Telling the stories of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia

Tsunami tears at the heart of Pasefika

The tsunami which has devastated Samoa and parts of Tonga has had a heavy impact on all Pacific Island people – including leading figures in the Anglican Church.

• Anxious times for Archbishop Jabez Bryce

• Archbishops call for prayer

• Tens of thousands affected, says Radio NZ

• Video: Radio DJ describes the moment of impact

• Pacific communities rally to send relief

Lloyd Ashton  |  05 Oct 2009  |

In terms of numbers, the Anglican Church isn’t a very big player in Samoa.

But the scale of the tsunami disaster is such that no-one with any Pacific connections has been left untouched by it – including some leading figures in the Diocese of Polynesia.

Take Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa-Leota, for example.

Archdeacon Tai – as she’s known to hundreds in this church – is a Samoan living in Auckland. She has served as the Anglican Observer at the United Nations, on the Anglican Consultative Council, as a Diocese of Polynesia representative to the General Synod, and earlier this year she was priested.

For her, the impact of the tsunami is profound.

One of her adult sons was in a van that was swept out to sea by the tsunami. He finished up half under the van, impaled by roofing iron. He’s critically injured, and is in Apia hospital.

One of Tai’s daughters-in-law – who is the treasurer of All Saints, Apia – has lost at least 10 members of her family.

Tai’s home village, Poutasi, which is on the southern coast of Upolu, one of the two main Samoan islands, has been devastated.

“It looks like it’s been bombed,” she says.

The wife of her matai, or village chief, was drowned and buried at dawn on Thursday.

Winston Halapua, who is the Bishop for the Diocese of Polynesia in Aotearoa New Zealand, and who's based at St John’s College in Auckland, is another closely affected.

The Halapua clan comes from Niua Toputapu, which is the northernmost island in the Tongan group – and far closer to Samoa than Nuku’alofa, the Tongan capital.

The epicentre of the earthquake was between Samoa and Niua Toputapu – and Radio New Zealand is reporting that eight people were killed by the tsunami in Niuatoputapu, three are missing and at least four are critically injured.

On Thursday morning Winston was looking at satellite photos of his ancestral island to see which of his relatives’ homes are still standing.

The impacts go further. Vaotogo Frank Smith, for example, is the vicar of Ekalesia Agelekana, the Samoan Anglican congregation that gathers on Sunday afternoons at the Selwyn Church in Mangere East.

He comes from the Aleipata region of Upolu – one of the hardest-hit regions of Upolu – and many of his family live there still.

Others among his colleagues and church community are on edge, awaiting news of missing relatives.

The leader of the Diocese of Polynesia, Archbishop Jabez Bryce, who is based in Suva, Fiji, was en route to New Zealand at the time of writing this piece, so he couldn't be contacted.

But he too will be feeling the tsunami’s impact. His father was Samoan, and he grew up in Samoa.

Bishop Winston Halapua puts the disaster in context. “When the people of the Pacific are facing a disaster of this scale,” he says, “there are no church boundaries. We are blood relations, we are all connected, we are all a part of it.

“And we take comfort in knowing that the whole Body of Christ is praying for us.”

Footnote: The Anglican Missions Board has set up an appeal for tsunami relief.

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