Reaching the Nations

Guam

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

Return to Table of Contents

Geography

Area: 544 square km.  The most southern and largest island of the Mariana Islands, Guam is a small island located in the North Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and the Philippines.  The volcanic island is surrounded by coral reefs and experiences marine tropical climate with little fluctuation in temperature.  A rainy season occurs from July to December and a dry season lasts from January to June.  There are some mountains in the south, but most the terrain consists of a limestone plateau circumscribed by costal cliffs.  Storms and typhoons are natural hazards.  The foremost environmental issues is the deterioration of Guam's bird life due to the invasive brown tree snake.  There are no administrative divisions.

Population: 178,430 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.365% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 2.52 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 74.97 male, 81.23 female (2010)

Peoples

Chamorro: 37.1%

Filipino: 26.3%

other Pacific islander: 11.3%

white: 6.9%

other Asian: 6.3%

other: 2.3%

mixed: 9.8%

Chamorro are a Micronesian ethnic group and the original settlers of Guam.  Other ethnic groups arrived following Spanish colonization of the island.

Languages: English (38.3%), Chamorro (22.2%), Philippine languages (22.2%), other Pacific island languages (6.8%), Asian languages (7%), other languages (3.5%).  English, Chamorro, and Philippine languages are most commonly spoken.  

Literacy: 99% (1990)

History

Guam's first known inhabitants arrived around 2,000 B.C.  In the sixteenth century, Europeans first reached the island, which was claimed by Spain.  For the following three centuries, Guam served as an important island trade post and resting point for Spanish ships traveling from Central America to the Philippines.  The United States annexed Guam from Spain in 1898 during the Spanish-American War.  Japan overtook the island from 1941 to 1944 and as many as 20,000 died due to the conflict and atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army and Navy.  Guam has been an unincorporated organized territory of the United States since 1950.[1]   The United States maintains one of its most important strategic military bases in the Pacific on Guam.

Culture 

Dance, seafaring, games, songs, and fishing are major aspects of traditional Chamorro society which continue to influence contemporary culture.  Immigrant peoples from Europe, Asia, the United States, and other Pacific Islands have infused many of their traditions and customs into the culture, particularly from Spain during the over three hundred years of Spanish rule.  As a result, most are Roman Catholic.  Spanish has influenced some linguistic features of Chamorro.  Cuisine consists of seafood and many dishes common to the Philippines, Oceania, and East Asia.  The United States continues to expand its military installations on the island and is predicted to significantly increase the population of Guam as additional military personnel are stationed. There has been some past conflict and tension between the various ethnic groups, namely Chamorro, Filipinos, and Micronesians.  Some aspects of indigenous Chamorro religious beliefs continue to be practiced and infused with Christianity.  Like much of Micronesia and Southeast Asia, locals chew the red areca nut (betel) frequently, which is a known carcinogen, stains the teeth, and is addictive.[2] 

Economy

GDP per capita: $15,000 (2005) [37.4% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A (0.956 for US)

Corruption Index: N/A (7.5 for US)

The economy relies almost entirely upon U.S. military spending and tourism sectors, which continue to expand and develop.  64% of the work force is employed in services, 26% in agriculture, and 10% in industry.  Primary industries consist of the US military, tourism, construction, shipping, printing, food processing, and textiles.  Agricultural products include fruit, copra, vegetables, meat, and eggs.

Faiths

Christian: 95%

other: 5%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  151,666

Latter-Day Saints  2,140  4

Seventh Day Adventists  963  7

Jehovah's Witnesses  681  8

Religion

85% of the population is Catholic. Other Christian denominations constitute approximately 10% of the population.  There are small communities of Buddhists and followers of Chinese religions among Asian immigrant peoples.  

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The United States' constitution protects religious freedom and is upheld by national and local laws.  There have been no instances of societal abuse of religious freedom.

Largest Cities

Urban: 93%

Dededo, Tamuning, Yigo, Barrigada, Agat, Ordot, Mongmong, Chalan Pago, Talofofo, Yona.

Cities or towns listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Three of the 10 largest settlements have an LDS congregation.  47% of the population resides the 10 largest settlements. 

LDS History

The first Latter-day Saints known to live on Guam were members in the U.S. military fighting in World War II.  In 1944, there were multiple congregations with between 50 and 300 servicemen which operated under the Far East Mission.  In 1953, meetinghouse facilities were dedicated and Guam became a dependent branch in the Oahu Hawaii Stake, later renamed the Honolulu Hawaii Stake.  Institute began in 1970 and seminary began in 1980.  Latter-day Saints have held an annual relay race since 1974.[3]  In 1977, the first Chamorro converts joined the Church.  The first Chamorro member to serve a mission began his service in 1979.  The Church created the Micronesia Guam Mission in 1980 from the Hawaii Honolulu and Fiji Suva Missions.[4]  In 1988, the LDS Church teamed up with other Christian groups in the support of legislation banning the use of poker machines in Guam.[5]  LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Guam in 2000.[6]  In October 2010, the First Presidency approved the creation of the first stake in December 2010.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 2,140 (2010)

In 1990, there were 2,200 Latter-day Saints in Guam.  There were 1,400 LDS members in 1995.[7]  In 2000, membership reached 1,574.  Membership grew slowly for most of the 2000s as there were 1,653 members in 2002, 1,669 in 2005, and 1,690 in 2007.  In the late 2000s, membership growth accelerated as membership totaled 1,874 in 2008.  Several years experienced a decline in the number of Latter-day Saints such as 2001, 2004, and 2006.  Annual membership growth rates have varied from -7.3% to 9.2%.  In the past decade, membership has generally increased or decreased by 50 to 100 per year.  In the past several decades, LDS Church membership has become increasingly more Chamorro and non-white due to converts from these groups joining the church and the relocation of many American military members off the island.  In 2009, one in 91 was nominally LDS.

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 4

 In 1970, the Guam Branch became a ward.  A second congregation was created in 1976.  A third congregation, the Agat Branch, was created in 1978.  In 1980, the Church created the Guam District with four branches.[8]  The district has included the Northern Mariana Islands since the creation of the Micronesia Guam Mission.  In 2000, there were four branches in Guam.  In 2006, the Church discontinued one of the branches, resulting in the number of branches declining to three.  In 2009, a fourth branch was created named the Dededo Branch. 

Activity and Retention

The average number of members per congregation has increased from 394 in 2000 to 493 in 2009.  During the 2007-2008 school year, 121 were enrolled in seminary or institute.  In 2010, each of the four branches appeared to have over 100 active members.  Active membership for Guam is estimated at 400, or 20% total church membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Chamorro, Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Bikolano, Waray-Waray, Pampango, Pangsinan, Chinese

Select passages of the Book of Mormon were translated into Chamorro in 1989.[9]  The Prophet Joseph Smith's Testimony is translated into Chamorro.  All LDS scriptures are translated into Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Pangasinan, and Chinese.  Translations of the Book of Mormon are available in Hiligaynon, Bikolano, Waray-Waray, and Pampango.  The 2009 revised Gospel Principles book is translated in Tagalog, Cebuano, and Chinese (simplified and traditional characters) whereas the original version is available in Bikolano, Hiligaynon, Ilokano, Pampango, Pangasinan, and Waray-Waray.  The missionary instruction manual Preach My Gospel is translated in Cebuano, Tagalog, and Chinese (traditional characters, Mandarin Romanized, and Cantonese Romanized).  The Restoration DVD is available in Cebuano.  The Liahona magazine has 12 Cebuano, Chinese, and Tagalog issues a year.  Many Pacific islander languages spoken on Guam have LDS Church materials available.

Meetinghouses

In 2010, there were three LDS meetinghouses on Guam, all of which appear to have been built by the Church. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

In 1991, Latter-day Saint military personnel provided assistance to over 18,000 evacuated servicemen from the Philippines following the eruption of Mount Pinatubo.[10]  Latter-day Saints have helped clean up efforts following natural disasters.  The Church's Emergency Preparedness Program provided assistance to many members in 1991 when nine typhoons hit the island in one year.[11]  In 1993, missionaries provided service to victims of an 8.2 earthquake.[12]  In 2003, the Church donated $10,000 to a Guam center providing mitigation kits to typhoon victims.[13]  That same year, 50 wheelchairs were donated to the disabled.[14]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

There are no restrictions on religious freedom.  Latter-day Saints proselyte, worship, and assemble freely.

Cultural Issues

Latter-day Saint mission efforts benefit from a predominantly Catholic population which is tolerant of other Christian traditions.  Worldwide LDS Church proselytizing materials are tailored toward the needs and religious background of Christian nations or territories like Guam.  The high degree of cultural diversity exhibited by the small population creates cultural challenges attracting and retaining converts from all major ethnic groups found on the island.  Church leadership in the region has openly opposed the consumption of Areca nut, which is frequently chewed as a social pastime. 

National Outreach

Guam's small geographic size has resulted in the creation of a stake despite few members and requires few established mission outreach centers to reach the majority of the population.  Additional LDS congregations in many areas are needed and may help increase member activity and convert retention rates.  The most populous urban areas without their own LDS mission outreach centers or congregations provide opportunities for expanding national outreach and include Mangilao, Sinajana, South Acres, Talofofo, and Yona.  Latter-day Saints live in most of these locations and can staff leadership positions in the event additional congregations are created once currently operating congregations grow large enough in active membership to divide.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Guam experiences low rates of member activity, possibly due to challenges meeting the high ethnic and cultural diversity of new converts and local traditions of nominalism and syncretism.  Mission, district, and branch presidencies worked for many years to increase active membership and the strength of local membership to meet the requirements for a stake to be created.  Continued low member activity rates and mediocre convert retention prevent the creation of additional congregations.  Reactivation efforts headed  by local members suited to the needs of inactive members and a mission emphasis on developing habits of regular church attendance before baptism may help increase member activity rates over time.  The overreliance on foreign missionaries to fill administrative positions may have reduced convert retention rates over the past few decades.  The creation of the first stake in 2010 points toward some improvement in member activity and convert retention in recent years.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The visible United States military presence has brought many American LDS members to Guam, which has created some cultural challenges integrating with Chamorro, Filipinos, and other ethnic groups.  Attracting non-whites to a church perceived as predominately white or limited to certain ethnicities is one of the greatest ethnic integration issues.  Today there appear to be few conflicts at church as LDS demographics have become more representative of the island's ethnic composition.  Filipinos constitute a large ethnic group in need of greater LDS mission outreach focus.  The creation of a military ward or branch may help reduce ethnic integration and linguistic challenges.

Language Issues

Nearly the entire population has translations of LDS materials in their native language, but English and Chamorro materials are most frequently used by missionaries.  Widespread use of English has facilitated interethnic communication, reducing the need for language-specific congregations.  The creation of Chamorro-speaking or Tagalog-speaking congregations may increase member activity rates and accomplish greater breakthroughs with these ethnic groups.  Greater numbers of active members are likely needed for such congregations to be organized. 

Missionary Service

Local members serve full-time missions regularly, but are not sufficient in numbers to staff the full-time missionary force. 

Leadership

Local church leadership on Guam has faced challenges transitioning from primarily American military-staffed church administration to Chamorro and non-Americans filling most local leadership positions.  The lack of additional congregations on Guam is attributed in part to inadequate numbers of active Priesthood holders capable of serving in a branch presidency or other administrative callings.  The creation of the first stake in late 2010 indicates that local membership is maturing in faith and numbers as a stake requires at least 120 active, full-tithe paying Melchizedek Priesthood holders.  Generating additional leadership remains a challenge as the creation of the Barrigada Guam Stake depended on the inclusion of the LDS congregation in Saipan, which in 2010 was one of the strongest branches in the Micronesia Guam Mission with 150-200 active members. 

Temple

Guam is assigned to the Manila Philippines Temple district.  Temple trips occur regularly but are time consuming due to the island's remote location.  Prospects for a future temple in Guam will depend on greater church growth on Guam and surrounding island nations and territories as currently the number of active members is insufficient to support a temple.  

Comparative Growth

Latter-day Saints have one of the smallest church presences among Micronesian nations or territories in Guam.  The neighboring Federated States of Micronesia has nearly twice as many members, five times as many congregations, and three times the percentage of Latter-day Saints in the population.  Latter-day Saints in the Marshall Islands constitute 7% of the national population despite the first LDS missionaries arriving two decades later than Guam.  Kiribati boasts two stakes and today Latter-day Saints are among the largest Christian denominations in the nation.  Suggesting slow membership growth over the past two decades and the small percentage of Latter-day Saints in the general population is due to the small size of the general population is unsupported as nations with smaller populations in Micronesia (Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Federated States of Micronesia) have experienced steady membership growth and marked church growth over the past quarter century exceeding that which has occurred on Guam.  The headquarters of the Micronesia Guam Mission on Guam, which serves several surrounding island nations, and the longstanding presence of American Latter-day Saints serving with the U.S. military on Guam, have not led to improvement in church growth compared to neighboring Pacific nations without such apparently favorable factors.  Receptivity to the LDS Church appears lower than in other nations and territories in the region, perhaps due to the impact of secularism, nominalism, the large number of non-Micronesian ethnic groups, and strong foreign influence on culture.   Member activity rates appear lower than in most Pacific nations whereas membership growth rates are representative for the region.  In 2010, Guam became the nation with the second fewest Latter-day Saints to have a stake after Bahrain. 

Many Christian groups headquarter their missionary activity for Micronesia in Guam like Latter-day Saints.  Most of these groups have gained few converts in recent years.  Several denominations have similarly-sized nominal church memberships to the LDS Church on Guam, but have higher member activity and convert retention rates and operate more congregations.  Foreign Christian missionaries from many churches frequently visit and serve on Guam. 

Future Prospects

The creation of the first stake in late 2010, increase in nominal and  active membership in the 2000s, and the organization of a fourth branch in 2009 indicate that the LDS Church has experienced some recent progress on Guam.  As a result of the current expansion of United States military installations, white Latter-day Saint military personnel may come to the islands in larger numbers. The self-sufficiency of local members in church administration matters which has taken years to achieve.  The creation of additional congregations will most clearly indicate improved member activity and convert retention rates, and may help alleviate potential ethnic integration challenges.


[1]  "Guam," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 19 October 2010.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guam

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

[3]  Leddy, Herbert J.  "Rain doesn't hinder 113 runners at Guam's Mormon relay race," LDS Church News, 13 August 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/17797/Rain-doesnt-hinder-113-runners-at-Guams-Mormon-relay-race.html

[4]  "Guam," Country Profile, retrieved 20 October 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/guam

[5]  Leddy, Hebert J.  "LDS help rid Guam of poker machines," LDS Church News, 22 October 1988.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/17538/LDS-help-rid-Guam-of-poker-machines.html

[6]  "Pres. Hinckley completes tour in Pacific Rim," LDS Church News, 12 February 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/37174/Pres-Hinckley-completes-tour-in-Pacific-Rim.html

[7]  "Guam," Country Profile, retrieved 20 October 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/guam

[8]  "Guam," Country Profile, retrieved 20 October 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/guam

[9]  "Selections from Book of Mormon translated into Guam language," LDS Church News, 17 February 1990.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20370/Selections-from-Book-of-Mormon-translated-into-Guam-language.html

[10]  "Members in Guam aid volcano victims from the Philippines," LDS Church News, 20 July 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21641/Members-in-Guam-aid-volcano-victims-from-the-Philippines.html

[11]  "Guam members prepared for Typhoon Gay's fury," LDS Church News, 12 December 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21893/Guam-members-prepared-for-Typhoon-Gays-fury.html

[12]  "Church members safe after 8.2 earthquake in Guam, tropical storm in Venezuela," LDS Church News, 14 August 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22952/Church-members-safe-after-82-earthquake-in-Guam-tropical-storm-in-Venezuela.html

[13]  "Church donates $10,000 to Guam center," LDS Church News, 18 October 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44581/Church-donates-10000-to-Guam-center.html

[14]  "'The gift of mobility'," LDS Church News, 19 June 2003.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/44072/The-gift-of-mobility.html