Vanuatu is a lush, tropical country of more than 82 islands in the South Pacific. The Ni-Vanuatu, as the people of these islands are called, have a willingness to hear the teachings of the gospel, and many of these friendly people are joining the Church.
From a small beginning in 1973 with a handful of missionaries and a few member families from Samoa and Tonga, there are now approximately 1,400 members in two districts and nine branches scattered over five of Vanuatu’s islands: Éfaté, Tanna, Espiritu Santo, Ambae, and Malakula. In 14 seminary classes and four institute classes, young members are learning doctrines of the gospel. About 30 missionaries, including several natives, currently serve in Vanuatu.
Things have not always been so promising for the Church here. In 1981 the Vanuatu government told the missionaries to leave the country. But, as Paul Hilliman, president of the Port-Vila District explains, missionary work went on as members continued to share the gospel with friends and family. Edwin Basil, who joined the Church with his family in 1982, helped convince the country’s prime minister to allow missionaries to return, which they did in 1986.
President Berry Taravaki Vigouroux is the president of the Luganville District, which includes the islands of Espiritu Santo, Ambae, and Malakula. He has hopes for great growth in the Church in Vanuatu and is working to move the work forward. “I’m trying to push hard. It’s the Lord’s work, and we want to establish His kingdom,” he says. He was baptized in 1991 and sustained as the district president in 1999. He and his family and other district members plan to go to the new Suva Fiji Temple.
Bislama, a pidgin English, is spoken in Vanuatu, along with over 100 island languages. Work on translating the Book of Mormon and other Church materials into Bislama is in progress. For three years Mariella Kaun, a member of the Port-Vila First Branch, Port-Vila District, has been translating Church materials, including the monthly First Presidency message and visiting teaching message. “When we translate the monthly messages and other materials, the members understand the principles of the Church better and they understand the teachings of Jesus Christ better. They try to improve their lives,” she says. Sister Kaun anticipates increased Church growth when the Book of Mormon is completed.
In September 2000 the first young adult conference was held in the capital city of Port-Vila, bringing together 110 young members from five islands. Over two and a half days, this group performed service projects, danced and sang, participated in workshops, attended church, and received counsel from Elder Jean Tefan, an Area Authority Seventy. For the first time these young adults were able to mingle with a large group of Latter-day Saint youth from other islands.
Getting an education is a challenge young people face in Vanuatu. Many students go through grade six but then are unable to continue, often because of lack of money for school fees. The recent announcement of the Perpetual Education Fund has brought great hope for young members here. “I have always dreamed of continuing my education, but I wondered how I could achieve it,” says Obediah Massing of the Port-Vila District. “My family cannot afford to give me financial support, so I thought I would never get the chance. But when I learned about the PEF, I was thrilled. I know it is the Lord’s way to help His children. I am so grateful.”—Connie and Ralph Andersen, Cascade Fifth Ward, Orem Utah Cascade Stake