Marc-Andre and Jeannette Gionet knew there was more to life than what the world had to offer.
And before they were married, both had found the gospel as the direction they needed. After they were baptized, both committed to a temple marriage and raising a family in the Church.Meeting briefly with the Gionets, one comes to realize that they symbolize the growth of the Church in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.
While the Church is in its pioneering stages here, it continues to grow as a second generation of members and new converts remain committed to gospel principles, whether it be in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland or Prince Edward Island.
Today there are 6,800 members of the Church in the Maritime Provinces, according to the soon-to-be published Deseret News 1993-94 Church Almanac.
Members of the Moncton Ward, Saint John New Brunswick Stake, the Gionets and their four children - Samuel, 9; Pierre, 8; Jacob, 6; and Emilie, 4 - enjoy spending time together in family home evenings and other outings.
The Gionets, who are Acadians or French Canadians, live in Richibucto, a small fishing village in New Brunswick where French is the dominant language and tradition is strong.
"I didn't think attitudes could be changed, but the Church changed mine," said Brother Gionet, a high councilor. After he was baptized, he said his whole life changed.
"The most important thing about our temple marriage is that from that day on, it set the stage for our family," he added.
Sister Gionet, a Relief Society counselor, explained: "Our children know we were married in the temple and expect to be married in the temple themselves. If we didn't have the Church, we would have missed a lot."
Sister Gionet was baptized three weeks after meeting with the missionaries in 1981. "After the first discussion, I knew this was what I was looking for. They asked me the first night if I would be baptized and I accepted." She finished taking the discusssions and was baptized.
"After experiencing prayer, I just knew the Church was true," said Brother Gionet, baptized 13 years ago. "From then on I only wanted to learn more."
Growth of the Church in the Maritimes has fluctuated over time, but the work of missionaries and members has pushed efforts along in recent years.
The first activities of the Church in the Maritime Provinces were recorded in 1833 when Lyman E. Johnson of the Council of the Twelve did missionary work in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with John Heriot, according to the Church Almanac.
Elder Johnson preached in Saint John, New Brunswick, in 1836 and later in Sackville, where he organized the first branch in the Maritimes.
A district conference was held in Preston, Nova Scotia, in September 1843, and the first Halifax Branch was organized on Nov. 14, 1843. Small branches were also organized at Preston, Popes Harbour and Onslo, Nova Scotia.
But in 1855, members of the Church in the area were advised to move to Utah because of persecution. This exodus ended organized branches in the Maritimes until work resumed under the Canadian Mission in 1920.
Membership in Nova Scotia is among the most rapidly growing in Canada, according to the Church Almanac. With 250 members in 1972, it increased more than 800 percent in 10 years, reaching 2,331. There are now 3,900 members.
The Dartmouth/Halifax area in Nova Scotia continues to serve as the center of Church activity in the Maritimes. The first stake in the Maritimes was organized in 1985 as the Dartmouth Nova Scotia Stake. The Saint John New Brunswick Stake was organized in 1988.
The mission of the Maritime Provinces, the Canada Halifax Mission, is also headquartered in Dartmouth.
"The two stakes are full-functioning stakes," said President Richard I. Winwood of the Canada Halifax Mission. "It used to be back in the 1950s that there was only one branch in Nova Scotia. But now we have two stakes here and a complete mission district that will eventually become a stake."
Work with the youth, like in all parts of the world, is an important part of the Church in the Maritimes, said Anna Davison, Young Woman president of the Dartmouth Nova Scotia Stake.
There are about 160 young men and young women in the stake, many who attend activities regularly and bring friends along as well, she remarked. "A lot of youth come out to activities because it provides a safe environment."
For many, with the distance between wards and members, attending stake activities is the only way to meet other youth in the Church and gain strength from them, Sister Davison added.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
One of the most popular tourist spots in Canada, Prince Edward Island is home to the smallest number of members in the Maritimes with about 300 in the island's three branches.
Jeff and Linda Campbell, members of the Charlottetown Branch, Saint John New Brunswick Stake, have found that the gospel has made their life much better and made them better people.
"We have our sight set in the right direction now where before we really didn't know what we were doing," Sister Campbell said.
Sister Campbell joined the Church three years ago. Brother Campbell, a member since he was 9, grew up in the Church. His father was one of the first members on the island.
Although Brother Campbell was less-active in the Church at the time he was married, he returned to Church activity after "worrying about what would happen when we would have kids. I was missing something and I knew I wasn't doing something right."
He and his wife listened to the discussions together and he became active again. But Sister Campbell wasn't baptized until two years later, even though she accepted callings in the branch.
"It's been a learning experience to watch the Church grow," said Brother Campbell, branch executive secretary. "It's been frustrating at times, because people here are very traditional and have a certain mindset. We just need to set a good example."
Newfoundland, the northernmost province of the Maritimes, has been one of the most exciting spots for missionaries serving in the Canada Halifax Mission, Pres. Winwood said.
About half of the converts are immigrants, he explained. Many have immigrated to Canada - via Gander, Newfoundland. Gander is the first stop for those who immigrate because planes flying from Russia to Cuba, for example, stop in Gander to refuel.
Anya Stolnicova, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, is one Church member who immigrated to Canada with her mother in 1991.
"We eventually moved to St. John's, Newfoundland, where we had a friend there. He translated for missionaries and asked us if we wanted to meet them. We said OK."
Both Sister Stolnicova and her mother soon joined the Church because "it was something that made us truly happy, spiritually happy," she explained.
This past summer, Sister Stolnicova, 19, served a mini-mission in the Canada Halifax Mission to share her testimony with others.
Like Sister Stolnicova, many find out about the Church through missionaries who are teaching English.
"When they come off the plane, most of them don't speak English or only a little English," Pres. Winwood explained. "We teach a basic survival English class in a two- or three-week period. Then if we can, we also teach them the gospel."
The tables were turned when Sister Stolnicova put her Russian to use while serving her mini-mission in the Dartmouth area with Sister Wendy Ballard, a full-time missionary. They were able to teach Roberto and Liudmila Farinas, and their 7-year-old son, Robert.
The family was seeking immigration status at the time. Roberto is from Cuba and Liudmila is from Russia.
"We have missionaries whose patriarchal blessings say they will teach people from foreign lands and then they get called to Canada," Pres. Winwood said. "Next thing they know, they're teaching Cubans, Russians and Ukranians in Newfoundland."
The Halifax mission patriarch, Elder Wallace Gibson, for example, was told he would give patriarchal blessings to people from all over the world when he was set apart as patriarch of the West Jordan Utah Bingham Creek Stake. He wondered how that would ever happen.
"You ought to hear him talk about the number of patriarchal blessings he's given to people from foreign countries since he's been here," Pres. Winwood commented. "This is a fulfillment of prophecy for a lot of people. It's a testimony that the Lord knows what He is doing when He assigns people."
About 135 missionaries, including eight couples, serve in the Canada Halifax Mission, which includes parts of Maine and all of the Maritime Provinces.
"The dimensions of the mission are very big," Pres. Winwood said. "This presents a special challenge administratively and for travel."
Missionary work in the Maritimes continues to move forward, with about 20 baptisms recorded a month, Pres. Winwood said. The mission has the best convert retention rate for the North America Northeast Area, he continued. "We have made a concerted effort to make sure they are converted to the gospel and that they understand what it means to be a member."
Consequently, of the 175 people who have been baptized this year, about 170 of them are still active in the Church, he explained. "Our retention statistics are running about 98 percent."
Missionaries also work closely with active members to reactivate less-active members, Pres. Winwood remarked. "We've had a few baptisms result, and have a lot of people who are actively participating that weren't before. In every unit in the mission it's that way. Much of that is because of the great work of our couples.
"We tell the missionaries that reactivating somebody who's less-active is just as important as a baptism."
The Maritimes face economic challenges with high unemployment rates, and difficulties with travel because of the expense, distance and harsh environment, "but a lot of people are very humble and believing, and they're excited about the gospel," Pres. Winwood explained.
Travel to the temple, for example, is difficult, but there is a core population of Church members in the area who are faithful temple attenders, he remarked. It takes two days to get to the Toronto Temple from the closest place in the mission and three or four days from the farthest point.
But the story of a couple from Cornerbrook, Newfoundland, is a perfect example of members who understand the importance of the temple, he said.
"They saved money, made arrangements so their children had a place to stay and drove to the Toronto Temple. When they got there the temple was closed for two weeks. Somehow they didn't get the news.
"They just picked their stuff up and drove to the temple in Washington, D.C. How many people would go to that much trouble and great expense? We're talking about people of very humble circumstances who probably deprive themselves and their family of a great deal materially to go to the temple. But to them, going to the temple is everything."