Members of First Tongan UMC’s Youth Fellowship hang out at the University of Puget Sound (Tacoma, Wash.)

Education serves as a transformative path for Asian-Pacific Islanders
By Jesse N. Love

Members of First Tongan UMC in Seattle, attended the ASPIRE* Asian-Pacific Islander education summit. Mele Aho of FTUMC shares some ideas on how the Church can address the needs of Asians and Pacific Islanders through education and growing the Church through increasing spiritual and cultural awareness for all ethnic groups.

How are you involved with the young people at First Tongan UMC?

I’ve been involved with the youth since 2008 since I graduated from City University of Seattle. I was selected to be the youth director. My main goal was to familiarize myself with how to lead a youth group. With the help of Pastor Lisa Anthony who then served at Rainier Beach UMC, we met with the PNW Conference’s Patrick Scriven, (director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries). We talked about how things are structured and how he could help us. I connected our youth with Conference youth events, including retreats & camping ministries. With that connection in mind, our junior high schoolers are outspoken, strong in their faith, and work hard in school. They are the supportive system of our church – connecting school, family and church.

How have you helped increase higher education awareness with your youth fellowship?
I studied the Book of Discipline and came to realize how vital Higher Education is in terms of connecting faith, wisdom, gifts and ministry; it’s important to seek continuing education. I also studied Bible scriptures, like Proverbs and its emphasis on youth and knowledge. “The Beginning of knowledge” — to know knowledge and instruction, to understand words of insight “The heart of discerning acquires knowledge,” Proverbs 18:15. The more our young people know, the more they can contribute into society, church, and family.

Once or twice a quarter, I bring in someone to do workshops on higher education, in terms of college readiness. Last year, our church had our first high school student who entered college. Now, there are a couple that are in community college – and it is increasing. With the junior high schoolers, I connect them with resources such as educational workshops, scholarships, University of Washington events, and state-level events. I also bring in their parents since they can help nurture their children’s personal goals to success.

Why is pursuing higher education important, particularly for Asian-Pacific Islanders?
Asian-Pacific Islanders, especially Pacific Islanders are underrepresented when it comes to higher education. With that in mind, we understand we need to contribute to the economy and the wellness and the goodness of the community. By doing that, they have to be educated and know how to navigate the education system. There is a connection between church and community in order for young people to be a part of a hopeful future.

What was it like to attend the ASPIRE Asian-Pacific Islander education summit in Seattle?
It was amazing. It was the first summit of its kind in Washington State, as well as the nation. It was uplifting and amazing to share ideas with API leaders in the community, as well as those from other ethnicities in order to support our children with their personal education and their futures.

How is First Tongan UMC developing youth and young adult leadership in its community?
There are already established leaders out there. At the ASPIRE API education summit, we had committees that focused on youth and young adults. Two of our youth and young adults have participated with Samoans and other cultures to look at issues they can work on to help us adult professionals and to see if there are any changes needed in order to help them navigate in the education system. That’s one way our youth have been nurtured into leadership: by participating with other youth groups in leadership to address what needs to be done.

Are there upcoming events or activities that can help further the education of the young people of First Tongan UMC?
We created a Tongan advocacy group based at First Tongan UMC at Highland Park. We decided to meet once a month with liaisons from different churches to address issues of working through the educational system for those who are not educated well enough to understand. These are immigrants who do not know what to do, so we wanted to work together with them on how to provide resources. For example, next week we are having a workshop on college readiness. We will feature some professionals, including a former high school principal who is coming to talk about the ‘reader’s mind’ about scholarships and financial aid. Also a person from the University of Washington is coming to talk about college expectations. Also we have teachers who will talk about resources for students of color.

How can the Pacific Northwest Conference and the UMC as a whole help in supporting Asian-Pacific Islanders in ministry and leadership development?
I do believe that the Conference can provide support through their prayers and wisdom. Not only that, we’ll continue our relationship by bringing our youth to Conference events and connecting with students from other churches. We want to nurture relationships, network for their future, and maybe discuss having a gathering for ethnic groups one day to share ideas on maintaining oneself in school, spiritually and physically.

What are some components needed to connect other members of this affinity group for Christ and for the transformation of the world?
A great component is outreach. It’s a great practice to look at a person in society and to see how the Creator brings them to discover their goals in life – to help not only themselves, but also others. I believe that is how we transform the world: to share love and hope. In order for them to do this, we have to work together, and stay together in like minds through prayer and scriptures. If we do this, I believe young people will see the light in connecting transformation with education. We are here as God’s children and they need to be aware of that.

At the recent PNWUMC Leadership Summit in Vancouver, Wash. we were talking about what it would be like to bring Asian-Pacific Islander Methodists together for some kind of fellowship event, what are your thoughts about having this group together?
People need to be aware of our culture and how unique we are. In order to promote awareness, we need to do something together for Asian-Pacific Islanders. Maybe once a year during spring or summer, we can have an event that shares our culture, maybe through music, or with kids who are well-gifted and can share their talents.

How can one find their way from being in the islands and coming here to America? One way is to look at how leaders are back home and adapt these traits for leadership development here. If one person knows himself or herself, they will know how to respect others. Promoting cultural awareness is needed on a Conference level if we are to have some kind of event once a year. Then we can have our youth take the reigns. We can see them preaching, performing drama and music. We’ve been to CONVO and seen how they do things. If we can do something that addresses our culture – we should do that on a Conference level.

If we can work together for the goodness of others, with the love of God, we can bring the wisdom to those who are ahead of us. I believe we can bring in a lot of young ones – I’ve seen the messages coming from General Conference to the PNW Conference level. Who knows – maybe this can be a good outreach opportunity for the young ones of the United Methodist Church.

Mele Aho is a member at First Tongan United Methodist Church in Seattle. Aho serves as the chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee at her church and is a candidate for ordained ministry. If you are a person of color and would like to have a conversation about ideas and educational opportunities with the United Methodist Church, contact Mele Aho through

*ASPIRE stands for the Annual Summit for Pacific Islander Resources in Education. ASPIRE was held at the South Seattle Community College on September 29, 2012.

Jesse N. Love serves as the Print & Publications Manager for the PNWUMC
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  1. Thank you Jesse for your hard work. Today, I am thinking of Pr 22:6 “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it” We as faith community should lift up our children, discern and develop their individual capabilities and special strengths that God has given each of them.

  2. @Mele, no it’s I who should thank you. I am glad we are in touch to share what’s going on with the Pacific-Islander community. Let me know if FTUMC has any other youth ministry stories that may be good for the Conference share! -JNL

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