island chain lying only about 11 km (7 miles) off the coast of Venezuela. Covering an area of 5,130 sq km (1,981 sq miles) the islands have a population of about 1.1 million people. Trinidad, the larger of the two islands has three mountain ranges traversing the island. The low-lying areas are noted for mangrove swamps, including the Caroni Swamp that boasts an immense variety of butterflies. Tobago is an island renowned for its wildlife. The islands were visited by Christopher Columbus in 1498 and subsequently held as a Spanish possession for the next three centuries before being seized by Britain in 1797. Sugar plantations on the islands were originally worked by African slaves. With the abolition of slavery in 1834 East Indian and Chinese laborers were imported. Today the descendants of these groups continue to represent the two largest segments of the population, each group representing more than forty percent of the total. Independence came in 1962 but racial and ethnic problems led to a coup attempt in 1990. At present the Republic is governed by the dual legislative bodies known as the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Oil, petroleum and asphalt provide the strength of Trinidad’s economy while tourism is concentrated in Tobago. These two factors help to make Trinidad and Tobago the most prosperous islands in the West Indies. The privatization of state operations and the main airline have been recent government initiatives to help stem the recent economic downturn. Since about mid-1988 recession and ensuing emigration have contributed to a general economic decline in the islands.
Because of the strong ethnic mix on the islands the religious mix is equally diverse. Of the Christian denominations the Roman Catholic tradition is the strongest with 32% of the population, Anglicans number nearly 15% and all other Protestant denominations claim 14% together. Almost 25% of the population is Hindu and 6% Muslim.
The story of the Stone-Campbell Movement in Trinidad and Tobago began during the Second World War when American servicemen of the a cappella Churches of Christ worshipped together at Chagaramus; among that group was John P. Fogarty. When the military base closed only a few native converts were left and by 1965 they had ceased to assemble. Ralph Wharton later began to teach some young Hindus through a Bible correspondence course and traveled to Trinidad to baptize three converts. The week following the baptism a congregation of about twenty began to meet under the home of Vadas Dallsingh and soon others were baptized. For some time the Whartons continued in contact and encouragement with this young group.
Radio Trinidad began in 1970 to carry a broadcast from San Juan by American Bob Brown, including offering correspondence courses. Shortly afterward Brown and another American family, the David McCalls, moved to Trinidad to begin mission work. They were followed by Glenn Buffington, who settled in Port-of-Spain, Don Latham, Jerry Davidson, and Wayne Pruette. Several crusades were also held by American evangelists supporting the local missionaries and these led to scores of baptisms and the planting of several congregations. A new congregation in Point Fortin had a hundred converts and was soon given leadership by American missionary Mike Robinson. Don Starks came to the islands in 1973 to supervise the radio correspondence course which by this time enrolled 50,000 students and saw hundreds baptized, making a significant impact in the lives of Christians of Trinidad. A school of preaching was formed by the congregation in San Fernando in 1974. Over two dozen American missionaries have greatly encouraged the work in Trinidad and Tobago.
In 1990 there were a reported 34 congregations with approximately 2,150 members. Presently a kindergarten operates in Diego Martin and Parker Henderson has charge of the Trinidad School of Preaching. The latter has contributed significantly to the consistent growth of the Churches of Christ in Trinidad through the training and equipping of native leaders.
In the late 1990s the American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ began a work in Trinidad and Tobago through White Fields Evangelism. Robert and Carolyn Litz began serving in Trinidad in July of 1998 targeting the island of Tobago for a church plant and leadership training. Construction was begun on a small church building and the Litzes began a program of preaching Bible study and counseling. The current status of that congregation is unknown to the World Convention.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
For further historical reference:
Churches of Christ Around the World, Lynn, Mac, 21st Century Christian Publications, Nashville, TN, 2003.
For online directories of a cappella Churches of Christ see:
Trinidad School of Preaching, San Fernando