Friday, 12 October 2018

Joyously living in faith

Written by Rev Charissa Suli, Assembly National Consultant

The biggest annual gathering in the Uniting Church, the Tongan National Conference (TNC), took place from 5-7 October with more than 1000 people gathered in Katoomba, NSW.

Travelling from across the country, Tongan members of the Uniting Church came together to raise their voices in worship, celebrate their culture and be encouraged in their faith, with the theme of the weekend ‘Living in Faith Eternally.’

The Tongan National Conference is the first of 12 national conferences to be established in the Uniting Church.

Her Excellency Princess Latufuipeka Tuku'aho, Tonga’s High Commissioner to Australia and the President of Free Wesleyan Church of Tongan Rev Dr Ahio were honoured guests at the TNC. Outgoing Chairperson Rev. Jason Kioa preached at the opening service.

I was encouraged by Dr Ahio’s reflection on the Gospel of Luke. He highlighted four core values of Christian communities; breaking bread together, communion in fellowship, sharing everything together and being one in Christ.

He urged members of the Tongan National Conference to be like the very first Christian communities in their witness to the Spirit and their building up of the Church. Most importantly, he called on each person to never give up, in any circumstance, on their faith in Christ.

Throughout the weekend there were activities for each generation, including young children (0-10 years), Second Generation (11-30 years), Step Up (young adults and families), Adults and First Gen and the Golden Oldies (70 years plus).

A significant feature of TNC is leadership of the Second Generation, including in the worship, technical operation and running of the programs. They led the opening worship singing God’s praises in beautiful harmony. 

The Second Generation Program began with a worship rally on Saturday morning, included three bible studies led by guest preachers and “tribal war” games based on the conference theme to build community and fellowship.

Myself and Assembly Theologian-in-Residence Rev. Dr Ji Zhang represented the Assembly at the Conference and encouraged members of the Tongan National Conference to get involved in the new Circles of Interest.

During the weekend a space was created for young people to share stories. Rev Dr Zhang was impressed by the ability of the young people to create a safe place where they could talk about issues such as mental illness and sexual abuse.

“Powerful stories were shared among a room of trusted friends,” he said. “There was a strong sense of ‘don’t judge, don’t try to fix it, just listen’.”

Each TNC, the Saturday night of the program is a dedicated Cultural Night where groups perform Tongan dance and song, raising money for the Conference.

 Second Gen leader Virginia Lavaki addressed the conference in the Closing Worship.

“As young people we are faced with lots of trials and tribulations. The road is not always easy but one thing we know is that God has a plan for our lives. It may not be what we have planned for ourselves but we must learn to trust and fix our eyes upon God and know that whatever path he takes us on he will never leave us.”

She urged the whole conference to continue to encourage and support their young people.

“The young people are not the tomorrow but the now of the church. We need to work together to continue to enrich, encourage and empower our young people, to recognise the potential leaders in our Churches and to mentor them so we can make generations of faithful disciples.”

A new Executive Committee was elected, with Rev Feke Kamitoni from VicTas taking over as Chairperson and Rev Valamotu Palu from NSW/ACT as Deputy Chair. Other office bearers were elected as follows: Secretary - Rev Mosese Taufa (NSW/ACT), Assistant Secretary - Makelesi Facci (VicTas), Treasurer - Valeti Moeakiola (NSW/ACT), Assistant Treasurer - Fifita (NSW/ACT).

Second Gen Convenor Virginia Lavaki thanked outgoing Chairperson Rev Jason Kioa for his leadership of TNC for over 17 years.

“Jason Kioa has been a big part in setting the foundation and the platform for the second gen team. It hasn’t been an easy journey but Jason has continued to support us with advice, with praise and of course fatherly love. Jason has mentored many of the Second Gen team and some have now become ministers.”

Rev. Charissa Suli is a National Consultant for the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly. She was the 2nd Gen Convenor of the UCA’s Tongan National Conference from 2009-2017.

Radio National's God Forbid program recorded an interview with outgoing TNC Chairperson Rev. Jason Kioa, and Second Gen members Sione Hehepoto and Joyce Tangi at the Conference. (Listen from 32:15.)