Though the worst storm to hit Tonga in more than half a century left a trail of destruction in its wake, it didn’t deter Foursquare members in the South Pacific island nation from gathering to worship, even though their usual meeting place was damaged.
Days after Cyclone Gita swept through the region, they met for their regular church service in a tent, encouraged in their difficult circumstances by emergency relief provided by Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR).
Around 30 Foursquare families’ homes were destroyed or badly damaged by the Feb. 12 Category 4 storm’s winds, which reached almost 150 mph. Some lost roofs, while others suffered flooding, reports Foursquare’s national leader in Tonga, Ilisapeta Tuitupou. No fatalities were recorded, though the Parliament House in the Tongan capital was among the buildings affected, and many were left without power or water.
Despite the remote location, FDR was able to mobilize immediate help. Foursquare Missions International (FMI) Missionary David Bickley flew in from the nearest neighboring island nation, Fiji, the day after the storm, taking with him relief supplies and emergency funds.
“What we saw and heard is almost beyond words,” he posted to Facebook. “I can’t imagine going through such a tragedy.” Visiting Foursquare families affected by the cyclone, he was able to distribute food, tarps, gloves, batteries, lanterns and other supplies.
David’s visit was “a very touching moment for us,” affirms Ilisapeta. “It was a great blessing.” She also expresses appreciation for the support and prayers offered by Foursquare churches in other parts of the world. “Thank you to our Foursquare family all over the world for your heart of love to us,” she says. “We are at peace knowing that we are not alone; with God’s grace and your uniting with us, we are strong.”
Ilisapeta notes that construction is due to start soon on a new church building. As they are able, members want to start reaching out to others “who are facing very serious difficulties,” she adds. Foursquare numbers around 750 members and adherents in Tonga, with more than 1,200 decisions for Christ recorded in 2017.
For Chad Isenhart, FDR’s international response director, being able to send David, missionary in nearby Fiji, in with immediate help and to assess ongoing needs, is an example of the “brilliance” of the ministry partnerships that happen within Foursquare.
“It was so helpful to have someone who could be an FDR responder from that part of the world,” he says. “Not only was he able to get there quickly, he also understands the area and the culture.”
FDR was able to provide immediate relief assistance from its FDR Ready Fund, a donor-supported resource that enables the ministry to meet immediate needs when crises strike.
“It really helps us to be the tip of the spear in times like this, with a really quick response,” explains Chad. Further funds will help support outreach efforts to others in Tonga, he adds. “These sorts of situations present an open door for the gospel, in communities where people are in need.”
Support for FDR’s help in Tonga can be offered at 4sq.ca/give.