Country reports on the LDS Church around the world from a landmark almanac. Includes detailed analysis of history, context, culture, needs, challenges and opportunities for church growth.
By David Stewart and Matt Martinich
Area: 8,561,506 square km. One of the world's largest regions, Oceania consists of most of the islands in the Pacific Ocean, New Guinea, and Australia and is traditionally divided into three subregions: Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. Volcanic islands are common throughout all three regions and are generally mountainous and tropical with few coastal plains. Flat, narrow coral atolls surrounding shallow lagoons comprise many of the islands in Micronesia and eastern Polynesia. Tropical conditions are constant in most areas and rainfall amounts of frequency vary by location. Active volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones/typhoons, and flooding are natural hazards. Environmental issues include deforestation, soil erosion, fresh water scarcity, rising sea levels, pollution, deteriorating health of coral reefs, and invasive species.
Population: 35,415,893 (July 2011)
Annual Growth Rate: 0.534% (2011)
Fertility Rate: 2.65 children born per woman (2011)
Life Expectancy: 70.42 male, 75.68 female (2011)
Pacific Islander: 25.6%
Languages: English (59%), Oceanic languages (24%), other European languages (4%), Asian languages (4%), other (9%). Only English has over one million native speakers (21.1 million). Languages with less than a million but more than 100,000 speakers include Indian languages, French, Chinese languages, Italian, Greek, Arabic, Vietnamese, Samoan, Maori, Tongan, Enga, Melpa, Tok Pisin, Tahitian, Tagalog, and Kuman.
Literacy: 50-100% (country average: 90%)
Oceania's indigenous peoples have populated the region for several millennia and at times have displaced other indigenous populations on neighboring islands. New Zealand is believed to be the last island group to become populated at around 800 A.D. Europeans, namely the Spanish, began exploring and colonizing Micronesia in the sixteenth century whereas Australia, Melanesia, New Guinea, New Zealand, and Polynesia did not receive regular contact with Europeans until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Only Australia and New Zealand experienced large-scale immigration from Europe resulting in the majority of the population in both nations consisting of white Europeans. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom claimed most of the islands in the region by the late nineteenth century. In the nineteenth century, the United Kingdom brought Indian contract laborers to Fiji to work in the sugarcane plantations and today Indians constitute over a third of the population. The Spanish converted much of the population in Micronesia to Catholicism prior to the twentieth century whereas Christian missionary groups converted virtually the entire population of other nations in Oceania during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Australia achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1901 and New Zealand became independent in 1907. Imperial Japan and the United States captured several Micronesian nations during the first half of the twentieth century primarily in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War and World War I. In World War II, Oceania became the central battleground between Imperial Japan and Allied forces as numerous battles occurred and many island nations became crucial military bases and ports. During the latter-half of the twentieth century, many European colonial possessions became independent sovereign nations, including Samoa (1962), Nauru (1968), Fiji (1970), Tonga (1970), Papua New Guinea (1975), Tuvalu (1978), the Federated States of Micronesia (1979), Kiribati (1979), Vanuatu (1980), the Marshall Islands (1986), and Palau (1994). Other islands or island groups remain under foreign administration, including American Samoa (United States), the Cook Islands (New Zealand), French Polynesia (France), Guam (United States), New Caledonia (France), the Northern Mariana Islands (United States), Tokelau (New Zealand), and Wallis and Futuna (France). Influence of the United Kingdom in Australia and New Zealand has declined since independence. Overall the economy of Oceania remains underdeveloped primarily due to limited natural resources and a small population distributed over large geographical area. In recent decades, there has been some political instability in Fiji, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands due to ethnic rivalries and weak central governments. New Caledonia may become independent from France during the 2010s.
Australia and New Zealand are the most influential nations in the region due to their comparatively large populations, advanced economies, and social integration into the international community. Other nations are isolated from the worldwide community due to their remote location, small geographic size, and tiny populations, which has helped to preserve native cultures and customs. With the exception of more secular Australia and New Zealand, Christianity is the dominant influence on local culture which was introduced during the European colonial period by foreign missionaries. The cultures of Australian and New Zealand share many similarities with the United Kingdom whereas the cultures of Micronesian nations and territories exhibit many similarities with Spanish culture. Australians tend to be socially blunt, honest, and forthright whereas New Zealanders have a reputation for being well educated and living healthy lifestyles. Favorable agricultural conditions in Australia and New Zealand has lead to a visible farming culture. French culture predominates in French Polynesia and New Caledonia. Polynesia and Melanesia appear the areas which have received the least Western influence on local culture as tribalism dominates in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu. Papua New Guinea exhibits extreme cultural diversity notwithstanding a population of just 6.7 million. Many plants and animals are only found on Papua New Guinea. Hindu Indian and Christian Polynesian cultures coexist on Fiji, which has resulted in ethnic conflict. Nations in Micronesia preserve much of their traditional culture, with some islands such as Guam demonstrating hybrid culture due to heavy foreign influence. Non-native peoples in most of Oceania are poorly integrated into society and often comprise higher classes of society outside of Australia and New Zealand as business owners such as many Chinese in French Polynesia. Common foods include seafood, vegetables, cassava, pork, breadfruit, taro, sweet potato, tropical fruits, coconut, and seaweed. Many in Micronesian nations chew the red areca nut (betel) frequently, which is a known carcinogen, stains the teeth, and is addictive. Most societies of Oceania are matrilineal and some are highly stratified, such as in Tonga. The population in many Polynesian countries is overweight as a result of cultural emphasis on eating, consuming high-fat foods, and little social stigma for being overweight. Consumed throughout much of Oceania, kava has mild sedative properties and is drunk in social settings. Rugby and soccer are the most popular sports. Cigarette and alcohol consumption rates in most Oceanic nations are generally lower than world averages. Lawlessness and ethnic violence are serious problems in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
GDP per capita: $9,100 national median (2011) [19% of US], $37,000 population-weighted (mainly reflecting Australia and New Zealand)
Human Development Index: 0.670
Corruption Index: 4.6
Australia and New Zealand are the major economic powers in Oceania as both nations benefit from sizeable numbers of skilled workers, low rates of corruption, a developed, diversified, internationally integrated economy, and abundant natural resources and land. Most other nations in the region do not possess any of these attributes as natural resources are limited and local economies are underdeveloped and reliant on agriculture, remittances, and international aid. Corruption and inadequate skills and education have delayed modernization in some nations with abundant natural resources, such as Papua New Guinea. Outside of Australia and New Zealand, agricultural activity, food processing, tourism, and government jobs account for most of the GDP and work force in Oceania. Many island nations are investing in tourism to spur greater revenue and to diversify the economy, but progress has generally been slow. Fish and timber are common natural resources throughout the region; some nations have exploitable sources of natural gas, petroleum, precious metals, valuable minerals, timber, fish, hydropower, and phosphorus. Common industries include handicrafts, fishing, food processing, tourism, logging, mining, sugar, construction, machinery, chemicals, steel, clothing, shipping, printing, and services for the United States military. Copra, taro, livestock, coconuts, cassava, sugarcane, fruit, rice, grains, vegetables, meat, eggs, betel nut, sweet potato, coffee, cocoa, and pepper are the primary agricultural products. Primary trade partners with Oceania include the United States, Japan, China, Singapore, France, Hong Kong, and Thailand.
Australia and New Zealand are perceived as two of the world's least corrupt countries. Corruption is perceived as widespread and pervasive throughout much of remainder of Oceania as it is difficult for many to separate traditional customs and tribalism from government affairs. Bribery, mismanagement of government funds, and little accountability prosecuting criminal offenses are common challenges. Some nations suffer from lawlessness, weak central governments, political instability, illicit drug use, child neglect, and domestic violence. Corruption appears most severe in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Denominations Members Congregations
Latter-day Saints 455,775 1,131
Seventh Day Adventists 427,082 1,906
Jehovah's Witnesses 96,044 1,249
Christianity is the predominant religion as the percentage of Christians in the population is 90% or more in all nations and territories with the exception of Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, and Vanuatu. Catholics and Protestants each constitute a quarter of the population or more in most countries and territories; the Catholic Church is most visible in Micronesia and in French-speaking areas of Polynesia. Nonreligious and unaffiliated individuals account for large portions of the population in numbers in New Zealand (43.2% and Australia (30%) as both nations are highly secular and these percentages continue to increase. Buddhists in Oceania are concentrated almost entirely in Australia whereas Muslims principally reside in Fiji, New Caledonia, and Australia. Hindus account for over one percent of the population only in Fiji (28%) and Sikhs are found in small numbers in Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand. Many nations have small Baha'i communities. Indigenous religions account for only one or two percent of the regional population and include traditional religions in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and the John Frum movement on Vanuatu. Evangelical and missionary-minded Christian denominations report some of the greatest growth in Oceania through missionary activity whereas Buddhists, Muslims, and other Asian religions report rapid growth through immigration to Australia and New Zealand.
The constitution, laws, or government policies among all nations and territories in Oceania protect religious freedom and are upheld by the government. Although the governments of Oceania are predominantly secular, Christianity is a strong influence on government officials, policies, and laws. Many Christian holidays are recognized as national holidays. Foreign missionaries serve without restrictions, proselyte freely, and in some nations are required to obtain visas and residency permits. Some nations require religious groups to register with the government; there have been no reports of religious groups being denied registration in the region. Some nations permit religious instruction in publics schools and others forbid it. Societal abuse of religious freedom has been minimal in most nations. Muslims, Hindus, and Jews receive some societal persecution or marginalization in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Religious freedom can be limited in some areas of Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu as village elders or the community often dictate whether a nontraditional Christian denomination may operate in their village.
Urban: low (13% - Papua New Guinea); high (93% - Guam and American Samoa)
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Gold Coast, Newcastle, Auckland, Canberra, Wellington, Christchurch, Manakau, Port Moresby, Wollongong.
All 14 cities with over 250,000 inhabitants have an LDS congregation. 48% of the regional population resides in the 14 most populous cities.
The first LDS missionary to serve in Oceania arrived in Australia in 1840 and the first branch was organized in 1844. The first Latter-day Saint couples called to serve as full-time missionaries speaking a foreign language were called to serve in French Polynesia in the 1840s. The Church lost contact with members in French Polynesia in the 1850s and did not reestablish contact until the 1890s. Difficulties with the French government were not ultimately resolved until the 1960s. The first LDS missionaries arrived to New Zealand in 1854 from Australia and principally proselytized Europeans until the 1880s when Maoris were proselytized because of their higher receptivity to the Church. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, church headquarters for the region was relocated from Australia to New Zealand. Church growth was slow in Australia and New Zealand due to low receptivity and the emigration of many converts to the United States. The Book of Mormon was translated into Maori in the late 1880s. Two Hawaiian LDS missionaries attempted to establish the Church in Samoa in 1862 but were unsuccessful. Under the direction of the Samoan Mission, Latter-day Saint missionaries first arrived in Tonga in 1891.
The translation of the Book of Mormon into Samoan commenced in 1900 and the mission divided to create the Tongan Mission in 1916. Church schools were established during the first two decades of the twentieth century in New Zealand, Samoa, and Tonga. World War II disrupted missionary efforts, resulting in the consolidation of many branches dependent on missionaries in Australia and reduced the full-time missionary force to native members serving full-time missions in their native countries such as in Samoa and Tonga. During World War II, the Church began operating in Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Palau but a permanent presence was only established in Guam. In 1946, the Church published the Tongan translation of the Book of Mormon. In the 1950s, the Church was established in Fiji but visa restrictions delayed church growth. In the 1950s, labor missionaries began serving in Samoa and built meetinghouses. The Church College of New Zealand operated between 1958 and 2009. In the 1960s, the Church was established in New Caledonia. In Tonga, local couples served regularly as full-time missionaries until supplanted in 1963 by graduates of the Church's Liahona High School. Liahona High School was instrumental in the establishment of the Church in Kiribati along with the Church's school in Kiribati operating today, Moroni High School. In the 1970s, the Church was established in Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and Vanuatu and reestablished in the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau. In the 1980s, the Church was established in Tuvalu. Elder L. Tom Perry dedicated Papua New Guinea for missionary work in April 1983. Book of Mormon translations were completed in Pohnpeian and Chuukese in 1988. The first member of the Tongan royal family, Princess 'Elisiva Fusipala Vaha'i joined the LDS Church in 1989. The Solomon Islands was the last independent nation to open to the Church in the 1990s. In 1994, Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated French Polynesia for missionary work. In 1996, Elder L. Tom Perry collectively dedicated seven island groups within the boundaries of the Fiji Suva Mission. Missionary activity was disrupted in Fiji and the Solomon Islands due to political instability in the late 1990s and early 2000s. A fire destroyed the Apia Samoa Temple in 2003 shortly before renovations were to be completed, marking the first time in LDS history that an operating temple had burned. The Book of Mormon translation in Yapese was completed in 2004. 22 Latter-day Saints in Samoa perished in the 2009 tsunami. During the late 2000s, the Australia Area and the New Zealand/Pacific Islands Area was consolidated into the Pacific Area, which administers all of Oceania except nations and territories in the Micronesia Guam Mission, which pertain to the Asia North Area.
In 1844, the Society Islands Mission was organized in present-day French Polynesia and became the third LDS mission organized following the British (1837) and Eastern States (1839) Missions. In 1852, the Church closed the mission due to changing government policies and was not able to reopen the mission until 1893. The Australian Mission, also known as the Australasian Mission from 1854 to 1898, was organized in 1851. The Samoan Mission was established in June 1888. In 1898, the Australasian Mission was divided to create the New Zealand Mission. The Australian Mission was split in 1955 to create the South Australian Mission, later renamed the Australia Melbourne Mission. In 1958, the New Zealand Mission was divided to create the New Zealand South Mission which later became the New Zealand Wellington Mission.  In 1968, the Australia West Mission was created and was renamed the Australia Adelaide Mission. The Fiji Suva Mission was organized in 1971. Additional missions were organized in Australia in Brisbane (1973), Perth (1975), Sydney North (1993), and Melbourne West (1998). The Micronesia Guam Mission was organized in 1980 and the Papua New Guinea Port Moresby Mission was organized in February 1992. In 2006, the Church announced the creation of the Marshall Islands Majuro Mission from the Fiji Suva and Micronesia Guam Missions to administer the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, and Nauru. In 2010, missions headquartered in Melbourne West and Sydney North were consolidated with neighboring missions. In 2012, the Church created the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission. The number of missions in Oceania increased from one in 1850 to four in 1900, six in 1960, eleven in 1980, fourteen in 2000, and thirteen in 2010.
LDS Membership: 455,775 (2009)
Membership appeared to be around 20,000 in the 1940s. In 1973, there were 98,558 members in Oceania. Membership totaled 145,441 in 1983, 218,475 in 1987, 303,300 in 1993, 343,600 in 1997, and 373,875 in 2000. There were 418,494 members in 2005. Between 2000 and 2009, membership grew the most rapidly in Vanuatu (196%), Papua New Guinea (77%), the Solomon Islands (66%), and Kiribati (64%) whereas membership declined or grew most slowly in the Northern Mariana Islands (-14%), Nauru (-4%), Niue (-1%), and Palau (10%). The ratio of the general population to LDS membership by country and territory differs significantly throughout the region. LDS membership is most prominent in Kiribati, the Cook Islands, Niue, American Samoa, Samoa, and Tonga as each have one Latter-day Saint per ten or fewer inhabitants. LDS populations comprise the smallest portions of the population in the Solomon Islands (one in 1,913), Papua New Guinea (one in 357), Australia (one in 172), and New Caledonia (one in 136). Australia and New Zealand were the only countries with over 100,000 Latter-day Saints in 2009. In 2009, one in 78 was LDS in Oceania.
Wards: 739 Branches: 392
There were 680 LDS wards and branches in Oceania in 1987. The number of congregations increased to 818 in 1993, 1,004 in 1997, 1,048 in 2000, 1,096 in 2005, and 1,107 in 2009. There were 1,131 LDS congregations in early 2011.
The first stake to be organized in Oceania was the Auckland Stake in New Zealand in 1958. Other countries which have stakes at present provided with the year the first stake was organized include Australia (1960), Samoa (1962), Tonga (1968), American Samoa (1969), French Polynesia (1972), Fiji (1983), Papua New Guinea (1995), Kiribati (1996), the Marshall Islands (2009), Guam (2010). The number of stakes increased from six in 1960 to 16 in 1970, 44 in 1980, 58 in 1990, and 104 in 2000. There were 110 stakes by year-end 2010 as new stakes were organized during the 2000s in Australia (2), Guam, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tonga. In early 2011, the Sydney Australia Parramatta Stake was consolidated into neighboring stakes, become the first stake ever discontinued in Oceania. The number of districts in Oceania numbered 42 in 1993, 37 in 1997, 41 in 2005, and 36 in 2009.
Activity and Retention
The number of active members per congregation varies widely from only a couple dozen in the smallest branches to nearly 200 in the largest wards. Member activity and convert retention rates vary widely by country and subregion, with the highest member activity rates occurring in Polynesia (generally 30-50%) and the lowest member activity rates occurring in Micronesia (generally 20-30%). Member activity rates in Melanesia exhibit the greatest range from as low as 20-25% in Fiji to a high of 80% in Vanuatu. In addition to varying mission policies regarding convert baptisms, cultural attitudes and practices surrounding religion are responsible for differing activity rates by subregion. In Oceania, Vanuatu (80%), Tuvalu (60%), Niue (54%), and New Caledonia (50%) are the nations or territories which appear to have the highest member activity rates whereas Palau (15%), Fiji (22%), Kiribati (25%), and Guam (25%) appear to have the lowest member activity rates. Censuses in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa, and Tonga have counted the number of self-identified Latter-day Saints over the past two decades. The percentage of church members who self identify as Latter-day Saints was 45% in Australia and New Zealand in 2006, 37% in Samoa in 2006, and 32% in Fiji in 1996 and Tonga in 2006. Active LDS membership in Oceania is estimated at 155,000, or 35% of total church membership.
Languages with LDS Scripture: English, Hindi, French, Chinese (traditional and simplified characters), Italian, Greek, Arabic, Vietnamese, Fijian, Samoan, Maori, Tongan, Tok Pisin, Tahitian, Tagalog, Kiribati, Marshallese, Chamorro, Chuukese, Rarotongan, Pohnpeian, Palauan, Yapese, Niuean.
All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in French, Chinese (traditional and simplified characters), Italian, Greek, Arabic, Vietnamese, Fijian, Samoan, Tongan, and Tahitian. All LDS scriptures are available in Rarotongan, but few church materials are translated. The Book of Mormon is available in Bislama, Chamorro, Chuukese, Hindi, Marshallese, Pohnpeian, Tok Pisin, and Yapese. Few LDS materials are available in most these languages whereas Bislama, Hindi, Marshallese, and Tok Pisin have the most materials available. A large number of church materials are available in Kosraean but no LDS scriptures. A few church materials are available in Motu. Only two church materials are available in Rotuman. The Liahona magazine has monthly issues in French, Chinese, Italian, Samoan, and Tongan; four issues a year in Fijian, Kiribati, and Vietnamese; two issues a year in Bislama; and one issue a year in Greek and Marshallese.
In early 2011, there were approximately 700 LDS meetinghouses in Oceania, most of which were built by the Church. Small or recently organized branches often meet in rented spaces, renovated buildings, or outdoors.
Health and Safety
Many small islands have poor access to health care due to their small populations, remote locations, and low standards of living. Cyclones and travel by boat have presented safety concerns. Ethnic violence and lawlessness in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands poses a risks especially for non-native missionaries. Papua New Guinea suffers from the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in Oceania at 1.5% of the population.
Humanitarian and Development Work
The Church has performed large-scale humanitarian and development work in Australia, Fiji, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. In Australia, the Church has provided emergency relief to flood victims, English-language training to non-native speakers, and educational tools to aborigines. A clean water project, job training, and the donation of a sodium potassium analyzer have occurred in Fiji. In Kiribati, a clean water project, emergency relief for those suffering from fresh water shortages, and donating goods for the poor have occurred. Clean water projects and school kit, school book, and wheelchair donations have occurred in Micronesia. The Church donated equipment, materials, and supplies to elementary schools, conducted a clean water project, and provided rheumatic fever prevention in Samoa. In Tonga, a clean water project and a vehicle donation have occurred. Clean water projects, emergency preparation, and medical care personnel have been LDS-sponsored projects in Vanuatu.
Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects
The Church enjoys full religious freedom in nearly all areas of Oceania as there are no restrictions on proselytism, assembly, or worship. There have been no reports of challenges obtaining missionary visas in the region. Latter-day Saints often have a positive relationship with the government which has ensured respect for the Church and its members by government officials and society. LDS mission outreach is somewhat limited in some areas of Fiji, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu as local chiefs and the community as a whole determine whether a religious group is permitted to proselyte and establish a congregation in their village. Tribal conflicts and political instability have limited LDS mission outreach in areas of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
Latter-day Saints benefit from greater religious tolerance and acceptance by Catholic and Protestant communities in Oceania than in most other regions of the world. The Church in some areas struggles to convey its Christ-center beliefs while simultaneously highlighting unique beliefs and practices. Many ethnic groups maintain an intimate connection with Christian and regularly attend church, which has favored LDS mission outreach initiatives over the past century. The importance of family in society has facilitated member-missionary activity and has contributed to self-sustaining growth for the LDS Church in many locations. Secularism and low levels of religious participation among self-identified Christians are the primary obstacles for LDS mission outreach activity among the white population in Australia and New Zealand. Religion is often seen as a private matter for whites and is rarely discussed publicly. Polynesian, Asian, and African immigrants are among the most receptive ethnicities to the Church in Australia and New Zealand as many missions report frequent baptisms among Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, and Sudanese. Several full-time missions operate outreach specifically directed toward Tongan, Samoan, Chinese, and Vietnamese immigrants by assigning full-time missionaries to work with non-English speaking congregations and proselyte in their respective languages. High religious activity among Pacific Islanders results in many from this group already being shepherded in other Christian churches, which can reduce receptivity to LDS missionary efforts. The high degree of religious pluralism among Christians has reduced challenges for local members to assimilate into society and has favored LDS mission outreach efforts nonetheless. The strong sense of community present in most villages can both help and hinder missionary work. Melanesians often face cultural challenges investigating and joining the LDS Church due to deep ethno-religious ties and that major personal decisions must be approved by an individual's parents and tribal chiefs. Leaving the religious group practiced by one's tribe oftentimes results in leaving one's community altogether. The lack of economic development prevalent in much of Oceania brings many hardships to the population and provides humanitarian opportunities for the Church. Poor family history records and traditional beliefs surrounding speaking about the dead are cultural obstacles for family history research among Australian aborigines and among some other ethnic groups in the region. Full-time missionaries have adjusted dress to meet cultural standards, such as in Fiji where missionaries wear traditional shirts called lava-lava.
A major cultural challenge for the LDS Church in Oceania is that the ethnic composition of LDS populations is often not representative of the ethnic composition of the general population. In Fiji, the percentage of LDS members among Indo-Fijian Christians is six times higher than the percentage of LDS members among native Fijian Christians , although only 6% of Indo-Fijians, who constitute 38% of the Fijian population, are Christian. In New Zealand, Maoris accounted for half of the self-identified Latter-day Saint population on the 2006 census but comprised only eight percent of the national population whereas Polynesians accounted for 44% of the self-identified Latter-day Saint population but constituted less than five percent of the New Zealander population.
Kava is commonly consumed in Polynesia and in some areas of Melanesia. Recreational kava use 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. Common in Micronesia, the consumption of Areca nut as a social pastime is openly opposed by Church leadership in the region.
Strong interest in Christianity but moderate levels of allegiance to a given denomination has created additional cultural challenges for Latter-day Saints and other Christians regarding the double affiliation of their members. Most nominal Latter-day Saints that no longer attend LDS Church services and appear to be actively involved in or to identify with other Christian traditions. Doubly-affiliated Latter-day Saints that actively engage in another Christian denomination are challenging to reactivate due to their current social and religious connections outside the church. LDS missionaries, leaders, and members also need to emphasize unique doctrinal teachings and theological positions and ensure that prospective converts have firmly established gospel habits to help safeguard against convert attrition and curb the loss of some Latter-day Saints to other Christian denominations.
Oceania receives excellent levels of LDS mission outreach as a whole as 72% of the regional population resides in a city, village, or small island with an LDS congregation. 90% or more of the population in Nauru, Niue, American Samoa, Palau, Tonga, New Zealand, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Samoa is reached by LDS mission outreach. This figure is particularly impressive in view of the widely dispersed population in small towns and villages across remote islands which are often difficult to access. Among countries and territories that receive LDS missionary activity, only two have fewer than 47% of the national population reached: Papua New Guinea (10%) and the Solomon Islands (9%). Wallis and Futuna, Norfolk Island, and Tokelau are the only territories with over 1,000 inhabitants unreached by Latter-day Saints.
Some of Oceania's most populous nations are among the least reached by Latter-day Saints including Papua New Guinea (second most populous), the Solomon Islands (fifth most populous), and New Caledonia (seventh most populous) largely due to the larger geographic size, more limited mission outreach extended, and missionary activity commencing later than most other nations and territories in the region. Political instability, tribalism, extreme linguistic diversity, poverty, remoteness, few established mission outreach centers, no church-operated schools, and reluctance to assign greater numbers of missionaries are reasons for why national outreach is much more limited in these three nations than elsewhere in Oceania. Advances in expanding national outreach in Papua New Guinea have occurred principally through member-missionary efforts. Many of the unreached population in Micronesian and Melanesian nations reside on small islands with tiny populations which are difficult to reach and do not merit the assignment of a full-time missionary companionship, thereby challenging efforts to expand national outreach in these locations without local member assistance.
In Australia, over three million are unreached by the Church in smaller cities, towns, and rural areas and many of the largest cities have communities which are largely unreached as there are no nearby congregations. Lower receptivity among whites, cultural challenges extending outreach to immigrant groups, and population shifts in Latter-day Saints have challenged efforts to increase the number of congregations in Australia over the past decade. Although the LDS Church is one of the largest religious groups in New Zealand, many know little about the Church and its beliefs and practices due to the disproportionate ethnic and geographic concentration of church membership among minority ethnic groups and small number of members among the majority population of European ancestry. Establishing dependent branches and groups in lesser-reached communities and cities in Australia, New Zealand, and elsewhere in Oceania is an approach which encourages self-sufficiency and may lead to greater increases in LDS congregations year to year and expand national outreach.
In the most reached areas of Oceania such as French Polynesia, the Samoan Islands, and Tonga, LDS congregations operated in all but a couple dozen villages. Possible reasons for why additional congregations have not been established in these villages may include limited numbers of priesthood holders and low member activity in these locations, opposition from the predominant church of the village, logistical difficulties, and other factors.
LDS mission outreach directed towards some Oceanic groups (namely Samoans and Tongans) occurs outside their native country or territory in Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Samoans and Tongans are the most reached ethnic groups by the LDS Church worldwide. In late 2010, there were 91 Tongan-language LDS congregations operating in the United States (73), New Zealand (12), Australia (4), and American Samoa (2) providing outreach to the 80,000 some Tongan-speakers abroad. There were 65 Samoan-language LDS congregations outside of Samoa and American Samoa in late 2010 operating in the United States (38), New Zealand (18), and Australia (9) providing outreach to the 120,000 some Samoan-speakers abroad. In early 2011, there were six Marshallese-speaking branches and two Fijian-speaking branches in the United States and one Niuean-speaking ward and one Kiribati-speaking branch in New Zealand.
The Church maintains an Internet site for Australia and New Zealand, with the latter designated as the site for the Pacific Area. The websites are fully functional and provide links to other Church websites, area presidency messages, national or regional news, and LDS family services. Low levels of internet accessibility in many areas of Oceania reduce the need and utility of expand LDS missionary outreach online. For example in 2006, Internet users accounted for only 15% of the national population in Micronesia.
Member Activity and Convert Retention
The LDS Church reports some of its highest member activity rates worldwide in Oceania notwithstanding that most nations have activity rates of less than 50%. Much of this appears due to cultural and traditional standards and attitudes about personal and communal religious observance and church attendance rather than LDS missionary approaches. The majority of nominal Latter-day Saints appear to identify and attend other Christian denominations in most countries. Many converts who stop attending the LDS Church return to their previous denominations after only a brief acquaintance with the Church; reactivation work has experienced little success. Most nations in Polynesia report nearly commensurate congregational and membership growth increases year to year for the LDS Church, indicative of member activity and stable convert retention rates. Church schools have assisted in the establishment of an LDS community in several nations, but do not guarantee higher rates of church attendance and member activity as Fiji exhibits one of the lowest member activity rates in the region but has had a church school for several decades. Seminary and institute attendance in many areas has greatly facilitated higher member activity and convert retention rates as members develop stronger understanding and conviction of the Church. Reliance on full-time missionaries for proselytism, administrative duties, and reactivation work has likely reduced member activity levels in several Micronesian nations and territories, but the organization of the first stakes in the Marshall Islands and Guam in 2009 and 2010, respectively indicates some improvement in recent years. Nominalism in the Catholic Church and the high degree of ethnic diversity on some islands in Micronesia have also contributed to member activity issues. Infrequent visits from mission or regional church leadership to some islands and nations present the opportunity for local members to become more self reliant but simultaneously present the challenge of maintaining consist and higher standards for convert baptisms, especially if foreign full-time missionaries are assigned.
Poor prebaptismal preparation of prospective converts and quick-baptism tactics have been the primary causes of member inactivity in Oceania. In Australia, high-pressure "Pentecost" mission tactics in the late 1970s in which investigators were rushed to baptism with little prebaptismal teaching and no established gospel habits, resulted in many numerical baptisms but very poor convert retention and severely damaged the Church's reputation in Australian society. Poor convert retention has occurred since the late 1990s in Australia as manifest by few new stakes organized and stagnant congregation growth despite LDS membership increasing by 25,000 between 2000 and 2009. Some Latter-day Saints reside in remote, rural communities with few or no fellow members and may be more prone to become inactive due to the lack of a church infrastructure and isolation. Increasing secularism has also affected Latter-day Saint populations in Australia and New Zealand, reducing church attendance percentages and adherence to LDS teachings. Due to a long-term LDS presence in some areas of Oceania, demographic challenges are manifest as most members are elderly and there are few or no active LDS youth. In Papua New Guinea, violence, poverty, and unemployment present challenges for member activity. Member activity and convert retention appears poorest in the Port Moresby area as there has been no noticeable congregational growth in the city. Member activity rates appear highest in remote, isolated areas likely due to member involvement in missionary activity. A lack of language materials may also have contributed to lower activity rates. Poor relationships between full-time missionaries and some local church leaders has contributed to lower member activity rates in areas of Fiji. Low member activity delayed the organization of stakes in Kiribati. The district president of the Kiribati Tarawa District reported in 1996 that members were hopeful that following the creation of the first stake, a second stake would be organized in 1997 or 1998. This did not occur until 2007.
Perhaps the most important single factor needed to improve convert retention going forward is increased emphasis on establishing basic gospel habits and ensuring that prospective converts have experienced genuine and lasting conversion prior to baptism. In Samoa and Tonga, several factors have facilitated higher member activity and convert retention rates than other nations such as the early establishment of Church-run schools, widespread chapel construction and congregation planting following World War II, government restrictions limiting the number of foreign missionaries, complete self-sufficiency in the staffing of the full-time missionary force, the calling of couple missionaries in the mid-twentieth century, culturally high rates of church attendance in the general population, and the societal promotion of churches. In Australia and New Zealand, proselytism initiatives targeting youth can encourage greater member activity over the long term, especially by increasing the percentage of local members who serve full-time missions. Currently both nations have underachieved their potential church growth prospects among young adults and youth.
Ethnic Issues and Integration
Ethnic integration issues are nearly nonexistent in most of Oceania as the majority of nations or islands have highly homogenous populations and a tiny nonnative or immigrant population. With only a few exceptions, populations speak the official language of their respective nations which has reduced ethnic integration challenges. The Church often has congregations which serve minority groups that do not speak the primary language of the area, especially in American Samoa, Australia, and New Zealand which has contributed to the establishment of the Church among the largest minority groups in these nations. The greatest ethnic integration challenges that have occurred in the LDS Church in Oceania are in Australia, New Zealand, and Guam due to the large immigrant populations of these nations which often exhibit significant cultural differences. In Australia, Asian and African immigrants tend to be the most receptive to the Church but often experience challenges integrating into predominantly white or Polynesian congregations. Middle Eastern and aboriginal peoples are among the least integrated into Australian society and pose the greatest challenges for Latter-day Saints to reach due to cultural differences. Significant ethnic conflict between native Fijians and Indo-Fijians has led to political instability, but these challenges have not significantly deterred the integration of both ethnicities into the same LDS congregations as both groups reported in 1993 that they felt more comfortable around each other in Church than in any other place in society.
There is potential for significant ethnic integration issues in New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon islands due to tribalism and ethnic conflict between the indigenous inhabitants of a given area, new-comers from elsewhere in the country, and non-natives. In the Solomon Islands, the Church will likely face challenges assimilating the native inhabitants of Guadalcanal with peoples who have moved to the island from elsewhere in the country, especially Malaita. In Papua New Guinea, land disputes along the peripheries of larger towns and cities result in increased ethnic tensions which may impact some church members. The Church's extent of national outreach and membership totals in these three nations remain too limited to have experienced noticeable ethnic integration difficulties to date.
The homogenous societies of many Oceanic nations have eliminated language issues for the Church and have facilitated church growth. Many indigenous languages were among the first to receive translations of LDS materials, such as Samoan, Maori, Tahitian, and Tongan. The Church has also dedicated resources toward providing translations of church materials into languages with fewer than 100,000 speakers, including Chamorro, Chuukese, Kiribati, Kosraean, Marshallese, Motu, Niuean, Palauan, Pohnpeian, Rarotongan, Tuvaluan, and Yapese. Combined with inherent receptivity toward LDS teachings and consistent LDS mission outreach, the breadth of church materials and scriptures in Polynesian and Micronesian languages is correlated with church growth outpacing most other areas of the world. With approximately 7,000 speakers worldwide, Yapese is the language with the fewest speakers with translations of LDS materials and the Book of Mormon.
Little progress has occurred in meeting the language needs of Melanesia largely due to extreme linguistic diversity and nearly all languages having fewer than 10,000 speakers. There are approximately 1,000 languages in Melanesia without translations of LDS materials, 827 of which are spoken in Papua New Guinea, 106 in Vanuatu, 70 in the Solomon Islands, and 38 in New Caledonia whereas there were approximately 170 languages with translations of LDS materials worldwide in early 2011. Creole and pidgin languages such as Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinea), Pijin (Solomon Islands), and Bislama (Vanuatu) have helped mitigate the complexity of village societies communicating on a national level and offer opportunities for Latter-day Saints to make preliminary inroads among large portions of the population. Many of these languages are written seldom if at all and literacy rates are low, further challenging the feasibility of providing extensive translations of church materials in these languages. Returned missionaries and local members speaking multiple languages will be a valuable asset in addressing these difficulties. Papua New Guinea is the nation in the region in the greatest need of LDS materials in additional languages. Senior missionary couples in the late 2000s assisted in the translation of some LDS materials into simplified English for use among aborigines in the Northern Territory, but there has been no effort to translate materials into aboriginal languages largely due to the small number of speakers, the lack of written literature in these languages, the small number of Latter-day Saint aborigines, and lack of competent translators.
The Church has also readily organized foreign language-speaking congregations in many nations with sizeable LDS populations, further contributing to church growth in the region. However African, Arab, and Asian immigrants in Australia and New Zealand are poorly reached by Latter-day Saints notwithstanding church materials available in many commonly spoken languages of the home countries of immigrant peoples. English is spoken by nearly the entire population as a first or second language by immigrants, limiting the need for language-specific LDS congregations. Nonetheless, the greater receptivity the Church has experienced among immigrant groups, limited English proficiency among many immigrants, and better cultural and social identification of converts with members of similar backgrounds, has created ongoing needs for non-English congregations and proselytism. In late 2010, Australian non-English-speaking units included nine Samoan, four Tongan, two Chinese, and one Spanish-speaking congregation. Some non-English congregations have been discontinued in recent years as immigrants have become proficient in English and assimilated into Australian society. Additional dependent branches or groups may service speakers of these and other common immigrant languages. Some full-time missionaries are assigned to work with specific language groups, nearly all of which are Asian. Language-specific outreach has yet to occur among European immigrant groups, such as Greeks and Italians, but prospective outreach toward Hindi-speakers appears more likely in the future due to low receptivity among most recently immigrated European peoples.
In nations or territories with a diversity of languages spoken due to heavy immigration or past colonial rule relocating foreign populations, the Church often struggles to meet local needs if more than two or three languages are commonly spoken and if there are few active members. The Church in Fiji and French Polynesia has successfully dealt with these challenges. In Fiji, 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. 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 in Fiji. In French Polynesia, many congregations meet language needs of both monolingual French and Tahitian speakers; full-time missionaries learn both languages. Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have highly eclectic demographics and English, Philippine languages, Chinese languages, and Oceanic languages are commonly spoken. Few active members have challenged efforts to integrate different ethnic groups. The organization of language-specific congregations may provide the greatest prospects toward improving member activity and convert retention challenges in these two territories.
Local full-time missionary manpower in Oceania is among the most resilient and self-sustaining outside of North America largely due to the high receptivity to the LDS Church in the region, past government restrictions which limited the number of foreign missionary visas and encouraged self-sufficiency of local members, the establishment of church schools which have fostered greater member activity and testimony building in youth, and emphasis on seminary and institute attendance. American Samoa, French Polynesia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu each appear self reliant in staffing their respective missionary forces or are nations which export large numbers of missionaries elsewhere as the number of members serving missions exceeds the number of missionaries assigned to their respective countries. Notwithstanding a high degree of self-reliance in these nations, North American missionaries regularly serve in these areas but generally comprise no more than half of the missionary force. A full-time missionary companionship is often assigned to several congregations in nations with high percentages of Latter-day Saints, such as Samoa and Tonga. Most other nations in the region are partially self-sufficient in meeting their local full-time missionary needs as the number of local members serving missions is generally between half and three-quarters of the number of missionaries assigned to the country. Examples of such nations include Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Papua New Guinea. The LDS Church in Australia has strong potential for augmenting the number of full-time missionaries in the region but few young men serve missions at present. The number of members serving full-time missions in Oceania appears lowest in New Caledonia, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu. Involving greater numbers of youth in seminary and institute may increase the number of members who serve full-time missions. Missionary training centers have previously operated in Samoa and Tonga, but only one center appeared to operate in Oceania by the late 2000s in Auckland, New Zealand. Reversing the trend of missionary training center consolidations will be helpful in developing self-sustaining local missionary manpower in less developed nations, such as Papua New Guinea.
Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa, and French Polynesia have supplied regional and international church leadership for decades. Dozens of Australian Latter-day Saints have served as mission presidents, regional representatives, area seventies, temple presidents, and general authorities. Small numbers of local members from American Samoa, the Cook Islands, and Fiji have staffed regional and international leadership positions. No local members appear to have served in regional or international church leadership positions from Guam, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, or Vanuatu.
The Church in Oceania appears self-sufficient in supplying administrative and ecclesiastical leadership on a regional level although low member activity rates and few active male members prevent greater sustainability and self sufficiency in Australia, areas of Melanesia, and Micronesian nations and territories. On a local level, inadequate numbers of active priesthood holders in many areas appear to prevent the organization of additional congregations in lesser-reached villages and cities. Nonetheless, local members lead nearly all congregations in the region and returned missionaries have supplied invaluable leadership experience and service. In Micronesia and Melanesia, lower member activity rates, leadership training issues, and few active priesthood holders have delayed many districts from becoming stakes. Church employees regularly serve in leadership positions in Papua New Guinea due to shortages of capable active priesthood holders with stable work.
The Hamilton New Zealand Temple was the first LDS temple constructed in the Southern Hemisphere and was completed in 1958 to service members throughout Oceania. Additional temples were constructed in Apia Samoa (1983), Nuku'alofa Tonga (1983), Papeete Tahiti (1983), Sydney Australia (1984), Adelaide Australia (2000), Melbourne Australia (2000), Suva Fiji (2000), Perth Australia (2001), and Brisbane Australia (2003). In Australia, the four temples built in the 2000s operate far below capacity and generally hold three or four endowment sessions on days the temples are open. Australian temples are nonetheless well utilized by active members and highly self sufficient. The Suva Fiji Temple is poorly utilized as only two to three endowment sessions are held on days when the temple is open. Temples in Sydney Australia, French Polynesia, New Zealand, and Samoa are moderately utilized whereas the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple appears to be among the busiest in the world outside of North America as in 2011 endowment sessions were scheduled hourly from 5 AM to 7 PM Tuesdays through Saturdays. Several additional temples may be constructed in Oceania over the medium term due to the geographical separation of LDS populations and increasing member activity and temple attendance in some areas. Prospects appear favorable over the medium-term for the construction of a small temple in the Micronesia sub-region to meet the temple needs of members in the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam, and Kiribati as members in these nations must travel inordinate distances to attend the nearest temple at present. Kiribati, Guam, and the Marshall Islands appear the most likely sites for a future temple in the region as each of these nations have a stake. Medium-termprospects for additional small temples appear favorable in American Samoa; Savaii, Samoa; Vavu'u, Tonga; and Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. A temple may one day be built in Auckland, New Zealand due to the large number of LDS stakes in the metropolitan area as members must presently travel outside the city to Hamilton to attend the temple.
Oceania is the most reached region in the world by the LDS Church and the percentage of Latter-day Saints in Oceania is higher than in any other region. Of the ten countries or territories with the highest percentage of Latter-day Saints, nine are in Oceania. Member activity rates are slightly less than in North America but higher than in most other regions. The Church has maintained a missionary presence in Oceania longer than in any other region except for North America and Western Europe. Oceania is one of the few world regions which has a self-sufficient LDS missionary force and sufficient regional church leadership manpower. Congregational and membership growth rates have outpaced Europe but have lagged behind sub-Sahara Africa, South Asia, and East Asia over the past decade.
Non-traditional missionary-minded Christian groups report larger numbers of members than the LDS Church in Melanesia and fewer members in Polynesia and Micronesia. Member activity rates appear higher among other outreach-focused denominations than for the LDS Church in nearly all nations and territories in the region notwithstanding Latter-day Saints number among the largest outreach-oriented Christian groups. This appears largely due to higher standards and greater consistency required for converts to join many of these churches. Jehovah's Witnesses reported one-fifth the LDS Church membership in Oceania in 2010 but maintained over 100 more congregations in the region. The LDS Church and Seventh Day Adventist Church claim roughly the same number of members in Oceania but Adventists operate nearly twice as many congregations. Papua New Guinea accounts for over half of Adventist membership in the region, with 250,000 members meeting in 875 congregations compared to 17,315 Latter-day Saints meeting in 68 congregations. The LDS Church and evangelical groups reported the most rapid membership and congregational growth rates throughout the region in recent years. Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses generally report slow or stagnant membership and congregational growth in most areas of Oceania. Traditional Christian denominations in most nations and territories are declining in adherents. Asian religions and Islam are among the fastest growing religious groups in Australia and New Zealand due to immigration. Pentecostals have ranked among the fastest growing Christian groups since the 1980s in Australia and have a significant presence in Melanesia.
The LDS Church in Oceania continues to demonstrate sustainable local leadership primary due to surplus leadership in Australia, New Zealand, and Tonga and self-sufficient church leadership in American Samoa, French Polynesia, Samoa, and Vanuatu. Polynesia will likely continue to provide strength in missionary manpower in Oceania and beyond notwithstanding its tiny population for decades to come. Additional stakes will likely be organized in American Samoa, Australia, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Tonga over the medium term. The first stakes may be organized in the Federated States of Micronesia and Vanuatu if active membership continues to increase and the necessary threshold of at least 120 active Melchizedek Priesthood holders is reached. Due to stagnant membership growth and few congregations, some stakes may be consolidated in the coming years in Australia and New Zealand. Conditions appear favorable for the construction of additional temples in locations with sizeable, self sufficient LDS populations on islands which currently have no LDS temples.
The outlook for church growth in Australia is poor as the history of the LDS Church in Australia demonstrates that an established, strong priesthood leadership comprised of native members does not ensure strong church growth. Increasing numbers of convert baptisms in New Zealand in recent years may indicate greater efficiency in missionary work but only time will tell whether or not retention rates remain constant or improve. Latter-day Saints appear to have become more socially entrenched in their congregations over time in many areas, reducing their ability to relate with the general population and employ effective member-missionary skills and habits. Dependence on full-time missionaries for investigator finding and fellowshipping has further compounded these issues. National outreach will likely continue to expand in Melanesia, namely in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu due to high rates of receptivity; large, unreached areas that await proselytism; growing numbers and strength of local leadership and missionary forces; and continued use of full-time missionaries from other Oceanic nations in these locations. In Micronesia, additional branches or groups may be organized if the Church gains a presence on isolated islets and atolls. Humanitarian work may offer additional opportunities for further growth. The organization of additional missions in New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands, and other provinces in Papua New Guinea may facilitate greater progress in the coming years.
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