After four days of fellowship, celebration, friendship, education, nurturing, commitment and witness at the Tongan National Conference (TNC), one thing became very clear to me – the unbreakable spirit of the Tongan community in the world.
There were more than 1000 Tongans gathered at the Blue Mountains on the second weekend in June. People of different ages came from Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Mildura, Sydney, Brisbane and Darwin to attend the 29th Tongan National Conference, the largest gathering of Uniting Church members.
For our Tongan brothers and sisters, their Tongan identity makes them strong in their faith.
In the midst of many challenges, whether it is the vulnerability to climate change in their home country, or issues of cultural identity as expressed so well by the youth in the drama skits performed on Sunday at TNC, their commitment to family and to Jesus is unbreakable.
This unbreakable spirit rang clear in their worship and singing over the weekend.
The presence of Rev. Dr Finau ‘Ahio President of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga and his wife Mrs Loukinikini at the conference was not just as honoured guests. They could be likened with the image of parents who always care and love their children even though the children are now growing up and living in a different place.
Malia Puna from the Tonga Parish Uniting Church in Sydney spoke emotionally about attending the conference for the first time after 16 years. This homecoming experience was so important for her and for the Tongan community. The reconnection with her roots gave Malia new meaning as a Tongan in Australia. This spirit of belonging is a big part of why the conference is so successful and popular each year.
At the opening service, President Stuart McMillan reminded us in his sermon that we are compelled by love and confidence in Christ whose Spirit burns in our hearts with love for the whole creation.
We are all called to be ambassadors to partner with Him so that the kingdom does come more fully and God’s will be done.
The kingdom comes when those who are far become close, and those who are separate become united in an unbreakable spirit.
In the joyful embrace of others at the TNC I was reminded that the spirit of Grace is present among us.