For the most part, the Sabbath day is strictly observed in Tonga. Businesses are closed and no one does any work in the fields. Knowing that all would be quiet the first day we got here, our hotel staff kindly placed a basket in our room with plates of fresh fruits and enough basic food stuffs to get us through Sunday. We had cornflakes for breakfast with juice and toast. For lunch we made cups of noodle soup. Later in the evening the hotel restaurant opened back up so we were able to get dinner there.
The milk came from New Zealand, the juice from Egypt and the noodle soup from Indonesia. The reality of living on a small island in the Pacific is most all goods must be shipped in.
Sabbath observance is considered so important in Tonga that it has been codified into law.
In Tonga's Constitution, part six of the Declaration of Rights reads:The following from a book on Tonga summarizes what is and isn't permissible in Tonga on Sunday (at least, presumably, in 2001, when the book was published):
Sabbath Day to be kept holy The Sabbath Day shall be kept holy in Tonga and no person shall practise his trade or profession or conduct any commercial undertaking on the Sabbath Day except according to law; and any agreement made or witnessed on that day shall be null and void and of no legal effect.
( from theonomyresources.blogspot.com)Buses don't operate, businesses are closed, sports events are prohibited and planes may not land. Contracts signed on Sunday are considered null and void and any Tongan caught fishing or guilty of any other breach of the Sabbath is subject to a T$10 fine or three months' hard labour. Even swimming at the beach is a no-no on Sunday for Tongans.
Bakeries are the only shops allowed to open on Sunday afternoon thanks to an emergency law that was enacted after a devastating cyclone in the 1980s and never repealed. A few restaurants and tourist facilities open and the odd taxi is available, but that's about it. What most people do on Sunday is go to church.
That sort of law would never stand in a pluralistic society like the United States. Still, I cannot help but consider how my own country could be more abundantly blessed if more of our people - at least the ones that claim to follow Jesus Christ - would be more conscientious about keeping the Sabbath day sacred. In most communities in the USA Sunday is a day for recreation and many businesses are open, catering to weekend shoppers or travelers. It is very common for many Christian people to leave church and then go directly to a restaurant for Sunday brunch. Elder Cook made a good point that how we observe the Sabbath day is a personal covenant between each individual and God - so the church will not give lists of do's and don'ts. But we are each encouraged to carefully reflect on whether our actions and thoughts on the Sabbath day are in keeping with what the Lord would have us do, be and become. Doing business that is not essential is something I think we all need to do better at avoiding.
The church service we attended here in Nuku'alofa was a Stake Conference broadcast that went out to the entire Pacific. We were able to wear headphones that gave us an English translation of what the speakers were saying. The original broadcast had been taped in English and then later translated to all the various languages of the islands. So we got the original voices that matched what the people on the screen were actually saying.
The whole emphasis of the conference was on the importance of the Sabbath day and on the ordinance of the sacrament. The speakers were Elder James J. Hamula of the First Quorum of the Seventy, Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President and Elder Quentin L. Cook, a member of the Twelve Apostles.
James Hamula had spent 5 years serving in the Pacific as Area President. He knows this part of the world very well. He spoke of the mighty storms we have here, such as the recent cyclone that devastated Vanuatu. He talked about how the observance of the Sabbath and faithfully partaking of the sacrament are principles of protections no matter how fierce the storms of life may be.
There are some jobs that will always need to be done on Sundays. But as we move closer to truly setting the Sabbath day aside as the Lord's day, we will open up windows to particular blessings we can find no other way.