Reaching the Nations

Federated States of Micronesia

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 702 square km.  Located between Hawaii and Indonesia, the Federated States of Micronesia consist of 607 islands divided among four major island groups in the North Pacific Ocean.  Terrain varies by island and may include rugged mountains, coastal plains, coral atolls, and volcanic outcroppings.  Tropical weather occurs year-round with frequent heavy rain.  Typhoons are a natural hazard.  Environmental issues include overfishing, pollution, and climate change.  Micronesia is divided into four administrative states. 

Population: 107,154 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: -0.284% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 2.8 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 69.32 male, 73.24 female (2010)

Peoples

Chuukese: 48.8%

Pohnpeian: 24.2%

Kosraean: 6.2%

Yapese: 5.2%

outer Yap islands: 4.5%

Asian: 1.8%

Polynesian: 1.5%

other: 6.4%

unknown: 1.4%

Indigenous ethnic groups (Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Kosraean, and Yapese) are of Micronesian ethnic stock and constitute 89% of the national population.  Many Micronesians have emigrated to Guam and the United States, primarily to Hawaii, California, Oregon, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Nevada. 

Languages: Chuukese (41%), Pohnpeian (26%), Kosraean (7.5%), Yapese (6%), Mortlockese (5.5%), English (5%), Kapingamarangi (3%), Ulithian (3%), Pingelapese (2%), other (1%).  English is the official and common language, spoken by most as a second language.    

Literacy: 89% (1980)

History

The first Micronesian settlers likely arrived several millennia before the birth of Christ and established a centralized empire based on the largest island by the time European explorers arrived in the sixteenth century.  The Spanish ruled the islands until 1899 when they were transferred to German control until 1919.  The Japanese occupied the islands until the end of World War II when they came under administration by the United States under the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.  Four of the island districts formed the Federal States of Micronesia in 1979 whereas other Micronesian islands such as Marshall Islands, Palau, and the Northern Mariana Islands remained under United States sovereignty.  Since independence, Micronesia has maintained strong ties with the United States.[1]

Culture 

Christian churches occupy an important role in local culture and society as most Micronesians are active in a church.  Most the population converted to Christianity in the nineteenth century, but have retained many indigenous beliefs and traditions.  Agriculture, fishing, and village functions dominate Micronesian life considering most live in rural areas.  The four island groups boast unique and individual cultures and histories.  Found on the island of Yap and originally quarried on Palau and sometimes as far as New Guinea, Rai stones where made from limestone rocks and traditionally used as a form of currency, ranging in diameter from 0.5 to three meters.[2]  Kissing in public is against local culture, even during marriage ceremonies.  Dating is socially unacceptable as men must approach the family of the woman he desires to marry and make wedding arrangements.  Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates are low.  Like much of Micronesia and the Southeast Asian region, locals chew the red areca nut (betel) frequently, which is a known carcinogen, stains the teeth, and is addictive.[3]      

Economy

GDP per capita: $2,200 (2008) [4.7% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.614

Corruption Index: N/A

The economy relies on fishing, subsistence farming, and aid from the United States to function.  Distance from developed countries, small population, poorly developed island infrastructure, and fragmentation of the population throughout the many islands creates major barriers to economic development.  Timber, fish, minerals, and phosphate are natural resources, but are limited in abundance.  Nearly two-thirds of the labor force are government employees.  Services account for 65% of the work force and generate 56% of the GDP whereas industry employs 34% of the work force and generates 15% of the GDP.  Tourism, construction, fishing, and crafts are the largest industries.  Agriculture employs 1% of the work force and generates 29% of the GDP.  Primary crops include black pepper, fruit, vegetables, coconuts, cassava, sakau, betel nuts, and sweet potatoes.  Common livestock includes pigs and chickens.  The United States is the primary trade partner. 

Corruption is most rampant in Chuuk, especially in the government.  Judicial delays, discrimination against women, child neglect, and domestic violence are concerns.[4]  Micronesia is a major consumer of marijuana. 

Faiths

Christian: 94.4%

other: 3.8%

none/unspecified: 0.8

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  56,470

Congregational  42,969

Latter-day Saints  3,989  20

Seventh Day Adventists  4,320  18          (includes Guam, Marshall Islands, Mariana Islands, and Palau)

Northern Baptist 964                                                          

Jehovah's Witnesses  194  6

Religion

Catholics and Protestants account for nearly the entire Micronesian population, but the ratio of Catholics to Protestants varies by island.  The United Church of Christ is the foremost Protestant denomination.  95% of the Kosraean population is Protestant and 40% of the Chuukese population is Protestant.  Pohnpei's population is evenly divided between both religious traditions whereas Yap is 80% Catholic.  Other prominent Protestant denominations include Baptists, Assemblies of God, and Salvation Army.  Attendance at church is high among most religious groups as churches are strongly intertwined with civil society.  Only Yap appears to have some interdenominational rivalry resulting from the conversion of village chiefs to differing Christian denominations.[5]  Latter-day Saints are among the largest Christian minority denominations. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.   Good Friday and Christmas are recognized as national holidays.  Missionaries operate freely and religious groups may established private schools.  There have been no recent reports of societal abuses of religious freedom.[6]

Largest Municipalities

Urban: 22%

Weno, Palikir, Nett, Kitti, Kolonia, Madolenihmw, Tol, Fefen, Dublon, U

Eight of the 10 largest municipalities have an LDS congregation.  48,700 reside in Chuuk (47%), 36,000 on Pohnpei (35%), 11,400 on Yap (11%), and 6,600 on Kosrae (6%).  57% of the national population resides in the 10 most populous municipalities. 

LDS History

LDS missionaries arrived on Pohnpei in 1976 but the first convert baptism did not take place until 1981.  Full-time missionaries opened Chuuk and Yap to missionary work in 1977 and Kosrae in 1985.[7]  Seminary and institute were established by 1980.  The Church completed the Book of Mormon translations in Pohnpeian and Chuukese in 1988.[8]  Church members on Guam have conducted a "Christmas Drop" for decades in Micronesia and in 1999 alone delivered 25,000 pounds of gifts and supplies to 50 islands.[9]  In 2002, a local member educated in the United States became president of the College of Micronesia.[10]  The Book of Mormon translation into Yapese was completed in 2004.  In 2006, the Marshall Islands Majuro Mission was created from the Micronesia Guam Mission, leaving the Micronesia Guam Mission with administration of Micronesia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau.  In 2010, LDS apostle Elder D. Todd Christofferson visited Chuuk and dedicated a new district center meetinghouse.[11]

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 3,989 (2009)

In 1980, membership numbered 170 in Chuuk and 150 on Yap.[12]  Rapid membership growth occurred in the 1980s and early 1990s.  By1988, there were 700 members on Pohnpei and 1,200 in Chuuk[13] and about 2,000 members nationwide.  By year-end 2000, there were 3,110 members.  Slow membership growth occurred in the 2000s as membership increased to 3,419 in 2003, 3,504 in 2005, and 3,754 in 2007.  Annual membership growth rates ranged from a high of 3.9% in 2009 to a low of 0.3% in 2004. 

In mid-2010, there were 1,200 members in Chuuk.[14]  In 2009, one in 27 was LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 21

There were three branches on Pohnpei in 1988[15] and 16 nationwide.  The number of congregations increased to 20 in the early 1990s and reached a high of 23 in 1995.  There were18 branches in 2000, which declined to 17 branches from 2001 to 2003.  The number of congregations increased to 19 in 2004 and 20 in 2008. 

The Namoneas Chuuk District was created in 1985.  Additional districts were created on Pohnpei (1985), Yap (1989), and Kosrae (1990).  In 2001, the Namoneas Chuuk District had nine branches, Kosrae Micronesia District had three branches, the Pohnpei Caroline Islands District had four branches, and the Yap Micronesia District had two branches.  In 2010, the number of congregations in districts in Chuuk and Yap remained unchanged, the Kosrae Micronesia District had two  branches, and the Pohnpei Caroline Island District had seven branches.  Only the Malem Branch on Kosrae was closed in the 2000s.  New branches created during this period were all on Pohnpei and include the Kitti, Palikir, and Uh Branches.  In 2011, a new branch was organized on Pohnpei (Nett).

Activity and Retention

The average number of members per congregation increased from 173 in 2000 to 199 in 2009.  683 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2007-2008 school year.  The Uh Branch had approximately 50 attending church meetings in 2006.[16]  Most congregations appear to have 50 to 100 active members.  Nationwide active membership is estimated at 1,200, or 40% of total membership.  

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Yapese, English

The Book of Mormon is available in Chuukese, Pohnpeian, and Yapese.  A limited number of missionary, family history, Sunday School, church declarations and proclamations, young women, young men, and Priesthood materials are translated in Chuukese, Pohnpeian, and Kosraean whereas LDS materials in Yapese are limited to The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Faith in God guidebooks, three primary manuals, the Articles of Faith, Gospel Principles, and a pedigree chart.  General Conferences addresses are translated into Chuukese, Pohnpeian, Kosraean, and Yapese.

Meetinghouses

In 2005, the Church completed a new meetinghouse for the Uh Branch.[17]  In October 2010, a new LDS chapel was dedicated for the Sapwalap Branch.  In 2010, there were approximately 20 LDS meetinghouses, some of which were renovated buildings or shelters. 

Health and Safety

Medical treatment and emergency aid in many areas is limited due to small populations, low standards of living, and remoteness.

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 2003, the Church donated a 40-foot container of medical supplies to Yap, which included examination tables, fetal monitors, an oxygen concentrator, and a hematocrit centrifuge.[18]  Later that year, the Kosrae Legislature honored the Church for several humanitarian and development projects recently completed, which included donating 25 sewing machines to the Kosrae Girl Scout Organization, installing a computer lab at Kosrae High School, delivering medical supplies, and providing medical training.[19]  In 2004, the Church donated 125 wheelchairs to the disabled in Chuuk.[20]  In 2010, the Church donated a sea water desalinization unit and generator to Chuuk due to lack of fresh water and reliance on rainfall to sustain fresh water needs.  The unit was capable of converting 26,500 gallons of sea water into fresh water a day.[21] 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church enjoys full religious freedom and maintains a positive relationship with the government.  Members may freely worship, assemble, and proselyte.

Cultural Issues

A strong Christian tradition actively practiced by most creates challenges and opportunities for LDS Church growth.  Many are entrenched in their faith and are unwilling to learn about the Church from full-time missionaries or members and have at times harassed LDS missionaries.  The LDS Church benefits from a population that exhibits regular church attendance and many other religious behaviors often difficult to instill in investigators and new converts.  High retention for LDS converts who are taught and fellowshipped proficiently before and after baptism usually occurs, likely influenced from religious behaviors already practiced from another church.  High rates of marijuana use is a barrier to proselytism.  Church leadership in the region has openly opposed the consumption of Areca nut. 

National Outreach

LDS congregations operate in cities and villages inhabited by over 70% of the population.  At least two LDS mission outreach centers operate in each of the four administrative states.  With the exception of some remote, sparsely populated islands and a few larger islands in Chuuk, nearly the entire population is within close proximity to a LDS mission outreach center. 

The Church performs nearly the same intensity of mission outreach in three of the four administrative states (Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Yap) as each of these states have one LDS congregation per five to six thousand inhabitants.  The percentages of Latter-day Saints in the general population is likely similar throughout these three states.  Kosrae experiences the highest degree of mission outreach as there is one LDS congregation to every 3,300 inhabitants. 

Opportunities to expand national outreach appear highest on the Chuuk and Pohnpei as these islands together are home to 82% of the national population and have some unreached or lesser-reached areas.  Additional mission outreach centers may be established in Wone (Pohnpei), Fanomo (Chuuk), Sapota (Chuuk), Sapou (Chuuk), and Tol (Chuuk).  Holding cottage meetings in these locations may lead to the creation of groups or dependent branches if local populations are receptive to LDS missionaries. 

There is no LDS Internet outreach for Micronesia and little need for such outreach at present.  In 2006, only 15% of the national population used the internet.[22]  No Micronesian congregations have been created in the United States or Guam as of 2010.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity and convert retention rates for Latter-day Saints are moderate in Micronesia.  Most attend church regularly, but the LDS Church appears to report lower member activity rates than many other denominations.  Inadequate pre-baptismal preparation and a lack of self-sustainability for many congregations has reduced member activity and convert retention rates.  Quick-baptism techniques appeared most widespread in the 1980s and 1990s when the most rapid growth occurred.  Failure to retain many of the converts baptized during this period is apparent in the consolidation of six branches between 1996 and 2001. 

In the 2000s, member activity rates appeared to maintain consistency and convert retention rates stabilized as there was little increase in the average number of members per congregation.  Local members have generally demonstrated high levels of interest in seminary and institute, which has contributed to current moderate member activity levels.  Cultural emphasis on church attendance has also likely increased LDS member activity rates despite past challenges teaching and preparing converts to attend church regularly.  Double affiliation of some Latter-day Saints in other Christian denominations is a source of convert attrition.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Geography generally separates ethnic groups, resulting in few ethnic integration issues.  Religious affiliation drawn upon clan lines on Pohnpei appears the only foreseeable obstacle toward integrating differing people groups into the same congregations as there have been some social challenges in the past related to these issues.

Language Issues

The LDS Church has invested considerable resources translating materials into Micronesian languages despite the small numbers of speakers and the lack of other institutions providing literature in these languages.  All indigenous languages with over 6,000 speakers have LDS materials available, resulting in 86% of the Micronesian population speaking a language with LDS materials.  Kosraean is the most widely spoken language without LDS scriptures available and appears to be a likely candidate for future LDS scripture translations.  Delay in translation LDS scriptures in Kosraean may be attributed to a lack of qualified translators among church members residing on Kosrae.  Chuukese, Pohnpeian, and Yapese all appear likely candidates for future translations of the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price which may be in the translation process at present.  

Missionary Service

Over 40 full-time missionaries were stationed in Micronesia in mid-2010, including six missionaries assigned to Yap, seven to Kosrae, twelve to Chuuk, and eighteen to Pohnpei.  Approximately half of full-time missionaries are North American and half are from Oceania.  Full-time missionaries serve regularly from Micronesia, but not in large enough numbers to staff the current number of full-time missionaries assigned.  Senior missionary couples and local church leaders have achieved success attracting youth to seminary and institute, which may increase the number of local members serving full-time missions in the future.

Leadership

Local members have demonstrated self-reliance in staffing church leadership as in November 2010, the Sapuk Branch was the only branch with a full-time missionary as the branch president.  Plans were being finalized at that time for a local member in the branch to assume this calling in the near future.  The Church continues to maintain four mission districts, but local leadership and active membership remain too limited to organize stakes in Chuuk and on Pohnpei.  Self-sustainable Micronesian church leadership will depend on the consistent staffing of local branch presidencies entirely by native members and the creation of additional congregations as membership increases.     

Temple

Micronesia is assignedto the Manila Philippines Temple.  In 2005, a small group of Chuukese members traveled to the temple for the first time.[23]  In 2006, 35 members from Pohnpei attended the temple for the first time.[24]  Prospects appear favorable over the medium-term for the Church to construct a small temple in the Micronesia sub-region of the Pacific to meet the temple needs of members primarily concentrated in Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam, and Kiribati as members in these nations must travel inordinate distances to attend the temple at present.  Kiribati and the Marshall Islands appear the most likely sites for a future temple in the region. 

Comparative Growth

Micronesia ranks average among nations in Oceania regarding the percentage of Latter-day Saint in the population, extent of national outreach, and self-sustainability.  In the Micronesia sub-region, only Kiribati and the Marshall Islands have a higher percentage of Latter-day Saints and more members than the Federated States of Micronesia.  Other Micronesian nations or territories like Palau, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands have fewer members, a smaller percentage of Latter-day Saints, and tend to have lower member activity rates.  Micronesia lags behind progress made in Polynesia, where in some nations active Latter-day Saints account for over 10% of the population like in Tonga and Samoa.  In 2009, the Federated States of Micronesia was the territory with the thirteenth highest number of Latter-day Saints without a stake. 

The most prevalent Christian denominations converted the population with great fervor after their initial introduction to the islands and have maintained high member activity rates but gain few numbers of converts at present, largely due to the competitive atmosphere for proselytism.  Unlike many developing areas of the world, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses have a relatively small presence and experience slow membership growth.  Growth of the LDS Church appears to have largely come from dedicating greater amounts of mission resources to this sparsely populated, remote region of the Pacific than many other contemporary missionary-oriented Christian groups. 

Future Prospects

The LDS Church has achieved moderate growth in the Federal States of Micronesia despite high church activity and discipleship in other Christian denominations.  Much of this growth has come with the Church concentrating large amounts of missionary resources on a nation with a small population which has been historically receptive to Christianity.  Receptivity of the LDS Church has varied by island group in recent years, with Pohnpei exhibiting the strongest receptivity and church growth as evidenced by the number of LDS congregations increasing from four to seven in the 2000s, and other island groups showing little or no growth.  Self-sustaining church growth in the coming decades will require less reliance on foreign full-time missionaries in an era of limited missionary manpower to staff island nations of just a hundred thousand like Micronesia.  Consistent increase in the number of priesthood holders and the development of fully functioning branches entirely staffed by local members will be required for districts in Chuuk and on Pohnpei to become stakes over the medium term.  Congregation planting approaches in Chuuk and on Pohnpei may lead to greater increases in active membership and national outreach.  The few LDS congregations on Yap and Kosrae make districts operating on these islands vulnerable to dissolution unless additional congregations are organized and active members do not emigrate. 


[1]  "Background Note: Micronesia," Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 12 July 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1839.htm

[2]  "Rai stones," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 4 December 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rai_stones

[3]  "Areca nut," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 20 October 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Areca_nut

[4]  "2008 Human Rights Report: Federated States of Micronesia," 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 25 February 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/eap/119048.htm

[5]  "Micronesia, Federated States of," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148884.htm

[6]  "Micronesia, Federated States of," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148884.htm

[7]  "Micronesia," Country Profile, retrieved 4 December 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/micronesia

[8]  Warnick, Lee.  "Book of Mormon in 80th language," LDS Church News, 9 January 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18233/Book-of-Mormon-in-80th-language.html

[9]  "Candy bombs fly to children in Pacific Isles," LDS Church News, 16 December 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39035/Candy-bombs-fly-to-children-in-Pacific-Isles.html

[10]  "College of Micronesia president," LDS Church News, 15 June 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/41958/College-of-Micronesia-president.html

[11]  Dimick, Elder Merill and Sister Myrle; Robertson, Elder David.  "Members in Chuuk open arms to apostle," LDS Church News, 5 June 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59433/Members-in-Chuuk-open-arms-to-apostle.html

[12]  "Micronesia," Country Profile, retrieved 4 December 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/micronesia

[13]  Warnick, Lee.  "Book of Mormon in 80th language," LDS Church News, 9 January 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18233/Book-of-Mormon-in-80th-language.html

[14]  Dimick, Elder Merill and Sister Myrle; Robertson, Elder David.  "Members in Chuuk open arms to apostle," LDS Church News, 5 June 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59433/Members-in-Chuuk-open-arms-to-apostle.html

[15]  Warnick, Lee.  "Book of Mormon in 80th language," LDS Church News, 9 January 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/18233/Book-of-Mormon-in-80th-language.html

[16]  "A place to meet for a growing branch," LDS Church News, 14 January 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/48378/A-place-to-meet-for-a-growing-branch.html

[17]  "A place to meet for a growing branch," LDS Church News, 14 January 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/48378/A-place-to-meet-for-a-growing-branch.html

[18]  "Medical supplies flow to island," LDS Church News, 19 July 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44057/Medical-supplies-flow-to-island.html

[19]  "Kosrae Legislature honors Church," LDS Church News, 15 November 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44697/Kosrae-Legislature-honors-Church.html

[20]  "Pacific islanders given wheelchairs," LDS Church News, 8 May 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/45543/Pacific-islanders-given-wheelchairs.html

[21]  Dimick, Elder Merill and Sister Myrle; Robertson, Elder David.  "Members in Chuuk open arms to apostle," LDS Church News, 5 June 2010.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/59433/Members-in-Chuuk-open-arms-to-apostle.html

[22]  "Internet Usage Worldwide by Country, 2007," Infoplease.com, retrieved 4 December 2010.  http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0933606.html

[23]  "Micronesians attend temple," LDS Church News, 5 November 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/48093/Micronesians-attend-temple.html

[24]  "Pohnpei members make first temple trip," LDS Church News, 16 September 2006.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/49444/Pohnpei-members-make-first-temple-trip.html