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

Country information: Vanuatu

Published: Monday, Feb. 1, 2010

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Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 218,500; Members, 3,783; Districts, 2; Branches, 24;1.7 percent LDS, or one in 58; Pacific Area; Fiji Suva Mission.

Formerly known as the New Hebrides Islands, Vanuatu is an archipelago of 80 islands in the southwest Pacific that became an independent republic in 1980. This island chain was made popular by the musical, "South Pacific." Vanuatu is populated by mostly Melanesians who speak Bislama, French, and English, and who are mostly Protestants.

Fiji Suva Mission President Ebbie L. Davis organized the Port Vila Branch on 15 July 1973 with Lanipota Fehoko as president. Missionary work began in Vanuatu in 1974 after several Latter-day Saint Tongan families moved there. Elder Hartman Rector Jr., of the Seventy and President Davis visited Port Vila in April 1974 to determine the possibility of assigning full-time missionaries to the island. Elder Rector felt it was essential that the area receive missionaries. Asaeli Mokofisi and Peni Malohifo'ou, two Tongans, began missionary work in Port Vila on 12 January 1975. Over the years, government restrictions on visas slowed the work. Non-native missionaries were expelled from Vanuatu in 1982. The branch was made part of the New Caledonia District in November 1983 to provide closer leadership training.

Between 1987-1989, Fred Massing and Timothy Proveau, both natives of Vanuatu, were the only missionaries on the island. They found success and baptized more than 40 people, including several family members. More missionaries were eventually allowed and Church membership increased. The Port Vila District was created on 19 October 1996 and additional branches were organized in the 1990s on the islands of Efate, Espiritu Santo, Tanna, and Ambae. The Luganville District was organized on 27 September 1998.

On 3 October 1998, Tom and Janet Tarohati, the first couple to be called on a mission from Vanuatu, began their mission in their native land. That same year, a seminary class was organized in each branch and an institute class in each district. At the request of Church members living on the island of Mere Lava, missionaries began visiting that island in 2002. The Church responded with aid via the missionaries in the wake of an earthquake in November 2002.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, in planning a tour of the Pacific Islands, looked on a map of the South Pacific to see where he had never been, and saw Vanuatu. He determined to visit there. He addressed the largest group of members ever known to have assembled in Port Vila when 2,212 members gathered on 19 June 2003. Members filled classrooms, clustered around doorways and on the lawn, and sat outside the chapel where they caught a glimpse of President Hinckley through louvered windows. The full Book of Mormon was published in the Bislama language in July 2004.

In 2005, membership reached 3,057.

Sources: Fiji Suva Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; "Work Thrives in Earthquake's wake," Church News, 1 February 2003; John Hart, "An Island Welcome, First Trip to Melanesian Isle," Church News, 28 June 2003.