March 9, 2022

Story of the First Missionaries in Florida

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The Florida Saints from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have not had it easy since the very beginning of the restoration of the gospel.

The early missionaries of the Church were not very successful in the Florida area in the beginning, but the few people who were willing to listen and be converted to the gospel made all the difference. Today we are seeing the benefit of the hard work, stalwartness and dedication of the early Saints and missionaries in Florida.

The very first record of missionaries sent to preach the gospel in Florida was in the year 1843(that is the year before Joseph Smith died). That is all the information recorded, only that there were missionaries sent to Florida. There was no record kept of the first missionaries experience, which is disappointing because without a record, we simply do not know what happened during that first effort to spread the gospel in Florida.

The next known missionary to go to Florida to teach the gospel was Phineas Young, the brother of Brigham Young. Phineas Young went to Florida in 1845, about two years after the first attempt of missionary work in Florida, and a year before the Saints moved from Nauvoo to Utah. There is record of Phineas Young distributing copies of the Book of Mormon to Native American Chiefs. It does not look like he spent a lot of time in Florida, only about two months and moved on.

It was not until 1895, fifty years after the first effort that missionaries were sent to Florida to teach the gospel. Florida was part of the Southern States mission. The missionaries would stay in Florida and teach the gospel in the winter, and head to northern areas when Florida was too hot.

The Church growth continued in Florida, but not quickly. There was a time that persecution of the saint and the missionaries caused that the missionaries were not safe and had to be removed from the state of Florida.

The first branch president, George Canova, was gunned down for being a member of the Latter-Day Saint Church. It was only six months after Bro. George Canova had been called as branch president and he was heading home from a conference when he was gunned down. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

The saints continued to work to establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Florida. Because of the hard work and dedication of the Florida Saints in 1947 the first stake in Florida was created! It is also the first stake in the southern United States and it was in Jackson county Florida!

The best part of this story is the first Stake President was Alvin Conova Chance, the grandson of George Conova, the first branch president, that was killed.

The Saints in Florida did not have it easy, but they can teach us about how the small sacrifices built a large foundation over time. It took a long time to get a Stake in Florida, and a temple in the state, but now the membership is growing. Today there are two temples in operation, one under construction and two more just announced, for a total of five temples in Florida. It is amazing to see how the Lord works with His people and see the progressing of His people over time!

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