Oceania, the Church in
From The Encyclopedia of Mormonism
Author: Britsch, R. Lanier
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been established in Oceania (the islands of the central and southern Pacific) since 1844, when its missionaries first arrived in French Polynesia and organized a branch there. The Church moved into Hawaii in 1850, New Zealand in 1854, Samoa in 1888, Tonga in 1891, and other islands after World War II. By 1990 the Church in Oceania had grown to over 100,000 members living in several missions and hundreds of stakes, wards, and branches, and it had temples in Samoa, Tahiti, and Tonga (see also Hawaii andNew Zealand, the Church in).
FRENCH POLYNESIA. The Prophet Joseph Smith sent four missionaries, Addison Pratt, Benjamin Franklin Grouard, Noah Rogers, and Knowlton F. Hanks (who died at sea), to the islands of the Pacific in May 1843. Arriving at Tubuai Island, 350 miles south of Tahiti, on April 30, 1844, they established the first branch of the Church in Oceania in July 1844, with eleven members. When friction with the French territorial government ended the first period of missionary work in 1852, the Church had nearly 2,000 converts scattered on at least twenty islands.
The mission was refounded in 1892, when William A. Seegmiller and Joseph W. Damron, Jr., were sent to Tahiti from the Samoan mission. Growth was negligible until 1950, when the Church placed leadership in the hands of local members and moved the proselytizing missionaries from the Tuamotu Islands to Tahiti. This move accelerated Church growth. Three other factors also contributed to more rapid growth after 1953: increased use of the French language, use of organized proselytizing plans, and the building of modern meetinghouses.
The first stake organized in French Polynesia was the Papeete Tahiti Stake, on May 14, 1972, with Raituia Tehina Tapu as stake president. Church President Spencer W. Kimball broke ground for the Papeete Tahiti Temple on February 13, 1981, and Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, dedicated the completed structure on October 27-29, 1983. LDS scriptures are available in Tahitian and French.
SAMOA. LDS missionary work in Samoa officially began on June 18, 1888, when Joseph Harry Dean and Florence Ridges Dean arrived on Tutuila. There had been an unofficial start in January 1863, when Walter Murray Gibson sent two Hawaiian elders, Kimo Pelio and Samuela Manoa, to Samoa to teach the restored gospel; they baptized about fifty people. Pelio died in 1876, and Manoa married and settled on the little island of Aunuu, from which he wrote letters to Hawaii and Church headquarters asking for assistance. One of those letters prompted the Deans to go to Samoa from Hawaii.
Growth of the Church in Samoa was steady from 1888 on. During their first four months the Deans baptized forty people and formed a branch. By 1899 the Church had 1,139 Samoan Latter-day Saints scattered across the major islands. Local leaders led most branches, and Samoan priesthood holders and their wives served missions. Church schools were operated in a number of villages, and three "central" residential schools were created on the islands of Tutuila, Upolu, and Savai'i. The Church has continued to operate many schools, the most important being the Church College of Western Samoa, a high school in Apia, Western Samoa. Gathering places for Church families to establish homes were founded at Mapusaga on Tutuila, American Samoa, in 1903 and at Sauniatu, Upolu, in Western Samoa, in 1904.
In 1902, Church headquarters were established at Pesega, near Apia, on land donated by Ah Mu, a Chinese member. The Apia Samoa Temple, the Church College of Western Samoa, a stake center, the mission headquarters, and the missionary training center are all built on that land. The Book of Mormon was translated and published in Samoan in 1903, and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, in 1963.
On March 18, 1962, the Apia Stake was organized with Percy John Rivers, a descendant of Ah Mu, as stake president. On February 19, 1981, President Spencer W. Kimball broke ground for the Samoa Temple at Pesega, and the completed structure was dedicated on August 5-7, 1983.
TONGA. LDS missionaries first visited the "Friendly Islands" on July 15, 1891, when Brigham Smoot and Alva J. Butler arrived at Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu Island, from Samoa. However, this first phase of the Tongan mission was short-lived because of political and religious circumstances. In June 1907, William O. Facer and Heber J. McKay reopened missionary work in Tonga, this time at Vava'u, the northern island group. Until 1916, when Willard L. Smith arrived as the first mission president, Tonga was part of the Samoan mission. Until the early 1950s, Church growth in Tonga was slow, being retarded by misunderstandings with the government. When those difficulties were resolved, the Church showed significant growth in Tonga, reflecting the maturity in leadership, understanding of Church organization, and depth of spirituality of the Tongan Saints. The Nuku'alofa Stake was organized on September 5, 1968, with Orson Hyde White as stake president. As growth continued, Church President Spencer W. Kimball broke ground for a temple near Nuku'alofa on February 18, 1981. It was dedicated August 9, 1983, by his counselor, President Gordon B. Hinckley.
Education has played an important role in the Church in Tonga. Of the many schools established, the most important are Liahona High School (1952) on Tongatapu and Saineha High School (1978) on Vava'u. The Book of Mormon was published in Tongan in 1946 and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, in 1959.
FIJI. Although Tongan and other Latter-day Saints had lived and held Church meetings in Fiji for many years, not until May 1954 were missionaries sent to Suva from the Samoan mission to officially commence LDS proselytizing. Boyd L. Harris and Sheldon L. Abbott organized the Suva Branch on September 5, 1954. An initial boost in Church growth occurred when Church President David O. McKay visited Suva in January 1955 and decided that a large chapel should be built, which he dedicated three years later on May 4, 1958. That building was part of President McKay's vision for Fiji and manifested to the government and people alike that the LDS Church was in Fiji to stay.
Fiji was assigned to the Samoan and Tongan missions until July 1971, when it was made an independent mission. Since then, the Fiji Suva Mission has had many South Pacific areas assigned to it for a time, such as New Caledonia, Niue, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Vanuatu, and Rotuma. Church growth and development in Fiji have been steady. In 1969 the Suva chapel also housed a Church-sponsored elementary school. Seminary classes began in 1973, and two years later, the LDS Fiji Technical College (equivalent to a U.S. vocational high school) opened on a new campus in Suva. By 1984, 372 students, mostly LDS, were enrolled.
Overall Church membership also continued to grow in Fiji, and in February 1976, one thousand Fijian Latter-day Saints attended an area conference held by President Spencer W. Kimball. On June 5, 1983, Howard W. Hunter organized the Suva Fiji Stake, with Inosi Naga as stake president. The Book of Mormon was published in Fijian in 1980.
NEW CALEDONIA. Some LDS Tahitian laborers migrated to New Caledonia during the 1950s and established small units of the Church there. Under the direction of the French Polynesia (Tahiti) mission president, the Noumea Branch was organized in October 1961. Years of negotiations between mission leaders and the New Caledonian government led to permission for LDS missionaries to proselytize. On May 2, 1968, Elder Thomas S. Monson, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, dedicated New Caledonia for the preaching of the gospel. Two months later, the first missionary couple arrived. In 1990 the full program of the Church had been established, and New Caledonia was under the Fiji Suva Mission.
GUAM AND MICRONESIA. Latter-day Saints have lived on many of the Micronesian islands since World War II. But only Guam has had LDS servicemen's groups and branches consistently. President Joseph Fielding Smith dedicated Guam to the preaching of the gospel on August 25, 1955, and the first full-time missionaries were sent there in January 1957. However, until the mid-1970s, missionary work was confined primarily to U.S. military personnel and their families. Since that time, expansion into the many islands of Micronesia has been rapid. In the spring of 1980, the Church created the Micronesia Guam Mission, with Ferron C. Losee as president. Book of Mormon selections were published in Marshallese and Pohnpeian in 1984 and 1987, respectively.
KIRIBATI. LDS missionary efforts in the Republic of Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) have proven quite fruitful. On October 19, 1975, six Gilbertese students who had studied at Liahona High School in Tonga returned to the island of Tarawa and commenced missionary work. They had been ordained elders and were serving in the Fiji Suva Mission. At about the same time, the Church took over a small middle school in 1977 and renamed it Moroni Community School. It has served as the physical focus of the Church in Kiribati. Relative to the small population, Church growth has been rapid. In 1990 the Church was also established in Belau, the Cook Islands, Marshall, Niue, Nauru, Northern Marietta, Tuvalu, and Vanuata.
CHURCH GROWTH IN OCEANIA SINCE 1991. Because Church administrative centers of various nations and islands groups have been moved from place to place during the past twenty years, administrative history of the Church in Oceania has been difficult to track. Currently parts of Oceania are administered at Church Headquarters in Salt Lake City, Tokyo, Auckland, and Sydney. It must suffice to say that since the creation of Area Seventies as part of the Seventies Quorums of the Church the administration of the Church in Oceania has been much closer to home and more sensitive to local conditions and needs. Area presidencies now direct translation services, welfare, temporal affairs (physical facilities, financial operations, statistics), and so forth. Seminaries and institutes, although administered at the Church Education System offices in Salt Lake, are carefully coordinated with the various Area offices.
Considering the great length of years the Latter-day Saints have been established in Oceania, one might surmise that most of the nations and island groups to be opened to the Church would had been opened by 1990, but much has transpired of growth and interest since the original article on this realm was written.
LDS scriptures were in print in the major languages of the Pacific prior to the period under consideration. Since 1990, the Book of Mormon has been translated and printed in Kiribati (2001), Neo-Melanesian for Papua New Guinea (2002), Marshallese (2003), Yapese (2004), and Bislama (2004). In the mid-1990s translation offices and operations were moved to Tonga, Samoa, French Polynesia, Fiji, and elsewhere. Many translation projects are underway to service the various languages of Oceania.
The two island groups with the most dramatic growth are Kiribati (formerly the Gilbert Islands) and Papua New Guinea. In 2010, Church membership in Kiribati was 14,172, in a country with zero members in 1975. The first stake, the Tarawa Kiribati Stake, was created on August 11, 1996. A second stake came in 2007. There are now 25 wards and branches in the country. Elder L. Tom Perry dedicated seven island groups for the preaching of the restored gospel and the establishment of the Church on August 10, 1996. Included in the prayer were Kiribati, Nauru, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Wallis, Futuna, and Vanuatu.
Church growth in Papua New Guinea also has happened quickly. This Melanesian nation consists of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, a chain of islands that includes the northern Solomon Islands, and the islands of the Bismarck Archipelago. Its people speak at least 830 languages. Illiteracy is high, around 50 per cent. When LDS missionary work began in Port Moresby in 1980, the plan was to contain growth to that city and near environs. The transient nature of the people, however, has facilitated the movement of the Church into many villages in the hinterlands well beyond the capital. In February 1992, the Church created the Papua New Guinea Port Moresby Mission. Three years later, in 1995, the Port Moresby Stake was created. In 2010, there were 17,315 members, up 15,215 from the 2,100 in December 1989.
Church growth in many of the newer and smaller island groups has been relatively slow. Church membership is as follows: Cook Islands (1,847); Guam (1,971); Marshall Islands (4,725); Micronesia (3,989); Nauru (106); New Caledonia (1,890); Niue (278); Northern Mariana Islands (735); Palau (424); Solomon Islands (299); Tuvalu Islands (134); and Vanuatu (4,006). At least two countries, most notably the Cook Islands (or Roratonga) and Niue, have suffered from out-migration resulting in the closure of some branches.
The older, well established areas continue to thrive: American Samoa (14,784); Fiji (15,613); French Polynesia (20,805); Samoa (69,244); and Tonga (55,173). It is noteworthy that Tonga has the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints of any nation in the world—45 per cent, and Samoa is in second place with 31 per cent.
During the 1990s a number of celebrations took place in most of the nations in which the Church has been long established—sesquicentennials, centennials, jubilees, twenty-five year celebrations, etc. In conjunction with the sesquicentennial celebration of the founding of the Church in French Polynesia, on May 8, 1994, Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated those islands for the preaching of the restored gospel. A search of Church history resources had failed to produce evidence that French Polynesia had ever been dedicated by an Apostle. The islands and island groups mentioned in the prayer were the Society Islands, the Tuamotu Islands, the Marquesas Islands, the Gambier Islands, the Austral Islands, and others that make up French Polynesia.
Total membership in Oceania in 2010 was 210,195, living in 50 stakes, 367 wards, 16 districts, and 200 branches. There are temples in Fiji, French Polynesia, Samoa, and Tonga, all of which were either new or totally remodeled and enlarged during the past twenty years.
Britsch, R. Lanier. “The Story Continues: Latter-day Saints in the Pacific, 1984-2004,” in Underwood, Grant, ed. Pioneers in the Pacific: Memory, History, and Cultural Identity in the Pacific. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center of Brigham Young University, 2005.
Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific. Salt Lake City, 1986.
Clement, Russell T., comp. Mormons in the Pacific: A Bibliography. Laie, Hawaii, 1981.
Ellsworth, S. George and Kathleen C. Perrin. Seasons of Faith and Courage: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in French Polynesia, A Sesquicentennial History, 1843-1993. Sandy, Utah: Yves R. Perrin, 1994.
Shumway, Eric B. Tongan Saints: Legacy of Faith. Laie, Hawaii: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1991.
Underwood, Grant, ed. Voyages of Faith: Explorations in Mormon Pacific History. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 2000.