On the last morning of the Bishop's conference on Pangaimotu Island, just off Nuku'alofa in Tonga, we had been asked to walk around to the other side of the island for our morning Eucharist. So, leaving our little ferry by way of a floating jetty we walked the ten minutes from Big Mama Yacht Club, where we had been meeting, and found Archbishop Winston Halapua waiting for us. He was dressed in an alb and was talking on his cellphone. Here, in this place where it felt about as remote as it gets he was still connected.
Which was why he had asked to meet us there. The spot he chose was one where, as a small boy, he had gone fishing with his father. As he explained it, the clergy stipend back then wasn't nearly enough to feed the twelve members of the Halapua family, so his father put food on the table using his expertise with a throw net. Little Winston's job was to gather the fish his father took from the net and form them into a sort of raft to float back to the mainland. It was a place of cherished memories, where the little boy had performed useful and enjoyable work with his adored father. But now the beach had changed and the coconut palms were dying off because global warming was causing a rise in sea levels. No matter how remote we are, we are still connected.
Pangaimotu is exquisite. There is a gently sloping beach, palm trees, coarse golden sand, warm water and a charmingly down at heel establishment run by Ana, aka Big Mama where blue water yachts stop for R&R and where locals come for swimming and picnics. We sat under a canopy made from driftwood and palm leaves for a few days to discuss the affairs of the Anglican church in Polynesia and Aotearoa/New Zealand. Perhaps because we were so relaxed, or perhaps because there was no way we could do anything but talk to each other, this was one of the friendliest and most productive meetings of its type I have attended. We chatted, prayed together, ate, sang songs as we travelled to and from the island, walked, swam, drank the local beer, and did our best not to snooze during business sessions. A lot got planned. A lot was decided. Friendships were deepened and renewed in the hot still Tongan days together. And in the middle of our idyllic landscape, there was always a visual reminder of the importance of what we were doing. Just off the jetty is a rusting shipwreck, pointing up out of the water like a giant shark's head. On most days little boys (and the occasional bishop) jumped off it into the crystal clear water. Right beside it was another, smaller wreck, and as we walked around the island I could count another eight, varying in size from small fishing vessels to large ocean going ships. These were boats driven ashore in hurricanes, and left to rot because the Tongan government had no money to remove them, and not enough power to force their owners to do so. It was another reminder that we are all connected, and that the cost of a modern trading economy often falls on the smallest and most vulnerable, whether it be people or nations.
As Justin Duckworth reminded the Christians of Dunedin a few weeks ago, our call as resurrection people; as followers of Jesus, is to fight oppression wherever we see it. And here in the eroding shoreline of Panaimotu and the thousands of tons of abandoned iron was sign enough of what we are called to sacrifice ourselves to defeat.