Country information: Tonga

Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 121,000; Members, 54,672; Stakes, 17; Wards, 126; Districts, 2; Branches, 39; Missions, 1; Temples, 1; percent LDS, 45, or one in 2.2;Pacific Area; Tonga Nuku'Alofa Mission.

In the western South Pacific, the kingdom of Tonga is a constitutional monarchy whose population speaks Tongan and English. Tongans are Free Wesleyan, Latter-day Saints, Roman Catholic, Church of Tonga, and Free Church of Tonga.

The first Latter-day Saint missionaries to Tonga were Brigham Smoot and Alva J. Butler, sent by Samoan Mission President William O. Lee. They arrived on 15 July 1891 and soon met with King Jiaoji (George) Tubou and received permission to preach. They acquired property, erected a mission home and school, and purchased a boat to travel between islands. The first convert was Alipate, who was baptized on 15 July 1892. However, the mission made little progress and was closed in 1897.

Missionary work resumed in 1907 by William O. Facer and Heber J. McKay under the direction of the Samoan Mission. They opened a school in Nieafu on the island of Vava'u, and by 1908, there were 28 day students and 13 night students. Facer later went to Ha'alaufuli where he was successful in organizing a branch with 32 converts. Missionary work opened on the main island of Tongatapu on 17 March 1911, and by December 1912, a meetinghouse and school had been completed and a conference organized. The Tongan Mission was reopened on 11 May 1916 with the arrival of a new mission president, Willard L. Smith.

Tonga became a protectorate of Great Britain following World War I and missionaries experienced problems obtaining visas. Consequently, the number of missionaries in Tonga declined. In 1921, Elder David O. McKay of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Tonga, but was quarantined on a nearby island for 11 days before he was allowed to enter the country. This hindrance was the result of anti-Mormon influences on Tongan government officials, culminating in passage of an exclusion law in June 1922. It prohibited Latter-day Saints from entering Tonga. The continued denial of visas to missionaries led to the calling of locals to do missionary work and serve in positions of leadership. The exclusion law was repealed in 1924 due to the efforts of mission president M. Vernon Coombs. Shortly after the law's repeal, Coombs obtained a property lease on which he started a school, called The Makeke school, meaning "arise and awake." It opened in 1926 and became the foundation for an enlarged school system in later years. The use of local missionaries continued through the 1930s and 1940s.

Elder George Albert Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve visited Tonga 10 May-8 June 1938. His encouragement and teaching had an inspiring effect on the missionaries and members resulting in 117 new members being baptized in 1938. The Tongan Mission did not have more than 100 convert baptisms in a given year until 1954.

All foreign missionaries were called home during World War II, but many Latter-day Saint servicemen were stationed on Tongatapu and attended local meetings. After the war, foreign missionaries were once again restricted from entering Tonga, with the exception of the mission president and his family. Publication of the Book of Mormon in 1946 helped strengthen the Church. Membership in Tonga in 1946 was 2,422. Mission presidents called local missionaries in what became one of the most successful local missionary programs in the Church.

Much of the progress on the islands has been through Church schools. The establishing of schools in 1892 and 1908 proved significant, and led to other schools starting. The Makeke School was the principal method of advancing the Church for many years. In 1947, the Church obtained the lease on a 276-acre plantation outside of Nuku'alofa not far from Makeke to build an expanded school campus named "Liahona." Liahona High School opened in 1952. Building the school represented the beginning of the Church's labor missionary program and probably the catalyst for expansion of the Church in Tonga.

There was a great contrast between David O. McKay's visit to Tonga as an apostle in 1921 and his visit as president of the Church in January 1955, when he received a welcome that was ordinarily reserved for royalty and nobles. During his brief stay, President McKay prophetically stated to the Tongan Saints in Vava'u, "Do you know what I saw today, in vision? A temple on one of these islands, where the members of the Church may go and receive the blessings of the temple of God. You are entitled to it." Between 1952 and 1968, the Church in Tonga grew from 3,280 members to almost 12,000, due in part to strong local priesthood leadership in the branches, the reputation of Liahona High School in attracting non-Mormon youth to attend – a high percentage of which eventually joined the Church – and the training of unmarried young Tongans to serve on local missions. The Nuku'alofa Stake, Tonga's first stake, was created on 5 September 1968 with Orson H. White as president. After that, the Church in Tonga was led almost exclusively by local members, including its mission, many of the schools, and the stakes.

President Spencer W. Kimball visited Tonga in February 1976 and spoke to 10,600 members at an area conference in Nuku'alofa. The Tonga Nuku'alofa Temple, located adjacent to Liahona High School, was dedicated 9-11 August 1983. In 1991, Tongan Saints celebrated the centennial of the Church in Tonga that included a dance festival in which 3,000 youths performed for King Taufa'ahau Topou IV. President Gordon B. Hinckley visited Nuku'alofa on 14 October 1997 and spoke to some 11,400 people and met with Tonga's King Taufa'ahau Topou IV.

In 2002, membership reached 49,719.

Sources: R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea, 1986; David W. Cummings, Mighty Missionary of the Pacific, 1961; "Celebrating 100 Years in Tonga," Church News, 31 August 1991; Gerry Avant, "Prophet Goes to Islands of the Pacific," Church News, 25 October 1997; Tongan Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Samoan Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives.

Stakes — 17

(Listed alphabetically as of Oct. 1, 2009.)

No. / Name / Organized / First President

Pacific Area

2174 / Eua Tonga / 26 Feb 1996 / Tuifio Finau

1430 / Ha'apai Tonga / 14 Jun 1983 / Fanongonongo Vaitai

737 / Neiafu Vava'u Tonga / 4 Dec 1975 / Mosese Hetau Langi

1172 / Neiafu Vava'u Tonga North / 27 Aug 1980 / Mosese Hetau Langi

2092 / Neiafu Vava'u Tonga West / 27 Aug 1995 / Tukia'i Vava'u Havea

463 / *Nuku'alofa Tonga

Nuku'alofa / 5 Sep 1968 / Orson Hyde White

1986 / Nuku'alofa Tonga Central / 31 Jul 1994 / Filimone Fie'eiki

550 / *Nuku'alofa Tonga East

Nuku'alofa East / 21 Jul 1971 / Viliami Pele Folau

2175 / Nuku'alofa Tonga Ha'akame / 10 Mar 1996 / Sosaia Lehonitai Mateaki

2083 / Nuku'alofa Tonga Halaliku / 3 Aug 1995 / Staleki Tonga Faemani

2806a / Nuku'alofa Tonga Harbour / 22 June 2008 / Hakeai Vehekie Piutau

1173 / Nuku'alofa Tonga Liahona / 31 Aug 1980 / Vaikalafi Lutui

2188 / Nuku'alofa Tonga Mu'a / 21 Apr 1996 / J. William Harris

1445 / Nuku'alofa Tonga North / 9 Oct 1983 / Sione Moala Fineanganofa

519 / *Nuku'alofa Tonga South

Nuku'alofa South / 26 Jul 1970 / Tevita Folau Mahuinga

1431 / Nuku'alofa Tonga Vaini / 15 Jun 1983 / Samuela Iloa

520 / *Nuku'alofa Tonga West

Nuku'alofa West / 26 Jul 1970 / Orson H. White

Mission — 1

(As of Oct. 1, 2009; shown with historical number.)


P.O. Box 58

Nuku'Alofa, Tonga

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