By Rev. Garth Duke-Barton, Conference Secretary for Global Ministries
Many of us remember Rev H. Eddie Fox. He served for 25 years as the executive director of the World Methodist Evangelism. He came from Sevierville, Tenn. near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. He told the world he was from Appalachia and never saw an ocean until the age of 21.
Eddie traveled the world, sharing the Gospel wherever he went. One of the places was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a country many of us did not know existed called the Kingdom of Tonga. Eddie also preached at Epworth By The Sea and told us about his many ministries throughout the world. One of those was to this island nation of Tonga. You might ask how in the world Methodism reached the shores of Tonga. I certainly did.
In 1616, Dutch explorers met the inhabitants of Tonga. They were seeking trading partners, not to convert people to Christianity. More ships came to what was then dubbed the Friendly Islands. From 1773-1777, British Navy Captain James Cook’s crew sailed the Pacific Ocean and stopped three times on the islands of Tonga.
In 1797, missionaries from the London Missionary Society tried to plant Methodism, but it did not last. Again in 1822 a Methodist missionary from the Wesleyan Missionary Society in London moved there but soon left because of the failing health of his wife. Finally, in 1826, the Wesleyan Missionary Society sent a second missionary and this time it worked.
There is much more to this story, but it is a great example of what can happen when God sends people to share the Gospel message. To learn more details about the early days of Christianity in Tonga read this excerpt.
Today, Tonga has 38,000 members in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga. They are part of the World Methodist Council. The official head of the church is also the king of Tonga.
Rev. Garth Duke-Barton, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Jesup, also serves as Conference Secretary for Global Ministries.