Standing up to make a difference
As the first and only Cook Islands Presbyterian minister to hold a doctorate, Rev Dr Tokerau Joseph appreciates the value of knowing one’s history and culture.
While his doctorate explored ethnic relations in congregations of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, he displays a keen knowledge of the history of Pacific churches throughout New Zealand.
“These congregations were initially pan-Pacific in nature, like the PIC (Pacific Island Church), which enabled different island groups to worship and work together in ways that forged a cooperative life and identity,” says Dr Joseph, who was born in Rarotonga but moved to New Zealand at the age of five.
“Specific-Pacific churches followed giving Pacific people places where they felt they belonged. Their denominational convictions also kept communities connected throughout New Zealand.”
Times have changed. Rev Dr Tokerau Joseph, who also runs a Samoan and Cook Islands service, says Pacific churches, as agents of positive change, “need to ask how they can make a difference to the current challenges of Pacific people.”
“What is our gospel response to end the economic and employment disparities our communities face?” he asks.
“What part can we play to alleviate the plight of the increasing number of the homeless, living on the streets or in their cars? And how might our theology engage with cultural assumptions about family violence, so that the dignity and wellbeing in our families are upheld?”
Dr Joseph knows Pacific churches in New Zealand have something to offer their people, as they do to the country they now call home.
“We are taught to love thou and thy neighbour. If there was ever a matter of Pacific people standing up to make a difference, as Jesus did, it was through the church. If there was ever a time to do so again, it is now.”