Victor Nugent, a native Jamaican, was influential in the growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Jamaica.
At the age of 31, Nugent came to a crossroads. He was disgusted with his hard-drinking, late-night lifestyle and turned to God for help. He gave up his vices and began a serious study of the Bible. One of his co-workers, Paul Schmeil, asked Nugent about his new religion. Nugent said he had none, so Schmeil invited him to learn about his. Schmeil, an expatriate American, had joined the Church of Jesus Christ a few years previously. Nugent accepted the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, despite the restriction on priesthood authority for those of African descent.
- “My ego was hurt," he wrote, "but I had a strong feeling that the message was the truth, and more was involved than pride and vanity. I sought the Lord in prayer and the answer came back loud and clear. It was the truth! I had received a testimony of the truth through the Spirit.”
Nugent, his wife, Verna, and their oldest son, Peter, were baptized on January 20, 1974. The were the first Jamaicans on the islands to join the Church of Jesus Christ.
Expatriate Church member Jay Bills said, “I can sit here for days and tell you about these kinds of things that happened to firmly establish the Church in Jamaica and to get Victor Nugent into the Church. And then once that happened, everybody left.”
- For nearly three years, the small branch in Jamaica thrived as American families moved in and out of the area. But in time, circumstances took those families away without any coming to replace them. With Nugent restricted from holding the priesthood, no LDS Church authority was left on the island.
- When the time came for their children to receive ordinances like baptism and baby blessings, the Nugents took their children to the mission home in Florida. Otherwise, they were on their own.
- Yet somehow they stayed faithful. Along with another Jamaican, Amos Chin, who had joined the Church in Montreal, the Nugents gathered weekly to read their scriptures and worship as best they could without the priesthood. Through Victor Nugent's example and efforts, another family even joined them in February 1978: Errol and Josephine Tucker and their children.
- Nugent didn’t hold the priesthood, so sacrament meeting wasn’t an option, but they could have Sunday school, Relief Society and Primary. They sang hymns, offered prayers and took turns giving talks.
In June 1978, everything changed. In the early afternoon, Nugent received a phone call in his office from the mission president, who asked, “Are you sitting?” Nugent was then told that priesthood ordination was now available to every worthy male member of the Church. “If it wasn’t coming directly from the mission president, I probably would not have believed. I was just in shock, because it was the last thing I expected to hear. … I mean for quite awhile I couldn’t say anything. I was just stunned. It was the last thing I ever expected. I just said, ‘What is this?’ Of course, I knew exactly what it meant, and I just started to tremble. The tears came to my eyes.”
Nugent was soon ordained and the family was sealed in the Salt Lake Temple in September 1978.
- Nugent was the first native elder and first Jamaican branch and district president, according to the 2013 Church News Almanac. One of his duties was to work with the government to get work permits approved for incoming missionaries. After the first six missionaries were granted permits, other religions protested and the LDS Church was generally bashed in the media, Nugent said. As a result, the Kingston ministry of labor became wary of the church and forced all but two Mormon missionaries to leave the island.
- Nugent went into the Kingston ministry of labor to plead on behalf of the church and a long argument ensued, he said. Finally, the woman in charge told Nugent that as long as she was there the church would not be granted any more work permits.
- “I looked her in the eye and said, 'You don’t know what you are saying. This is the work of the Lord and no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing,'” Nugent said, quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith.
- Three months later, the woman was demoted and transferred out, Nugent said. To his surprise, her replacement was his elementary school teacher and friend, Sir Howard Cooke, who eventually became the governor-general and a prominent Jamaican leader. Cooke was cautious at first, but Nugent earned his trust and missionaries were allowed into the country again. The number of missionaries on the island eventually surpassed 100, Nugent said.
- “That was a testimony-building experience,” Nugent said.
The Nugent family continued to be a foundation of the Church in Jamaica for more than two decades before immigrating in 2000 to the United States, where all five of Victor and Verna's children graduated from BYU.
- "We had to have good employment, and most of that money I had to use to pay to get them into school," he said. "Some way or another, it always worked out, because I endeavored to be a full tithepayer (10 percent of one's gross income). We had to forego buying the things we thought we really needed and spend only for the necessities. Every time the fees were due, some way or another things worked out. It's been a miracle. I know it's been an answer to that prayer."
- The children contributed heavily. “We got the children up here by making great sacrifices, and all of them got some sort of scholarship and were able to find employment on campus," Victor said.
Nugent holds degrees from the University College of the West Indies (London) and the University of the West Indies.