A Home in The United Methodist Church: The Pacific Islander Ministry Plan

By Monalisa Tui’Tahi

The Pacific Islander Ministry Plan, which was approved by the 2012 United Methodist General Conference, was developed over a four-year period by a committee of Pacific Islanders and Global Ministries staff members. The study explored ways to empower Pacific-Islander United Methodists to fully participate in the life of the church and to be agents of Christian love and service within the world community.

creationdancers600Having been approved by General Conference in 2012, the Pacific Islander Ministry Plan is the youngest ministry plan for Global Ministries and also the newest plan for the church as a whole. The people that the plan seeks to enable and empower have been recent immigrants to the United States, relatively speaking. The first generation is just beginning to get older now. My parents, who arrived from Tonga in the mid-1970s, were part of the early Pacific-Islander migration—which really boomed in the 1980s.

Hawaii and Los Angeles are the natural doors for this immigration. After people arrived, they migrated and settled in pockets of the West—Hawaii, California, and Utah. A big pocket settled in Utah because of the Mormon Church. There are also a good number of Tongans (10 congregations) in the UM Rocky Mountain Annual Conference.

They come with an already well-developed sense of their faith experience, and that is a big part of who they are and a defining part of their identity as new immigrants in the United States. As soon as they settled, they formed churches—Wesleyan in tradition. Methodism came to the Pacific Islands as early as 1822 through the Methodist Church of Australia (which is now part of the Uniting Church of Australia). Some of these congregations have tried to align themselves with The United Methodist Church, but they have not had much success.

As a result, they formed more in line with their native Methodist counterparts, from whichever country they came. While The United Methodist Church forms partnerships with some of these Methodist denominations, there are no United Methodist churches, as such, on the islands. So the United Methodist structure and network connection is unfamiliar. tongans600


As recent immigrants, Pacific Islanders have great language-resource needs. Most Pacific Islanders speak only their native language and understand very limited English. However, their numbers are not sufficient enough to demand much attention from local governments and existing community services. Therefore, there are very few resources available to them.


Family and Community


Like most Pacific Islanders, neither of my parents spoke English, and they lived very much a Tongan life on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii. My dad, who had immigrated to Hawaii a little earlier, found a group of Tongans in relationship with a little church on the North Shore called Kahuku United Methodist Church. When we settled there in 1976, we immediately moved into that congregation, which had a Tongan language ministry. We didn’t miss a beat in our faith experience—we walked right into a home church.

creationdancersgenesis6002That was the grounding for my life and for the life of my family. Here was a church that sounded like home and did everything we had done in Tonga. We had our children’s Sunday, we had our choir—we dressed as if we were going to church in Tonga. So this little church became the grounding place for all of our new immigrant experiences—not just for our family, but for many of the Tongan families that were there in the 1970s and 1980s. Kahuku UMC fed the spirit of those who wanted to attend church as they had known it, but who also needed to be a part of, find an identity with, and be connected to the church in the United States. I grew up living into and experiencing the fullness of that kind of church. There were several other Tongan immigrant families who also lived into the fullness of this experience, including the `Ulu`ave family. I grew up with the `Ulu`ave siblings, the Rev. Linita `Ulu`ave Moa, the Rev. Dr. Kalesita `Ulu`ave Tu`ifua, and the Rev. Solomone `Ulu`ave, all of whom answered a call to ministry that began in this little country church in Hawaii. I think that experience has been the driving force for my own involvement and work in Pacific Islander Ministry.

Kahuku UMC also had immigrants from the Philippines as members, as well as Japanese members. Each group worshiped in its own language, but we were all members of one church. Pastor Roy Kasaki was the pastor there for 20 years. It was in his person that the UMC became a reality for a group of Tongan Pacific Islanders back in those days. Looking back, I now see the foresight of our parents in finding that place to connect—so we had a church home. That really helped my generation, the second-generation, to feel connected.

Seeking Full Inclusion

The catalyst for the work of the Pacific Islander Ministry Plan has been to bring into alignment this people, whose whole identity and life has been wrapped around being involved in the work of the church in a different setting, and culture, and language. We see this action by the General Conference in approving the plan as a big first step. That endorsement was one of the first tangible manifestations that Pacific Islanders should be considered as part of The United Methodist Church. To have denominational support—not just in words, but in tangible ways, such as funding—says: “your participation as a faith community is valued, and we want to enable you and empower you to be part of the work of making disciples for the transformation of the world in this particular setting.”

So, for the first two years we are still in a growing process. The plan is moving forward, but as in any beginning, we don’t yet know where the road will take us. We’ve been through a real process of education concerning basic things—what is a plan, what is grant writing, what kind of grant can be requested? We’ve been learning about programmatic things that the plan can support and how to identify non-programmatic things that can’t be supported. In many ways, we’re just learning the language.

We have concentrated on leadership development this year. These different churches have leaders in place who have formed congregations and ministries, but our work has really been to retool and equip those leaders as United Methodists. That is an ongoing process.

We have sponsored three leadership events so far: two in California, in San Bruno and Santa Ana, and one in Hawaii. They were all well attended. The hunger and the need for connection were so apparent.

The Pacific Islander Ministry Plan structure has been developed and there is a process for applying for and receiving grants for Pacific Islander ministry projects. We started out in 2013 with a Global Ministries’ staff coordinator, and we have formed a Pacific Islander group that is very involved in drafting and birthing the plan. That group continues to be the liaison between the Pacific Islanders and Global Ministries.

Ties That Bind monalisatui600

Tongans and other Pacific Islanders have a big tie to their first generation. Because family connections are valued, you’ll often find three generations in the pew together. We are really trying to reach that second generation. It is not uncommon for them to be attending worship without any real commitment to the work of the church. People of the first immigrant generation are there because they are committed. But often the second generation is there out of respect for their elders—just because they are told to be there. Now is our time to make the church more relevant to them—to help them connect. That connection was made for us by our parents. But now we have to make that connection for ourselves and the next generation.

At the end of the day, I realize that the work I do to establish and develop the Pacific Islander Ministry Plan has been a work of advocacy and giving voice to a group of people that does not have voice, for one reason or another, within the United Methodist connection. The United Methodist Pacific Islander Caucus was actually the driving force for bringing the plan into fruition. It was the work of the caucus—advocating, pushing, and actually drafting the plan.

Monalisa S. Tui’tahi is an attorney in California and a member of the Pacific Islander Caucus of The United Methodist Church. Her husband, the Rev. Dr. Siosaia Tui’tahi, is the pastor of First UMC of Santa Ana in the California-Pacific Annual Conference. This article was first published in the July-August 2014 issue of New World Outlook magazine.


Dancers from Creation Dance Production, a multicultural dance troupe from Genesis United Methodist Church in San Jose, California, perform in the lobby of the Tampa Convention Center during the 2012 United Methodist General Conference. Photo: Kathleen Barry/UMNS

Tongans from across The United Methodist Church give the invocation during the worship at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas, where the Pacific-Islander study was overwhelmingly approved. Photo: John C. Goodwin/UMNS

Dancers from the Creation Dance Production, a ministry of Genesis United Methodist Church in San Jose, California, perform a dance of hospitality to open the evening worship celebration at the 2012 United Methodist General Conference in Tampa, Florida. Photo: Mike Dubose/UMNS

Monalisa Tui´tahi, representing the Pacific Islander Ministry Plan, addresses the pre-General Conference news briefing at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida. Photo: Mike Dubose/UMNS



What can ethnic caucuses teach the church?

By Heather Hahn
April 1, 2014 | ST. LOUIS (UMNS)

People of color are the disciples who can bring new life to The United Methodist Church.

That was a recurring theme throughout a historic gathering March 26-27 that for the first time brought together the boards of the denomination’s five U.S.-based ethnic caucuses.

Retired Bishop Linda Lee, in her sermon during opening worship, said it was long past time for many in the church — including some people of color themselves — to view The United Methodist Church’s racial and ethnic diversity in a different way.

People of color aren’t simply recipients of church money and ministry, she pointed out. pacific-islanders-national-caucus-umc-635x388They are Christian leaders who contribute to and distribute church funds, who bring spiritual insights to church decision-making and who have something to teach a denomination struggling with declining U.S. membership.

“We are the ones who can help the church experience new life through the power and presence of Jesus Christ as it is expressed in us,” said Lee, the first African-American woman elected to the episcopacy in the North Central Jurisdiction and now bishop-in-residence at United Methodist-related Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. “God calls us — each of us— to gain new sight, new voice and new ways.”

Her listeners included about 100 leaders of the Black Methodists for Church Renewal, MARCHA (Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano-Americanos), the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists, the Native American International Caucus and the Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists.

The Inter-Ethnic Strategy Development Group, which consists of the top leaders of each caucus, held the board training event with financial support from the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race.

During the two-day gathering, caucus leaders received training to improve their boards’ effectiveness and fundraising. They also shared common concerns and hopes for The United Methodist Church — and suggestions for improving disciple-making across the whole denomination.

Here are some of the ideas participants shared.

Embrace the marginalized

Those gathered were well familiar with Pew Research that shows the rapid rise in the number of Americans who answer “none” when asked their religion. 

Grants Available for Ministry

The United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race is looking for “innovative, bold, high-impact initiatives” that will increase intercultural competency or support vital conversations about race, cultural diversity and systemic equity.

The agency’s CORR Action Fund plans to award grants $20,000 to $80,000 for such initiatives to conferences, seminaries, jurisdictions, churches and/or caucuses. The initiatives must.

• demonstrate bold and innovative thinking;
• reach more people, younger people and more diverse people;
• result in long-term change that could be replicated in other local churches, districts, conferences, jurisdictions, seminaries or other entities within The United Methodist Church.

Projects may begin Nov. 1, 2014, and must conclude by May 31, 2016. Applications are due June 30, 2014 by email.

To learn more

One-fifth of the U.S. public — and a third of adults under 30 — identify as religiously unaffiliated, according to a 2012 Pew report. Denominations in the U.S. across the theological spectrum also have reported membership declines in recent years, including the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention.

“Christendom is over; triumphalism is over,” said the Rev. Jacob S. Dhamaraj, president of the National Federation of Asian American United Methodists and pastor of Shrub Oak (N.Y.) United Methodist Church.

If the denomination is to fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ, church members will need to build relationships with those “who have been left out of the church,” Dhamaraj said.

In the United States, that increasingly means reaching new immigrant populations and people of color who have historically been marginalized in mainline Protestant traditions. The people of color who are already United Methodist can lead the way in evangelizing the new mission field, Dhamaraj and other leaders said.

But for that to happen, Raúl Alegría, MARCHA’s president, said the church will need more “ethnic persons in leadership positions in our conferences and cabinets.”

“I am reminded of this phrase, ‘the least, the last, the lost,’” Alegría said. “If we are not welcoming those persons — whoever those persons are — we’re not doing what God called us to do.”

Expand the definition of vitality

Church vitality can appear and even sound very different among various ethnic communities, caucus members said.

Instead of singing Charles Wesley hymns or the newest praise and worship songs, ethnic and racial United Methodists — whether Native American or recent immigrants — may sing and pray using the language and customs of their cultures.

For Native Americans, worship may include a “cedaring” or “smudging” ceremony where people burn cedar or sweetgrass and pray. Cynthia Kent, chair of the Native American International Caucus, cautioned pastors from trying to get their congregations to abandon Indian traditions. She also said she is wary of pastors and district superintendents telling congregations they are not vital.

“I believe our churches are fine,” she said. “If they say we are not well, then we believe we are not well and then we do get sick. Instead, we should say, ‘If this is working for you, let’s keep it going this way’ or ‘Let’s add something to help you rather than revamping everything.’”

Cultivate young leaders

Like just about every United Methodist body today, the ethnic caucus boards discussed the need to develop young Christian leaders to succeed the aging Baby Boomer generation.

At the same time, each of the groups had 20- and 30-somethings among their leadership. The Rev. Cedrick Bridgeforth, chair of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, at 43 is a member of Generation X and younger than the 47-year-old caucus he now leads.

Bridgeforth, a district superintendent in the California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference, noted that his group has long made youth leadership development a priority. The caucus holds national youth Harambee (a Swahili term that means “let’s pull together”) every other year, and its jurisdictional bodies also hold similar youth gatherings. In recent years, the caucus also has launched the Bishop Melvin George Talbert Leadership Institute to train young African-Americans to become creative leaders.

“We try to tap into what people’s gifts and passions are and let them live it out,” Bridgeforth said. “And we can stand to do more of that.”

Alex Soto, a 20-year-old board member from MARCHA and member of the Wisconsin Conference, credited the older members of his board with being willing to share their knowledge and pass the baton to a younger generation.

Work together despite differences

Even within individual ethnic caucuses, there is substantial diversity. MARCHA represents United Methodists from 22 countries. The National Federation of Asian American United Methodists has 12 sub-caucuses. These United Methodists don’t just differ in language and countries of origin, but they have differing points of view on the issues facing the church, including human sexuality.

Still, many at the gathering discussed ways they could work together in transforming the world. The Rev. Ronnie Miller-Yow, a Black Methodists for Church Renewal board member, challenged his fellow board members to think of issues they could advocate for on behalf of the other ethnic caucuses.

“If I only fight for black issues, that’s self-interest,” said Miller-Yow, pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Little Rock, Ark. “I have to move my conversation to a Kingdom mentality and touch on the issues that affect all of God’s children. When we do that, we build momentum and it builds trust.”

Remember, we, too, are The United Methodist Church

Repeatedly, caucus members noted that they too are United Methodist and can help the church better reflect the Kingdom of God.  

“We have a message to share with the larger community to be powerful witnesses for Christ in our generation,” said Dhamaraj of the Asian-American caucus.

Monalisa Tui'tahi, who as chair of the inter-ethnic leadership group helped organize the meeting, said that she expected for the boards to hold joint gatherings again in the coming months and years.  “We need to hold each other accountable, just as we hold the church accountable,” said Tui'tahi, executive director of the Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists,

Bishop Lee called the caucus leaders “yeast in the loaf.”

 “You are they who …. will impact the church from coast to coast and beyond the coast because you have come and participated,” she said. “Because of you, I believe there is hope for the church and hope for the world.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615) 742-5470 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


GC 2012: Pacific Islanders Welcome New Ministry Plan


Congregations of the California-Nevada Conference worship together at a New Year's celebration. The choir is from First Tongan UMC of Palo Alto (CA).  Photo courtesy of  Jeneane Jones, Cal-Nev Annual Conference.

By Elliot Wright 
May 2, 2012 | Tampa, Fla. (UMNS)

"Our kalia ('canoe') has arrived and been welcomed," said the Rev. Sione Veikoso, hailing the passage by the United Methodist General Conference of a comprehensive plan for Pacific Islander ministry in the United States.
"Our canoe has been wandering around and now has a port," stated the chair of the denomination's Pacific Islander National Caucus of United Methodists, a California pastor. The plan, four years in development, sets up a structure comparable to United Methodist ministry plans for other racial/ethnic communities.
Many immigrant Pacific Islanders arrive in the United States as Methodists but do not always find quick entry into the US church culture. The plan addresses this issue, and also how to incorporate the spiritual energy of Oceanic people into the church.
There are now some 70 United Methodist congregations composed primarily of Pacific Islanders in the United States. Members come primarily from Tongan, Samoan, and Fijian backgrounds, but there are also US-based populations from Guam, the Mariana Islands, Micronesia, Hawaii, and Palau—a total of roughly 1.1 million people.
The Rev. Eddie Kelemeni, chair of the committee that prepared the plan, said it is essential for "the church to help Pacific Islanders to adjust to the new culture."
Monalisa Tuitahi, an attorney who helped to draft the plan, added that Pacific Islanders have significant "gifts and graces to share with the whole church. Faith runs deeply in our people; being a disciple of Jesus Christ is very important. We are now recognized in a tangible way and can help to enrich and strengthen the church and its mission."
Some of those gifts and graces are outlined in a report accompanying the petition to establish the new ministry plan. "Pacific Islanders live out their faith consistent with a theology of abundance," the report says, "and this is an asset for the United Methodist connection as it struggles to meet overwhelming needs with scarce resources."
The report further says that a "system of mutuality that undergirds the Pacific Island culture and life plays an important role in ensuring that everyone participates in the world of building the ministry."
The plan was developed over a four-year period by a committee staffed by the General Board of Global Ministries, which will also administer the work of the new entity.
The denomination's general budget for the next four years includes $544,000 to fund the Comprehensive Plan for Pacific Island Ministries.


Pacific Island Caucus Experiences Revival


Cal-Nevada's Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. washes the feet of the Rev. Tevita Vaikona at Rev. Vaikona's ordination in June.

By Inoke Qarau
Florin UMC, Sacramento

In keeping with our United Methodist mission statement, "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World," the Pacific Island Caucus of the California-Nevada Annual Conference is experiencing a revival in the community it serves and beyond.
The Pacific Island National Caucus of United Methodists (PINCUM) petitioned the General Conference in 2008 to establish the Pacific Island United Methodist Church study, to research the needs in Pacific Island communities and develop recommendations to address those needs. Just last month the General Board of Global Ministries confirmed the hiring of Dr. Sela Panapasa of Michigan State University to head the study group, to be comprised largely of Pacific Islanders. The group will establish priorities for the funding of programs to develop ministries in the communities that would reach Pacific Islanders. Findings are to be presented as recommendations to the 2012 General Conference.
Youth Fellowship gets year off to great start
The Pacific Islanders Youth fellowship kicked off the year with what turned out to be spiritual awakening for the majority of youth and adults alike. Tongans, Fijians, Samoans, and other Pacific Islanders were well represented at Laurel UMC in Oakland. The theme of the two-day event was the relationship of the "Moana" (the sea or ocean) to the Pacific islanders.
Organized by the Revs. Siosifa Hingano and Maile Koloto, the fellowship saw youths traveling there from Sacramento, Escalon, Sanger, Palo Alto, San Francisco, and Hayward, as well as Oakland. Gifted musicians, inspirational speakers, testimonials, dances, skits, and keynote speakers filled the program. And as usual, what would a Pacific Island gathering be without a feast? A scrumptious feast honoring God's gift to humankind of the "Moana" was prepared by the Laurel UMC hosts to top off the event.
Annual Conference Session
In preparation for Annual Conference Session this year, the Rev. Linda Wiberg (left), Cal-Nevada's Director of Connectional Ministry, was the guest speaker at the first Pacific Island Caucus pre-conference orientation at Laurel UMC. The event was attended by more than 50 community youth and church leaders from around the Annual Conference. The discussions and testimonials inspired many of them to attend ACS, feeling at ease in terms of understanding conference procedures.
The involvement of Pacific Island Caucus members was evident at ACS this year, when a booth was provided to showcase our growing ministry and highlight the needs we face both here and at home.
Annual Conference Session this year sadly coincided with disturbing events in Fiji. After the 2006 coup the military regime had declared that no permits would be issued for the Fiji Methodist Church to hold its annual conference unless a couple of clergy were removed for political reasons - and the 2009 conference had to be cancelled.
Here in Sacramento a resolution was passed to bring forth the struggle our Christian brothers and sisters in Fiji were facing, and stating that we in the California-Nevada Annual Conference stand in solidarity with them in their time of trial. In keeping Bishop Warner Brown regularly updated on the events in Fiji, the Pacific Island Caucus also provided materials and firsthand knowledge that prompted his moving speech to the conference and the postponement of his travels to Fiji.
The Laurel UMC youth band led praise and prayer on the first day of the conference. A touching moment came when Bishop Brown, along with the Rev. Siosifa Hingano, Chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, officiated in the ordination and commissioning of new clergy, including one of our very own in the Rev. Tevita Vaikona.
Tongan National Caucus
The Tongan National Caucus on the 30th of July commissioned its new president at the First Tongan UMC in Salt Lake City, Utah. The new president is our retired chairman of Pacific Islanders Caucus, the Rev. Maile Koloto of Laurel UMC. Bishop Elaine Stanovsky of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference officiated at the ceremony (see photo at right). Hundreds attended the four-day conference, all blessed to have been invited to witness the special occasion. We appreciated the common bond of the Pacific and the rich heritage that we inherited from our forefathers, which is showcased through our service to our church and community.
A couple of weeks later Rev. Koloto was appointed the Chaplain Designate of the Tonga Consulate General in a service he also preached, attended by His Majesty King George V. The service, held at the Falehufunga UMC, paid tribute to the victims of the sunken Princess Ashika ferry, which had 128 passengers on board. Only 54 were rescued, two bodies were recovered, and 72 are missing and presumed trapped in the ship, which lies in waters some 110 feet deep.
Immigration law clinic opens in San Francisco
September 10 marked another milestone in the Caucus's tireless desire to better serve its community. The Bay Area Immigration Task Force, a church ministry organized with the assistance of Justice for Our Neighbors (a project of United Methodist Committee on Relief, or UMCOR), opened its first immigration law clinic at Temple UMC in San Francisco.
Included in the service: counsel on immigration status and possible remedies, assistance with preparation of various immigrant petitions and application for naturalization for eligible clients, an educational "know your rights" workshop for immigrants, and outside referrals to other legal services and attorneys specializing in a client's special needs, among other services. The national program attorney for Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) will travel from Alabama once a month to meet with clients at the San Francisco clinic. [Read related story here.]
Fijian Caucus
The Pacific Island Caucus in our Annual Conference truly is experiencing a revival. The Fijian Caucus is slowly but surely learning and implementing the knowledge passed on by the more established Tongan Caucus, which will celebrate its 20 year anniversary in Hawaii next year (while Tongan Methodists themselves celebrate 40 years of fellowship here in the United States). The national Fijian Caucus in its first year includes churches in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
October 18 will see all Fijian United Methodist ministries in our California-Nevada Annual Conference come together for a combined service after four years.
Another Youth Fellowship is scheduled for the first Saturday in December, along with a combined church service for Pacific Islander United Methodists the next day.
The Pacific Island Caucus is doing its best to play its part in "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World."

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