Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 11,870; Members, 1,834; Districts, 1; Branches, 5; Percent LDS, 6.5, or one in 15; Pacific Area; New Zealand Auckland Mission.
Located in the South Pacific, about 400 miles southwest of French Polynesia, the Cook Islands are self-governing, and 75 percent of the population are Protestants. The islands, 13 of which are inhabited, maintain close ties with New Zealand.
On 11 May 1843, Joseph Smith called Addison Pratt on a mission to the Pacific Islands. Pratt was joined by Noah Rogers, Benjamin F. Grouard and Knowlton F. Hanks. In the course of their missionary work, Rogers briefly visited Mangaia of the Cook Islands in May 1845. Sidney A. Hanks, a missionary who arrived later, preached on Tongareva (also called Penrhyn or the present-day Maori name of Mangarongaro) in 1857. The next missionary visit to the Cook Islands wasn't until 1899 when Osborne J. P. Widtsoe and Mervin W. Davis arrived in Rarotonga on 23 May.
However, with no converts after numerous attempts to establish the Church, missionaries were withdrawn in November 1903. There was no known missionary work done there for the next 40 years. During World War II, Matthew Cowley, then president of the New Zealand Mission, assigned Fritz Bunge-Kruger, a New Zealander who had lived in Avarua on Rarotonga from 1940-1942, to help establish the Church on the Cook Islands. He returned to Rarotonga with his wife Maudina. Their first converts were Samuel Glassie and his family, who were baptized on 12 May 1942.
Trevor and Mildred Hamon arrived on Rarotonga on 12 September 1946 and were later joined by Donlon DeLaMar on 8 January 1947 and John L. Sorenson on 9 April 1947. A branch was created on 6 October 1946 at Mauri Enua. Meetings were also held in Avarua.
Matthew Cowley was the first General Authority to visit the Cook Islands on 28 June-2 July 1947. The islands had been part of the New Zealand Mission from 1942 until 17 July 1954 when they became part of the Samoan Mission. President David O. McKay made a one-hour visit with Church members in Rarotonga on 17 January 1955 when his plane made a refueling stop at Aitutaki on his way to Tahiti.
Although a number of meetinghouses had been built in the Cook Islands, they were mostly native hut-like structures. The use of labor missionaries in building more permanent structures commenced in 1955 with a meetinghouse built in Avatiu that was dedicated on 25 November 1955. A meetinghouse was also built in Aitutaki and was dedicated on 18 October 1958. The Rarotonga Mission was organized by Elder John Longden, Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve, with Joseph R. Reeder as president on 20 November 1960. Mission headquarters were established in Avarua. The new mission had six branches. During the six years that followed, two branches were added; a 38-acre farm was leased; meetinghouses were built at Arorangi, Titikaveka, and Ngatangii; a monthly bulletin was published; and the Book of Mormon was translated into Cook Islands Maori and published in 1966. On 17 April 1966, the Rarotonga Mission was discontinued. That same day the Cook Islands Rarotonga District was created covering the same territory as the mission. It came under the direction of the New Zealand Mission and later the New Zealand North Mission.
The islands became part of the Fiji Mission in 1971, the Tahiti Papeete Mission in 1975, and have remained part of the New Zealand Auckland Mission since 1 January 1981. President Spencer W. Kimball visited Rarotonga in February 1981 during his trip to the South Pacific and held a short service with members in an airport hangar.
In 1990, the Cook Islands issued a series of postage stamps featuring the first missionaries of various denominations to the islands. The LDS stamp featured a rendition of Osborne J. P. Widtsoe in the foreground and a drawing of an LDS meetinghouse in the background. In September 1996, Church members celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Church in the Cook Islands. During the four-day celebration, members participated in dances, exhibits, sporting events, district conference, and a special fireside. In 2001, the Church distributed more than 3,000 dental care kits to school children of Rarotonga. The effort to improve the children's dental hygiene was begun by Richard Anderson, a dentist serving a Church-service mission in Rarotonga.
In 2002, membership reached 1,369.
Sources: R. Lanier Britsch, Unto the Islands of the Sea, 1986; Dell Van Orden, "New Day Dawns for Temples in Pacific," Church News, 28 February 1981; "Island Stamp Honors LDS Elder," Church News, 23 June 1990; John L. Hart, "He Kept His Promise to Repay the Lord," Church News, 29 August 1992; "Anniversary Marks Progress in Country," Church News, 23 November 1996; "Toothbrushes Bring Smiles to Faces of School Children on Cook Island," Church News, 1 December 2001; "Cook Islands: A Legacy of Faith," Church News, 6 September 2003; New Zealand Auckland Mission, Cook Islands missionary history, 1990, Church Archives; Rarotonga Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives.