As this month’s edition of The Messenger is being published I am 10275 miles away visiting the Methodist Church on the tiny Pacific Island of Tonga. If I travel one mile further then I shall only be 10274 miles away as I will have started to come back on myself!
I am in Tonga representing the Methodist Church in Britain at the annual Conference of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga (The Methodist Church in Tonga). It is a task that fell to me because Janet and I used to be Mission Partners working with the church on Tonga. The task that I performed in Tonga, from 1993 until 2000, was as Principal of the theological college, leading the training of young men and women to be ministers in the Tongan Methodist Church. It will be good to visit. Many of those young men and women are now not so young and are running the church!
I am, of course, writing this before setting off. By the time you are reading I shall have been there several days! If you are reading this on Sunday morning at church then remember that I have already had today and, being 13 hours ahead, am heading into the later evening. This morning (25 June) I will have preached and led worship at the main church in Nuku’alofa, the capital city of Tonga. King Tupou VI was probably present and the church would have been full. You would recognise the format of the service, although not the language. People gathered together to hear the Word and to sing the hymns – just as you are gathering to do this morning.
Whilst you are having your tea I shall be starting tomorrow! At the crack of dawn on Monday, I set off on a quite small plane to fly north for one hour to the outer island which is to be the location of the Methodist Conference this year. The Conference will begin on Tuesday and run for a week. Next Sunday I shall preach again, this time at the service of Ordination of new Ministers.
I have mentioned before that the time difference between Tonga and the UK means that as one place finishes worship so the other just begins. As one country reaches the daylight, so the other reaches the night time. We are reminded that the voice of prayer is never silent. We recall that the love pf God embraces the whole earth and God’s people hold the whole earth in their love and care.
Remember the hymn:
The day thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
the darkness falls at thy behest;
to thee our morning hymns ascended,
thy praise shall sanctify our rest.
We thank thee that thy Church unsleeping,
while earth rolls onward into light,
through all the world her watch is keeping,
and rests not now by day or night.
As o’er each continent and island
the dawn leads on another day,
the voice of prayer is never silent,
nor dies the strain of praise away.
The sun that bids us rest is waking
our brethren ’neath the western sky,
and hour by hour fresh lips are making
thy wondrous doings heard on high.
So be it, Lord; thy throne shall never,
like earth’s proud empires, pass away;
thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever,
till all thy creatures own thy sway.
‘Ofa ‘atu e ‘Otua! (The Love of God be with you.