The country now known as Suriname was first explored, but not colonized, by Spaniards in the 16th century. It was subsequently claimed and settled by the English in the early part of the 17th century. In 1667, following military successes, the Dutch wrested the territory away from England, and it became known as Dutch Guiana. It would remain under Dutch control until it was granted independence in 1975. Suriname is the only South American nation where BIMI currently has no missionary presence.
Suriname's name is widely believed to have derived from the Arawak Indian word, Surinen, which was the name of a group of indigenous occupants of the land. Originally spelled Surinam by the English, the "e" was added by the Dutch. Earlier names included Willoughbyland, so- called after a prominent Englishman, and Netherlands Guyana. Suriname is slightly larger that the state of Georgia and has a population of roughly 560,000 residents.
In modern-day Surinamese demography, people of Dutch ancestry make up only a small percentage of the population. Amerindians, the original inhabitants of the land, are also now few in number. Today, the largest segments of the population reflect the history of Suriname as a plantation colony, heavily dependent on manual labor. After the abolishing of slavery by the Netherlands in 1873, workers had to be brought in from other countries. Approximately 37% of the populace is made up of peoples referred to as Hindustani, who are decedents of 19th-century contract workers from India. Some Chinese workers and some people of Middle Eastern descent also arrived in Suriname in the late 1800s. Surinamese Creoles form the next largest group at 31%, followed by the Javanese at 15%, also, descendants of contract workers originally from Indonesia. About 10% of the population of Suriname is classified as Maroons, who are descendants of escaped West African slaves. All of these factors contribute to the truly diverse religious structure found in Suriname with almost equal sectors of the population professing to be Hindu, Catholic, Islamic, and Protestant. About 5% of the people embrace various indigenous religions.
Situated on the northeast coast of the South American continent, Suriname lies less than five degrees north of the equator, producing a climate that is unquestionably tropical. Average temperatures range between 84 and 97 degrees Fahrenheit with a constant relative humidity of around 80 to 90 percent. Most Surinamese live in the northern region of the country, with approximately one-half of the country's entire population residing in Paramaribo, an Atlantic coastal city that serves as the nation's capital. A large percentage of the country's land surface is covered by dense tropical rainforest, often pristine in nature. A small number of Amerindian and Maroon occupied villages can be found along the banks of the many rivers that traverse Suriname's deep interior. The sparsely inhabited savanna along the Brazilian border is also home to a handful of small villages.
Dutch is still the official language; however, while some 60% of the people still speak the mother tongue, increasingly fewer Surinamese are truly fluent. Speaking Dutch is often associated with colonial times. English is commonly spoken, but the most widely used language, especially in business dealings (and popular within the younger generation), is something called Sranan Tongo. It was originally a Creole language that in the past was strongly suppressed by the Dutch. The public discourse regarding Suriname's languages often entertains the proposal to adopt English as the official language, but it is unlikely that English will soon replace the existing Dutch. Since the mid1980s, large numbers of Brazilians have settled in Paramaribo and other parts of eastern Suriname where they are heavily engaged in gold mining. Many wonder if this will slowly re-orient Suriname toward its Latin American roots.
Paramaribo's Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral is a poignant example of the spiritual condition of the vast majority of the Surinamese people. Arguably the largest wooden structure in the Western Hemisphere, the cathedral is impressive in its extreme dimensions and its Gothic-Roman architecture, but it sadly represents the emptiness of religion which besets this spiritually beleaguered country. Who will answer God's call to go to Suriname and preach the life-giving Gospel to its people? Who will be the first-ever BIMI missionary to establish a fundamental, Bible-believing church in this beautiful, tropical land that is open to the Gospel? Who will pray for Suriname? Will it be you?