The Birth of BTO Tonga

by John Rentz

Joshua was fighting back tears as he stepped forward to shake hands with Nafetalai. One can only imagine the thoughts going through Joshua’s mind as Andy introduced him to the grandson of the Tongan missionary who risked his life to bring the gospel to Joshua’s homeland (Simbo Island) in the Solomon Islands 94 years earlier, delivering them from centuries of tribal warfare and animistic practices. What circumstances caused this Solomon Islander, this American and this Tongan to converge on Sia’atoutai Theological College (STC) in Tonga in 2006?

Participants at Vision for Bible Translation Workshop 2011

Participants at Vision for Bible Translation Workshop 2011

Joshua Lui, who was head of Solomon Islands Bible Translation and Literacy Programmes at the time, was visiting Tonga to assist American Andy Minch – Language Strategy Advisor for SIL¹ Pacific – who was teaching Bible Translation Principles at STC.

But it all began with Vision 2025 … In 1999 God gave Wycliffe Alliance leadership a vision that ‘by the year 2025 a Bible translation project will be in progress for every people group that needs it.’ Wycliffe’s Asia Pacific area office, following the mandate of Vision 2025 to ‘give priority to … forming additional strategic partnerships,’ had asked Andy to teach the course at STC. Was it possible that the New Testament call, which compelled scores of Tongans to give their lives in missionary service across the Pacific in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, could be re-ignited in a new generation to serve the Bible translation movement in the twenty-first?

Through a series of events following the initial STC course, God raised up four godly Tongan leaders who shared the vision and agreed to give oversight: Uiliami Fukofuka, Ofa Fatafehi, Taliai Niumeitolu and Siosaia Latu. Their efforts ultimately gave birth to the Bible Translation Organisation (BTO) Tonga in February 2011. Wycliffe New Zealand, along with Wycliffe organisations in Australia and the US, and SIL leaders in the Pacific, have had the privilege of playing a role in BTO’s development. In addition to STC (which serves the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga), organisations like Youth With A Mission and Faith Evangelical Seminary have served effectively as partners in Tonga, hosting a number of training courses, including Language and Culture Acquisition, Bible Storytelling, Vision for Bible Translation, Board Governance, and Kairos.

Lupe learns songs while visiting PNG

Lupe learns songs while visiting PNG

As a result of all these collaborative efforts, which brought together dozens of people from different countries, how many Tongans are currently serving in the field through BTO? Sadly, none. Is it time to quit? No! After several groups of missionaries failed to see any results for their labours in Tonga between 1797 and 1825, they were ‘about to give up when the real breakthrough for Christian missions in Tonga occurred.’² Pray with us for a breakthrough where the Lord of the harvest raises up scores of Tongans to serve Bibleless peoples. As we go to print, Lupe Mokena is preparing to take up an assignment in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Literacy and Scripture Use. Ask God to provide the prayer and financial partners needed for her ministry, and for the ministry of the other Tongans who are preparing to be sent from BTO.

Contact our office or visit if you’d like to support Lupe Mokena with a one-off gift or regular support – please quote 227611. Additional information on Lupe and BTO Tonga is also available on request.

¹ SIL International (Summer Institute of Linguistics) is Wycliffe’s primary partner organisation.
² Mila, V. & E. (1996).  Tonga’s missionary heroes: From 1829–1995. Nuku’alofa, Tonga:  Polynesian Missions.

Return to Living Words June 2017

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word

Verse for today

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.