News Release

From a Navy man and Harbor Pilot to a Patriarch

A humble patriarch shares his conversion story and other experiences he's had with the Spirit.

Gittens 2024
Gittens 2024
Patriarch Cyril Christopher Gittens © 2024 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Cyril Christopher “Chris” Gittens is from Guyana South America which is north of Brazil and East of Venezuela. Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America. When he was seventeen, he joined the U.S. Navy. This was the beginning of a long military career.

He grew up in a Christian home. He said that he remembers his mother praying every night for thirty minutes. As a family, they went to the Anglican Church where he was an altar boy.  After joining the Navy, he left home and stopped attending church.  He was stationed in Hawaii at Pearl Harbor where he met his wife, Elisapeci “Liz” Salaba from Suva Fiji. She was attending BYU-Hawaii at the time.  One Friday night, he went to that University and the students were out dancing around.  He saw Liz walking down the street and he thought: “Oh, she’s from the Caribbean! I need to ask her where she’s from!”  Her style of hair and clothes intrigued him.  He visited with her and found out she was from Fiji.  She asked him if he knew where that was, and he did. (They would later learn that Fiji is very similar in culture to Guyana. It has the same political and educational system, same school names, government structure, buildings, climate, etc.) Unfortunately, he had to leave, so he gave Liz his phone number and asked her to call him.  She called him not too long afterwards.  They became good friends, and soon fell in love and were married.

 Liz was an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She would attend church every Sunday.  One Sunday she didn’t go to church. She kept going outside and then would return to the house. She was quiet about it, so Chris assumed that she needed a ride to church. He got dressed and drove her to church.  He decided to attend church with her.  It happened to be ‘fast Sunday’ where not only do the members fast from food for several meals, but they’re also invited to share their testimonies with the congregation.  Chris had been searching for the true church.  (He had never heard of the Church until he came with her that Sunday.)  He listened as young, returned missionaries bore their testimonies of how they knew that the Church was true.  Youth and young kids were also bearing their testimonies. He could feel their conviction of the gospel and was happy that someone had found the truth. As he sat in the meeting listening to these testimonies, he felt a sweet peaceful spirit come over him. This was his first interaction with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Liz showed him the Book of Mormon. He said that he asked her if it was the same as the Bible.  She showed him some cross references to the Bible, and he felt satisfied about that. He could tell that the church he read about in the bible was not in the churches that he had attended.  Up until this time, he had visited many churches searching for the truth.   From then on, he kept going to sacrament with her. He was invited to attend the Priesthood meeting.  He wasn’t sure what that was, but he went!  After one lesson with the missionaries, he told them that he wanted to get baptized!  Ninety days after going to that first sacrament meeting, he was baptized in March 1989! He didn’t have a strong testimony and conviction of the gospel he felt at the time, but he remembered how he had felt that first Sunday. He knew those feelings were real and powerful to him.  It felt good. It felt right. It felt true.

He was called to be the Primary Inservice teacher before he was baptized. Laughing, He said that he thought that the bishop made a mistake.  He told him: “Bishop, I think you took me for someone else! You know I’m not a member yet right?”  The bishop must have known that it wouldn’t be long before he was a member.  For the first six months after his baptism, he said that he could feel the Spirit so strong teaching him and answering some of the questions he used to wonder about.  Some of the questions that he had growing up, he thought would only be answered after he died.  He had met many good people in the other churches and learned much from them, but they didn’t seem to be the exact church that he read about in the Bible.  He said: “Shortly after I was baptized, I knew so much more than these people that prayed all the time and lived these high standards all the time. I’ve thought several times that I should go back and tell them about the gospel.  I’ve learned that it doesn’t always work that way because I’ve tried that!”  

When Chris was twenty-six years old, he made the rank of chief and boatswain mate in the U.S. Navy.  He had a specialty in that he was a ferry and tug captain. Sometimes he had the opportunity to share the gospel with his fellow Navy Men. As he and some of his mates would have lunch together, the conversation would occasionally turn to religion. One time one of them who was Catholic argued with him. He was surprised at how he was able to answer some of his questions.  The Spirit seemed to guide his words.  The mate walked away angry from their conversation, but another mate, who had been listening, came up to him and said that he had never heard those things before.  He ended up being the first person that Chris taught the gospel to.  This same mate ended up joining the Church!

He and Liz were sealed in the Laie Hawaii Temple in March 1990.  Through the temple and doing his family history, he has discovered how thin the veil really is between heaven and earth.

He became a branch president of the Talisay Branch in Guam and held that office for eleven years. When he first became a branch president there were only fourteen people that came to church.  He oversaw everything; the paperwork and even cutting the grass.  His Saturday and Sundays were busy. After he would do some housework, he would leave to visit members in his branch.   He started the ‘linger longer’ in his branch. (Linger longer is term used where people stay after church to eat and socialize) Some people accused him of breaking the Sabbath with these linger longer events.  He said he prayed a lot over the linger longer dinners and hoped that he wasn’t breaking the Sabbath by doing them.  He just felt like it was a good way to get people to come to church, feel the Spirit, and come together as a branch.  He laughed and said: “Now I see the other wards doing it all across the islands!” His branch decided to host a Thanksgiving dinner together.  A lot of people came, and it became a tradition.  He discovered that having a lot of activities with food seemed to bring people back to church.  

After he was released as a branch president, they announced a new family history program.  Everyone was told to bring their laptops to the meeting.  Chris had been to a lot of meetings and now that he was released, he just wanted to go home and relax.  As he sat in his recliner, he remembered that it was his dad’s birthday.  His father had passed away many years before.  He felt a prompting to get up and go to the meeting.  His father wanted his temple work done! He went to the meeting but didn’t feel like he learned much.  About three thirty the next morning, he was awakened by the sound of his doorbell.   He rolled over in bed and asked his wife why someone would be ringing their doorbell that early in the morning.  He got up and looked out to see who it was but couldn’t see anyone.  He went back to bed, but the doorbell kept ringing.  He finally called the police thinking that someone was pulling a prank on them.  The police came and watched his house to catch the person who was doing this.  They waited and watched for quite a while, but no one was ever there.  Meanwhile, their doorbell continued to ring.  Liz left for work. Chris was determined to find out who kept ringing their doorbell.  He placed himself in a position where he could see and catch whoever was doing this.  The doorbell once again rang, but no one was ever outside ringing the bell.  Suddenly Chris had a thought come to him and he said: “Oh man, this is something that my dad would do!” Frustrated, he took down the doorbell chimes in the house, but you could still hear the ‘click, click’ of the doorbell.  Liz told him that he needed to do the temple work for his dad! He learned from that experience that our families on the other side of the veil know the gospel is true and they want their temple work done.

His mom’s sister was a registered nurse all her life.  She had been working in New York taking care of breast cancer patients.  She ended up dying from breast cancer.  It was hard when she died. She was a wonderful person.  He and Liz joined his family and attended the funeral.  In the Caribbean, funerals are a big thing.  The Catholic church was full of people that came to the funeral.  There were even police outside the church to direct the traffic.  As he was sitting there, a thought and feeling came over him that there were all these other people that were there who were dead in his family.  He said: “There was way more of my family [from other side of the veil] there than there were in the crowded church! I could not see them, but I could feel them. It was so powerful and exactly the same people that I knew before with their same personalities.  Some of them had died when I was a young kid. They were joking, laughing, and playing with me like you’d smile and play with a baby! My cousin had gotten married in this same church that we held the funeral in for her mother. All these people wanted to know why my cousin was not getting married in the temple!  I was surprised that they knew about the temple and the gospel.”  He wasn’t sure how long this experience lasted, but when he looked down at his shirt, he saw that it was stuck to his body from his tears. “I know my dad was laughing at me with all my tears. I had only been in the Church for about four years at this time. I used to listen to others talking about their family histories, but I never really knew anything about it.”

In January of 1991, he and Liz were in Fiji when he got word that his grandmother died, (his mother’s mom) and needed fly to Miami.  He said that he used to talk to his grandmother about the gospel and could feel the Spirit over the phone.  She had been meeting with the missionaries. When he and Liz flew to Miami and arrived at his grandmother’s home, his mom said that his grandmother had left a scripture for him to read at the funeral.  (His family used to say that when he was young, he was bad and wicked, but they all saw the change that came over him after he joined the Church). The scripture that she wanted him to read, and he did, was Isaiah 61:1-3.

“1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;  

2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;

3 to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.”

“Because I am the only member in my family,” He continued, “I know that they are depending on me to do their work.   I feel like my family members who are on the other side of the veil never had the opportunity to join the Church. I think that they’re learning about the gospel and accepting it.”  Brother Gittens says that he has a testimony of family history work and knows that our families are waiting for us to do their temple work.

Liz and Chris lived in Virginia for a while where he also served in a bishopric. He decided that he wanted to be a harbor pilot in the Navy.  This is a difficult position to acquire.  There are only about thirty-six jobs available; this included the twenty-four qualified positions with the other twelve in training. This would allow him to serve the Lord and not have to be out at sea as much.  It would allow him to be home every night.  A position in Guam was available and he could be trained by one of his friends who served in Guam.  It was supposed to be a two-year assignment, but it’s now been twenty-eight years!  While in Guam, they adopted a little boy, Brian.  Their new little boy was a joy to them and helped to fill their home with love.  He and Liz still have a home in Virginia where they’d always planned on retiring. He has been a navigator for the Navy and has traveled to many different places.  He has enjoyed being a harbor pilot the most because it keeps him closer to home.  Both are very stressful positions. 

He was called to be the first Barrigada Guam Stake Patriarch in August 2011 by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He was ordained by Arthur B. Clark who was the stake president at that time. After he was ordained, he was given several things to read to learn more about being a patriarch.  He read and cried as he learned what was expected of him.  Describing this experience, Patriarch Gittens said: “The veil was so thin, and the Spirit was so strong. I learned about how much our Father in Heaven loves us and all He does to try and get His children back.  It all comes through the Abrahamic covenant.” He said that he could only read about twenty minutes at a time.  After reading, he said he would just cry and then feel drained.  He usually slept shortly afterwards.  He continued this pattern for about twenty days before he knew that he was meant to be the patriarch and he knew what he needed to do.  With every patriarchal blessing, the Spirit put the words he was supposed to say in his mouth.

 The mission president at the time wanted him to go to Pohnpei with him.  Pohnpei was a district then.  They had thirty-nine kids on a mission from that district.  He said they got there on a Thursday.  He prayed before he left and felt impressed that they needed to have a fireside.  The fireside was held Thursday night and Friday he started giving the blessings.  Friday morning at 9:00 am he started giving patriarchal blessings until noon.  After a few hours of rest, he started again about 4:00 pm and went until around 11:00 pm.  This went on for five days.  By the third afternoon a young woman was brought in along with her leaders and a translator along with one man who was an immigration clerk at the time.  As Patriarch Gittens began the blessing and listened to the words coming out of his mouth he thought: “Oh man, this is a serious blessing.  The words were put all together beautifully.  I looked down and realized that I had not pushed the record button on the tape recorder! Seven hundred plus words and two to three and half minutes failed to be recorded.  Everyone and I knew that I had to do it again. I started again and I was amazed to hear the exact same words and blessings given to this young woman!”  Patriarch Gittens was able to do fifty-one patriarchal blessings in five days.  He also typed most of them up afterwards.  His wife, Liz, helped him type some of them.  Giving these blessings makes him tired and spiritually drained.  The most spiritual draining time for him is when he is typing up the blessings and trying to listen to the Spirit to make sure everything is correct including spelling and punctuation.  As he’d typed these blessings, he thought to himself: “These aren’t my words! I don’t talk or write like that.  These are God’s words. They are like reading the scriptures.” 

He traveled to Chuuk another time for five or six days.  He often will give five blessings in one day but no more than eight in one day.  At that time in Chuuk, he was told that he’d probably give about twenty-five blessings.  Partriarch Gittens described his experience saying: “One day they brought all these sisters in.  They were all dressed up in their Sunday best. It was a special moment for them.  I talked to them about what a patriarchal blessing is and told them that the Lord knows you and knows where you are.  One sister that came had fifteen children. She was a strong healthy person. The branch president was the interpreter, not for the blessing, but in case any of them had any questions.” The patriarchal blessings were always given in English, but he said through the Spirit, the person always seemed to understand it.   He considers this a miracle.  He continued saying: “After I gave her a blessing, the branch president jumped up out of his chair and asked me if I knew this lady.  I told him no, that I had never met her before. The branch president told me that the things I said to her in the blessing, were the things he’s been talking to her about for four years! Once he found that out, he immediately had a testimony of the work.  The branch president then left and brought back all the sisters!”  Patriarch Gittens said that he looked at the sisters and wondered where their husbands were.  He asked them if they wanted to wait for their husbands because a patriarchal blessing is a family thing. The women gathered in a huddle to discuss it and they all agreed that they didn’t want to wait.  They wanted their blessings now. He said he was shown by the Spirit that their husbands would indeed give them a hard time about receiving a patriarchal blessing. He was able to give them all their blessings which brought the total for that time in Chuuk to over sixty blessings!

Since the Yigo Guam Temple opened, he tries to be available when there are youth temple trips to give patriarchal blessings. He will still travel to the outer islands, if necessary.  The senior missionaries are the ones that he has asked to go around and tell the people/youth to schedule an appointment while they’re in Guam to receive their blessings.

Bearing his testimony he said: “I want people to know that they have a Heavenly Father who is concerned about them.  Everybody in life has a purpose and a mission. Our Spirits are eternal and have personalities. If we choose to, we all have a role to play in Heavenly Father’s work.  We all had a role to play in the organization of the earth and the universe and we all have a role to play now if we choose to.  The titles don’t matter.  The prophet, or apostles, patriarch, or the stake president are not going to be exalted because of their titles.  Any service that we’re asked to do, or none except to just be a parent, is equal to qualify us for exaltation.  No calling is more important than another.  The Lord knows and remembers us.  He knows our strengths and weaknesses and would like to give us some additional personal guidance. That’s what a patriarchal blessing is.  There is no age requirement.  The Spirit will let you know when you’re ready.  Live the gospel, pray, read your scriptures, repent to help prepare yourself spiritually.  Read about patriarchal blessings so that you will understand them better.”  Talking about his own patriarchal blessing he testified: “Everything in it is true.  The things that create a stumbling block for me are true as well and it is in there.  There are things in there that I need to work for.  I know that the Church is true. Being a patriarch, I’ve had experiences with the Spirit that I know all these things are true.  I know that we learn from our mistakes because I’ve learned from mine.  I just want to serve the Lord.”

Patriarch Gitten’s wife, Liz, recently passed away.  He and Brian are now trying to find their way through these rough waters.

“Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life’s tempestuous sea;                                                                                             Unknown waves before me roll, Hiding rock and treacherous shoal.                                                                   Chart and compass came from thee; Jesus, Savior, pilot me.

As a mother stills her child, Thou canst hush the ocean wild;                                                                               Boist’rous waves obey thy will when thou sayst to them, “Be still!”                                                                      Wondrous Sovereign of the sea, Jesus, Savior, pilot me.  

When at last I near the shore, And the fearful breakers roar,                                                                                   ‘Twixt me and the peaceful rest, Then, while leaning on the thy breast,                                                                  May I hear thee say to me, “Fear not; I will pilot thee.”                                                                          

(LDS Hymn Book, “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me” text:  Edward Hopper, 1818-1888; Music: John Edgar Gould, 1822-1875)


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