Sixteen months after Tropical Cyclone Gita devastated the island nation of Tonga, the rebuilding of Adventist churches and schools is largely complete, while many government-owned organizations still wait for repairs. Risk Management Service’s Linzi Aitken explains how the Adventist Church was able to respond so swiftly.
On the night of February 12, 2018, Tropical Cyclone Gita passed through the islands of Tonga. It was a Category 4 cyclone that wreaked havoc across the nation. Adventist Church-owned homes, schools, offices, and churches sustained damage, with some sites left uninhabitable and unsafe.
How would life get back to normal for the communities so adversely affected by this devastating cyclone?
The initial response was a humanitarian one, with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) providing food parcels, the local mission providing emergency accommodation and volunteers, Trans-Pacific Union Mission releasing funds for the humanitarian aid effort, and the local Tongan government and military offering assistance with the clean-up.
Risk Management Service (RMS) manager Jonathan Hale flew to Tonga to meet with the Mission office staff, ADRA’s emergency response team, and loss adjusters to inspect and assess the damage within days of the cyclone. Together their goal was to reinstate property as quickly as possible to enable Adventist churches and schools in Tonga to get back to their mission and normal life.
Property coverage, facilitated by RMS, is made available to Adventist organizations in the Pacific islands to provide long-term resilience and reduce the vulnerability of communities after significant loss events, such as cyclones.
RMS acknowledged the faithful stewardship of Saia Vea of the Tonga Mission, who ensured that property coverage was in place for all church-owned assets in Tonga. As a result, 16 months after the event, the rebuilding of Adventist churches and schools is largely complete, whereas many government-owned organizations still wait for repairs.
“This could not have been done without the enthusiastic and energetic work of the Tongan people,” Hale said. “Pastor Saia put in very long hours and was prompt in answering our questions.”
Sela Moala, who works at Tonga Mission, reported that Adventist schools were the first schools in Tonga to be rebuilt, and she credits that to RMS releasing funds so promptly. “For so many years we think that we spend a lot of money paying for property [coverage], but when disaster hits us, that’s when we feel RMS is on our side,” she said.
ADRA’s emergency response coordinator, Michael Peach, returning from a recent visit to Tonga, concurred with Moala. “Property [coverage] is a significant annual expense, but it’s paid off,” he said. “Much of the national infrastructure has not been repaired, but the Adventist mission buildings and schools have all been rebuilt to higher immunity, using better materials and newer design standards.”
Property coverage, according to RMS, is designed to enable mission in the South Pacific to continue by supporting the dedicated work of a community as they rebuild after a natural disaster.