Pacific Island Caucus Experiences Revival

September 24, 2009

By Inoke Qarau
Florin UMC, Sacramento

In keeping with our United Methodist mission statement, "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World," the Pacific Island Caucus of the California-Nevada Annual Conference is experiencing a revival in the community it serves and beyond.
 
The Pacific Island National Caucus of United Methodists (PINCUM) petitioned the General Conference in 2008 to establish the Pacific Island United Methodist Church study, to research the needs in Pacific Island communities and develop recommendations to address those needs. Just last month the General Board of Global Ministries confirmed the hiring of Dr. Sela Panapasa of Michigan State University to head the study group, to be comprised largely of Pacific Islanders. The group will establish priorities for the funding of programs to develop ministries in the communities that would reach Pacific Islanders. Findings are to be presented as recommendations to the 2012 General Conference.
 
Youth Fellowship gets year off to great start
The Pacific Islanders Youth fellowship kicked off the year with what turned out to be spiritual awakening for the majority of youth and adults alike. Tongans, Fijians, Samoans, and other Pacific Islanders were well represented at Laurel UMC in Oakland. The theme of the two-day event was the relationship of the "Moana" (the sea or ocean) to the Pacific islanders.
 
Organized by the Revs. Siosifa Hingano and Maile Koloto, the fellowship saw youths traveling there from Sacramento, Escalon, Sanger, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Hayward, as well as Oakland. Gifted musicians, inspirational speakers, testimonials, dances, skits, and keynote speakers filled the program. And as usual, what would a Pacific Island gathering be without a feast? A scrumptious feast honoring God's gift to humankind of the "Moana" was prepared by the Laurel UMC hosts to top off the event.
 
Annual Conference Session
In preparation for Annual Conference Session this year, the Rev. Linda Wiberg (left), Cal-Nevada's Director of Connectional Ministry, was the guest speaker at the first Pacific Island Caucus pre-conference orientation at Laurel UMC. The event was attended by more than 50 community youth and church leaders from around the Annual Conference. The discussions and testimonials inspired many of them to attend ACS, feeling at ease in terms of understanding conference procedures.
 
The involvement of Pacific Island Caucus members was evident at ACS this year, when a booth was provided to showcase our growing ministry and highlight the needs we face both here and at home.
 
Annual Conference Session this year sadly coincided with disturbing events in Fiji. After the 2006 coup the military regime had declared that no permits would be issued for the Fiji Methodist Church to hold its annual conference unless a couple of clergy were removed for political reasons - and the 2009 conference had to be cancelled.
 
Here in Sacramento a resolution was passed to bring forth the struggle our Christian brothers and sisters in Fiji were facing, and stating that we in the California-Nevada Annual Conference stand in solidarity with them in their time of trial. In keeping Bishop Warner Brown regularly updated on the events in Fiji, the Pacific Island Caucus also provided materials and firsthand knowledge that prompted his moving speech to the conference and the postponement of his travels to Fiji.
 
The Laurel UMC youth band led praise and prayer on the first day of the conference. A touching moment came when Bishop Brown, along with the Rev. Siosifa Hingano, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, officiated in the ordination and commissioning of new clergy, including one of our very own in the Rev. Tevita Vaikona.
 
Tongan National Caucus
The Tongan National Caucus on the 30th of July commissioned its new president at the First Tongan UMC in Salt Lake City, Utah. The new president is our retired chairman of Pacific Islanders Caucus, the Rev. Maile Koloto of Laurel UMC. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference officiated at the ceremony (see photo at right). Hundreds attended the four-day conference, all blessed to have been invited to witness the special occasion. We appreciated the common bond of the Pacific and the rich heritage that we inherited from our forefathers, which is showcased through our service to our church and community.
 
A couple of weeks later Rev. Koloto was appointed the Chaplain Designate of the Tonga Consulate General in a service he also preached, attended by His Majesty King George V. The service, held at the Falehufunga UMC, paid tribute to the victims of the sunken Princess Ashika ferry, which had 128 passengers on board. Only 54 were rescued, two bodies were recovered, and 72 are missing and presumed trapped in the ship, which lies in waters some 110 feet deep.
 
Immigration law clinic opens in San Francisco
September 10 marked another milestone in the Caucus's tireless desire to better serve its community. The Bay Area Immigration Task Force, a church ministry organized with the assistance of Justice for Our Neighbors (a project of United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR), opened its first immigration law clinic at Temple UMC in San Francisco.
 
Included in the service: counsel on immigration status and possible remedies, assistance with preparation of various immigrant petitions and application for naturalization for eligible clients, an educational "know your rights" workshop for immigrants, and outside referrals to other legal services and attorneys specializing in a client's special needs, among other services. The national program attorney for Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) will travel from Alabama once a month to meet with clients at the San Francisco clinic. [Read related story here.]
 
Fijian Caucus
The Pacific Island Caucus in our Annual Conference truly is experiencing a revival. The Fijian Caucus is slowly but surely learning and implementing the knowledge passed on by the more established Tongan Caucus, which will celebrate its 20 year anniversary in Hawaii next year (while Tongan Methodists themselves celebrate 40 years of fellowship here in the United States). The national Fijian Caucus in its first year includes churches in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
 
October 18 will see all Fijian United Methodist ministries in our California-Nevada Annual Conference come together for a combined service after four years.
 
Another Youth Fellowship is scheduled for the first Saturday in December, along with a combined church service for Pacific Islander United Methodists the next day.
 
The Pacific Island Caucus is doing its best to play its part in "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World."