MANA: “power” for Pacific Islander young adults
The Pacific Islander Ministry Plan’s leadership program for youth and young adults
By Ainise K. Isama’u*
I cannot say that MANA changed my life, because it is God who changes lives; MANA is just the program that helped solidify the change that needed to happen in my life. MANA created a unique opportunity for God to work, one that God is more than willing to take.
The Pacific Islanders Young Adult Leadership Development Program, called MANA (meaning “power” in Polynesian languages), is an annual event created by the Pacific Islanders Ministry Plan. MANA focuses on youth and young adults to deepen spiritual commitment and develop leadership among Pacific Islander groups. Pacific Islander Ministry is one of six ethnic minority ministry initiatives authorized by General Conference to resource specific ethnic minority groups within the denomination. Global Ministries resources four of the six ministry plans, including the Pacific Islander Plan, through its multicultural ministries office.
I have attended two MANA programs (the first at Candler School of Theology, Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and the second at Wesley Theological Seminary, American University in Washington, D.C.) and can honestly say that without my time at MANA, I would not know the love of my savior the way I do today. As I and many others gather for MANA, I am encouraged to know that we all come from different walks of life and yet, my experience is not unique. Many of us have a similar list of ways God has changed our lives through MANA. Here are the top five ways God has changed my life.
The event’s cultural immersion included a tour of The Capitol, Supreme Court, and the office of the General Board of Church and Society and the Commission on Race and Religion. PHOTOS: INOKE QARAU AND STEVE MAGA/PACIFIC ISLANDER MINISTRIES
1. Christian community
This is easily the part of my experience at MANA that has had the greatest impact on me. Like most us attending the events, going through life, I yearned for acceptance. School, work and sometimes church offered tastes of community, but those flavors were never fully satisfying. However, I the program put together by the staff and leadership committee of the Pacific Islanders Ministry Plan was made with precise dedication and passion to help us enlighten and encourage our youth and young adults’ future. God’s love and the community, which I experienced at MANA, was unique and magnetic. It has drawn me back to MANA year after year – drawn me to a church I can participate in, and, ultimately, drawn me back to Jesus.
2. Reading the Bible
I can still remember the experience that led me to begin reading the Bible more on my own. It was a Sunday afternoon; we were asked to sing at a missionary commissioning service at the General Board of Global Ministries’ headquarters at Grace United Methodist Church in Atlanta. After we sang, we had the profound privilege of witnessing the commissioning of people from different parts of the world as they committed to serve as missionaries. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that these people were choosing to leave their homes to go serve God. I could not stop crying, and I knew the Holy Spirit was there. I remember the realization that the few days I had enjoyed at the MANA event was quickly coming to an end. The closeness with God I had experienced as part of the group would be ending that day. It was at that moment I decided I wanted more – that I wanted to continue to get to know the Lord. That day, and the many days of reading the Bible after, has created a love in me for reading God’s Word. It is how I have related to the Lord most, how I have learned to rely on and draw nearer to God.
MANA participants take part in small group discussions focusing on abuse in the church. PHOTOS: INOKE QARAU AND STEVE MAGA/PACIFIC ISLANDER MINISTRIES
3. Learning to pray
Let’s face it, prayer can be a bit of a mystery. Each time I feel like I have learned something about prayer, I am struck by how much I don’t know. Praying can be awkward, full of distractions, and often I feel that my prayers are not enough. These doubts and inadequacies seem like reason enough to pack it in and claim learning prayer isn’t worth the effort. That is where I was before I came to MANA. I didn’t pray because of my insecurities and fears. I didn’t have anyone to ask for guidance, I was stuck. MANA brought prayer to the forefront. I was able to watch and relate to people who took prayer seriously. I noticed how they related to God as a father, how they were comfortable talking with and trusted God with anything. I was then able pray with peers I was comfortable with and the leadership committee I looked up to. Becoming comfortable with talking to a personal God has been one of MANA’s lasting legacies in my life.
4. Service and leadership
One of the most memorable experiences I had at MANA was listening to Pastor Michael Seui’s sermon at the opening worship of the very first MANA held at Emory University. What made Pastor Seui’s sermon unique was the call to – not only be built up – but also to seek to build up others. Through the workshops given at MANA, I learned how to listen and study the Bible. I learned about different agencies of The United Methodist Church. I learned about different avenues through which I can contribute and help as a young adult. I learned different versions of grace and how to fully grasp the meaning of forgiveness. I learned that patience is definitely required to work with youth and young adults, especially in a changing world. In short, I learned how to serve. Day after day, my time at MANA showed me the earth shattering fact that I am not the center of the universe. I took what I observed and learned from MANA and it helped me continue to learn how to lead and serve. I not only grew used to putting others before myself, I discovered that I enjoyed it. My time at MANA showed me that serving others is the most satisfying way to live life.
5. Building relationships
My MANA experiences are special because of the relationships I have built. Through MANA, I have learned how to build trust and friendship with people that weren’t like me. I have learned the value of vulnerability: that sharing insecurities and fears with others is not weakness, but strength. I have learned to put relationships before my own desires, being slow to anger and quick to forgive (I'm not perfect at this one yet). All these lessons continue to be important as I try to live my life as Jesus would. Above all, I am grateful for one relationship, the one I have grown (and am still growing) with God. Our relationship has completely changed. I share my insecurities and joys with God, when before I thought I could rely on myself. We talk daily, and I am overwhelmed with joy in the ways God amazes and challenges me. Before, I only sought God during times of sorrow or when I found it convenient. God has become someone that I enjoy and trust the most.
MANA participants in front of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., where they participated in worship/communion and offered special music. PHOTOS: INOKE QARAU AND STEVE MAGA/PACIFIC ISLANDER MINISTRIES
I am so grateful God does this work because that makes me confident that it will continue, no matter the circumstances. I am excited for MANA 2019 and beyond, trusting that God will continue to do greater and greater things through MANA.
MANA, it’s not just for the youth…
“A big takeaway from the MANA event has been collaboration. We are no longer just the Fijians, or the Tongans, or the Samoans working for our own churches in our own communities. Our young people comingle and find unique ways to do ministry together. New friendships form in the name of Christ.
“Another component of the event is not just what we share with them, learning from our experience, but that we hear their challenges and concerns. They have different experiences and concerns than we did coming up. So, one of our challenges as leaders is to consider – how well did we listen to them and address their concerns? Going forward, we all need to find common ways to do church together in a way that honors our Pacific Islander cultures.”
Steve Maga, staff consultant, Pacific Islander Ministry Plan
Ainise K. Isama’u has earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Information Systems and a Master’s in Human Resources Management. After a decade of working in education and management, she is currently enrolled in Claremont School Theology as a Master of Divinity candidate. She has served various ministry roles with the California-Pacific Conference, Pacific Islanders Youth and Young Adults and United Methodist Women. She and her husband have one daughter.
The Pacific Islander Ministry Plan, under the leadership of the multicultural ministries office for Global Ministries and staff consultant, Steve Maga, supports and provides resources on leadership and ministry for Fijian, Samoan, and Tongan fellowships, ministries and congregations. For more information about the ministry plan, activities or the 2019 MANA event, please contact Steve Maga in Alaska, email@example.com.