Between 2nd and 6th March 2015, members of Council for World Mission (CWM) including the General Secretary: Rev Dr Collin Cowan, Deputy Moderator: Rev Julie Sim, Pacific Regional Secretary: Rev Fei Taulealeausumai, Director: Tafue Lusama, and Communications Manager: Charis Bhagianathan, arrived in the beautiful Pacific island of Tahiti as part of an official delegation of the Council. The group was warmly received by leadership of the Maohe Protestant Church (MPC) and the welcoming group included President: Rev Taaroanui Maraea, General Secretary: Celine Hoiore, and church father and patriarch, “Papa” John Taroanui Doom. With flowers, infectious smiles, glad hearts and good food the church expressed their delight in having CWM in their midst and hoped for a meaningful visit.
The MPC was founded on 5 March 1797 when members of the London Missionary Society (LMS) landed on that soil with the message of the Christian religion. At its June 2014 Council meeting, held in Singapore, CWM voted unanimously to receive the MPC into membership, recognising its historical connection to the work of the LMS from which CWM emerged in 1977.
The purpose of the visit was to participate in the church’s celebration of the arrival of the missionaries from London (5 March), to officially announce to the MPC, the Council’s decision regarding its membership, and to share the process leading to full incorporation of the MPC as a member of CWM in June 2016. It was also an opportunity for familiarisation and fellowship building.
In her welcome, General Secretary of the MPC declared Tahiti ‘home’ for the delegation and invited us to take our place, welcoming us back where we belong. In response, the CWM General Secretary, said: “This is a history-making moment for both CWM and the MPC and we are very delighted to be here.”
The trip began with a visit to the only remaining protestant theological college in the French Polynesian country where the team was introduced, offered a brief history of the work of the church, especially in theological education and showered with gifts, characteristic of Pacific hospitality. This was to continue on subesequent meetings when the CWM delgation met with congretations from various parishes, including women and youth groups. A press conference was also held to notify local press of the new relationship between MPC and CWM. Dr Cowan announced the decision of the Council to incorporate the MPC into membership of CWM and thanked the church for one of the very obvious gifts it will bring, that of embracing the ordination of women, a gift worth celebrating especially when so many member churches were still at a distance in considering the matter.
The celebrations on 5th March, a public holiday in Tahiti, were beautiful and memorable. The delegation from CWM were split up and taken to different places across the island to be able to witness the diverse range of celebrations. A visit to the very first church that was built in the region (a stunning octogonal structure with the sea on one side and the mountains on the other) was an emotional one, where the community remembered the missionaries and their work. The space was a beautiful mix of local culture and memories of the missionaries in the form of remembrance plaques and memorial graves. This was followed by a visit to the newest church in the area, where we were witness to wonderful celebrations. Everywhere there was singing and dancing, and it was the children of the community who took centre stage. The prayers and performances ended with a feast of delicious food cooked by the community and shared by everyone together.
The visit concluded with a visit to the historic site where the missionaries first arrived by ship; and the planting of a tree at the church’s headquarters to signal the beginning (reunion) of a life-giving, life-sustaining relationship and a journey of hope in God’s mission.
This historical visit and homecoming for CWM was a time of fellowship and celebration. It is hoped that the relationships forged during the visit will form the basis for continued interaction, meaningful work and a close partnership between MPC and CWM as they (re)begin their walk in Christ together.