Member Church feature: Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu (EKT)


Introduction

A brief history of the early accounts of the LMS mission arrangement to further its field work to the part of the world in the southern hemisphere called the Pacific Ocean.  Some historians use the word Oceania for a multitude of large and small islands scattered across the aqua continent, with their unique variations.

History

The Christian mission trend in the Pacific began in the nineteenth century under the auspices of foreign mission. It all began in Europe in the eighteenth century, when the world was informed of the vast ocean that had been discovered by European explorers then.  The world’s most famous seafarers around this period were Captain James Cook and William Bligh, both from England.  These seafarers had a fair knowledge of the physical features of the Pacific Ocean and its islands, and the character and history of its people (Alexander 1895, 17).  So, the availability of these historical evidence on the various genres of the Pacific context gives the privilege of having a better idea of the mission stimulus in a new environment, and with that enthusiasm in mission, the flight to the Pacific became a reality.

First Missionary Strategic Mission Framework in the Pacific

News about the islands of the South Seas spread over Europe, which were made known by the greatest navigators of the 18th century, who explored the Pacific Oceans.  Captain James Cook and William Bligh, reached and engaged with the people of the Pacific, and assisted in the mission interest in the Pacific.   William Carey came with a sense of achieving mission goals through collaborative efforts of Christian churches. A delegation for mission enterprise to the Pacific was formed.  Among the ordained ministers there were others with different skills to carry out their work in alignment with the mission strategies.  In this aspect of choice, it was obvious what Horne described as “the advice of the L.M.S was asked and cordially tendered and active help was given in obtaining missionaries from Germany for the former Society” (1904, 19).  Transportation means were one significant factor to achieve this goal, and therefore the ship Duff was purchased for £4,800 by the Society, and became their absolute property (Horne 1904, 20).  The preparation of the Duff voyage was fully furnished with all the required foodstuff and materials necessary to sustain the mission life in the field.  The supplies were from the free will of the people (Horne 1904, 20).

Cook and Bligh must have spoken of the ways to approach these heathen societies in the Pacific.  It is evident today that in most Polynesian countries, especially in Tuvalu and Samoa the pastors have gained chief power and authority. So, to achieve mission purpose is to have this tactic of engagement with chief leaders at the first incident.

LMS Mission Expansion in the Pacific

For a number of years from the first landing of the Gospel in Tahiti in 1797, John William and Robert Bourne planted the Gospel of Jesus Christ on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands in 1823 (Garrett 1982, 30, 82).  Of course, the two church deacons from Raiatea were already left on the island of Aitutaki by John William in 1821 on his way to Sydney (Garrett 1982, 82). The drifter Elekana from Manihiki landed at the southern island of Nukulaelae in Tuvalu in 1861 (Munro 1996, 124).  According to Doug Munro in his chapter titled “Samoan Pastors in Tuvalu, 1865 – 1899” in the book “The Covenant Makers: Islander Missionaries in the Pacific”, wrote that Elekana was “blown off course during an inter-island voyage in 1861” (1996, 124). Elekana went to Samoa and was admitted to the Malua Theological College in 1862, and in the completion of his three years of studies in 1865, he was elected as part of the Samoan Missionary Enterprise in Tuvalu.  Samoa first heard of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from Tahitians who brought their religion to Tahiti before the arrival of the LMS in 1830 (Garrett 1982, 121, 122).  According to Garrett, John William and Charles Barff recruited the local teachers to assist in the activities of the mission (1982, 84). Samoa then became the LMS headquarters for Tuvalu.  So, a few years later Tuvaluans young men and women were recruited for further studies in Samoa to become LMS missionaries in the Pacific.

In fact, the mission endeavours in the Pacific under the existing institutional body like the London Missionary Society (LMS) now called the Council for World Mission (CWM) took root in the archipelago of Tuvalu in 1865.  There remains today different perceptions on which the rightful year of the arrival of the Gospel to Tuvalu is. Some argued that the arrival of the Gospel to Tuvalu goes back to 1861, when the drifter from the Cook Islands, deacon Elekana from Manihiki was accidently thrown ashore on Nukulaelae Island in Tuvalu.  Whilst the others prefer the account of a well-organized mission through the Samoan missionary enterprises in Tuvalu in May 10, 1865.  In spite of the different accounts, we have a legitimate history of Christianity taking roots in Tuvalu.  The government of Tuvalu under legislation recognized the 10th of May each year as “The Gospel Day” and it became a Public holiday.

Tuvaluan in Regional Mission Institutions for Mission Field

A Takamoa mission institution in the Cooks was the first design of this kind in the Pacific region around the year of John William’s death in 1839. It was purposely for the training of local agents and Aaron Buzacott was a teacher (Garrett 1982, 116).  1n 1844, Malua Theological College was founded in Samoa, and operated under the supervision of the white missionaries George Turner and Charles Hardie (Garrett 1982, 119).  Men from Tuvalu were enrolled in the Malua Theological College to prepare themselves for missionary works in Papua New Guinea and other islands of the Pacific.

Within the first ten years of missionary efforts in Funafuti Tuvalu, a school for children was progressing.  Those trained in these two mission institutions were sent to the field in the different years to different places; “from 1840s and 1850s Samoans, Cooks and Niue were sent to Vanuatu and New Caledonia, from 1860s and 1870s New Caledonia and Tuvalu to Papua”, as noted by Sione Latukefu  (1996, 18).  Many Tuvaluans in the 19th century received their advanced education in Samoa.  Garrett argued that having been well-educated was an avenue for possible changes by stating that, “many of whom went for advanced education in Samoa… culminating in the final re-assertion of independence by both church and people” (1982, 159).

The establishment of the Pacific Theological College (PTC) in Suva, Fiji as an ecumenical seminary in 1965, is a way forward in the enlargement of local church mission through the globe.  Programmes offered at PTC through residential academic courses and the Institute for Mission & Research are to prepare Pacific People to respond effectively to all challenging issues toward church mission in their local context.  Tuvalu.  The government of Tuvalu under legislation recognized the 10th of May each year as “The Gospel Day” and it became a Public holiday.

Mission Challenging Culture, Tradition and Beliefs

 The first missionaries totally denied the ability of the local people of their deities believing that the god of the indigenous Tuvaluan was not the same as the Samoan God.  Though God is the Omnipresent God, the missionaries eroded a number of our ancestors’ wisdom passed down through generations.  In the book called “Tuvalu A History”, it was argued that “they possessed the power to rule, although this power was not theirs alone” (Tafaaki 1983, 19). This meant the Samoan missionaries who also experienced the first missionary approach to their context, in which the foreign missionaries were injecting their principles hoping to cause radical changes.

The Church of Today 

 A shift in mission paradigm in the twentieth century resulted in the increase of churches worldwide, with a drastic growth of secularization in the industrial countries, which was the very first place of mission.  The social injustices of the 20th and 21st centuries continue to affect the lives of many people severely. World War II brought huge changes to the lifestyle of Pacific Islanders.  Eventually such events of time led to a change of mission mode and new approaches that would liberate and give hope to the disadvantaged.  Therefore, the International Missionary Council (IMC) was founded in 1921 under the world missionary conference in Edinburgh 1910 (Garrett 1982, 303).  Hence, the ecumenical movement began to unite people of all races to Jesus Christ.  Robert Latham in Gales of Change stated that, “One of the powerful maxims arising from Geneva was ‘the church is the mission. The underlying theology of churchmanship and missiology found ever wider advocates” (1994, 225).

However, the emergence of ecumenism was a way in nation building; as a result Samoa gained independence in 1962, after the Malua Pacific conference in 1961. Eight years after the Malua conference in 1961, the Pacific Theological College, founded in 1965, the Pacific Council of Churches in 1966, SPATS in 1969 and PEC were all instituted. This was the main achievement which was brought about by the regional ecumenical institutionalization.  This could mean that ecumenism helps in the process of decolonization in order to free those countries and to possess self-determination. Consequently, with Tuvalu intending to become an autonomous church from Samoa in 1957, the LMS sent Rev. Brien Ranford as missionary to organize the mission of the church before it became self-governed. (Thorogood 1994, 186).  On the 4th of October 1968, confirmation on the request for Tuvalu Church to become self-governed and self-propagation as an autonomous church was granted approval by the Congregational Council for World Mission (CCWM), the former LMS based in London.

Over more than two decades, the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu had made a tremendous expansion to its mission overseas.  There was a remarkable growth in those EKT churches in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, Marshall Island, and Fiji.  Although, the constant drift of people from Tuvalu to these countries does not mean the decline in the drift to other new religious movements.

The Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu has made progressive links with the outside world through engagement with partner churches and Christian organizations. It does strengthen our ties in mission and sharing resources and support each other in one way or the other, in order to elevate a strong spirit of advocacy on matters of faith, justice and peace.  This is especially so on issues of economic, political, and ecological issues causing globalization, terrorism, climate change and rising of sea levels which have devastated the earth and humanity.

Conclusion

The fast-changing world in the twentieth century, with the world economy controlled by the international organizations dominated by the affluent countries, has its impact globally, which does affect the Pacific as well.  So, globalization as Manfred Ernst says, “is understood as the historical rooted transformation of the world” (2009, 54).  This could mean that the fast- changing environment in societies today was due to the increase of technological development, consumers’ production, transportation accessibility, which tied together the powerful nations to one world market that determined the wealth of nations (Ernst 2009, 58, 59).  The emergences of new religious movements typical of the evangelicalism or Pentecostalism are to challenge the adverse effects of affluent western lifestyle in the Pacific.  The movement of people to and fro in the Pacific to the outside world is a matter of hours and days.  The recruitment of islanders today in regional and international schemes has closed up the margin remoteness. These movements contribute very much to behavioural changes to the Pacific societies.  And foremost, the threat of climate change and rising  sea levels, mounting to constant droughts and cyclones which does have direct effect on people of Tuvalu living in low-lying atolls.   These are some of the challenges to the mission of the Church in Tuvalu in our contemporary context.

Recently, regional secular institutions such the South Pacific Community (SPC) has recognized the values of church mission on to end violence against women and children in the Pacific.  This is a regional driven concept in collaboration with the advocacy on the human right. Therefore, Faith-Based Organizations were called for immediate action to support the implementation of the family and children protection Legislation.  There are fresh concerning issues to the church, is on government’s Bill on the eradication of corporal punishment as a way of discipline on students.  The worst scenario of the new legislation is that, if the Principal of the school disciplines a student with corporal punishment, government would terminate the Principal’s appointment of service.

Of course, ecumenism is a gift of the Holy Spirit to the different churches to fulfill their common mission. Therefore, the church has a call to mission out to every corner of the earth as a spiritual obligation and in God’s doing.  So, since that Jesus is central in our life as we served in His mission all of humanity must be connected with all aspects, regardless of belief, cultural taboos and races.   A coalition of all Christian denominations to actively respond in faith and actions to the needs of those who suffered the consequences of all these dreadful contemporary issues facing our world today is a duty to God.

Bibliographies
Alexander, James. M. 1895. The Islands of the Pacific from the Old to the New: A Compendious Sketch of Mission in the Pacific. New York. American Tract Society University of California-digitized by Microsoft©
Ernst, Manfred.  2009. “New Form of Christianity and the Dynamics of    Religious Change in the Pacific Islands.” In The Pacific Islands: At the Beginning of the 21st Century, Religion Culture Society.  Edited by Manfred Ernst, Verena Grüter, Frank Kürschner Pelkmannn, Fele Nokise, Michael Press, 52–65.  Suva: Fiji. The Pacific Theological College.
Garrett, John. 1982. To Live Among the Stars: Christian Origins in    Oceania. Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific.
Horne, Silvester. C. 1904. The Story of the L.M.S. London. University of California-digitized by Microsoft©
Lathan, Robert. 1994. “Patterns of the Spirit: Toward a Council.” In The Gales of Change: Responding to a Shifting Missionary Context. Edited by Bernard Thorogood, 214–237.  London. Council for World Mission.
Latukefu, Sione. 1996. “Pacific Islander Missionaries,”   In The Covenant Makers, edited by Doug Munro and Andrew Thronley, 17–40. Suva: Pacific Theological College and The Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific.
Munro, Doug.  1996. “Samoan Pastors in Tuvalu, 1865-1899,”   In The Covenant Makers, edited by Doug Munro and Andrew Thronley, 124 – 157. Suva: Pacific Theological College and The Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific.
Tafaaki, Pasoni. 1983. “The Old Order.” In Tuvalu A History, edited by Hugh Laracy, 19-28. Suva, Fiji: Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific.

2018-10-19T02:25:08+00:00