Kingdom of Tonga
World Convention is currently building a global reference for the countries and territories where we know there are Christian – Churches of Christ – Disciples of Christ Congregations. Of the 193 United Nations States, the Stone-Campbell Movement exists in 174. This listing includes other nations and territories, numbering 195 countries where there is at least one representation of our churches.
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The Polynesian kingdom of Tonga consists of a 170 island archipelago in the South Pacific, northeast of New Zealand. Of the islands about 36 are uninhabited while the total land mass of all the islands is about 748 sq km (289 sq miles). Inhabited since about 1000 B.C. they were named the Friendly Isles by Captain John Cook when he visited them in the 1770s. About fifty years afterwards Wesleyan missionaries came to the islands and Christianity quickly spread among the native people. Today the Free Wesleyan tradition still claims 43% of the population. There is also a large percentage of Roman Catholics (16%) and Mormons (12%). The Free Church of Tonga claims 14% of the population. The population numbers about 110,000 people.
Tonga was never fully colonized and is therefore unique in the South Pacific, though it became a British protectorate in 1905. By 1970 it once again became a constitutional monarchy apart from British protection. The King, Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, and a small group of hereditary nobles have permanent majority in the single legislative body, the Legislative Assembly. Subsistence farming is the basis of the economy though some food and spices are grown for export. Foreign aid, tourism and a number of new construction programs also help bolster the economy.
98% of the population are Christian, with the four major church affiliations being Free Wesleyans/Methodists (38,052 or 37%), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) (17,109 or 17%), Roman Catholics (15,992 or 16%), Free Church of Tonga (11,599 or 11%).
A Church of Christ was begun in Tonga in about 1972 and in 1990 reported 35 members. Two other congregations on the islands contributed to an overall membership of sixty in 1990. In 1991 World Radio Tonga began broadcasts on a weekly basis which led to baptisms and the strengthening of the new converts to Churches of Christ. About the same time, Englishman Ronald Coleman moved to American Samoa and began to aid the new converts in Tonga. Several workers in Tonga have studied at the South Pacific Bible College in Tauranga, New Zealand.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
Revised by Gary Holloway, January 10, 2014