The story of Lisala Folau

Early in the morning on 15 January a volcano near Tonga erupted produced a colossal explosion that triggered a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. A shockwave radiated outward at close to the speed of sound eventually travelling halfway around the world. The sonic boom was heard in parts of New Zealand more than 1,300 miles away. A tsunami quickly followed that hit Tongatapu, the main island in Tonga and home to the capital Nuku’alofa. Communications were knocked out as the streets began to flood and people fled for their lives. Smaller tsunami waves rushed across the Pacific Ocean causing surges as far away as Alaska, Mexico and Peru. The Tongan islands were also covered in volcanic ash.

Tonga is a small remote Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 islands most of which are lined in white beaches and coral reefs and covered with tropical rainforest. Many of the islands are uninhabited and most of the 106,000 people live on the main island of Tongatapu. Tonga is a strongly Christian nation with 96% of the population being professing Christians. Sunday is a special day in Tonga when all commercial and entertainment activities cease. The constitution declares the Sabbath sacred forever.

Lisala Folau, a 57-year-old disabled retired carpenter, who has problems with both his legs, was at home on the island of Atata when a devastating tsunami hit the island. Lisala was swept away by a 20ft wave that carried him miles from shore. He eventually found a broken tree and decided to cling to it. He spent 27 hours swimming 8 miles between uninhabited islands before, late on Sunday evening, reaching the mainland and safety. Lisala said he was scared when he saw the wave approach and when the sea kept twirling him and taking him underwater eight times. But he added, “I am a Christian and I had my faith in God that he would save me.”

Psalm 46 speaks about trusting God in times of crisis: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. The Lord Almighty is with us and says ‘Be still, and know that I am God’”