I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. My father named me Carter because like many Haitians, he loved things Americans. He immigrated to the United States shortly after my birth. For a long time, we lived with the thought that the makeshift boat he had embarked on had never made it. Little did he or I know that thirty-six years later I would locate him in Florida (I was on a summer seminar trip sponsored by BYU’s Wheatley Institution). He had left Haiti under the Papa Doc regime. With him gone, my mother took me out of the capital to be raised in a town about 45 minutes away. I grew up attending a Pentecostal Protestant church with her and eating every now and then food sacrificed to vodou gods. I never was a Vodou initiate, but I am very much aware of it since it was as much part of my everyday life as Christianity: I grew up with the idea that the world of spirits, all forms, was never too far; three of my relatives are Vodou priests, my grand-mother on my mother’s side had her gods and an altar in her house. Duty towards the gods and the gift to communicate with them and the other world supposedly run in the family, but you run no risk of being zombified by me: I have been as bad at taking care of them as I was good at eating their food. I regret the food wasted in sacrifices but my training in sociology of religion makes me appreciate great principles in them. And that training has helped me develop great respect for other religious practices or rituals as grounds upon which peoples approach religions that are foreign to them.

A missionary asked me last week (2017) if I was married. I told him it had been 17 years, which triggered on his part, “17 years! How old are you!?” It’s been two years since. I may not look 40 but my birth certificate said that I was born in 1977. My kids are 15 (boy), 13 (boy), 7 (girl, yeah!) and the fourth (another girl, yeah!) is 2+. She has the attention of everyone at home. But she rewards us back with her smile; and her innocent efforts to emulate her older siblings and parents is always fun to watch and listen to.

My first contact with the Church was through a fireside on the “First Vision.” I was 18. Having been raised in a tradition of believers, whether it was Vodouism or Christianity, it made sense to me that God had not died and was not silent. That Joseph should see both him and Jesus Christ was totally normal to me. I was a “golden” convert because I caught the fire during that fireside and it never stopped burning for me.

I’ve experienced the Church in French Guyana (South America), in Haiti, Guadeloupe, St. Maarten, Guyana (the former British colony), in France, and in the United States. Generally, experienced leadership is more limited in places like Haiti, French Guyana, Guyana, St. Maarten and, to a lesser extent, Guadeloupe. But in all of those places, worship is more intense, there is more fervor than in the United States. Even in France you still find the convert or “pioneer” spirit that makes the members sing more than they do in any ward I’ve attended in the United States.

I tend to think of myself as a socio-historian, a term used in some academic circles in France to refer to scholars who approach a research subject from a trans-disciplinary perspective. I am a certified teacher of English as a second language in the French educational system and I was a tenured teaching professor at Université Bordeaux Montaigne where I taught French/English translation, English applied to business and communication, American Studies and religion in international relations. My PhD is in American Studies and focused on the political integration of Mormons in the United States from Reed Smoot to Mitt Romney (2013). I left my position at Bordeaux Montaigne in 2018 to join the department of Church History and Doctrine at Brigham Young University.

From my grand-father who raised me in small farms in Haiti, I learned to love living by the very first commandment ever given to mankind: as much as I love intellectual work, I’ll die if I don’t work with my hands building something or growing things (preferably not thorns and thistles) out of the earth by the sweat of my brow.

Carter Charles

Carter and his father