Reaching the Nations

Aruba

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 180 square km.  Aruba is a small island in the southern Caribbean Sea north of Venezuela that is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The tropical island is sparsely vegetated, has no rivers, enjoys a near-constant temperature year round, and is covered by flat terrain.  White sandy beaches circumscribe the island, making Aruba a popular tourist destination.  Infrequent hurricanes are a natural hazard. 

Population: 104,589 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 1.457% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 1.85 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 72.47 male, 78.61 female (2010)

Peoples

mixed white/ Caribbean Amerindian: 80%

other: 20%

The population represents a diverse admixture of peoples from the Caribbean and also includes Amerindians, Latin Americans, Europeans, and Asians.[1]

Languages: Papiamento (66.3%), Spanish (12.6%), English (7.7%), Dutch (5.8%), other (2.2%), unspecified/unknown (5.3%).  Dutch and Papiamento are the official languages; English is widely spoken.  Papiamento is the only Iberian-based Creole spoken worldwide.  

Literacy: 97.3% (2000)

History

Arawak Amerindians were the first known inhabitants of Aruba, settling the island as early as 1000 A.D.  Spanish explorers first sighted Aruba in 1499.  Spanish rule endured until shortly after the Dutch overtook neighboring Bonaire and Curacao in 1634.  The English captured Aruba from the Dutch in 1805 during the Napoleonic wars and Dutch control was reestablished in 1816.  A nineteenth century gold rush was followed by the establishment of an oil refinery in 1924.  Tourism developed the economy in the late twentieth century.  Aruba seceded from the Netherland Antilles in 1986, becoming an autonomous entity under the Kingdom of the Netherlands.[2] 

Culture 

Aruban culture shares its greatest similarities with Caribbean and Dutch culture, but immigrants from Latin America, Asia, and Europe have each made cultural contributions to society and cuisine.  Christianity is a dominant influence on society as many attend church.  American influence on society has also increased in recent years as greater numbers of tourists from the United States visit.  Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates appear comparable to worldwide averages.  Divorce rates are high. 

Economy

GDP per capita: $21,800 (2004) [46% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: N/A

Offshore banking and tourism sustain the economy; oil storage and refining ended in 2009.  Approximately 1.5 million tourists visit annually.  Services generate two-thirds of the GDP whereas industry generates one-third of the GDP.  Tourism and transshipment facilities are major industries.  Agricultural activity is limited and includes fishing, raising livestock, and cultivating aloe.   The United States, the Netherlands, and Panama are the primary trade partners.

Corruption appears less prevalent than many Caribbean nations.  Illicit drug trafficking is a concern.  The Aruban population suffers from a high rate of cocaine use. 

Faiths

Christian: 90.1%

Jewish: 0.2%

other: 5.1%

none/unspecified: 4.6%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  84,508

Evangelist  4,288

Methodist  1,255

Jehovah's Witnesses  811  10

Seventh-Day Adventists  755  7

Latter-Day Saints  469  2

Religion

Most Arubans are Catholic (80.8%).  Protestants account for most of the population that identifies with a religious group.  Non-Christian religious groups constitute 5.3% and those that do not identify with a religious group comprise 4.6% of the population. 

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.[3]  There have been no recent reports of societal abuse of religious freedom in Aruba. 

Largest Cities

Urban: 47%

Oranjestad, San Nicolas.

Both of the largest cities have an LDS congregation.  47% of the national population resides in the two largest cities. 

LDS History

The first LDS branch was organized in 1986[4] and full-time missionaries arrived the following year.[5]  The Book of Mormon translation in Papiamento was completed in 1987.[6]  Jurisdiction over Aruba was transferred from one of the Venezuelan missions to the West Indies Mission sometime in the 1990s and later to the Puerto Rico San Juan Mission.  President Hinckley and Elder Dallin H. Oaks visited Aruba in 2001.[7]  Church meetings began to be conducted in Papiamento in 2003.[8]  In 2007, Aruba was assigned to the Puerto Rico San Juan West Mission[9] and in 2010 was assigned the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 469 (2009)

There were 200 Latter-day Saints in 1997, increasing to 256 in 2000.  Slow membership growth occurred during the 2000s as membership numbered 297 in 2002, 320 in 2004, 395 in 2006, and 458 in 2008.  Annual membership growth rates during the 2000s ranged from 2% to 11%.  Membership generally increases between 10 and 30 members a year.  In 2009, one in 223 was LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 2

The first branch was organized in Oranjestad followed by a second branch in San Nicolas 1991.[10]  A third branch was organized in 2004 in Oranjestad but was closed in 2009.  The Oranjestad Aruba District operated from 2004 to late 2009.  In early 2011, there were two branches: the Oranjestad and San Nicolas Branches.  Both branches do not belong to a stake or district and report directly to the mission president. 

Activity and Retention

180 attended a special meeting with President Hinckley in 2001.[11]  The average number of members per congregation increased from 128 in 2000 to 235 in 2009.  Eight were enrolled in seminary during the 2009-2010 school year.  Sacrament attendance in the Oranjestad Branch reached 125 in late 2009 whereas sacrament attendance in the San Nicolas Branch ranged from 17 to 50 in 2010.  Total active membership is estimated at 150, or 32% of nominal church membership.

Language Materials

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

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 Spanish and Dutch.  The Liahona magazine has monthly issues in Spanish and Dutch.

Meetinghouses

In the late 2000s, the Oranjestad Branch met in a church-built meetinghouse whereas the San Nicolas Branch met in a rented home.

Humanitarian and Development Work

LDS humanitarian and development work is limited to service projects sponsored by local LDS congregations and full-time missionaries completing weekly service hours.  

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

In late 2009, missionaries reported that they entered Aruba on tourist visas which permitted them to stay for up to 90 days at a time

Cultural Issues

Interdenominational competition for new converts poses challenges for Latter-day Saint missionaries and members to navigate as it has produced a religious society that encourages denomination hopping.  Consequently receptivity to the LDS Church has been modest.  The unity of the diverse composition of local members has increased the harmony and integrity of LDS congregations despite cultural differences.  Materialism and secularism arising from the tourist industry and European connections may further reduce receptivity over time.  Illicit drug use among many Arubans poses a challenge for LDS mission outreach. 

National Outreach

The entire urbanized population resides in cities with an LDS congregation.  Approximately half the population appears to reside within five kilometers of an LDS meetinghouse.  The small geographic size of Aruba reduces the need for many mission outreach centers.  The operation of four or five LDS meetinghouse would effectively reach the entire population, but limited numbers of active members and mission resources render prospects of opening additional congregations unfeasible at present.  Holding cottage meeting in some lesser-reached communities is a method that offers opportunities for local leaders and full-time missionaries to gauge receptivity by location without utilizing many resources. 

There are no developed Internet resources specifically dedicated to Aruba or Papiamento speakers with the exception of audio translations of General Conference addresses found at http://lds.org/conference/display/0,5234,89-110,00.html.  The establishment of an LDS website in Papiamento for Aruban members to utilize in their finding and member-missionary efforts may increase receptivity and national outreach.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Nominal Latter-day Saint membership nearly doubled in the 2000s, yet due to poor convert retention and mediocre member activity rates there has been no noticeable increase in active membership during this period.  Reaching arbitrary baptismal quotas through quick-baptism tactics, the assignment of multiple missionary companionships per congregation, and distance from mission headquarters have reduced accountability for new converts baptized and perpetuated local members to rely on full-time missionaries for baptizing and retaining new converts and reactivating less-active members.  Consequently the two Oranjestad branches were consolidated into a single unit and the district was discontinued.  Low levels of member activity are further manifest by the extremely low percentage of members enrolled in seminary and the lack of an institute program despite nearly 500 members on the island.  Stressing member participation in seminary and institute may generate more consistent church attendance trends, increase doctrinal understanding among members, provide greater opportunity for reactivation efforts, and ultimately lead to greater self-sufficiency among Aruban leadership. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Missionaries report no significant ethnic integration issues due to the highly eclectic, cosmopolitan society that has embraced ethnic diversity.  Many members speak several languages, providing some accommodation to those that are not fluent in Papiamento. 

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

The Church has historically assigned a sizeable number of full-time missionaries to service a small population despite modest receptivity.  There were eight missionaries assigned to Aruba in 2001.[12]  Eight full-time missionaries assigned to the Oranjestad Branch alone in late 2009.  As a result of the consolidation of the two Puerto Rico missions, by mid-2010 there were four young elder missionaries assigned to Aruba with one companionship per branch.  The current missionary complement to Aruba appears appropriate as missionary resources have been limited and larger numbers of missionaries assigned in the past have likely hurt self-sufficiency and member-missionary involvement.  Few local members have served full-time missions.  Emphasis on seminary and institute attendance and missionary preparation classes may increase the number of Arubans that serve full-time missions. 

Leadership

Local members appear to lead both branches, but active priesthood holders  and total active membership remains too limited to maintain additional congregations or a district.  A lack of returned missionaries to facilitate the establishment of enduring local leadership is a major challenge.  Fewer numbers of full-time missionaries assigned to Aruba may improve local leadership development as local members are forced to take on additional church administration duties.  Both branches reporting directly to the mission president, offering greater interaction and training from mission leaders.  

Temple

Aruba 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

Aruba has demonstrated low to modest receptivity to the LDS Church like much of the Caribbean in recent years.  Member activity rates, membership and congregational growth rates, local leadership development, and the percentage of Latter-day Saints in the general population are representative of the region.  Aruba has one of the lowest percentages of members enrolled in seminary and institute worldwide.  Convert retention rates rank among the lowest for the Caribbean.

Most outreach-oriented Christian groups report a strong presence on Aruba with several congregations and slow to moderate church growth.  Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses conduct widespread mission outreach and report slow membership growth.  Evangelicals have achieved the greatest growth among missionary-minded Christians in recent years. 

Future Prospects

In 2001, President Hinckley predicted that one day there would be thousands of members in Aruba and Curacao and more chapels would be needed on Aruba.[13]  This prediction remained unrealized as of early 2011 due to mediocre member activity levels, poor convert retention, and inadequate numbers of active priesthood holders to staff a district and additional branches.  Introducing the institute program and stressing member-missionary work may increase the prospects of a self-reliant, sustainable LDS community capable staffing local church administration and full-time missionary needs.  Increasing secularism and competition for converts among missionary-oriented Christians may further reduce receptivity over the medium term. 


[1]  "Background Note: Aruba," Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 11 May 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/22491.htm

[2]  "Background Note: Aruba," Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, 11 May 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/22491.htm

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

[4]  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

[5]  "Aruba," Country Profile, retrieved 3 February 2011.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/aruba

[6]  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

[7]  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

[8]  "Aruba," Country Profile, retrieved 3 February 2011.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/aruba

[9]  "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

[10]  "Aruba," Country Profile, retrieved 3 February 2011.  http://beta-newsroom.lds.org/country/aruba

[11]  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

[12]  Hinckley, Gordon B.  "The Miracle of Faith", Ensign, May 2001, 67

[13]  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