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30 years in Tonga

The Salvation Army has celebrated 30 years of being in Tonga. Along with marking history, Regional Commander Captain Sila Siufanga says they will also be marking a new and exciting phase for the future of the Army in Tonga.

The Army has faced challenges establishing itself in Tonga, finding a place as the new denomination in a country where other traditional churches have deep roots in society—stretching back to the arrival of Christianity in 1826—and where Tongan culture and customs such as kava drinking have even deeper roots and significance, Sila says. But in 30 years it has established strong foundations. The Army has built up four corps (churches) and two corps plants running men’s, women’s, youth and children’s programmes.

It has also run a variety of social service programmes starting with fishing and farming, through to medical care, and on to today’s community ministries work with food parcels and emergency support. It established the first addiction treatment centre in the Pacific Islands. The centre is the most high-profile part of the Army’s work in Tonga, having a significant impact, and is highly respected, Sila says.

The Army in Tonga also runs two popular and well regarded kindergartens and has received strong support from the Tongan royal family, Ministry of Education and from other countries through Salvation Army child sponsorship.

Almost 200 Tongan children are supported through the Cherish a Child sponsorship programme, and a large number will parade with The Salvation Army during a public march of witness to open its 30-year celebrations, which will be a great showcase of the Army’s impact in Tonga, Sila says. During the celebrations 27 junior soldiers and 33 senior soldiers, mostly youth, will be enrolled.

These are an example of the new future for The Salvation Army in Tonga that will come from investing in children and youth. Sila and his wife, Regional Director of Women’s Ministries Captain Malia Siufanga, are the first Tongans to be regional leaders in the country. That has been an honour and a privilege for them, and significant for Tongan people, helping them claim further ownership of the church, Sila says. ‘We have a sense of belonging and a sense that we have to play our part as Tongan Salvationists.

Before, the mentality has been that this is a Pālagi (European) church. Now, people see it’s Tongans leading the Tongan church.’ The theme of the 30 year celebrations is ‘Arise’, taken from the verse Isaiah 60:1: ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.’

And with the foundations of the past in place, Sila says the Tongan Salvation Army is ready to arise, and make new strides in its ministry, following the footsteps of Jesus, Joseph and David who all began the main part of their ministry at 30. ‘We’ve reached our 30 years and we’re still young, but it’s time for action! We may be small in number, but with God we can do mighty things in Tonga and we need to rise up now. So, it’s all action packed from here.’

by Robin Raymond (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 25 June 2016, pp 3
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.