I spent much of last week in Tonga at the invitation of a ministry based in the Southern Presbytery called 3D Disciples. This is a magnificent disciple making ministry planted by John and Heather Gullick of Riversdale. John has been the Presbyterian minister there for over 30 years and has maintained a lively and active parish for all of that time. He and Heather are a wonderful team and they have continued to bring people to Christ and disciple them through all of those years.
The 3D model is similar to other models which use a mix of classroom based teaching with practical field based experience usually in a place which is quite different from their home background. This both removes distractions and allows students to experience the dislocation of a cultural shift which creates space for them to rely on God more.
I went up as Moderator to both visit the base they have in Tonga and to make contact with various church leaders up there to highlight to work of 3D. It was, frankly, a God-moment for me.
Tonga is still a world immersed in a Christendom model. From the royal family to many of the government ministers, the public servants and so on down – acknowledgement of God’s role in their lives is a top priority. I spoke twice at the two prisons on Tonga. On both occasions the prisoners welcomed us by bursting out into a beautiful Tongan hymn in perfect 4 part harmony sung with magnificent voices and significant emotion and meaning. It was an incredible display of how deeply the Christian faith has been allowed to mold and shape the character of the nation and, frankly, it is good.
Are there the usual signs of normal human inconsistency and hypocrisy; of syncretism and shallow faith? Of course. But these are significantly outweighed by the incredible fruit a deeply Christian up bringing provides the majority of Tongans. Prayer is second nature. Scripture is referred to and woven into the fabric of their behaviour at every level of life. Love of neighbour is practiced even on the verdant battlefields of Rugby League over there where the hits are ferocious and tempers clearly become frayed yet… after the battle is over both teams will often pray together and thank God for the ability to play the game and enjoy the battle.
I was asked to bless a new car given to the Minister of Internal Affairs for use by an officer charged with the care of people with disabilities. Every speaker began by saying something to effect that he/she would like to start by giving thanks to Him from who every good gift comes… There is a deep and abiding reverence for God in this nation and it starts at the very top.
The Royal family are committed Christians but not simply as Church goers. The Queen organizes and attends a 5am prayer meeting on the first Sunday of every month to pray specifically for the nation and to seek God for guidance in national affairs. I spoke at this meeting and it was a wonderful experience to see people weeping as they prayed for their own nation.
I can imagine some asking or thinking ‘how long can it last?’ One certainly notices that things are changing and this is having an influence on the young but I believe that Tonga will weather many of the storms and contribute significantly to a renewed Church throughout the Pacific.
The nation was once known as the warriors of the Pacific. They are now warriors for God. They have turned their energies towards building the kingdom and I think they will be used in marvelous ways.
God Bless Tonga!