Reaching the Nations

Fiji

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 18,274 square km.  Fiji consists of 332 islands in the South Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and New Zealand.  Tropical marine climate occurs year round with little fluctuation in temperature.  Mountains cover most terrain.  Cyclones are frequent natural hazards.  Environmental issues include deforestation and soil erosion.  Fiji is administratively divided into four divisions and one dependency.  A third of Fiji's islands are populated. 

Population: 957,780 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.367% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 2.63 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 68.46 male, 73.73 female (2010)

Peoples

Fijian: 57.3%

Indian: 37.6%

Rotuman: 1.2%

Other: 3.9%

Fijians are a Melanesian group with some Polynesian influences.  The British relocated Indian workers in the late nineteenth century to labor on sugar plantations.  Other ethnic groups primarily include Europeans, other Pacific Islanders, and Chinese.  Rotumans are native to the island of Rotuma.  Indians, Chinese, and Europeans are experiencing population declines mainly due to emigration. 

Languages: Indian languages [mainly Fijian Hindi] (52%), Fijian (43%), other (5%). English and Fijian are the official languages.   10 native languages are spoken. 

Literacy: 93.7% (2003)

History

Fiji has likely been populated for several thousand years.  Tribes living throughout the island chain frequently fought one another and did not come under European rule until the late 19th century.  Fiji became a British colony in 1874 and independence occurred in 1970.  Prior to independence, the British brought many Indian contract laborers to cultivate sugar plantations.  Two military coups occurred in 1987 due to many Fijians perception of Indians dominating government affairs.  By 1990, native Fijians took control of the government and many Indians left the country.  In 2000, another military coup occurred which has resulted in ongoing political turmoil.  Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama overthrew the democratically elected president in 2006 and has come under scrutiny for refusing to hold elections.

Culture 

Modern Fijian culture represents a blend of indigenous, European, Indian, and Chinese societies.  Traditional Fijian culture continues to endure in several areas, especially in rural locations.  Indo-Fijians often segregate themselves and continue their traditional customs and practices, such as performing arranged marriages.  Common foods include seafood, vegetables, and cassava.  Each village has a chief who determines many aspects of local laws.  Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates rank lower than the world average.

Economy

GDP per capita: $3,900 (2009) [8.4% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.762

Corruption Index: N/A

Fiji possesses greater natural resources than many other island nations of the South Pacific, including large amounts of timber, valuable mineral deposits, and fish.  However, government mismanagement, fluctuations in the price and demand of sugar, and recent political turmoil have reduced foreign investment and hurt economic growth.  Agriculture employs 70% of the labor force but produces only 9% of the GDP.  Primary crops include sugarcane, coconuts, cassava, and rice.  Services employ less than 30% of the workforce but produce 78% of the GDP.  Major industries include tourism, sugar, and clothing.  Primary trade partners include Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. 

Many different agencies have been examining and evaluating corruption levels in Fiji to help reduce its occurrence.  However, the current political atmosphere continues to be less than conducive for government involvement in rectifying corruption. 

Faiths

Christian: 64.5%

Hindu: 27.9%

Muslim: 6.3%

Sikh: 0.3%

Other/unspecified: 0.3%

None: 0.7%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Methodist  218,000

Catholic  80,000

Seventh Day Adventists  28,032  144

Latter-Day Saints  15,613  45

Jehovah's Witnesses  2,432  56

Religion

Nearly all native Fijians are Christian whereas Indo-Fijians primarily adhere to Hinduism and Islam.  The Methodist Church is the largest Christian denomination.  Only six percent of Indo-Fijians are Christian whereas 60% of Chinese Fijians follow Christianity.  Many Christian denominations have had an active missionary presence for many years and conduct humanitarian and development work.[1]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

Laws and policies maintain freedom of religion despite the abrogation of the constitution in 2009.  Laws do not tolerate the abuse of religious freedom.  Several Christian, Hindu, and Muslim holidays are recognized by the government.  Religious groups do not have to register with the government.  Religion in recent years has become increasingly more political.  There have been some reports of non-Christians feeling pressured into attending Christian activities sponsored by the government.  Some non-Christians report societal abuse of religion such as temple desecrations and arson attacks.  Some remote islands have experienced little tolerance of non-mainstream religious groups, preventing their proselyting activities and worship services.[2]

Largest Cities

Urban: 52%

Nasinu, Suva, Lautoka, Nausori, Nadi, Lami, Labasa, Ba, Savusavu, Sigatoka.

All 10 of the largest cities and towns have an LDS congregation.  31% of the population lives in the 10 largest cities. 

LDS History

In the early 1950s, non-Fijian LDS families from other Pacific Islands relocated to Suva and began holding worship services.  The Church organized its first branch in Suva in 1954 after the arrival of the first missionaries.  Initial growth was slow partially due to restrictions on the number of missionary visas granted to the Church.  The visa quota for missionaries was raised from two to six in the late 1950s.  The first Church-built meetinghouse was built to serve as a future stake center 1958; 300 attended the dedicatory services.  The first Fijian served a full-time mission in 1959.  The Church created a second district in 1969 and organized the Fiji Mission two years later.  In 1972, missionary work expanded into several new areas.[3]  Seminary and institute began in the early 1970s.  The Church established a primary school in Suva which had over 300 students in 1992.[4]  In early June 2000, missionaries were temporarily withdrawn from Suva and surrounding areas due to civil unrest.[5]  Later that month, non-Fijian missionaries were temporarily reassigned to New Zealand.[6]

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 15,613 (2009)

Fiji had 1,500 members in 1973.[7]  By late 1991, there were approximately 7,000 members.[8]  Membership reached 12,163 by year-end 2000.  In the 2000s, membership steadily grew to 13,563 in 2003, 14,120 in 2005, and 14,866 in 2007.  After 2002, most years have experienced membership growth rates between two and three percent. 

According to the 1996 Census, 3% of Indo-Fijian Christians identified themselves as Latter-day Saints whereas 0.5% of indigenous Fijian Christians claimed membership in the LDS Church.[9]  In 2009, one in 61 Fijians was nominally LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 25  Branches: 20  Groups: 3+

The first LDS stake was created in 1983.  In 1993, there was one stake and two districts.  At the time there were 21 congregations; six wards and 15 branches.[10]  Three additional stakes were organized in Nausori (1995), Lautoka (1996), and Suva (1997) bringing the total of stakes to four.  Two districts functioned in Labasa and Taveuni by 1997.  The Labasa Fiji District was discontinued in 2008. 

By year-end 2000, there were 42 congregations, consisting of 23 wards and 19 branches.  In 2007, there were 25 wards and 19 branches.   In June 2010, seven branches functioned directly under the Fiji Suva Mission; six on Vanua Levu and one on Rotuma.  Two groups functioned in Kadavu, which opened to missionary work in early 2010.  One group functions under the Taveuni Fiji District. 

Activity and Retention

Large meetings, open houses, and conferences have been well attended.  In 1997, almost 5,000 attended a special meeting held with President Hinckley.[11]  Over 16,000 attended the open house for the Suva Fiji Temple in 2000 and 112 attended the single dedicatory session.[12]  The general membership of the Church was not invited to the dedication due to civil unrest.  In 2001, 900 members gathered to meet President Hinckley with less than 12 hours notice. [13]  Almost 3,000 attended the 50th anniversary of the Church in Fiji in 2004.[14]  Between 2000 and 2009, the average number of members per congregation increased from 290 to 347.  816 were enrolled in seminary or institute during the 2008-2009 school year. 

The 1996 census reported that 3,475 identified as Latter-day Saints, including 2,253 native Fijians, 633 Indians, and 589 claiming a different ethnicity.[15]  At the time there were around 11,000 LDS members listed on Church records, indicating that 32% of total Church membership at the time identified themselves as Latter-day Saints for the census.  Church attendance widely varies by location as larger congregations exceed 100 active members and smaller congregations have fewer than 20.  Active membership is likely between 3,000 and 4,000, or 20-25% of total membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Fijian, Hindi, English, Kiribati, Chinese

All LDS scriptures are available in Fijian and Chinese.  Only the Book of Mormon has been translated into standard Hindi and Kiribati.  A large number of young women, temple, leadership, Priesthood, Relief Society, Sunday School, teaching, Primary, missionary, videos, and family history materials are available in Fijian and Chinese.  Fijian translations of the Church Handbook of Instructions and several popular church books are also available.  A few unit, Priesthood, Relief Society, Primary, and missionary resources are translated into the Fijian dialect of Hindi whereas standard Hindi has a larger number of materials available.  General Conference has been translated into Fijian Hindi since 2007.  The Church has only translated the Articles of Faith into Rotuman.  The Church has translated a wide body of materials, particularly for youth, missionaries and primary into Kiribati.  General conference and leadership trainings are also available in Fijian, Kiribati, and Chinese.  Fijian and Kiribati have four issues of the Liahona annually whereas Hindi has one issue and Chinese has 12 issues. 

Meetinghouses

In 1999, the Church maintained 18 chapels and two schools.[16]  Most congregations meet in Church-built meetinghouses whereas smaller branches may meet in rented spaces. 

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has completed at least three humanitarian projects in recent years which provided clean water, educational training, and medical equipment.[17]  In 2002, the Church donated medical supplies to a hospital on Rotuma.[18]  Intense flooding in 2004 led the Church to temporarily house flood victims in Suva.[19]

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

Missionaries proselyte openly and experience no government restrictions.  The Church has maintained positive relations with the Fijian government despite successive coups over the years.  Village law and the need for permission from village chiefs to perform missionary work in many outlying areas can present challenges.

Cultural Issues

The Church has experienced difficulty developing culturally effective proselytism and outreach programs, especially in conveying to the population that the Church is a Christian denomination while simultaneously emphasizing unique doctrines and practices which make it stand out.  The Church aired commercials offering a free copy of the Church's Lamb of God DVD in April 2010.  Many requested the DVD and missionaries hand delivered them to the homes of interested individuals.  However, missionaries reported that the activity produced little immediate success as most just wanted a free video on Jesus Christ instead of missionary visits.  The Church has adapted missionary dress to Fijian cultural standards as missionaries wear traditional skirts called lava-lava. 

Indo-Fijian converts tend to experience the greatest opposition to joining the LDS Church from their family and friends.  This issue has been encountered in India, but poor native Fijian and Indo-Fijian relations have amplified the issue of leaving Hinduism and embracing Christianity.  Nonetheless, the Church has seen significant progress in reaching out to Indo-Fijian Christians, if not among Indo-Fijian Hindus.  The percentage of LDS members among Indo-Fijian Christians is six times higher than the percentage of LDS members among native Fijian Christians.

Kava consumption as relating to the Word of Wisdom remains a subject of debate among some members.  Church leaders have counseled members to keep free of habit-forming substances, which some consider to include recreational kava use.  The strong sense of community in most villages can both help and hinder missionary work.

National Outreach

The main island of Viti Levu accounts for 63% of the national population and 73% of the Church's wards and branches in Fiji.  Vanua Levu accounts for 14% of the population and has congregations in most of the largest population centers.  80% of the Fijian population lives on an island with a mission outreach center.  The rural interior of Viti Levu and lesser reached areas of Vanua Levu are locations which are in need of greater mission outreach.  The unreached population primarily lives on the many islands scattered throughout eastern Fiji in the Eastern Division. It will be challenging to establish the Church in these areas as many outreach centers will be required to serve a small, scattered population. 

In late 2009, missionaries opened Kadavu for missionary work and have since experience considerable success as the number of members attending meetings tripled over a six month period.  Additional unreached islands may also demonstrate comparable receptivity to mission outreach.  Before the Church expands into unreached areas, permission must be granted by the village chiefs for the Church to operate in a given area under local village law.[20]  This may have reduced mission outreach in some areas of the country. 

The Fiji LDS Church College has provided education to many Fijians and has brought many into the Church.  The Church school provides outreach opportunities for those living on remote islands who attend the school to bring the Church to their home villages. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Poor relations between missionaries and local Church leaders have resulted in low convert retention and member activity in many areas.  Missionaries reported that in 2010, the Rakiraki Branch had no branch president for over six months and lost many active members due to stake leadership not taking a more proactive stance on calling a new branch president and restarting missionary efforts.  Missionaries have suggested that some stakes may revert back to district status due to few priesthood leaders, poor communication, and challenges fulfilling stake responsibilities. 

Double affiliation is a significant source of member inactivity.  High levels of Christian proselytism activity for over a century have created a culture of denomination hopping.  The period of rapid membership growth in the 1990s was also the time of the lowest convert retention as missionaries tended to rush converts into baptism with little pre-baptismal teaching and fellowshipping.  Many of these converts returned to their previous denominations after only a brief acquaintance with the LDS Church; reactivation work has experienced little success. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Integration of native Fijians and Indo-Fijians into the same congregations has required love and understanding from both ethnicities.  Native Fijian and Indo-Fijian members reported in 1993 that they felt more comfortable around each other in Church than in any other place in society.[21]  Christian Indo-Fijians may be more receptive to the Church than their indigenous Fijian counterparts.  

Language Issues

Many congregations accommodate speakers of different languages by providing translators in classes and assigning sacrament meeting talks to speakers of different languages.  Sacrament talks in Fijian, Hindustani, and English are given every Sunday in many congregations.[22]  Foreign missionaries learn Fijian in the Missionary Training Center and learn and use some Hindi only in the field.  English is used frequently in teaching.    

Missionary Service

Fiji remains dependent on other nations to staff its missionary force.  In 1993, 38 of the 105 missionaries serving were local members.[23]  In early 2010, about 150 missionaries served in the Fiji Suva Mission, half of whom were native to the boundaries of the mission.  Fiji has around 100 missionaries assigned at a time, as the mission also services Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

Leadership

Returned missionaries provide a major source of strength and manpower for local leadership.  The Church has relied on Church employees to fill leadership positions.  When the Suva Fiji North Stake was organized in 1997, two of the three members of the stake presidency worked for the Church.[24]  In 2007, Taniela B. Wakolo was called as an Area Seventy.[25]

Temple

Announced in 1998 and completed in 2000, the Suva Fiji Temple serves members in Fiji, Kiribati, and Vanuatu.  The temple remains poorly utilized.  In 2010, the temple had only two sessions offered on weekdays and three sessions offered on Saturdays.  The temple conducts sessions in English with headset transmissions available in Bislama, Fijian, French, Kiribati, and Tongan.  Members not living on Viti Levu face greater challenges to attend the temple regularly due to distance and financial constraints. 

Comparative Growth

The Church has experienced some of the slowest membership growth in Fiji among South Pacific nations despite Fiji having the largest population of any nation in Polynesia and Melanesia.  The percentage of Church members is lower than many nations in the region, especially among those which had a Church presence established before 1960.  Other nations in the Pacific where missionaries first arrived in the 1970s and have the similar or greater percentage of members than Fiji.  Member activity rates appear low to average compared to many other Pacific island nations.  Approximately five percent of Fijian members were enrolled in seminary or institute, nearly the same percentage for most of Oceania.

Many Christian denominations have experienced greater growth than the LDS Church, but most have operated for a longer period of time in Fiji.  Christian groups with more members and higher growth rates have tended to develop greater national outreach, development work, and local leadership than the LDS Church. 

Future Prospects

The Church has firmly established itself in many areas on the main island of Viti Levu but has yet to make greater breakthroughs with native Fijians.  Low receptivity and a lack of leadership in many areas will likely continue to prevent long-term growth and greater self sufficiency and stability, especially outside of Suva.  The quick baptism of converts who have not established regular church attendance or other positive gospel habits remains a major source of convert attrition and saps strength and enthusiasm from local congregations.  The Church school provides needed education and is a source for youth investigators and converts who can serve missionaries and provide leadership for long-term growth.  The recent opening of missionary work on Kadavu indicates that mission leadership is actively pursuing broader national outreach, which in the coming years may extend to the many small islands in the east. 


[1]  "Fiji," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127270.htm

[2]  "Fiji," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127270.htm

[3]  "Fiji," Country Profiles, retrieved 16 June 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/contact-us/fiji

[4]  "From around the world," LDS Church News, 18 January 1992.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/22443/From-around-the-world.html

[5]  "Fiji missionaries relocated," LDS Church News, 3 June 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/37900/Fiji-missionaries-relocated.html

[6]  "Non-indigenous missionaries temporarily moved out of Fiji," LDS Church News, 29 July 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38202/Non-indigenous-missionaries-temporarily-moved-out-of-Fiji.html

[7]  Murray, Janet Brigham; Murray, Herbert F.  "The Saints in Fiji," Ensign, Nov 1973, 27

[8]  Hart, John L.  "Fiji: Church gaining prominence in isle cultural crossroads," LDS Church News, 2 November 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20729/Fiji--Church-gaining-prominence-in-isle-cultural-crossroads.html

[9]  "Religion," Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics, retrieved 15 June 2010.  http://www.statsfiji.gov.fj/Social/religion_stats.htm

[10]  Saunders, Shirleen Meek.  "Fiji: Islands of Faith," Tambuli, Feb 1993, 32

[11]  Avant, Gerry.  "Prophet goes to islands of Pacific," LDS Church News, 25 October 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29655/Prophet-goes-to-islands-of-Pacific.html

[12]  "Facts and figures: Suva Fiji Temple," LDS Church News, 24 June 2000.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/38013/Facts-and-figures-Suva-Fiji-Temple.html

[13]  "Gospel shines in faces of members in Fiji," LDS Church News, 26 May 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39949/Gospel-shines-in-faces-of-members-in-Fiji.html

[14]  King, Elder Jerry L.; King, Sister Oliva F.  "50 years in Fiji," LDS Church News, 18 December 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/46628/50-years-in-Fiji.html

[15]  "Religion," Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics, retrieved 15 June 2010.  http://www.statsfiji.gov.fj/Social/religion_stats.htm

[16]  "'Warm spirit' prevails in Fiji," LDS Church News, 22 May 1999.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/35816/Warm-spirit-prevails-in-Fiji.html

[17]  "Projects - Fiji," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide," retrieved 17 June 2010.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-222,00.html

[18]  "Medical supplies donated to Rotuma," LDS Church News, 17 August 2002.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/42302/Medical-supplies-donated-to-Rotuma.html

[19]  King, Elder Jerry L.; King, Sister Oliva F.  "Victims find refuge in LDS meetinghouse," LDS Church News, 1 May 2004.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/45494/Victims-find-refuge-in-LDS-meetinghouses.html

[20]  Saunders, Shirleen Meek.  "Fiji: Islands of Faith," Tambuli, Feb 1993, 32

[21]  Saunders, Shirleen Meek.  "Fiji: Islands of Faith," Tambuli, Feb 1993, 32

[22]  Saunders, Shirleen Meek.  "Fiji: Islands of Faith," Tambuli, Feb 1993, 32

[23]  Saunders, Shirleen Meek.  "Fiji: Islands of Faith," Tambuli, Feb 1993, 32

[24]  "New stake presidencies," LDS Church News, 30 August 1997.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/29086/New-stake-presidencies.html

[25]  "46 Area Seventies called; 29 released," LDS Church News, 7 April 2007.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50423/46-Area-Seventies-called-29-released.html