TongaBy Brian Goodwin.

Isaac is sixteen years old and normally lives in Ngatea, in the Waikato. But in October he joined a contingent of eight from New Zealand and Australia for the first-ever Bible school run by Brethren assemblies in the Kingdom of Tonga. These overseas pilgrims joined thirty local Tongan believers for "The Friendly Islands Bible School Tonga" which ran for the thirty-one days of October 2014. When his granddad suggested he go to Tonga during his school holidays to attend the Bible school "I jumped at the opportunity," says Isaac, "and soon we were boarding a plane for the Friendly Islands."

Every great project begins with an idea. This Bible school project began with a conversation between Kanda Sami, an island-born aeronautical engineer now living in Hamilton, and Atunaisa Ngalu, long-time pastor among the assemblies of Tonga. "Wouldn't it be great if we were able to have our own Bible school?" This idea and conversation led to their dream coming true. For the whole month of October over thirty students gathered to study the Scriptures in depth. The combined assembly elders were enthusiastic about the proposal and said that while they had a good idea about what the New Testament taught they would highly value teaching on the Old Testament. So the main stream of lectures was entitled "Great chapters of the Old Testament." Norm Silcock and I also lectured on subjects such as "Keeping in Step with the Spirit", the "Book of Hebrews" as well as looking in-depth at the "Doctrine of the Holy Spirit".

Five of the Tongan students came twenty-one hours by ferry from the outlying island of Vava'u. It cost them $200 each return. This represents a big outlay of time and money for people who, by and large, eke out a living by tending their plantations. They sell any surplus bananas, bread fruit and coconuts to bring in a bit of ready money. One gentleman who lives in the capital works at administering Tongan sports teams in their overseas travels. He stayed home during the month in order to attend the school.

The school ran for two hours at night on most working days. This is because many hold down regular jobs and couldn't attend at any other time. As well as the formal lectures there were additional teaching sessions on Sundays and during the week at the three assemblies in or near the capital, Nuku'alofa. (The school even made the national television news.)

Several of the students went straight from work to the lectures, having a meal only after returning from the lectures, sometime after nine o'clock.

Arthur and Margaret from Redcliffe in Queensland, Australia, also attended. "Speaking personally, I enjoyed my two weeks of the course enormously," writes Arthur. "The lectures were certainly very good, and the discussion group great fun, but I probably enjoyed the class assignments even more. It has been a very long time, and I am not prepared to say how long, since I last did any form of class homework. I therefore found doing assignments mentally difficult and challenging, but very rewarding at the same time. I have been reminded that there is a big difference between Bible reading and Bible study, and of the processes needed for Bible study." Assignments were optional, but almost every student did them -and with great enthusiasm.

Remember Isaac? "The island life is so peaceful and relaxed," he enthuses. "It is truly beautiful and the people are so kind and hospitable. It is wonderful to be surrounded by so many other Christians and I was pleased to learn so much more about the Bible. I have brought back some great memories."


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