Context for the Missionary Killings in Palau

Shortly before Christmas, three Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) missionaries were slain in Palau. The Republic of Palau is as close as anywhere in Micronesia to two hotspots of radical Islamist guerrilla violence against Christians: the southern Philippines, where Abu Sayyef has “kidnapped foreigners for ransom, often killing them in grisly fashion” since the 1990s; and eastern Indonesia, where the Laskar Jihad waged holy war against the numerous Christian communities there during 1999-2002. (Laskar Jihad reportedly disbanded in the wake of the Bali bombing, but it appears to have simply relocated to West Papua.)

Do these killings mark the spread of terrorist groups into Palau? Apparently not. Instead they signal the spread of another scourge already well-known in urban parts of Asia and the Pacific: crystal meth. Palau has an ice problem, and the killing seems to fit the all too typical pattern of a crackhead burglar surprised in the act.

More on international borders: The DePaiva family members killed were SDA missionaries from Brazil by way of Andrews University in Michigan. Their memorial service was held in Texas, where DePaiva relatives live. Justin Hirosi, the person charged with the killing, is a Palauan whose surname comes from the Japanese given name of one of his paternal ancestors (a pattern common in Micronesia). Audy MacDonald Maldangasang, the fugitive “ice” dealer wanted in Palau who was just arrested in Saipan had arrived there from South Korea in 2002 after fleeing Palau in 2001.

More on international religions: The Micronesian states allow admirable freedom of religion. The State Department’s latest Religious Freedom Report gives the following breakdowns for the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM: Kosrae, Pohnpei, Chuuk, Yap), and the Republic of Palau.

In round numbers, about 55% of the population of the RMI belongs to the United Church of Christ (formerly Congregational), and about 25% belong to the Assembly of God. Fewer than 10% are Roman Catholic, about 2% are Mormon, and fewer than 1% each are SDA, Full Gospel, and Baha’i. Just under 3% belong to another Assembly of God church, Bukot Nan Jesus. There is a large Marshallese community in Arkansas, where the Assembly of God is “over-represented” and its adherents are more likely than others to migrate between Arkansas and the RMI.

In the FSM, most Protestant denominations, as well as the Roman Catholic Church, are present on the four states of the country. On the island of Kosrae, 99 percent of the population are members of the United Church of Christ. On the island of Pohnpei, clan divisions mark religious boundaries in some measure. More Protestants live on the Western side of the island, while more Catholics live on the Eastern side, and most immigrants are Filipino Catholics. There is a small group of Buddhists on Pohnpei. On Chuuk and Yap, approximately 60 percent are Catholic and 40 percent are Protestant.

In Palau, there are 19 Christian denominations. The Roman Catholic Church is the dominant religion, and approximately 65 percent of the population are members. There are Bangladeshi Muslims in the country, and a primarily Catholic Filipino labor force (approximately 3,700 persons).

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