Wednesday, January 15, 2020

District Reinstated in Eastern Finland

The Church reinstated the Kuopio Finland District in a special conference held on January 12th, 2020. Plans to reinstate the district, which was previously discontinued in 2006, were in the works for more than one year. The original Kuopio Finland District was organized prior to 1980. The reinstated district has four branches within its boundaries (Joensuu, Kuopio, Mikkeli, and Savonlinna - three of which were mission branches previously) and a full district president comprised of local Finnish members. A total of 260 attended the special conference to reinstate the district - approximately 100 more people than average sacrament meeting attendance for the four branches five years ago. Active members moving to Kuopio and recent convert baptisms have appeared primarily responsible for the increase in active membership. More information on the district organization can be found here. More information about the Church in Finland can be found here.

There are now two stakes and three districts in Finland.

Updated Country Profile - The Gambia

Click here to access the updated country profile for The Gambia - a small West African country inhabited by two million people whose population is 95% Muslim and 4% Christian. The Church reported 19 members in the country in 2013. There remains no official branch despite widespread religious freedom and the operation of many other Christian denominations in the country. The unprecedented expansion of the Church into traditionally Muslim areas of West Africa since 2016 may indicate the Church will soon establish a presence in The Gambia as well. For example, area leadership noted in 2018 that they had recently visited and met with Gambian members. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The Gambia is one of the most tolerant Muslim-majority nations in West Africa and offers significant opportunity for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to grow due to freedom of religion despite the slow growth of most Christian denominations over the past decade. The recent establishment of the Church in Senegal, Guinea, and Mali has immediately produced good results and rapid growth in fledgling branches and member groups. However, other nearby nations with larger populations may take precedence over The Gambia due to limited missionary resources allocated to Muslim West Africa and the cautious manner in which the Church has expanded its presence in Africa. Gambian members petitioning area leadership to organize a member group in Banjul appears the most likely method that the Church will begin to establish an official presence in The Gambia. Humanitarian and development needs provide excellent opportunities for the Church to serve and establish a presence. Delaying an official Church establishment may result in missed opportunities if religious freedom conditions deteriorate or the population becomes more receptivity to Christianity one day and many join missionary-oriented Christian faiths that have maintained a long-term presence. The placement of even one senior missionary couple in Banjul could offer significant contributions to laying the foundation for consistent humanitarian activity and the initial establishment of the Church. Assignment of The Gambia to a full-time mission, such as the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission, would also permit greater attention and resources to establish a Church presence. Prospects for a future mission one day headquartered in Dakar, Senegal would also likely significantly improve the likelihood that the Church would establish an official presence in The Gambia complete with proselytizing missionaries.

Friday, January 10, 2020

Updated Country Profile - São Tomé and Príncipe

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for São Tomé and Príncipe. The islands are inhabited by slightly more than 200,000 people and number among the few predominantly Christian nations in Africa without an official Church presence. There are good opportunities for growth given the demographics of the country and the Church's historical successes in less populous island nations such as Cabo Verde and the South Pacific. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article.

In a period of Church history with unprecedented opportunities to expand mission outreach in Africa, São Tomé and Príncipe remains a lesser priority due to the lack of local members, remote location, and small Portuguese-speaking population. Nevertheless, the islands present a valuable opportunity for growth given the Church’s historical successes in other island nations such as Cabo Verde and in the South Pacific. Mission and area Church leaders will likely need to conduct additional exploratory trips to assess conditions and search for isolated members. The assignment of even one senior missionary couple may provide an impetus toward establishing a permanent presence and the opening of the islands to missionary work.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Updated Country Profile - Guinea-Bissau

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Guinea-Bissau. Guinea-Bissau is geographically one of the smallest nations in Africa and has a population of only 1.8 million. Guinea-Bissau is one of the few African nations without a Latter-day Saint presence where there is widespread religious freedom and a significant Christian minority (22% of the population). See below for the Future Prospects sections of this article:

The absence of a United States embassy in Guinea-Bissau, limited infrastructure and health care, and ongoing political instability may lead the Church to hesitate commencing formal missionary activity despite dozens of members who reportedly live in the country and widespread religious freedom. The Church’s historical reliance on American senior missionaries to establish the Church in unreached nations appears a major obstacle given these conditions. Security issues also pose potential concerns, although Latter-day Saint missions have long operated in Latin American nations with similar issues. Nevertheless, the Church in West Africa during the mid- to late 2010s promptly obtained government recognition and organized its first congregations in several previously unreached nations within a matter of months or a few years, suggesting that the Church may make similar strides in the remaining unreached West African nations such as Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia. Due to the maturation of the Church in many more established African nations like Ghana and Nigeria, African senior missionary couples may be assigned to the country to assist in establishing a presence. The growth of the Church in nearby Cabo Verde may result in Portuguese-speaking African missionaries being assigned in small numbers to Guinea-Bissau once regional and international Church leaders decide to begin proselytism.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Updated Country Profile - Equatorial Guinea

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Equatorial Guinea - a small nation in Central Africa inhabited by approximately 800,000 people. Distance from the nearest mission headquarters, a comparatively small population, corruption in government, use of Spanish as the primary language for inter-ethnic communication, and a lack of local members who have joined the Church abroad and returned to Equatorial Guinea all appear factors that have delayed the establishment of the Church notwithstanding a predominantly Christian population, no societal abuses of religious freedom, and no legal barriers that prevent a Church establishment. The creation of the Cameroon Yaounde Mission in July will likely be an important impetus for a Church establishment due to more mission resources in the region. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

Definite opportunities exist for the establishment of congregations and mission outreach in Equatorial Guinea, and some Latter-day Saints are known to live in the country. Other denominations have taken advantage of the opportunities for religious freedom and proselytism and have experienced rapid growth, whereas The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not yet utilized these opportunities. Too long a delay may result in missing a window of religious freedom, or entering under circumstances of decreased receptivity due to increasing materialism or an environment in which religious interest has waned and most religious seekers have already been discipled into other denominations. Nonetheless, there appear to be no specific plans for the Church to enter Equatorial Guinea at present. The creation of the Cameroon Yaoundé Mission in 2020 may present an adequate impetus to permit mission and area leadership to seriously consider the establishment of the Church in Equatorial Guinea.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Updated Country Profile - Niger

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Niger. Niger is one of the most populous countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where there The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never had a presence. Distance from the nearest Latter-day Saint centers in West Africa, poverty, low living standards, a lack of Nigerien converts worldwide, political instability, and a homogeneously Muslim population have all appeared to deter a Church establishment. See below for the Future Prospects sections of this article:

Establishing the Church in Niger will be challenging, as there has never been a Church presence in Niger, and there are very few, if any, Nigeriens who have joined the Church abroad. A Church presence in Niger appears unlikely for many more years given poverty, illiteracy, political instability, and a homogeneously Muslim population. The Church appears most likely to establish a presence in Niger once there are multiple Latter-day Saints who live in Niamey and request the Africa West Area presidency for an official Church establishment. Area leadership and senior missionaries can help identify isolated members or prospective members to prepare for a future Church establishment. Religious freedom conditions in Niger are nearly unprecedented among countries where Muslims comprise 99% or more of the population. Expansion of Latter-day Saint Charities humanitarian and development projects may be an effective method to alleviate local suffering and establish a positive relationship between the Church and the government.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Updated Country Profile - Chad

Click here to access the updated Reaching the Nations country profile for Chad. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has never maintained a presence in Chad despite religious freedom in most areas of the country. Poverty, political instability, and extremely few Chadian converts in other countries appear the primary reasons why there is no Church presence in Chad today. Nevertheless, there are good opportunities for growth, particularly in major cities and in southern areas of the country. See below for the Future Prospects section of this article:

The Church in West Africa has seen increasing outreach and expansion into neighboring nations, but prospects for future Church establishment in Chad appeared unfavorable in early 2020. Insurgencies and widespread poverty challenge missionary efforts. Very few Chadians have joined the Church abroad, which has created challenges for the Church to establish itself in Chad. Once greater stability is established, Chad appears a likely candidate for more widespread Church-sponsored humanitarian and development work starting in the southern regions. Such efforts can aim at improving quality of life of Chadians, establishing good terms with the government, and preparing the way for a future Church presence.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Most Encouraging and Discouraging Church Growth Developments for 2019

Click here to access an article I just posted on regarding the 10 most encouraging and 10 most discouraging Church growth developments during 2019.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Church Presence Established in Burkina Faso, West Africa

Mission leadership in the Cote d'Ivoire Yamoussoukro Mission report that the Africa West Area has organized a member group in the capital city of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. Moreover, authorization for the member group to become an official branch was also reportedly received from the area presidency. Burkina Faso has been assigned to the Cote d'Ivoire Yamoussoukro Mission and mission leadership have visited members in Ouagadougou. However, the official branch has not yet appeared to have been organized. The Church is not officially registered with the government at present, but registration appears likely to be obtained in the near future. The first convert baptisms have also recently occurred in Burkina Faso as prospective members have been taught by full-time missionaries over the internet.

The establishment of the Church in Burkina Faso has been long overdue given widespread religious freedom, a sizable Christian minority, small numbers of Burkinabe who have joined the Church abroad, and relatively close accessibility to neighboring countries with a Church presence. Approximately 20 million people live in Burkina Faso. The population is 60% Muslim and 30% Christian. Burkina Faso numbers among two other West African countries where the Church has recently established an official presence (Senegal in 2016, Mali and Guinea in 2017). There remain several countries in the region without an official Church presence and no known member groups or branches, such as Chad, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, and Niger.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

New Stakes Created in the DR Congo, French Polynesia, and the Philippines; New District in Mozambique

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DR Congo)
The Church organized a new stake in the city of Kananga in the Kasai region of the DR Congo. The Malandji Democratic Republic of the Congo Stake was organized from a division of the Kananga Democratic Republic of the Congo Stake and the Katoka Democratic Republic of the Congo Stake. The new stake includes the following seven wards: the Kamayi 1st, Kamayi 2nd, Kananga 1st, Kananga 2nd, Malandji 2nd, Tshinsambi, and Walikale Wards. The Church organized its first stake in Kananga in 2011 followed by a second stake in 2015. Kananga is the third city in the country to have three stakes in it after Kinshasa (11) and Lubumbashi (4). The new stake is the Church's sixth stake in the Kasai region.

There are now 23 stakes and one district in the DR Congo.

French Polynesia
A new stake was organized that includes Tuamotu Archipelago and Tahiti. The Takaroa Tuamotu District was organized into the Faaa Tahiti Takaroa Stake. The Faaa Tahiti Stake, renamed the Faaa Tahiti Tuamotu Stake, was also divided and five wards in the stake were transferred to the newly organized Faaa Tahiti Takaroa Stake. The Faaa Tahiti Takaroa Stake includes the following eight wards: the Ahurai, Farahei, Oremu, Puurai, Takapoto, Takaroa 1st, Takaroa 2nd, and Vairai Wards. Although information on which branches became wards in the new stake is not available on the Church's meetinghouse website, information from the Church's French Polynesia Facebook page indicates that all branches in the former district became wards in the Faaa Tahiti Takaroa Stake, whereas none of the branches in the Faaa Tahiti Tuamotu Stake became wards. This is the second instance of the Church creating a stake or assigning remote island branches to a stake in French Polynesia within the past five years (the first instance was the inclusion of the Austral Islands into the Papeari Tahiti Stake). This decision may have been made to provide local leadership support to outlying branches and prepare for the creation of a stake that solely operates in Tuamotu one day. Tuamotu is home to some of the oldest Latter-day Saint congregations in the world. For example, the Takapoto Ward was originally organized in 1844 and the Takaroa 1st Ward was first organized in 1851. The Community of Christ has slightly more congregations in Tuamotu than The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints per an article I wrote on five years ago. However, Latter-day Saints have a much larger presence on Tahiti than the Community of Christ. Furthermore, Latter-day Saints have reported slow-to-moderate growth rates in French Polynesia within the past decade (increase of 12 congregations and nearly 8,000 members), whereas the Community of Christ has reported a net increase of only two congregations per the Community of Christ's directory to 59 at present.

There are now 11 stakes and two districts in French Polynesia.

The Church organized the Lubao Philippines Stake from the Dinalupihan Philippines District. All five branches in the former district became wards in the new stake, including the Dinalupihan, Floridablanca, Guagua, Lubao 1st, and Lubao 2nd Branches. The original Dinalupihan Philippines District was organized in 1998. The new stake is part of the Philippines Olongapo Mission where the Church has experienced significant progress with the maturation of districts into stakes within the past three years (only one stake in 2016 versus six stakes at present).

There are now 115 stakes and 63 districts in the Philippines.

The Church organized a new district in Mozambique. The Chimoio Mozambique District was created from three branches - two of which were organized the same day as the new district. Branches assigned to the new district include the Baixa, Chimoio, and Soalpo Branches. Chimoio is the fourth city in Mozambique to ever have a district organized after Maputo (2003), Beira (2003), and Nampula (2017). Additional cities appear likely to have new branches organized and have districts created within the foreseeable future, such as Marromeu, Quelimane, and Tete.

There are now four stakes and two districts in Mozambique.