Tonga hosts first regional gathering of church partners
5/31/2001 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York
By United Methodist News ServiceUnited Methodists met recently in Tonga with church partners from eight Pacific Island nations to discuss issues ranging from mission work to the effects of HIV/AIDS in the region.
The consultation was the first of six regional gatherings planned by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries during the next three years. The purpose is to discuss critical issues related to mission and ministry and consider how best to work in partnership.
Joining eight staff members and two directors from the mission agency were representatives from autonomous Methodist or United churches in Tonga, Fiji, Papua-New Guinea, New Caledonia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti and Vanuatu.
A pre-meeting orientation was set for women and youth "to give them voice and empower them to be full participants throughout the event," according to the Rev. Youngsook Kang, a board executive.
Opening worship on May 20 in Tonga's Free Wesleyan churches was followed by fellowship and a celebration of Father's Day in local homes. The day ended with a choral night featuring individual and mass choirs from 11 churches in the district, presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Mele Siu'ilikutapu Fotofili.
The next day, delegates continued their orientation to Tonga and some of its Methodist history. Ministries there include the Mo'unga Olive School, the Tupou and Queen Salote Colleges and the Sia'atoutai theological colleges. A Tongan feast with music and dance, hosted by the Free Wesleyan Church, concluded the evening.
During discussions, each church highlighted a mission activity for celebration, such as the fact that the church in Tahiti will ordain its first clergywoman in June. Common mission themes were identified and ideas shared on how to strengthen partnerships.
Kang noted that the equality of women was an issue that arose continuously throughout the meeting. "The bottom line is that women do not feel their voice is being heard and they are not full participants," she explained.
Many of the island nations are struggling with ethnic divisions and the impact of HIV/AIDS. Nuclear testing in New Caledonia, youth violence and the loss of youth members in the church also are concerns, she said.
Meeting with the participants on the closing day of the consultation May 24 was King Taufa'ahav Tupou IV of Tonga. A member of the Free Wesleyan Church, the 80-year-old king is a licensed preacher and biblical scholar.
As a follow-up to the consultation, Kang plans to present staff/director recommendations for action to the Board of Global Ministries' cabinet. She also hopes to develop a partnership paper for the region and generally strengthen relations between the agency and its church partners there.
The board plans three other regional consultations for 2002: Europe in January, Latin America in May and Asia in September. Consultations in Africa and the United States will follow.
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