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Methodist king of Tonga dies at age 88

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King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV
Sept. 14, 2006

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (UMNS) ?? Tonga’s King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, a lay preacher in the Free Wesleyan Methodist Church, died Sept. 10 just before midnight at Auckland’s Mercy Hospital.

Tupou, 88, had been critically ill for the last two months, and had been receiving medical treatment in New Zealand since April.

“His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV was a great leader and witness in the Methodist movement,” said the Rev. H. Eddie Fox, a United Methodist and director of evangelism for the World Methodist Council. “His passing is a loss, not only for his people, but for persons in the World Methodist movement.”

Tupou served as monarch of the 169 Pacific islands that compose the Kingdom of Tonga for 41 years. He ascended to the throne following the long reign of his mother, Queen Salote, also a well-known leader in the World Methodist movement.

Fox told United Methodist News Service that he has expressed condolences to Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho and to the Rev. Alifeleti Mone, the royal chaplain, a member of the World Methodist Council and president of the Methodist Church in Tonga.

Fox met King Topou on a 1977 visit to Tonga, and he visited the king and queen several times over the years. The royal family invited Fox and his wife, Mary Nell, to be its guests for the 2005 World Pentecost Celebration, where 5,000 Methodist Tongans gathered in the national stadium in Nukalofa.

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A UMNS photo courtesy of the Rev. H. Eddie Fox

His Majesty King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV and the Rev. H. Eddie Fox share a passage from the Holy Bible before the 2005 Pentecost Celebration.
The queen also wrote the Upper Room devotion for Pentecost 2005. “Because our country is located in the western Pacific Ocean near the international dateline, each new day on earth dawns first in Tonga,” wrote Queen Mata’aho. “The ?Tongan Pentecost’ transformed our land into a Christian nation. We became a missionary people, and we shared the good news of Jesus Christ with our island neighbors.”

About 40 percent of the 108,000 Tonga people are members of the Free Wesleyan Church, according to a recent census.

Everyday life in Tonga is heavily influenced by traditional Christian practices. For example, all commerce and entertainment activities cease from midnight Saturday until midnight Sunday, and the constitution declares the Sabbath to be sacred forever.

Tongans around the world are expected to participate in a four-month grieving period, in which they traditionally wear black and grass-weave mats wrapped around their waists.

The moderator-elect of the Uniting Church in Australia, the Rev. Jason Kioa, said the death of the king is a significant loss for all Tongan people. “We celebrate with thanksgiving his majesty’s committed Christian life and especially for his faithful witness,” said Kioa. “We are remembering in prayer the royal family and the people in the Kingdom of Tonga.”

Tupou will also be mourned by Tongans in the United States, including members of West Valley City (Utah) United Methodist Church. In 2004, the king dedicated a new structure after the former building had burned down. The new church includes a room built specifically for the king that no one else was allowed to enter.

The death of Tupou is described as a “big loss for the Tongan people” by the Rev. Kalatini Ahio of the First Tongan United Methodist Church in San Bruno, Calif. About 8,200 Tongans call the Bay Area home, according to the 2000 Census. “He means a lot to the local population,” Ahio said.

Shortly after the death of his father, Crown Prince Tupouto, 58, took the oath of office from Tongan Chief Justice Anthony Ford to become King Taufa’ahau Tupou V. His coronation is likely to be in a year. That coronation will follow in the line of His Majesty King George Tupou I, who dedicated Tonga to Jesus Christ and established the national motto, “God and Tonga are my inheritance.”

At age 14, King Tupou IV was one of Tonga’s top athletes. He could pole-vault more than 9 feet, played tennis, cricket, and rugby, and rowed competitively in a racing skiff. In the 1990s, he led his 108,000 people on a diet and exercise regime aimed at cutting the levels of fat in a nation where coconut flesh and mutton flaps are dietary staples. From a weight listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the heaviest for any monarch ?? 462 pounds­­ ?? the king shed around 154 pounds.

On July 5, two other members of Tonga’s royal family died in a traffic accident in Menlo Park, Calif. The car carrying the king’s nephew, Prince Tu’ipelehake, 56, and his wife, Princess Kaimana, 46, was struck as the couple was returning from an evening reception. Their driver, Vinisia Hefa, 36, a member of San Bruno United Methodist Church, was also killed. The prince was to speak at San Bruno United Methodist Church July 6.

News media contact: Kathy Gilbert or Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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