Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) President, Rev Sharon Hollis, and Chair of the Uniting Church’s Tongan National Conference (TNC), Rev Feke Kamitoni, have encouraged people to pray for Tonga after it was hit by a tsunami late on Saturday night.
Communication lines have been down since the tsunami was triggered by the eruption of underwater volcano Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha’apai.
Tongan communities in Australia and across the world have maintained a prayer vigil each day as they await news from family in Tonga.
Many parts of Tonga remain covered in ash and people have been left without power since the tsunami hit. The tsunami has also impacted Fiji and other Pacific Islands, where the full extent of damage remains remains unknown.
“I encourage all Uniting Church members to join in prayer for the people of Tonga and across the Pacific who have been impacted by the tsunami,” Rev Hollis said. “We pray for people’s safety, for those whose homes have been lost or damaged and all those anxiously awaiting news of loved ones.”
“I also encourage members of the Uniting Church to be in touch with people they know in the Tongan-Australian community to offer them support at this very stressful time as they wait for news of friends and family.”
Rev Kamitoni said not being able to contact family to check on their safety had caused a great amount of stress and anxiety for the Tongan community in Australia.
“Our main concern is not knowing what has happened to our loved ones in Tonga,” Rev Kamitoni said.
“Many in our community are in contact with family in Tonga every week. But to see the volcano eruption and tsunami on the news and suddenly be cut off from one another is very frightening.”
Since the tsunami hit, the Tongan community across Australia has rallied together. An online prayer vigil was hosted by Pasifika TV and Radio. Uniting Church Tongan members, including former TNC Chair Rev Jason Kioa, have played a role in the broadcast.
Local communities across the country are gathering, in most cases online, bringing people together to support one another and to pray for families and the people of Tonga.
“Churches have become a point of contact and connection for the Tongan community during this frightening time. While we cannot talk to our families and friends, we are constantly praying for them,” Rev Kamitoni said.
He said many elderly members of the community were concerned about siblings and relatives and there were many seasonal workers living in Australia worried about their children and families.
“On behalf of the TNC and the wider Tongan community in Australia, I extend our appreciation for the thoughts and prayers everyone has given to Tonga and our people.”
Rev Hollis thanked the Australian Government, which joined with Aotearoa/New Zealand in sending surveillance flights to assess the damage in Tonga, and she urged them to work with other nations to provide humanitarian relief in the short and long term.
“We know there will be a desperate need for relief in Tonga and the Pacific, made more difficult by the challenges of a third wave of COVID. We encourage the Australian Government to do all it can to aid the recovery efforts now and in the months ahead,” she said.
UnitingWorld is ready to support our Tongan partners once needs have been assessed.