Home > Local Church News > Ecumenism crosses the ocean

Ecumenism crosses the ocean

Tongan students enjoy a cooking class with students from Unity College. Photo courtesy of Judy Morrison and Unity College
THE ECUMENICAL spirit of Unity College in Caloundra extended across the Pacific recently when the College welcomed students from Peteli Middle School in Tonga – a school of the Free Wesley Church of Tonga.

Unity College is an ecumenical school serving the Catholic and Uniting communities of Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast.

This visit was a dream come true for teachers Karen Harrison and Carmel O’Brien, who caught the vision from Rev Dr Alan Morrison and his wife Judy after they worked in Tonga in 2006 and 2007.

In 2008 they initiated the relationship when they took the first group of students from Unity College to the school in Tonga.

The value of cultural exchange was firmly established and this year, 18 students and four teachers from the Tongan school came to experience life and education in Queensland.

The visit allowed the Tongan students to participate in classes at the College and also to enjoy the tourist attractions available on the Sunshine Coast. They practised their English, learnt to cook Australian-style and tried computers. Out of school hours, they enjoyed barbecues, went roller-skating, and saw the animals at Australia Zoo.

At the Winter Arts Show the Tongan students almost stole the show with their presentation of songs and dances from their own culture and Christian tradition, complete with traditional costumes made of tapa and pandanus. Judy Morrison said the audience response was ecstatic.

“The students experienced worship in both the Uniting and Catholic churches and were warmly welcomed by both communities. Their voices added an extra dimension to the singing and their unaccompanied songs were so beautiful that it brought tears to the eyes of many,” she said.

“They really are beautiful people,” said one of the host parents. “We had them with us for five days and wish we could have had them for the full ten!”

Ms O’Brien said, “It was such a valuable experience for our students to get to know people from a totally different culture.

“It was an eye-opener for them to understand that people from different cultures see things differently; that we are not better or worse than each other but just ‘different’.

“They began to learn something of the values that Tongans hold dear: family, faith, and sharing.”

There were many tears as the visitors departed but the many generous gifts they left will sustain the memory of an unforgettable experience. Students are already asking about registering for the next trip to Tonga in 2010.

Photo : Tongan students enjoy a cooking class with students from Unity College. Photo courtesy of Judy Morrison and Unity College