Country information: Northern Mariana Islands
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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 89,000; Members, 757; Branches, 1; Percent LDS, .85, or one in 118; Asia North Area; Micronesia Guam Mission.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands forms a chain of 14 volcanic islands. The three major inhabited islands are Saipan, Tinian, and Rota. The islands first came under Spanish rule (until 1899), German (until 1914), and then Japan (until 1945).
Until the 1950s, missionary work in the Pacific was limited to the peoples of Polynesia and Australia. This part of the Pacific was first assigned to the Japanese Mission, then the Northern Far East, then the Southern Far East, and then the Hawaii Honolulu Mission. In February 1975, President Robert E. Crandall of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission sent Callis Carleton and Jeffery Frame to Saipan. This was the first missionary venture into Micronesia proper. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands came under the Micronesia Guam Mission when the mission was created on 1 April 1980.
Membership in 2003 was 888.
Among the first Church members to Saipan were American servicemen in 1944 during World War II, including L. Tom Perry, later a member of the Quorum of the Twelve. Latter-day Saint servicemen even built a chapel on Saipan that was dedicated on 9 September 1945. As the headquarters of the U.S. Trust Territory, there remained a small U.S. military presence on the island after the war and a servicemen's group existed off and on, but full-time missionaries had never visited the island until 1975.
Missionary work began when Callis Carleton and Jeffery Frame arrived in Saipan on 4 February 1975 and were welcomed by a few Latter-day Saint servicemen. The first convert in Saipan was Juanita Augustine, from Palau, who was baptized on 19 July 1975. Alfred Gonzalez, a Church member from Hawaii, arrived on 16 July 1975 to become construction manager of the new airport. He brought his family the following October. He helped form a dependent branch and utilized a small vacant quonset hut that had been abandoned in the jungle and used it for a meetinghouse. After outgrowning this building, meetings were held in the missionaries' kitchen and living room. Sunday School classes were held outside under the coconut trees.
Through the efforts of Alfred Gonzalez and his family, Brad T. Nago and his wife, Jean, were converted and baptized on 24 January 1976. Nago became the branch president when the Gonzalez family moved away. An independent branch was created in August 1979 with Nago as branch president. At the time the Micronesia Guam Mission was created in 1980, the Saipan Branch had 85 members. It became part of the Guam District on 18 April 1982. A meetinghouse was dedicated on 19 June 1983. It was later expanded and rededicated on 15 August 1988.
President Gordon B. Hinckley and Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin visited briefly with 10 missionaries and met with about 60 of Saipan's 300 members during a refueling stop en route home from Asia on 1 June 1996. When President Hinckley visited Guam on 31 January 2000, while on a tour of Pacific Rim countries, his address was carried to the Saipan Branch meetinghouse via a telephone connection.
ROTA AND TINIAN
In June 1977, Donald Baldwin and Alfred B. Stratton, missionaries assigned to Saipan, visited Rota where there were a small number of Church members temporarily working. Stephen Jones and Kamealoha Kaniho were assigned to begin missionary work on Rota and arrived on 5 September 1986. Since then, missionaries have made infrequent visits to the island. Members on Rota are assigned to the Saipan Branch.
It was on Tinian that the first atomic bombs were loaded for their ultimate destinations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. No doubt Latter-day Saint serviceman were also on this island during the war. There are, however, no records of servicemen groups or later LDS missionary work on Tinian until Henry Van Den Hazel, Stephen Sua-Filo, and A. Vern and Eathel M. Busby left from Saipan and spent a day of tracting on the island in July 1978. A few Church members later moved to the island and in March 1990 the San Jose Branch was organized with Cezar Penaflor as president, becoming part of the Guam District. Missionary work was resumed on Tinian on 14 August 1992 by James Adamson and Ryan C. McCune; however, the branch was discontinued in 1997 as some members moved away. As with Rota, missionaries have since made infrequent visits to the island with few Church members living there. Their memberships are also with the Saipan Branch.
Sources: Alan E. Muller, A Historical Account of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Guam, 1955, Church Archives; Micronesia Guam Mission, Brief History of the Micronesia-Guam Mission, 1990; Guam District, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; "Final Stop: 'Just One More Meeting' in Saipan," Church News, 8 June 1996.