Reaching the Nations

Tuvalu

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 26 square km.  Comprising nine low-laying, narrow coral atolls in the South Pacific Ocean, Tuvalu is located in Polynesia between Hawaii and Australia.  Tropical climate occurs year round modified by a rainy season from November to March.  Sea level rise and tropical storms are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include inadequate fresh water supplies, beach erosion, damage to forest undergrowth, and coral reef damage.

Population: 10,472 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.659% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 3.14 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 62.36 male, 66.51 female (2010)

Peoples

Polynesian: 96%

Micronesian: 4%

Tuvaluans populate eight of the nine atolls and are a Polynesian ethnic group.  The island of Nui is populated by Kiribati, which are of Micronesian ethnic stock.

Languages: Tuvaluan (93%), Kiribati (7%).  Tuvaluan and English are official languages.  

Literacy: N/A

History

Polynesians are believed to have first settled Tuvalu as early as 1000 B.C.  Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to sight the islands in the sixteenth century.  Greater interaction with Europeans occurred in the nineteenth century, who named Tuvalu the Ellice Islands.  Hundreds of islanders were kidnapped in 1863 to labor in guano mines in Peru.  The British began administering Tuvalu in the late nineteenth century as a protectorate and as part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony between 1916 and 1974.  United States military utilized the islands for airbases during World War II for the Pacific campaign against Imperial Japan.  Initiated mainly by ethnic differences, Tuvalu voted to become a separate dependency of the United Kingdom from the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati) in 1974 and achieved independence in 1978.  Tuvalu gained four additional islets previously claimed by the United States in 1979 through a friendship treaty.[1]  Concerned about increasing sea levels, the government appealed in 2000 to New Zealand and Australia to accept the islands' population if the islands become uninhabitable.

Culture 

The Church of Tuvalu is the dominant social and cultural influence.  Families are assigned specific skills or tasks to perform for the community and island elder councils dictate many aspects of village life.  Traditional foods include seafood, coconut, fruit, pork, and a swamp crop similar to taro called pulaka.  Soccer, volleyball, and rugby are the most common sports.[2]  Alcohol consumption rates are very low.  

Economy

GDP per capita: $1,600 (2002) [3.38% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: N/A

The economy relies on remittances, fishing, and international aid to operate due to the islands' tiny population, remote location, poor soil, and lack of natural resources.  Nearly all food and fuel is imported.  Fishing and exploitation of the sea and reefs employ nearly the entire work force.  Services generate 56% of the GDP whereas industry and agriculture generate 27% and 17% of the GDP, respectively.  Coconuts and fish are agricultural products.  There have been some allegations of corruption among government officials.  

Faiths

Christian: 97%

Baha'i: 3%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Church of Tuvalu  9,530

Tuvalu Brethren (charismatic)  300

Seventh Day Adventists  167  1

Latter-day Saints  134  1

Catholic  105

Jehovah's Witnesses  67  1

Religion

Nearly the entire population is Christian.  91% of Tuvaluans adhere to the Church of Tuvalu, a denomination with historic ties to the Congregational Church in Samoa.  The traditional chiefs of all nine island groups are members of the Church of Tuvalu.  Other prominent Christian denominations include Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Catholics.  Nanumea Island supports a large Baha'i community.[3]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  The Church of Tuvalu is the state church but the constitution provides for separation of church and state.  A new religious group with over 50 members must register or may be prosecuted.  Several Christian holidays are recognized national holidays.  Missionaries may proselyte on some islands.  Traditional island elder councils on some islands have formally and informally banned proselytism by religious groups not already operating on their respective island.   There has been some persecution of the Brethren Church on Nanumanga and the Church of Tuvalu heavily influences social and political conditions.[4]

Largest Villages

Urban: 49%

Alapi, Fakaifou, Senala, Teone, Vaiaku, Motufoua, Teava, Lofeagai, Tekavatoetoe, Aulotu.

Villages listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the ten largest villages has an LDS congregation.  60% of the national population resides in the ten largest villages.

LDS Background

The first known Tuvaluan LDS converts joined the Church while attending Liahona High School in Tonga and Moroni High School in Fiji.  By the mid-1980s, there were approximately two dozen members living in Funafuti.  The president of the Micronesia-Guam Mission visited in 1984 and organized the first congregation the following year.  The Church gained legal recognition and performed the first baptisms in Tuvalu by the end of 1985.[5]  Church membership grew slowly in the 1990s and 2000s from 91 in 2000 to 100 in 2005 and 134 in 2009.  The Fiji Suva Mission began administering Tuvalu in the 1990s.  Elder L. Tom Perry collectively dedicated Tuvalu with several other islands in the Fiji Suva Mission in 1996.[6]  Full-time missionaries were removed from Tuvalu in the mid-2000s and were reassigned in September 2010.  67 were attending church services in September 2010, which included several nonmembers.  Nearly 100 were attending church meetings in late 2010 and by early 2011 approximately two dozen new converts had been baptized.  Nationwide active membership is estimated at 80, or 50-60% of total church membership.  Local members utilize Samoan translations of LDS scriptures; Tuvaluan translations of a few basic church materials are available.  The Funafuti Tuvalu Branch likely meets in a renovated building or rented space.  Two full-time missionaries were assigned to the branch in early 2011.  Tuvalu is assigned to the Fiji Suva Temple district.

Opportunities

Latter-day Saints benefit from religious freedom on Funafuti Atoll, allowing for LDS mission outreach to occur among 47% of the national population.  The highly political and socially-intertwined Church of Tuvalu has reduced receptivity to other Christian denominations and presents a challenge for LDS mission efforts to address, but full-time missionaries reported no major challenges teaching, finding, baptizing, and retaining new converts on Funafuti in late 2010 and early 2011 due to these issues. Isolation from mission leadership has fostered self-sufficiency as a local member served as branch president in early 2011.  Developing habitual church attendance before baptism has resulted in moderate to high levels of member activity and convert retention.  Latter-day Saints have yet to explore humanitarian and development projects in Tuvalu to address low standards of living and to improve the awareness and the public image of the Church.  The Articles of Faith and the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith are the only LDS materials translated into Tuvaluan.

Challenges

Expanding national outreach to some islands may face opposition from traditional island elder councils that forbid nonlocal religious groups from proselytism.  Allocation of LDS mission resources on additional islands is currently unfeasible due to limited numbers of full-time missionaries and, with the exception of Vaitupu Atoll, other atolls have fewer than 1,000 inhabitants.  Full-time missionaries report that local members' understanding of LDS materials in Samoan is limited.  With approximately 10,000 speakers and few qualified translators, prospects for future LDS scriptures appear unlikely whereas future translations of other LDS materials into Tuvalu are possible in the coming years.  Few local members have served full-time missions and leadership training has been limited.  The introduction of the seminary and institute programs may increase the number of members serving full-time missions and facilitate understanding of LDS teachings and strengthen testimonies.  Other missionary-minded Christian groups report significant church growth challenges on Tuvalu largely due to the impact of the Church of Tuvalu on receptivity.  Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses report stagnant membership and each operated one congregation in 2010.

Prospects

Rapid membership growth in late 2010 and early 2011 marked by over two dozen convert baptisms within a period of a few months is a positive development that may indicate a breakthrough reaching the Tuvaluan population.  Time will tell whether new converts will remain active, increased membership growth will be sustained, and additional congregations will be organized as greater numbers of local priesthood leaders are trained.  Restricting the number of LDS missionaries to a single companionship may be in the best interests of maintaining local member involvement in missionary work and leadership until additional congregations are organized.


[1]  "Background Note: Tuvalu," Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 31 August 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/16479.htm

[2]  "Tuvalu," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 24 February 2011.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuvalu

[3]  "Tuvalu," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148901.htm

[4]  "Tuvalu," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148901.htm

[5]  "Tuvalu," Country Profile, 10 June 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/country/tuvalu

[6]  Orden, Dell Van.  "Elder Perry creates first Kiribati stake, dedicates islands," LDS Church News, 21 September 1996.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/27921/Elder-Perry-creates-first-Kiribati-stake-dedicates-islands.html