Reaching the Nations

Curacao

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 444 square km.  Curacao is a small island in the southern Caribbean Sea north of Venezuela that is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The terrain consists of low-laying plains and hills.  Tropical semi-arid conditions occur with little seasonal variation in temperature.  Hurricanes rarely impact the island and are the primary natural hazard. 

Population: 142,180 (January 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: N/A (0.79% for the Netherland Antilles in 2006)   

Fertility Rate: 2.1 children born per woman (2009)   

Life Expectancy: 72.4 male, 80.1 female (2009)

Peoples

mixed black: 85%

other: 15%

Languages: Papiamento (81.2%), Dutch (8%), Spanish (4%), English (2.9%), other (3.9%).  Dutch is the official language.   Papiamento is the only Iberian-based Creole spoken worldwide.   Many speak all major languages fluently. 

Literacy: N/A [Netherland Antilles: 96.7% (2003)] 

History

The Arawak Amerindians were the first known inhabitants.  The Spanish sighted and claimed Curacao in 1499.  In 1634, the Dutch took control of the island and used it as a base of operations for the slave trade and military operations against the Spanish.[1]  The abolition of slavery in 1863 hurt the local economy which did not recover until an oil refinery was established in the early twentieth century.  In 1954, Curacao headquartered the newly-formed Netherlands Antilles government.  The Netherland Antilles originally included the Dutch Caribbean possessions of Curacao, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, Saba, and Sint Maarten.  In 2010, the Netherland Antilles was dissolved and Curacao became a constituent country of the Netherlands as a result of referenda held in 2005 and 2009 in which Curacao citizens voted to become a self-governing country part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. 

Culture 

Curacao exhibits many cultural features adopted from African, European, and Caribbean cultures regarding architecture, cuisine, and language.  African customs and traditions are more pronounced than on many other islands due to the role of Curacao as a base of operations for the Dutch slave trade.  Most the population is Catholic.  Christianity is a dominant influence on society as many attend church.  Carnival is a major celebration in February that includes parades and parties.  Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates appear comparable to the worldwide average rates of use.  Divorce rates are higher than world averages.    

Economy

GDP per capita: $14,970 (2004) [31.6% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: N/A

The economy relies upon a single petroleum refinery, tourism, and offshore banking to function.  Curacao benefits from an excellent harbor to accommodate large ships, such as oil tankers.  Venezuela leases the oil refinery; most Venezuelan oil is destined for the United States.  Nearly all consumer goods are imported as soil and climatic conditions are poor for agriculture.  Overall Curacao has a well-developed infrastructure.  Natural resources include calcium phosphates, aloe, fruit, peanuts, and vegetables.  Services employ 82% of the labor force and generate 84% of the GDP.  Industry accounts for virtually the entire remainder of the labor force and GDP.  Primary industries include tourism, petroleum refining and transshipment, and light manufacturing.  One percent of the GDP and work force is attributed to agriculture.  Aloe, sorghum, peanuts, vegetables, and fruit are the major crops.  Venezuela and the United States are the primary trade partners.  Corruption rates are perceived at lower rates than most nations in the Caribbean.  Drug trafficking is a concern. 

Faiths

Christian: 93%

Jewish: 0.8%

other: 1.3%

none: 4.6%

unknown: 0.3%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  113,886

Pentecostal  4,976

Seventh Day Adventists  6,224  27 (includes Bonaire)

Jehovah's Witnesses  1,781  22

Latter-day Saints  538  1

Religion

Most the population is Catholic (80.1%).  Protestants account for approximately 13% of the population.  Jews account for nearly one percent.  Approximately five percent of the population does not identify with a religious group. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution of the Netherlands protects religious freedom and grants the government authority to restrict religious practices if they become a risk to public order, traffic safety, or public health.  The government upholds religious freedom guaranteed by the constitution and diligently works to foster an environment of religious tolerance.  Public speech which incites hatred toward a religious group is a crime and has been an area of conflict due to freedom of speech rights.  Common Christian holidays are recognized by the government.   Religious groups are not required to register with the government to operate, but certain rights and privileges such as tax exemption status are only bestowed upon registered religious groups.[2]  There have been no recent reports of societal abuse of religious freedom in Curacao.  

Largest Cities

Urban: 97%

Willemstad, Tera Cora, Barber, Labadera, Soto.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the five largest cities has an LDS congregation.  96% of the island's inhabitants reside in the five largest cities.  88% of the population lives in Willemstad. 

LDS History

Ingeborg Zielinski was the first known Latter-day Saint convert from Curacao.  She joined the Church in the Netherlands in 1970 and returned to Curacao in 1971.  In 1972, Zielinski was crowned Miss Curacao and held hourly radio programs in which she shared some beliefs and practices of the LDS Church but with an nondenominational approach.  The Venezuela Caracas Mission opened Curacao to missionary work in 1978 but missionaries were withdrawn the same year.  Church meetings began to be held in Papiamento in 1982 when full-time missionaries were reassigned to the island; greater church growth soon followed.[3]  The Book of Mormon translation in Papiamento was completed in 1987.[4]  Jurisdiction over Curacao changed from one of the Venezuelan missions to the West Indies Mission sometime in the 1990s.  Later, Curacao was reassigned to the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission.  Seminary and institute were introduced in 2007 and 2008, respectively.  Curacao was assigned to the Puerto Rico San Juan West Mission in 2007[5] and in 2010 was transferred to the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 538 (2009)

There were fewer than 100 Latter-day Saints in 1993.  There were 300 members in 1997 and by 2000 membership reached 363.  Membership totaled 342 in 2002, 424 in 2004, 464 in 2006, and 525 in 2008.  Membership generally increases between 10 and 40 a year.  In 2009, one in 264 was LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 1

LDS congregations have divided and combined several times on Curacao.  The first branch - the Curacao Branch - was organized in 1979.[6]  The branch was split into two branches in 1987 and the branches were consolidated six months later.[7]  The branch divided into two congregations again by 1997 and both branches were rejoined by 2000.  In 2004, the branch divided into two congregations again and were unified into a single unit in 2009.  A district serviced branches in Curacao and Bonaire between 2004 and 2009.  In early 2011, the Curacao Branch was a mission branch not assigned to a stake or district.

Activity and Retention

In 2007, there were approximately 40 active members in each branch.  That same year, there was a period of a couple months when 100 attended sacrament meeting in each branch, including dozens of investigators.  24 were enrolled in seminary and institute during the 2008-2009 school year.  Total active membership is estimated at 100, or 20% of nominal church membership. 

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Papiamento, Dutch, Spanish, English

The Book of Mormon is translated into Papiamento.  Other Papiamento LDS materials are limited to the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and General Conference addresses.  All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in Dutch and Spanish.  The Liahona magazine has monthly issues in Dutch and Spanish.

Meetinghouses

An LDS chapel was dedicated in 1988.[8]

Humanitarian and Development Work

There have been no major humanitarian or development projects sponsored by the LDS Church.  Service activities are limited to projects organized by full-time missionaries and local members.

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The Church benefits from full religious freedom to proselyte, worship, and assemble.  Foreign full-time missionaries serve regularly on tourist visas, which last up to 90 days. 

Cultural Issues

Most have a background in Christianity and have developed or are aware of common religious practices.  Many are traditionally Catholic, creating challenges for LDS mission outreach in overcoming cultural barriers.  Carnival celebrations interfere with LDS missionary activity through the societal promotion of casual sexual relations and heavy alcohol use.

National Outreach

LDS missionaries have performed mission outreach in virtually all major population centers.  Notwithstanding that the sole LDS congregation operating in early 2011 offered immediate outreach only to a portion of Willemstad, up to 88% of Curacao's inhabitants reside in a city with a mission outreach center. 

After the presence of church members in Curacao for more than forty years and continuous missionary work for more than thirty years, the repetitive failure of attempts to open additional congregations and the lack of adequate leadership and member activity to maintain more than a single branch warrants serious concern.  Organizing a handful of dependent branches or groups would likely extend efficient outreach to the entire island, but limited local leadership resources and few active members render any such efforts unfeasible at present.  Holding cottage meetings with full-time and branch missionaries in various locations far from the LDS meetinghouse may provide an impetus for expanding national outreach.

There are no developed internet resources specifically dedicated to Curacao or Papiamento speakers with the exception of audio translations of General Conference addresses. The establishment of an LDS website in Papiamento for Curacao members to utilize in their finding and member-missionary efforts may increase receptivity and national outreach.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Steady growth in nominal membership during the 2000s becomes less impressive considering that the number of congregations remained unchanged between 2000 and 2010.  Quick-baptism tactics of converts with minimal preparation and without firm gospel habits in order to attain arbitrary baptismal quotas appear to be a major contributor to the current level of member activity in Curacao.  Assigning large numbers of full-time missionaries to service Curacao's small population likely exacerbated convert attrition as the responsibility of local members to perform missionary activity and to develop local leadership was diminished.  Reducing the number of full-time missionaries to just one or two missionary companionships is a move in the right direction which may increase member involvement in missionary activity, such as finding and fellowshipping.  Increasing seminary and institute attendance in the late 2000s is a positive sign of youth member activity rates remaining constant or slightly improving. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

The diverse society of Curacao has generated a cosmopolitan atmosphere in which differing ethnic groups have intermingled and peacefully coexist.  Any ethnic integration challenges encountered will likely be language-based. 

Language Issues

In early 2011, there were no church manuals, gospel study books, and proselytism literature translated into Papiamento.  The Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price have yet to be translated.  A lack of LDS materials in Papiamento challenges efforts for local members to develop greater gospel study habits and gain stronger testimonies about the Church and its teachings.  Many members likely utilize LDS materials available in other languages for gospel study and church instruction, albeit church services are held in Papiamento.

Missionary Service

There were up to five missionary companionships assigned to Curacao in late 2009.  Missionaries reported that they did not have a shortage of investigators to teach, but few attended church meetings or joined the Church.  Following the reassignment of Curacao from the Puerto Rico San Juan West Mission to the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission, only one full-time missionary companionship serving on Curacao.  Very few if any local members born on Curacao have served full-time missions.

Leadership

A local member appeared to be serving as the branch president in early 2011.  Limited local leadership and poor member activity appears the primary cause for consolidating branches during the past two decades.  Larger numbers of self-sufficient leadership may be developed through the retention of more male members and mission leaders providing adequate training with minimal full-time missionary involvement.  Reactivation may also offer some potential, but efforts to recover lost members have borne little fruit to date.

Temple

Curacao is assigned to the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple.  Temple trips may occur on an irregular basis due to few active members, distance to the temple, and economic constraints.  Political conditions in Venezuela at present appear to prevent local members from attending the Caracas Venezuela Temple.

Comparative Growth

Curacao experienced some of the most nominal rapid membership growth in the Caribbean among islands with fewer than 200,000 inhabitants during the 2000s.  However, such growth appears to be more nominal than real as member activity and convert retention rates rank among the lowest in the region however as manifest by LDS membership in Curacao exceeding the church membership of any other Caribbean island with only one congregation.  The percentage of nominal Latter-day Saints in the general population is representative of LDS percentages in most Caribbean nations.  

Missionary-oriented Christian groups have achieved some of the greatest success in the Caribbean in Curacao, far outpacing Latter-day Saints.  Most outreach-focused groups have had a presence for several decades, operate many congregations, and today experienced moderate rates of church growth.  Curacao has one of the highest percentages of active Jehovah's Witnesses in the world.  Witnesses have a strong presence on the island and operate 22 congregations to minister to the population of 140,000.  Pentecostals and Seventh Day Adventists also report a strong presence and rank among the largest non-Catholic Christian denominations. 

Future Prospects

After more than thirty years of proselytism in Curacao, the LDS Church has to date been unable to sustain more than a single congregation on the island due to high convert attrition and limited local leadership.  On the whole, the LDS Church in Curacao appears to be experiencing little real growth or increase in active membership notwithstanding continued increases in nominal membership.  In 2001, President Hinckley predicted that one day there would be thousands of members in Aruba and Curacao.[9]  Inconsistent mission policies regarding convert baptisms, overstaffing of full-time missionaries to service a moderately receptive, small population, and the perpetual failure to develop greater numbers of active priesthood leaders have frustrated church growth potential.    Implementing a member-missionary approach to proselytism, increasing the number of LDS materials translated into Papiamento, strengthening the mentoring role of mission leaders, and weaning local members and leadership from reliance on full-time missionaries for administrative and ecclesiastical duties may improve the long-term growth outlook.  


[1]  "Netherlands Antilles," Previous Editions of Netherlands Antilles Background Note, 17 March 2010.  http://www.state.gov/outofdate/bgn/netherlandsantilles/154259.htm

[2]  "Netherlands," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148969.htm

[3]  "Netherlands- Antilles," Country Profile, 8 October 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/netherlands-antilles

[4]  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

[5]  "New missions bring total to 347 New missions," LDS Church News, 10 February 2007.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/50112/New-missions-bring-total-to-347-New-missions.html

[6]  "Netherlands- Antilles," Country Profile, 8 October 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/netherlands-antilles

[7]  "Netherlands Antilles," Deseret News 1995-96 Church Almanac, p. 264

[8]  "Netherlands- Antilles," Country Profile, 8 October 2010.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/netherlands-antilles

[9]  Swensen, Jason.  "Prophet teachers, motivates Caribbean islanders," LDS Church News, 24 March 2001.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/39534/Prophet-teaches-motivates-Caribbean-islanders.html