Reaching the Nations

Cyprus

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 9,251 square km.  In the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia.  The country remains politically divided between independent Cyprus and the de facto Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, the latter of which has an area of 3,355 square km.  The climate is temperate with dry, hot summers and cool winters.  The largest mountains are in the south and a small mountain chain stretches along the northern coast line.  Plains occupy the island's center and many coastal areas.  Earthquakes and droughts are natural hazards whereas lack of fresh water, pollution and urbanization are environmental issues.  Cyprus is divided into six administrative districts, three of which are entirely or partially occupied by Northern Cyprus. 

Population: 1,084,748 (July 2009)

Annual Growth Rate: 1.69% (2009)

Fertility Rate: 1.45 children born per woman (2009)

Life Expectancy: male 74.74, female 80.38 (2009)

Peoples

Greek: 77%

Turkish: 18%

Other: 5%

Greeks primarily populate government-controlled Cyprus whereas Northern Cyprus is primarily Turkish.  Half the Turkish population is indigenous and half have settled since the 1974 Turkish invasion.  Most other ethnic groups have recently immigrated or are migrant workers from the United Kingdom, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Poland, Russia, Nigeria, and the Middle East.

Languages: Greek (82%), Turkish (17%), other (1%).  National or official languages include Greek and Turkish.  English is also widely spoken.  No languages have over one million speakers.

Literacy: 97.6% (2001)

History

People have settled Cyprus for millennia.  Civilizations which ruled or settled Cyprus prior to the birth of Christ include the Hittites, Mycenaean Greeks, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, and Romans.  The early Christian Church had connections to Cyprus, which served as a crossroads for apostles on missionary journeys throughout the eastern Mediterranean.  The Byzantine Empire ruled Cyprus and suffered centuries of raids and attacks from Arabs between 500 and 1000 AD.  Between 1000 and 1500 AD, various European groups, primarily the Venetians, controlled the island and attempted to supplant native culture.  The Ottoman Empire controlled Cyprus between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries until Cyprus came under British rule in the late nineteenth century.  Growing nationalism fueled an independence movement in the twentieth century which became realized in 1960.  Following Cypriot independence, the United Kingdom retained sovereignty of two military bases.  Greece almost took control of Cyprus in 1974, but the Turkish invasion quickly followed. Turkey annexed over a third of the island until a ceasefire was reached.  At that time, 180,000 Greek Cypriots were forced from their homes in the north and fled to the south.  Over 100,000 Turkish settlers came to Northern Cyprus prior to its declaration of independence in 1983.  The sovereignty of Northern Cyprus is only recognized by Turkey.  A "green zone" serves as a buffer between the two political entities.  The border has become more porous over the years, but a political division between the de facto state and the rest of the country remains.  In the last couple decades, the economy has rapidly developed. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004.  Part of the capital city of Nicosia, known locally as Lefkosia, is controlled by Northern Cyprus.  Nicosia remains the world's last divided capital.

Culture 

Cyprus has a rich and ancient history.  Art, folk music, literature, cuisine, and sports each have proud national histories.  Tourism has also strongly affected culture.  Cyprus has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates per capita in the world, likely influenced by tourism.  Cigarette use per capita is about twice that of the United States and half that of Greece.  Governments have facilitated travel between North Cyprus and the rest of Cyprus in the past decade, althoughall persons crossing the border must still show identification.[1] 

Economy

GDP per capita: $21,200 (2009) [45.7% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.914

Corruption Index: 6.4

Cyprus has achieved marked economic growth during the past several decades largely due to tourism and good government policies. Services employ 71% of the workforce and produce 79% of the GDP.  Industry accounts for 20.5% of the labor force and 19% of the GDP.  Agricultural products include citrus, vegetables, barley, grapes, and olives.  Primary industries include tourism, food processing, and cement and gypsum production.  Greece, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany are the largest trade partners.  Northern Cyprus had a GDP per capita of $11,700 (2007).  Northern Cyprus has an economy heavily reliant on Turkey for trade and financing.  Northern Cyprus also has larger industry and agriculture workforces by percentage than Cyprus. 

Corruption in Cyprus is lower than many nearby nations.  Some drug trafficking of heroine and cocaine occurs as a transit point from Turkey and Lebanon to Europe.  Susceptibility to money laundering remains a concern.  

Faiths

Christian: 82%

Muslim: 18%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus  846,103

Catholic   10,000

Jehovah's Witnesses   2,302  30

Latter-Day Saints  337  4

Seventh Day Adventists   72  1

Religion

Christians are the largest religious group and include Greeks and other ethnic groups except for Turkish Cypriots.  95% of the population in government-controlled areas adheres to the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus.  In 2006, a poll found that only 19% of Greek Cypriots attended church weekly and over half attended only on holidays or rarely attended church services.[2]  Christian holidays are national holidays.  The majority of the population in Northern Cyprus is Muslim (98%) but is very secular and only 10% attended religious services regularly.  Only a handful of Christians are known to live in Northern Cyprus.   

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution provides for religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  Abuses of religious freedom do occur in society and are reprimanded by government officials.  According to the 1960 constitution, only the Autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church of Cyprus, Vakif (an organization for Muslim Turkish Cypriots), Maronite Catholics, Roman Catholics, and the Armenian Orthodox Churches are recognized and receive tax exemption.  Religious groups not recognized may function in Cyprus but must register as a nonprofit organization in order to have financial engagements.  Registered nonprofit organizations are tax exempted and religious groups receive nonprofit approval quickly but the application must be submitted through an attorney.  Open proselytism in government control areas is permitted and foreign missionaries must obtain residence permits.  Public schools are mandated to teach students about the Greek Orthodox Church.  Only students with non-Greek Cypriot parents can have this instruction waved.  North Cyprus does not have laws barring proselytism but missionary activity is rare and discouraged.[3]

Largest Cities

Urban: 70%

Lefkosia (Nicosia), Lemesos, Larnaka, Lefkosa, Gazimagusa*, Pafos, Girne*, Guzelyurt*, Aradippou, Paralimni.

Four of the 10 largest cities have a congregation.  Lefkosa and Aradippou are suburbs of Lefkosia and Larnaka, respectively, which have LDS congregations.  Cities with an asterisk are in Northern Cyprus.  53% of the national population lives in the ten largest cities. 

LDS History

In 1962, the Church organized the first group for LDS families serving in government.  The Nicosia Branch was discontinued in 1969, reorganized in 1971 and discontinued in 1980.  Following the dissolution of the International Mission in 1987, Cyprus fell under the jurisdiction of the Austria Vienna East Mission.  At the time, there were no congregations or mission outreach.[4]   Cyprus was assigned to the Greece Athens Mission in 1990 and the Europe/Mediterranean Area in 1991.[5]  Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin dedicated Cyprus for missionary work in September 1993.  A branch had been reorganized and the Cyprus Branch president, branch members, and many Church leaders from the Europe/Mediterranean Area were in attendance.  A fireside was held in Larnaca at the time of the dedication with 50 in attendance, including many interested investigators.[6]

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 381 (2010)

In late 1993, there were 26 members in the Cyprus Branch.[7]  Membership reached 110 at year-end 2000.  Membership has tripled in the past decade, reaching 202 in 2003 and 303 in 2007.  By 2008, there were 337 members.  With the exception of 2003 and 2006, membership grew by over 10% annually.

In 2007, non-native membership came from nations including the Philippines, China, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, the United Kingdom, Nepal, Bangladesh, and the United States.[8]  In 2010, missionaries reported that most members in Nicosia were from China and other Asian nations.

Congregational Growth

Branches: 4

In 1993, the Cyprus Branch served the entire island.  A second branch was created in the mid-1990s and a third in the late 1990s.  By 2000, there were three branches in Nicosia, Lemesos, and Larkana.  The Pafos Branch was created in 2005.  In 2007, the first district was created, named the Nicosia Cyprus District.  The district had four branches in Nicosia, Lemesos, Larkana, and Pafos.

Activity and Retention

70 members and missionaries gathered for the creation of the first district in 2007.[9]  In 2007 there were 50-60 active members in Nicosia, 25-30 in Lemesos and less than 10 in both Larnaka and Pafos.  150 attended district conference in late 2011.  Active membership likely numbers between 125 and 150, or 30-35% of total church membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Greek, Turkish, English

All LDS scriptures are available in Greek.  Only the Book of Mormon has been translated into Turkish.  Many unit, temple, priesthood, relief society, Sunday School, young women, primary, missionary, and family history materials are available in Greek and Turkish.  The Liahona has one Greek issue a year.  All scriptures and many church materials are also available in Chinese and some other Asian languages spoken by LDS members.

Meetinghouses

There are no Church-built meetinghouses in Cyprus.  Meetings likely occur in rented spaces or renovated buildings.

Humanitarian and Development Work

The Church has done some small local humanitarian and service projects. 

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

No laws limit the Church's missionary program. Missionaries proselyte freely.  The Church does not appear to have any difficulty obtaining residence permits for missionaries.  Religious freedom is more restricted in Northern Cyprus, which appears to have no Church members. 

Cultural Issues

Greater tolerance of religious minorities exists in Cyprus compared to Greece, yet social barriers dissuade many Greek Cypriots from learning about or joining the Church.  Greek Cypriots who join the Church often face ostracism from family and the community as they are no longer considered Greek due to their identification with a non-Orthodox religious group.  Intolerance of proselytism among Muslim Turkish Cypriots and continued disputes over the legal status of the Turkish-controlled North have left the population of Northern Cyprus unreached by mission efforts.  High alcohol and cigarette present barriers to living Church standards.

National Outreach

Cyprus' small geographic size, highly urbanized population, and developed transportation systems provide opportunities for missionary work with fewer outreach centers.  The Church has congregations and missionaries in cities which account for 44% of the national population.  Four of the six administrative districts have a congregation; the remaining two are Kyrenia, which is entirely in Northern Cyprus - and Famagusta, with only a small portion in government controlled areas.  The Church's presence is limited to only the largest cities.  Larnaka and Pafos have outreach and congregations, but fewer than 10 active members each.

Extending outreach into small cities and villages will be difficult and is highly unlikely until greater receptivity is manifest among Greek Cypriots.  These communities have few foreigners and therefore missionary work would occur primarily among the Greek Cypriots.  There are 192 villages with between 100 and 1,000 inhabitants and 83 villages or small cities between 1,000 and 10,000 inhabitants without LDS congregations.  The furthest urban locations from outreach centers in government-controlled territory are less than 50 miles away. 

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Most converts are non-Greek or Turkish Cypriots and are often living in Cyprus temporarily for employment.  These members are more transient and challenge the Church's efforts to build self-sustaining local congregations when they return to their home countries or relocate elsewhere.  Convert retention appears modest as activity rates have declined over the past two decades. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Many converts from East Asia have joined the Church, particularly in Nicosia.  Missionaries report success in working among the large body of students at the university.  Very few Greek and Turkish Cypriots have joined the Church.  In the early 1990s, there were only three known Greek Cypriot members. 

Language Issues

Few members speak Greek or Turkish as a native language. English is often spoken in Church meetings in Nicosia.  Many of the members speak Greek, Turkish, or English as a second language.  The diversity in cultures and languages challenges local leadership in integrating members into the same congregations.  Membership size is not large enough to justify the creation of language-specific congregations.  Not all LDS scriptures are available in Turkish. 

Leadership

Local priesthood leaders were called to serve as branch presidents at the creation of the Cyprus district in 2007.  At the time, branch presidents of two of the four branches (Nicosia and Laranca) were expatriates of Nepal and England, respectively.  The remaining two branches appear to have had missionaries serving as branch presidents.[10]  The Church has been successful in developing leadership among foreign converts, but it does not appear that Greek or Turkish Cypriots have held Church leadership positions.

Temple

Cyprus belongs to the London England Temple District.  Assignment to the London England Temple district is likely influenced by historic ties to the United Kingdom, the widespread use of English among active Church members, and the small size of membership.  The Rome Italy Temple will become the closest to Cyprus once completed. 

Comparative Growth

Cyprus is one of the most well reached nations in the Eastern Mediterranean and is the closest nation with open proselytism to Israel and most of the Middle East.  Membership growth has been among the fastest the Church has experienced among nations with fewer than 1,000 members in Europe.  Membership growth has exceeded that of Greece in both numbers and percentages.  Moldova has seen similar growth, membership size, and leadership development.  Nonetheless, few native Greek Cypriots or Turks are found among membership in Cyprus, and church growth has occurred primarily among foreign students and expatriate workers.

Most Christian groups have seen little membership and congregational growth in Cyprus.  Jehovah's Witnesses and Latter-day Saints appear to be the groups with the most consistent growth.  Like in Greece, Jehovah's Witnesses form the largest non-Orthodox or Catholic denomination in Cyprus and continue to see strong growth.  Jehovah's Witnesses have developed a Cypriot member base actively involved in proselytism and now maintain thirty congregations with over 2,300 active members.  

Future Prospects

Prospects for continued growth among the non-native population are high.  As long as foreign converts remain in Cyprus, more congregations will likely have local leaders and become less dependent on foreign missionaries.  Prospects for growth among the native population remain low as Greek and Turkish Cypriots continue to demonstrate indifference to the gospel message.


[1]  "Cyprus," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127305.htm

[2] "Cyprus," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127305.htm

[3] "Cyprus," International Religious Freedom Report 2009, 26 October 2009.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127305.htm

[4]  Lloyd, Scott R.  "New Seventy plays key role in thrilling events of the Church," LDS Church News, 18 May 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/20889/New-Seventy-played-key-role-in-thrilling-events-of-the-Church.html

[5]  Cannon, Mike.  "Diversity in land, people and climate," LDS Church News, 7 December 1991.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/21327/Diversity-in-land-people-and-climate.html

[6]  "Elder Wirthlin dedicates the island of Cyprus for preaching of gospel," LDS Church News, 27 November 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23399/Elder-Wirthlin-dedicates-the-island-of-Cyprus-for-preaching-of--gospel.html

[7] "Elder Wirthlin dedicates the island of Cyprus for preaching of gospel," LDS Church News, 27 November 1993.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/23399/Elder-Wirthlin-dedicates-the-island-of-Cyprus-for-preaching-of--gospel.html

[8] "First district on island of Cyprus created," LDS Church News, 3 November 2007.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51289/First-district-on-island-of-Cyprus-created.html

[9]  "First district on island of Cyprus created," LDS Church News, 3 November 2007.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51289/First-district-on-island-of-Cyprus-created.html

[10] "First district on island of Cyprus created," LDS Church News, 3 November 2007.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/51289/First-district-on-island-of-Cyprus-created.html