Church History
Bringing the Gospel Home to Kiribati
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Stories of Faith

Bringing the Gospel Home to Kiribati

In 1972, 14-year-old Iotua Tune’s grandmother enrolled him in Auriaria Kokoi Ataria School (AKAS) in Tarawa to provide him more education than was available on their home island. Before school started, however, Tune was hospitalized. At one point, Tune overheard doctors tell his family they did not expect him to survive. “God, my only hope is You,” Tune prayed. “If You spare my life, I promise to be a missionary. I will spend my whole life serving You.”

Tune’s life was spared, and, after two years in the hospital, he was able to start attending AKAS. He soon learned of some students from his school going on to a high school in Tonga. Their principal, Waitea Abiuta, had contacted the Church-operated Liahona High School as part of a vigorous, global letter campaign seeking opportunities for his students to further their education. Having fallen behind the other students his age, Tune was surprised to be selected for the third group of students to attend Liahona. Like many of the I-Kiribati students who went to Liahona, Tune embraced the teachings of the restored gospel and was baptized in June 1975. Four months later, some I-Kiribati converts returned to their country as missionaries. Though Tune was too young to become a missionary at that time, he recognized the opportunity to fulfill his promise to God and accepted a mission call after graduating from Liahona three years later.

When Tune returned home after graduation, the Church in Kiribati was still young but already showed signs of development. A branch had been organized in 1976 on Tarawa, presided over by their former principal, Waitea Abiuta, and largely made up of relatives of the first missionaries. AKAS had been purchased by the Church in 1977 and was later named Moroni High School, patterned after Liahona High School. Tune worked at the school as a religion teacher and construction worker to earn money for his mission. In June 1979, Tune was called to serve as a full-time missionary in Kiribati. By the time he completed his mission in 1981, there were over 500 Church members and many branches throughout Kiribati.

Missionaries in Kiribati

Iotua Tune and his companion serving as missionaries in Kiribati, circa 1979

After his mission, Tune went abroad to pursue higher education and started a family. In 1988 he returned to Kiribati with his family, where he became principal of Moroni High School and the first I-Kiribati to be called as district president. During his service, a day was set apart for fasting and inviting those who were no longer actively participating in Church to return. The members discovered that many members had been wanting to return but were waiting for an invitation. In February 1996, 80 men received the Melchizedek Priesthood, paving the way for the Tarawa Kiribati Stake to be organized six months later.