Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Country information: Kiribati

Published: Friday, Jan. 29, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 113,000; Members, 13,475; Stakes, 2; Wards, 11; Districts, 0; Branches, 15; Percent LDS, 11.9, or one in 8; Pacific Area; Marshall Islands Majuro Mission.

Kiribati, formerly known as the Gilbert Islands, is made up of 36 Micronesian islands in the mid-Pacific where the equator and international dateline meet. It is a republic that became independent in 1979, with Tarawa as its capital. The islands' population speaks Gilbertese and English. About half of the population is Protestant and half is Roman Catholic.

There are no records of missionary activity or visits by any Latter-day Saint members prior to 1972 when the Church was first introduced to Kiribati. During that year, Waitea Abiuta, a school teacher and headmaster of Auriaria Kokoi Ataria School (A.K.A.S.), a small secondary school, asked to have graduates from his school attend the Church-owned Liahona High School in Tonga. Fiji Mission President Ebbie L. Davis visited Kiribati in September 1972 and recommended that 12 students be enrolled on a trial basis. Twelve more were enrolled the following year. By the end of 1976, 60 Gilbertese students had been enrolled at Liahona High School. All of these students were non-Latter-day Saints when they arrived in Tonga; however, all but a few joined the Church. Six of these former students were later called to serve in the Fiji Suva Mission and assigned to labor in their native Kiribati, arriving in Tarawa on 19 October 1975. These six missionaries were Tarate Timea, Abakite Tuneti, Tekaibeti Taratake, Teema Bentitai, Bename Taawai, and Taaiti Natanga.

Among those who joined the Church shortly after the missionaries arrived were Waitea Abuita and several of the staff and students of the school. Waitea Abuita was sustained as president of the Tarawa Branch (later renamed the Eita Branch) when it was organized on 24 January 1976. His school's association with the Church brought some opposition and enrollment at A.K.A.S. declined. In August 1976, Grant and Pat Howlett, Latter-day Saint educators at Liahona High School, were called to teach at the A.K.A.S. Through their efforts, enrollment increased and government relations improved. The Church later purchased the school and named it Moroni Community School (later renamed Moroni High School) and other teachers arrived from Tonga as enrollment continued to increase.

In 1984, the student body reached 240. Many of its teachers are graduates of BYU-Hawaii. In 1994, Teatao Teanaki, president of the Republic of Kiribati, was the main speaker at the graduation ceremonies at Moroni High School. In 1999, the new president of the Republic, Teburoro Tito, visited Moroni High School and spoke to students, commenting on the spirit of cooperation among Church members and the rapid growth of the Church in Kiribati. Moroni High School has been the largest single contributor to that growth.

Kiribati was assigned to the Micronesia Guam Mission when that mission was created on 1 April 1980. The Tarawa Branch meetinghouse was completed in 1981, but meetings were not held in the chapel until February 1982. The Tarawa District was organized in October 1985 and included the Alieu, Abaiang, and Eita branches. When the Micronesia-Guam Mission was divided on 1 July 1986, Kiribati was reassigned to the Fiji Suva Mission. Selections of the Book of Mormon were translated into Gilbertese in 1988. Missionary work and conversions increased thereafter and by 1993, attendance at district conferences was over 1,000. The Tarawa Kiribati Stake was created on 11 August 1996 with Atunibeia Motee as president.

Seminary began on Kiribati in March 1997. On 26 January 2000, President Gordon B. Hinckley, on a tour of Pacific Rim countries, stopped at Tarawa. Among those who greeted President Hinckley was Kataotika Teeke, Minister of Environment and Social Development, who represented the president of Kiribati. Minister Teeke expressed appreciation for Moroni High School and for the humanitarian aid the island nation has received from the Church.

In 2002, membership reached 10,019.

On 1 July 2006, Kiribati became part of the Marshall Islands Majuro Mission which was organized from the Fiji Suva Mission.

Sources: R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Isles of the Sea, 1986; William W. Cannon, Beachheads in Micronesia, 1997; Fiji Suva Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Micronesia Guam Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; "President Speaks at Ceremony," Church News, 5 February 1994; Dell Van Orden, "Elder Perry Creates First Kiribati Stake, Dedicates Islands," Church News, 21 September 1996; "Pres. Hinckley Completes Tour in Pacific Rim, Church News, 12 February 2000.

Stakes — 2

(Listed alphabetically as of Oct. 1, 2009.)

No. / Name / Organized / First President

Pacific Islands Area

2215 / Tarawa Kiribati / 8 Aug 1996 / Atunibeia Mote

2747 / Tarawa Kiribati East / 27 Jan 2007 / Iotua Bareeta Tune

CHRISTMAS ISLAND

Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 1,508; Members, 117; Branches, 1; percentage of LDS, 7.7 or one in 13; Pacific Area; Marshall Islands Majuro Mission.

Situated among the Line Islands in the South Pacific, Christmas Island, a 140-square mile atoll, is a part of the Republic of Kiribati with a population that speaks Gilbertese and English. It is about 2,000 miles from Tarawa.

The first branch on Christmas Island was organized by Pres. H. Ross Workman of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission on May 23, 1999, in the village of London. Located some 1,500 miles south of Hawaii, Christmas Island previously was in the Fiji Suva Mission, but was transferred to the Hawaii mission in 1998.

The first president of the branch was Timei Kaitaua, who, early in 1999, had contacted Pres. Workman about the possibility of a branch on Christmas Island.

Most of the 117 members of the branch were converted elsewhere, many attending Moroni High School on Tarawa, the capital of the Republic of Kiribati, and/or BYU Hawaii, and then either returning or moving to Christmas Island for one reason or another.

During a brief stop June 19, 2003, President Hinckley addressed members on the island and promised "marvelous things will happen" if they are true to their faith. "You will raise missionaries who will go out among the islands of the Pacific and teach the gospel," he said. "You will enjoy greater comfort and all of the good things of life if you will live the gospel." President Hinckley walked near many well-dressed youth who wore white shirts and ties and had bare feet.

On 1 July 2006, Christmas Island became part of the Marshall Islands Majuro Mission.

Source: Julie A. Dockstader, "New branch created on Pacific isle," Church News, 3 July 1999.