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California-Nevada Conference sends work team to the Kingdom of Tonga

By Judy Church

"Malo e lelei..." The UMVIM team to the South Pacific island of Tongatapu from July 6-22, 2004, experienced wonderful hope in serving with the people of the Kingdom of Tonga "where time begins." We are grateful to the staff and the students at Tupou High School, Vaololoa campus, who helped us accomplish twin goals of friendship building and repair of a classroom there.

Once again, Mary Kelly, the GBGM missionary serving at the school, enabled our team to enjoy Tongan culture and countryside by being committed to the connectional church. We appreciate her dedication and that also of the other individual missionaries there.

We represented four United Methodist churches - three in California (Alamo, in San Ramon; Escalon; and First, in Modesto) , and one in Kona, Hawaii. Our team of 10 bonded well, both with each other and with the 700 enthusiastic students at the school who knew all our names by the second day of our trip.

The short assignments to individual students allowed us to develop special friendships that included home visits - precious opportunities to experience Tongan family life. Because this team was there while school was in session, we were able to get to know the teachers and their creative dreams for Vaololoa.

We experienced such island hospitality. The school staff and family of David, Ana and Doyle Niu showered us with lunches and banquets of unbelievable proportions! Other friends shuttled us about their beautiful island to visit places of significance and incredible beauty.

Our team experienced a few health problems that were dealt with successfully. The brief hospital visit to donate a few surplus medical supplies was luckily that - a visit! It pointed to the need for other types of UMVIM teams, however.

We were grateful to have met a group of recent deportees who shared with us their dreams and heartaches of regaining lives of dignity. Because Tongans are a people of great faith, it was a renewing experience to worship with them in many settings. I would venture to guess that children there learn to sing in harmony before they learn to read.

After installing and painting the walls and blackboard of our classroom, the option to paint the concrete floor made a more manageable project, yet long-lasting and attractive.

Mary's supply room received a quick renovation - knockdown of one wall, paint and shelving installation - with the remaining time.

Our project timeline went fairly smoothly, and working with the industrial arts students was especially encouraging for all of us. Some dear students offered to be "gofers" and assistant gum scrapers.

Seeds have been planted. Many friendships developed and we hope to keep in touch with our new friends. The generosity of the Tongans enabled us to start a scholarship fund for needy students. The home economics room, which began renovation after our return home, will receive needed equipment. The industrial arts program will be able to expand their program with some added tools.

Tonga is a nation of great beauty and faith. It is also a nation of great need which exports its greatest resource - its youth. The love of family is overflowing. We are grateful for the blessing of serving with Tongans to whom we say, "Malo aupito." And I add, "See you next year!"

(September 21, 2004)