Kaniva News obituary
The president of the Tokaikolo Church, the Reverend Dr Liufau Vailea Saulala, who died on Thursday will be buried in Auckland.
Rev. Saulala’s son Sangstar, a former MP and Cabinet Minister, said vigils and prayer services by the family would start today at the Nasaleti Church in Mangere, South Auckland. The church was expected to begin theirs later this week.
In Tonga a prayer service organised to begin the celebration of Lavengamālie College’s 40th anniversary was held as part of President Liufau’s funeral services, Sangstar told Kaniva News.
Former students of the College were expected to celebrate the school’s 40th anniversary this week, but this has been postponed because of the funeral.
Sangstar said ex-students in New Zealand will celebrate the school’s anniversary on December 29 while ex-students in Tonga will celebrate it next year on February 6, the day the school was established in 1980.
The president is survived by five sons and one daughter, and several adopted children. His wife, Falamoni Naitoko Saulala passed away just over a year ago.
Rev. Saulala was a controversial figure whose behaviour drove many members away from the church. Serious questions were raised about his financial management, what was said to be his departure from the church’s original principles and even accusations of heresy.
The origins of the Tokaikolo Church go back to 1965 when the Scripture Union, an interdenominational evangelical Christian movement started working in Tonga. Between 1965 and 1970 the movement spread to many schools both in Nuku’alofa and beyond.
In 1970 the Rev. Senituli Koloi was appointed Chairman of the Union. Rev. Koloi distinguished himself by his piety, his diligence and his teaching and leadership abilities. He obtained a diploma in theology from the Pacific Theological College in Suva in 1968. In 1970 he was ordained.
In 1978, at the request of the New Zealand branch of the Scripture Union he established a new Bible College in Auckland. Senituli Koloi was the first principal of the college which he named “Tokaikolo Bible College.”
Koloi criticised the Wesleyan Church and condemned lavish feasting, annual donations (misinale) and the assumption by ministers and others of a higher status than ordinary people:
In September 1978 Koloi resigned from the Free Wesleyan Church and the following year gathered thousands of followers around what was named “The Tokaikolo Fellowship in Christ” or “Feohi’anga Tokaikolo ‘ia Kalaisi”.
Koloi died in February 1980, a week after the Tokaikolo Fellowship opened Lavengamalie College.
The rise of Dr Saulala
The principal eulogy and sermon at Koloi’s funeral were delivered by Dr Saulala who told the congregation that Koloi had told him in 1978 that God had revealed to him that Dr Saulala was to be his successor.
Koloi’s widow Luseane, her family and several others did not accept Dr Saulala’s assumption of the leadership and left.
The Tokaikolo Fellowship developed into a fully-fledged Church. The first ordained minister was Dr Saulala and further ordinations of ministers and deacons followed. Annual conventions were held, new organisations within the fellowship were established: youth groups, Sunday schools and a women’s group. A radio programme was launched in 1989, an evangelism office was opened in 1990 and a newspaper, Ofa Ki Tonga, began publication in 1991. In 1993 the Mother of the Year programme was launched, the first winner being Late Queen Halaevalu Mata’aho.
In 2018 the church established the Christ’s University which has a variety of courses available and currently caters to around 50 students with the aim of accommodating around 200. Degrees in computer science, education, theology and business management are being offered with law courses expected to be added the following year.
At the Fellowship’s 1994 annual convention in Sydney Dr Saulala was given the title of President.
During the next few years several branches of Tokaikolo Church were established overseas, including in New Zealand, Australia, California and Hawai’i.
Over the years several groups of members and clergy broke away from the church. Some of the members disliked the way Dr Saulala led the church, while others disliked the direction in which he led it. Many felt he led the church away from Koloi’s original positions, sanctioning feasting, extravagant celebrations, expensive gifts and increasing deferment to Nobles and the royal family.
It was claimed that in November 2004 Dr Saulala gave a cash gift of TP$100,000 to King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV when he visited Lavengamalie.
The church’s 2004 constitution gave Dr Saulala the right to make investments of up to TP$1 million.
The church launched a number of business adventures, including the purchase of a TP$700,000 fishing boat, but none of them prospered. By October 2007 the church owed just under TP$1.5 million in bank loans.
In October 2006 Dr Saulala spoke to a meeting of the Tokaikolo Church in Auckland in which he made a series of extravagant claims about the church’s financial position, mystery Chinese investors and the miracles supposedly being worked by a New Zealander called David Hobbs, who was described as “an international financier.”
In fact the Australian Securities and Investments Commission found Hobbs to have contravened numerous provisions of the Corporations Act 2001 by carrying on a financial services business without a licence and by engaging in misleading and deceptive conduct.
There was also deep disquiet over schemes involving pills that were supposed to cure every illness and a holy water dispenser that members were pressured into buying for TP$3980 a time.
Dr Saulala then caused even greater controversy by declaring a new doctrine that salvation was household based and that as long as the parents converted everybody in the house had converted. This was seen by some as being heretical and flying on the face of Luther’s declaration of justification by faith alone.
More departures and controversies were to follow, with court cases to resolve disputes over the ownership of churches in Halaano and Ha’ateiho, Tongatapu which were occupied and used by the Mo’ui Fo’ou ‘ia Kaiaisi Fellowship. The cases ended with the supreme Court awarding the churches to the Tokaikolo Church.