A much-loved and respected Tongan pioneer

A much-loved and respected Tongan pioneer

The Rev. Semisi Eti (James) Latu (26.1.1943 – 14.7.2012)

James Latu was a pioneer of Christian ministry in the Melbourne Tongan community where he served for a total of about 29 years in pastoral leadership.

James arrived in Melbourne with his wife Susana in 1969 to pursue further studies.

From the beginning the spiritual needs of the small community of Tongans was James’ major concern.

He had a natural gift of leadership and was the unofficial pastor and spokesperson for the growing community. He was elected Secretary of the Tongan Christian Fellowship (TCF) at its inauguration in June 1969 and remained in that position for 18 years until the amalgamation of the TCF with the small congregation at the Hyde Park Uniting Church in Kew to form the Hyde Park Parish.

James had candidated for Uniting Church ministry, completed his studies and was the first Tongan to be ordained for Uniting Church ministry in Victoria.

At the request of the Tongans he became the minister of the new Parish. Later, in 1991, Hyde Park amalgamated with the Balwyn Road Canterbury Parish where James continued as minister.

After leaving Canterbury James went on to serve in Dandenong North in Victoria, then for the past 14 years in Mascot, Petersham and Dee Why in New South Wales, retiring for health reasons on March 31, 2012.

In his ministry — both before and after ordination — James (with the full support of Susana) completely dedicated his life to his congregations.

He was a big man with a warm and loving nature and deep and unswerving Christian faith. His wise counsel, views and advice were often sought by the Tongan people.

He provided unstinting pastoral care, assisted with immigration and other official matters, supported families in crisis. He and Susana always kept an open house.

James was loved by the children and youth.

A highlight of his ministry in Sydney especially was his work with the young people who needed James’ extensively mentoring and advocacy support as they experienced intercultural and intergenerational difficulties both with the church and in the community.

Although not very keen on councils and committees, in addition to his parish ministry James also served in various capacities in the Uniting Church and community organisations at different times, and in leadership in the Tongan National Conference for 25 years.

James’ dedication and compassion for his people often came at considerable sacrifice for himself and his family. He was a humble man who worked alongside the people and did not expect the privileges Tongans customarily accorded to ordained ministers.

To those who knew James well and experienced his ministry he was a rare gift, a person of great faith, a champion for his people, a visionary leader and a hero and his death is a great loss.

A thanksgiving service for James’ life and ministry was held at the Balwyn Road Canterbury Uniting Church Victoria on Saturday July 20.

James is survived by his wife Susana, four children and five  grandchildren.

Well done good and faithful servant.

Hili e ngaue, Malolo a Rev. James Latu.

By Ifalemi Naitoko, with permission of Susana Latu

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