Brigham Young University

The first members of the Church from Kiribati, an island country in Micronesia, joined while attending a secondary school in the country of Tonga. Under British rule, secondary school opportunities in Kiribati were limited to 5 or 6% of the population. In 1972 Waitea Abiuta, principal of a small elementary school on the capital island of Tarawa, wrote to secondary schools throughout the world, asking that some of his students be granted the opportunity to further their schooling abroad. One of those letters reached Liahona High School in Tonga. After careful consideration, 12 students were selected to attend Liahona starting in 1973.

All 12 students joined the Church at Liahona; six of them were then called to serve missions in 1975. After serving for six months in the Nuku’alofa-Tonga Mission, they were transferred to the Fiji-Suva Mission. President Kenneth Palmer of the Fiji-Suva Mission, accompanied by the six Kiribati missionaries, arrived at Tarawa 19 October 1975 to begin proselyting among the people of Kiribati.

Among the first converts was Waitea Abiuta. Not long after Waitea’s baptism, President Palmer set him apart as the first branch president of Kiribati on 24 January 1976. The Church continued to grow, and Waitea’s elementary school became the center of Church activity. Many expatriate service missionaries were called to serve education missions to teach at this school. Grant Howlett, his wife, Patricia, and their family were the first to come. Brother Howlett succeeded in securing official government recognition for the Church on 29 June 1977. The Church later purchased the school, renaming it Moroni Community School. When the school moved out of the elementary sector and became a secondary school, its name was changed to Moroni High School. In 1998 Moroni High School had more than 400 students.

The Church has steadily grown in Kiribati, spreading to several outer islands. The Tarawa-Kiribati District was organized 19 January 1988, with Iotua Tune called as the first district president. On 10 August 1996, Elder L. Tom Perry chose the site of the World War II Battle of Tarawa (fought in 1943) as the place to dedicate Kiribati and six additional island countries and provinces for the preaching of the gospel. The following day he organized the first stake in Micronesia—the Tarawa-Kiribati Stake. At the beginning of the year 2000, there were 7,964 members in the country, living in 1 stake, 1 district, and 23 wards and branches.

[Year-end 2005: Est. population, 103,000; Members, 11,511; Stakes, 1; Wards, 11; Districts, 1; Branches, 16; Percent LDS, 10.7, or one in 9; Pacific Islands Area; Marshall Islands Majuro Mission; Source: 2007 Church Almanac.]

SOURCES

Britsch, R. Lanier. Unto the Islands of the Sea: A History of the Latter-day Saints in the Pacific. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1986. 515-21.

Jacob, W. James. “A Beacon to the Isles of the Sea: The Development of the Church in Kiribati through Education.” LDS Church Archives, Salt Lake City.

1999-2000 Church Almanac. Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1998. 344.

W. JAMES JACOB

From Arnold K. Garr, Donald Q. Cannon, and Richard O. Cowan, eds., Encyclopedia of Latter-day Saint History (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 616-17. Used with the permission of the Deseret Book Company. Copies prohibited by law.