California-Nevada Tongans Mourn Victims of Ferry Disaster

August 14, 2009

Two pastors lose family members; National Prayer Day set


Tongan communities within the California-Nevada Annual Conference are mourning those lost on August 5 when a ferry bound for the northern islands called Va'vau capsized with 149 men, women, and children aboard.


While crewmembers and male passengers sleeping above decks were able to jump overboard, the women and children were trapped in cabins below. It is believed that 95 persons lost their lives: 54 people were rescued, two bodies have been recovered, and 93 persons are listed as missing and presumed dead.


The tragedy is a personal one for the California-Nevada Tongan community. The Rev. Siosifa Hingano, pastor of Genesis UMC in San Jose and Chair of the Order of Elders, and the Rev. Siosifa Setoki, pastor of Fale Hufanga Tongan UMC in San Carlos, both lost family: Sifa Hingano lost three cousins, and a pastor cousin of Sifa Setoki lost his wife and three children. Both Cal-Nevada pastors are from Va'vau, where the ferry was headed.


This past Sunday, the King of Tonga was in California and attended a special service at Fale Hufanga Tongan UMC. That service, for him and all Tongan people of many denominations, had been scheduled before the disaster occurred and became a time for shared mourning in the wake of the tragedy. 


Church and community leaders in the Bay Area - including the Tonga Consulate General, the Hon. Cecil Cocker, and the President of Kainga Tonga USA Inc., Talo Mahu'inga - had two meetings this week and passed a series of resolutions. Among them:


·     Sunday, August 23 is to be declared a National Prayer Day by all Tongans living in the United States, for the families of all the victims. Church leaders are asked to determine the best way to organize this national prayer day for their congregations.

·     A National Relief fund bank account for the victims' families will be established to accept donations.


Sione Tupouniua, designated the spokesperson for the United States Tongan community, will travel to Tonga immediately to discuss with the victims' families how best the Tongan community in the U.S. can assist them.


The disaster was compounded by the fact that an ambulance, donated by the City of Sanger and Sanger UMC and filled with medical supplies by various UM churches in the Central Valley, also went down with the ferry. First UMC of Bakersfield, under the leadership of the Rev. Richard Thompson, and Sanger UMC, Sifa Hingano's former church, led the effort. 


"After two years of collecting supplies, they are deeply saddened by [both] the loss of life and the inability to see their efforts make a difference in so many lives," reports San Jose District Superintendent Kristie Olah.


In a letter to pastors and leaders in San Jose and the other circuits that she supervises, Olah wrote, "Our Tongan communities are gathering to mourn and to develop plans to help in their home country.


"I invite you to consider holding all our Tongan brothers and sisters in prayer in your churches and your personal devotions. In their grief, may God comfort them. In their losses, may they feel the power of our care and God's hope for each of us through Jesus Christ."


Read complete letter here.