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 todaythe blast generated waves that reached heights of fifty feet. Coastal villages and resorts were swept away. Dripping water buried the roads under rocks and debris.
Yet only three people have died and, despite the ash covering much of the islands, life is getting back to normal.
Fe’ilaokitau Kaho Tevi, former general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, is grateful: “We feel that we have been prayed for by the global Christian community. Tongan Christians also mention King Tupou I (1797–1893), who dedicated the islands to God. The only remaining monarchy in the Pacific is now predominantly Christian; Protestants make up 64.9% of the population, while the rest is evenly split 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 itself and does not exist in the family structure of Pasifika Island,” explains a pastor of Tongan congregations in Seattle. “Likewise, Jesus considered others as his brothers and sisters, especially those who followed the way of God, as Matthew 12 says. We all belong to the family of God. 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 have focused on the transformative fact that Christians are “children of God” whose value is found in the unwavering love of our Father and who can experience the forgiveness, freedom and joy of his unconditional grace.
Today, consider another aspect of our theme: if we are all children of the same Father, we are all members of the same family. Every believer through twenty centuries of Christian faith is our sister or our brother.
More than at any other time in my life, you and I need this uplifting encouragement today, for this simple reason: the unprecedented challenges we face demand the unified response of God’s people.
In The Coming Tsunami, I explain why and how Christians today are castigated as outdated, intolerant, oppressive, even dangerous. Biblical morality is stigmatized as homophobic and bigoted. Followers of Jesus increasingly face 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 that we don’t have to face our battles alone.
“People need an embodied community”
Every image of the Church in the New Testament is corporate – we are members of one body (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) and branches of one vine (John 15:1-2). The apostle John received a vision of our future in heaven: “After this I beheld, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation, tribe, people, and tongue, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
I can’t find any solos in the book of Revelation.
As Covenant College theologian Kelly M. Kapic observed, “The whole church must be the one body of Christ.” Our existentialist and isolated culture desperately needs this “body”, as an Anglican priest and New York Times columnist Tish Harrison Warren Remarks“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 voices, sharing their space, their smells, their presence. . . People need an embodied community.
Accordingly, she asserts, “One main thing the church has to offer the world now is to remind us all how to be human creatures, with all the incarnations and physical limitations that entails. We must accept this counter-cultural appeal.
“Thank you for the fiery sermon”
One of the consequences of the pandemic has been a significant drop in church attendance even as restrictions 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” more than they can give in worship to God and service to others.
But it’s time to prepare for a tsunami before it hits. The time to engage personally and passionately with other believers is before we need what only the body of Christ can provide.
It has been said that every Christian needs a Paul (a mentor), a Barnabas (an encouragement) and a Timothy (someone to mentor). Who are yours? Who would name you one of them?
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 urge him to return. Instead, the pastor entered the den and sat down in front of the roaring fire in the fireplace. The puzzled church member sat down next to him.
The two watched the fire in silence. So the pastor got up, took the tongs from the hearth, picked up a burning ember, put it next to the fire, then sat down again. The two watched as it sputtered, smoked, and eventually died out and cooled. Then the pastor retrieved the tongs, scooped up the dead charcoal, and put it back in the fire. Instantly, he came back to blazing life.
As the pastor got up to leave, the church member said, “Thank you for the fiery sermon. I will be back to worship this Sunday.
How close are you to the fire of God today?
REMARK: 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 is not just a Catholic tradition. It is a biblical principle. This is why I created my 47 Day Lenten Devotional Coffee Table Book called Walk in his footsteps – and why I would like to send you a copy. Please request yours today.