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What Tongan Christians Can Teach Us about Tsunamis and Faith


The recent volcanic eruption in the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga was hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb, according to NASA scientists.

As Morgan Lee reports in Christianity Today, the blast generated waves that reached estimated heights of fifty feet. Coastline villages and resorts were swept away. Rushing water buried roads under boulders and debris.

Yet only three people died and, despite the ash that covers large parts of the islands, life is returning to normal.

Fe’ilaokitau Kaho Tevi, the former general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, is grateful: “We feel that we have been the subject of the prayers of the worldwide Christian community.” Tongan Christians also point to King Tupou I (1797–1893), who dedicated the islands to God. The only remaining monarchy in the Pacific is overwhelmingly Christian today; Protestants make up 64.9 percent of the population, while the rest are evenly divided between Catholics and Mormons.

These believers approach Christian solidarity in a unique way: “The nuclear family in the context of the West does not define nor exist in the Pasifika Island family structure,” as a pastor of Tongan congregations in Seattle explains. “Similarly, Jesus viewed others as his brothers and sisters, particularly those who followed God’s way, as told in Matthew 12. We all belong to God’s family. We all belong to the body, as the apostle Paul would describe in 1 Corinthians 12.”

A unified response to unprecedented challenges

This week I’ve been focusing on the transformational fact that Christians are “children of God” whose worth is found in our Father’s unshakable love and who can experience every day the forgiveness, freedom, and joy of his unconditional grace.

Today, let’s consider another aspect of our theme: if we are all children of one Father, we are all members of one family. Every believer across twenty centuries of Christian faith is our sister or brother.

More than at any time in my lifetime, you and I need this empowering encouragement today, for this simple reason: the unprecedented challenges we face require the unified response of God’s people.

In The Coming Tsunami, I explain why and how Christians are castigated today as outdated, intolerant, oppressive, and even dangerous. Biblical morality is branded as homophobic and bigoted. Followers of Jesus are increasingly facing antagonism and oppression on a level we have never experienced in America. Our founders believed that our Constitution was “made only for a moral and religious people” and would not recognize our culture.

But the good news is, we do not have to face our battles alone.

“People need embodied community”

Every image of the church in the New Testament is collective—we are members of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12–27) and branches of one vine (John 15:1–2). The apostle John was given a vision of our future in heaven: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

I can find no solos in the book of Revelation.

As Covenant College theologian Kelly M. Kapic observes, “It takes the entire church to be the one body of Christ.” Our existentialist, isolated culture desperately needs this “body,” as Anglican priest and New York Times columnist Tish Harrison Warren notes: “People need physical touch and interaction. We need to connect with other human beings through our bodies, through the ordinary vulnerability of looking into their eyes, hearing their voice, sharing their space, their smells, their presence. . . . People need embodied community.”

As a result, she claims, “A chief thing that the church has to offer the world now is to remind us all how to be human creatures, with all the embodiment and physical limits that implies. We need to embrace that countercultural call.”

“Thank you for the fiery sermon”

One consequence of the pandemic has been a significant decline in church attendance even as restrictions have eased. Going to church online is apparently becoming more permanent for many who could attend in person. This trend reflects the growing consumerism of American Christianity in my lifetime as many go to church for what they can “get out of it” more than what they can give in worship to God and service to others.

But the time to prepare for a tsunami is before it strikes. The time to engage personally and passionately with fellow believers is before we need what only the body of Christ can provide.

It’s been said that every Christian needs a Paul (a mentor), a Barnabas (an encourager), and a Timothy (someone to mentor). Who are yours? Who would name you as one of theirs?

A pastor went to visit a church member who had stopped coming to worship. The man expected the pastor to scold him for his laxity and to urge him to return. Instead, the pastor stepped into the den and took a seat before the fire roaring in the fireplace. The puzzled church member took a seat next to him.

The two watched the fire in silence. Then the pastor stood up, took the fireplace tongs, picked up a blazing ember, set it to the side of the fire, and then sat back down. The two watched as it sputtered, smoked, and eventually went out and grew cold. Then the pastor retrieved the tongs, picked up the dead coal, and placed it back into the fire. Instantly, it leapt back to flaming life.

As the pastor stood up to leave, the church member said, “Thank you for the fiery sermon. I will be back in worship this Sunday.”

How close to God’s fire are you today?

NOTE: The season of Lent can be a wonderful time of renewal and regeneration for our walk with God as we refocus our hearts and minds on who Jesus is and what he came to do for us. And Lent isn’t just a Catholic tradition. It’s a biblical principle. This is why I created my 47-day Lenten devotional coffee table book called To Walk in His Footsteps — and why I’d love to send you a copy. Please request yours today.

Image credit: Unsplash / Cole Patrick

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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