Niue is a small island nation in the South Pacific known for its limestone cliffs and stunning coral reefs, just a three-and-a-half hour flight from Auckland.
I was there on behalf of the Uniting Church to attend the celebration of the 170th year of the arrival of the Gospel to Niue Island.
Nukai Peniamina was a young Niuean who planted the first seed of the Gospel on 26 October 1846. This young man was educated at Malua Theological School in Samoa. Peniamina was sent by the London Missionary Society and landed in the village of Mutalau on the northern part of the island. The chiefs of Mutalau helped Peniamina by assigning 61 warriors to look after him at the fort in Fupiu from the danger of others.
Every year the Niueans thank Peniamina for bringing the Gospel to Niue.
This year’s celebration began with a service at the Mutalau Congregation of the Ekalesia Kerisiano Niue and attended by the whole village.
The four-hour service was attended by Niue’s Premier Mr Toke Talagi, the New Zealand Deputy High Commissioner Mrs Jenna Priore, President of Ekalesia Kerisiano Niue Rev. Vili Viviani and representatives from Uniting Church, Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, Congregational Union New Zealand and other denominations.
We were given a traditional customary welcome by the village’s host, standing outside the church and asking permission to enter. The hosts inside allowed us to enter their sacred space.
Rev. Dr Matagi Vilitama, the chair of Niue National Conference and a minister at Ramsgate Uniting Church in NSW, encouraged Niuean congregations to value their cultural heritage and the richness of their tradition.
The Niuean church has a creative response to the relationship between Gospel, culture and tradition. They allow a space for grace to be created in the mid of ‘this chaotic’ relationship.
A space that allows them to have an honest conversation and negotiation, a space for growth in love and truth.
It’s clear to me that the Gospel has enriched and transformed the life of the Niuean people. The ways they worship God with joyfulness and thanksgiving is uplifting, their commitment to follow Jesus in word and deed inspirational and their generosity to others was amazing.
Thank you Niue for welcoming and accepting me as your friend.