Sunday, September 24, 2006

Uniting Church goes Pacifika

Yesterday we attended the opening of the Synod of Victoria at the Melbourne Town Hall and sat upstairs in the Gallery amidst numerous choirs, the 80 Tongans in the opposite balcony dressed in black and mourning mats. Choirs were from migrant groups - Fijians, Samoans, Tongans, Chinese, Indonesians, and Korean. It was a lovely multicultural and cross-cultural program of worship with song and prayers and the induction of a Tongan, Rev Jason Kioa as Moderator (leader) for the next three years.

When we saw numerous friends in the crowd and up on stage we were thinking of the connections over the years. Even the liturgist, another Tongan, was once a young boy making a lovo in Geelong for a choir visit at our local church. The pipe organ in the Town Hall is a brilliant one and the controller let out all stops at times. It was a grand religious gathering in a secular building. A few hours earlier we had been part of a closing down gathering where a church has been sold to become a kindergarten! Anyway our little Fijian church group will be welcomed into a different suburb next Sunday!

Rev Jason Kioa's story
From detention to church leader
By Lorna Edwards (in The Age newspaper)
September 28, 2005
Photo: Angela Wylie

WHEN Jason Kioa, a former Tongan public relations officer, was arrested and thrown in the Maribyrnong detention centre in 1983, he made a bargain with God that if he got out of there he would serve the church for the rest of his life.

Two decades later he has made good. Yesterday he was elected Moderator of the Uniting Church synod of Victoria and Tasmania, making him the first Pacific Islander to lead an Australian church. Currently the minister at Melbourne's Wesley Uniting Church, he said yesterday those 11 dark days in detention had made him more understanding as he rose through the ranks of the Uniting Church, the nation's third-largest denomination.

"I tell you, I'm very passionate about those who struggle, because I have struggled through processes and through government departments and through the processes of the church," he said yesterday. "Through the journey from Maribyrnong Detention Centre to now I have learnt to actually feel my gut feeling, and my heart aches for those who are struggling on their way, whether they be asylum seekers, illegal migrants or indigenous people."

Back in 1981 when he arrived in Australia with his wife and two daughters to do a management course for the Tongan tourism board, Mr Kioa admits he was a "loose cannon" alienated from the church of his father, a Methodist minister.
After a cyclone devastated his family's property in Tonga, he decided to stay and work in Australia, leading to his arrest in a Bulleen factory as an illegal immigrant.

The five-year court battle that followed was lauded as the most important immigration case of the decade, with a High Court ruling that established the right to appeal against deportation.

During the case, he was unable to leave the country to visit his dying father in Tonga, and had to tell him through taped messages that he would follow his wishes and become a minister. Mr Kioa said he still felt the need to serve the community, partly to justify the $1 million it cost Legal Aid to keep him in the country.

In the age of global terrorism, he believes the biggest challenge in his new role will be to encourage people to accept diversity within the Uniting Church, which has been divided in recent years by a fiery debate on gay ordination.

His family, including three adult daughters and a son, were delighted with their father's achievement, said his wife, Fheodolina.

"I feel humble about it, and thank God for this chance," she said.


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