fter years of leaving the local church deserted and with no Adventist worker, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has recently set foot again in Nikunau, one of the 16 atolls and coral islands forming the Gilbert Islands group in Kiribati, in the South Pacific Ocean.
Kiribati Mission president Luther Taniveke said the Adventist Church owns land where a church and a minister’s house were once located. Due to financial constraints, no minister or lay person has been sent to the island for a period of years, “so the church was deserted,” he said. "Many of [the members] became backsliders."
When Taniveke became president earlier this year, he was keen to see the gospel work resume on Nikunau, so he sent a ministry volunteer, Tekarimwi Bitaa, to the island to build a temporary church.
“We bought him a chainsaw, which he used to cut coconut trees for timber,” Taniveke said. "With the timber, he built a small church for his congregation. He will also put up a small house for a lay person to look after the church and a few members."
Bitaa located the former members and started conducting Bible studies and worshipping with them.
"I visited the island in the third week of November, and we had a good time together, studying the Bible and planning what we want to establish in Nikunau,” Taniveke said.
With financial support from the South Australian Conference — Kiribati Mission’s sister conference — Bitaa is planning to begin theology studies at Fulton College in Fiji next year, so that when he returns to Nikunau, he can help in the ministry there.
The move to return to Nikunau is one more step in recent developments of the Seventh-day Adventist Church across Kiribati. In November 2018, Adventist Review reported that a new radio station is expected to reach 60 percent of the population, in a nation where Adventists have historically struggled to find a voice, leaders said.
In April 2018, the South Pacific Division’s Adventist Record reported on the ways that a church school is making a difference in Kiribati. The recent employment of a full-time gardener and an agriculture teacher “has meant the school garden is now thriving, with plenty of produce for the school kitchen and extra for the community,” it was reported.
Adventist Record also shared that the school is having a big impact on the spiritual lives of the students, with 66 baptized in 2017.
In a visit to the school, Trans-Pacific Union Mission associate education director Mele Vaihola thanked the principal and staff for their commitment despite the many challenges they face, including funding shortfalls and limited educational resources.
“[You] are making a difference in the students' lives not only for today but for eternity, and that is what Adventist education is all about," she said.