Tongan fellowship

The Tongan Fellowship meets at the Southside Church at 3 p.m. on Sundays.

Tongan Fellowship

The following summary has been adapted from an article that appeared in the Idaho-Press Tribune:

Travel to 10° south latitude by 175° west longitude and you will find yourself in a tropical paradise. There 150 coral reef islands form the Kingdom of Tonga. Sparkling beaches made of crushed shells and lush vegetation are surrounded by turquoise waters perfect for sailing, sea kayaking or snorkeling. But it is the indigenous people, who call this area “the friendly islands,” and act accordingly, that inspire its visitors the most. The slower, more relaxed pace of life, where generosity is the rule and not the exception, makes it a popular destination.

Travel west 5,830 miles to Boise, Idaho, race along I-84 exiting at any Nampa exit, and point your vehicle down Southside Boulevard until you reach the crossroad of Lewis Lane. There Southside United Methodist Church is home to Idaho’s Tongan Fellowship. On any given Sunday, you can hear traditional Methodist hymns, accompanied by piano and organ, sung by a rousing church choir in the morning, while in the afternoon, a chorus of voices, singing a cappella, will make you believe you have somehow drifted into the South Pacific.

What began as a few isolated Tongans coming to Idaho to find work and opportunity, has grown into a Tongan Fellowship where two vastly different cultures have united to help one another and the community at large. And Soane (Lolo) Raass, pastor of the Tongan Fellowship, has become the bridge between his worshippers and the various leaders and lay people of Southside UMC.

After a 10-year wait obtaining official green card status, Raass moved his family from Tonga to Idaho in the mid-’90s. While working in the Armour slaughterhouse, Raass was given the opportunity to learn cabinetry — a change he welcomed. Learning that trade introduced him to another cabinet-maker  who also attended Southside UMC. When the church formed a mission team to build homes for hurricane victims in Honduras, both men offered their services. It was on that mission trip that Raass first sensed a call to help other Tongans back in Idaho.

Raass’s natural leadership ability did not go unnoticed by Southside’s pastor, the Rev. Dan Wilson-Fey. In an effort to understand their Tongan church members better, Wilson-Fey and Raass visited a Tongan church in Salt Lake City to learn what could be done to help those not attending church. “When I visit with Tongan friends, I learn many are not coming to church because of the language,” Raass says. Going to Utah was a starting point for a Tongan Fellowship in Idaho. Both English and Tongan leaders  felt Raass could unite his people with a church home. They just needed a place and that need was filled by Southside.

The two congregations have formed a unique partnership that has grown from just an awareness of differences into friendship. They’ve discovered together that service and compassion for others unite them. Southside has sent a mission team to Tonga to help build a kitchen at the church Raass used to attend. The Tongan Fellowship has helped with a kitchen remodel at Southside. Southside’s current pastor, Phil Bence, and Raass enjoy working together. Both pastors have learned from, and been uplifted by, each other.

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