Beloved in Christ,
Last evening cabinet members and I gathered on Zoom with Tongan pastors in the Greater Northwest Area (GNW) to pray for the safety and recovery of the people in Tonga following the volcanic eruption and tsunamis. They shared the latest information they have heard through media and the few reports received from family and friends in Tonga. As a community, Tongans are dispersed around the world.
“Tonga is home to 106,000 people, but more than double that number live overseas, mainly in the US, New Zealand, and Australia. Remittances from the overseas population have been declining since the onset of the 2008 global economic crisis. The tourism industry is improving but remains modest at under 90,000 tourists per year.” – via Wikipedia
The Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga is the largest religious group on the islands, representing 36% of the population. Christianity was introduced to Tonga in 1822 by Methodist missionaries, pre-dating the arrival of Methodism in the Northwest in 1834, when Methodist missionary Jason Lee arrived at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. Tongans are our spiritual elders, embracing the Methodist movement ten years earlier than Northwesterners.
When Tongans immigrated to the GNW, they turned to The United Methodist Church to establish faith communities. Today Tongans gather for worship in six local churches or fellowships that identify as Tongan and are active members of many more congregations.
I am asking you to do two things before the end of January:
Pray and Act.
1. PRAY for the people of Tonga and their leaders as they work to respond to the immediate crisis. Pray for encouragement in the long, silent waiting; pray for rain to clean the air and settle the ash that has fallen everywhere.
Rev. Sia Puloka reminded us that “What Tonga needs is your love. We haven’t heard. We cannot be there. But Jesus is there. Your prayer to Jesus is what Tonga needs.” Pray for hospitality and shelter for those who have lost their homes. Pray for no more eruptions and for quick repair of the communication cable that is their lifeline to the world.
Pray also for our GNW siblings in Christ and their faith communities as they wait for word of their relatives and friends in Tonga. They reminded us last night that, while we cannot be present, our prayers can still encircle them.
And, as you pray, please go to the Facebook pages of these faith communities or their pastors and post your prayers and words of encouragement. We must open our hearts to share this tragedy with those most affected.
2. ACT to share resources in Tonga’s time of need. We are preparing to help the recovery effort in Tonga, where many homes are destroyed and ash blankets the land, killing crops, polluting air, water, and fish, the primary source of protein.
Rev. Taufoou mentioned that disasters like in Tonga, and Tongans in other countries are used to sending supplies to help their families recover. But, he said, “this will be a long journey. There may be another eruption; now ashes cover the kingdom. We must send relief for more than our families, for the whole Kingdom.”
I encourage you to designate donations to your local church for “Tongan Relief” now. At the same time, we are working to determine the best channel for these funds, perhaps through partners in New Zealand, which can deliver goods to Tonga much quicker than from the United States. Your gifts can be sent to your Annual Conference with this designation and will be channeled for this purpose.
Joining with you in offering prayer and hope,
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky