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A journey of faith, language and service: Presbyterian Minister recognized

Very Reverend Taimoanaifakaofo Kaio
Born in Tokelau to Samoan missionaries from the London Missionary Service

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Very Reverend Taimoanaifakaofo Kaio has been recognized in the King’s Birthday honors for services to the Pacific community.

Rev Kaio has been made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM).

He became the Moderator of the North Shore Presbytery in Epsom in 2001 and served as Moderator General of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand from 2018 to 2021.

He has also helped lead multi-cultural communities of faith in multiple languages, including Tokelauan, Samoan, Niuean, Cook Islands Māori and English.

However, Rev Kaio's beginnings were far from Auckland. He was born on Fakaofo atoll in Tokelau, to Samoan missionaries from the London Missionary Service.

"My parents were missionaries. So I was born on the mission field and I guess in a way I, and all my siblings, were their offerings to God to serve God and we've all done that in our own way.

"I was first child in my family to be born there, and my Dad told me that when I was born the women's fellowship asked him if I could be named Fakaofo but my Dad already had a family name for me, so he added the Taimoana — so Taimoanaifakaofo," he said.

He said it could be literally translated as ocean, the lagoon within Fakaofo or the outer ocean of Fakaofo.

"I am Samoan but I identify more with Tokelau as I was born there, it's my first language, it's a culture I move in freely because I know it well."

Rev Kaio came to New Zealand in 1968, aged 10.

He recalls the culture shock of arriving in New Zealand with two of his siblings. At the time, he was living with extended family, but struggled to understand Samoan at home or English when he went to school.

However, like so many Pacific immigrants to New Zealand, he adapted and thrived.

"I stopped talking, I stopped being involved because I couldn't speak the language. I couldn't speak the language at home, the language is school. And then you just, I guess, good lesson in life, watch and learn. Don't say anything."

School and education were very important to Rev Kaio, who is still in contact with the principal of his Ponsonby High School, although the latter is now over 100 years old.

Rev Kaio described some of the community work and multi-lingual ministry he carries out.

"Presbyterian minister in the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and a minister in a parish that is multi-denominational. Three denominations; Presbyterian Methodist Church of Christ, is what they call a Balinese ecumenical church.

"And there are five groups of people in the church and five services every Sunday. There's someone for the Cook Islands and an English speaking group. So I minister to these.

"My primary job is to minister to them and then into the wider community. I get involved through my parish family that needs will end up in their communities.

"So that's the ministry and I guess, to make it work, you have to understand and try to speak their language and that's been part of the journey. And I can understand when they talk, but I can join in but not as freely as in Tokelau or English or more."

In the past, when Pacific people came to New Zealand, they found their churches, Rev Kaio said. He saw ministers from different churches working together, in tandem, and preaching in the different Pacific languages to help the Pacific community.

There have been changes in society, particularly in Auckland, since he first arrived in 1968. Those times were not easy for Pacific people, he said.

However, Rev Kaio believed it was possible to walk in two worlds: to keep one's Pacific identity and language alive but at the same time learn to speak English and function as part of New Zealand society.

"So that's where I ministered to people who have come from the islands here into a dream. And then lived in the worst part of New Zealand, but now they've survived.

"And I teach young people to never leave their culture behind, but to embrace the Western world. And they try to master both worlds, you know."

Rev Kaio said he believed language was a gift from God.


To be Officers of the New Zealand Order of Merit

  • The Very Reverend Taimoanaifakaofo Kaio for services to the Pacific community
  • Anapela Polataivao for services to Pacific performing arts

To be a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit

  • Bridget Kauraka for services to the Cook Islands community
  • Frances Oakes for services to mental health and the Pacific community
  • Leitualaalemalietoa Lynn Lolokini Pavihi for services to Pacific education
  • David Robie for services to journalism and Asia-Pacific media education

The King's Service Medal (KSM)

  • Mailigi Hetutū for services to the Niuean community
  • Tupuna Kaiaruna for services to the Cook Islands community and performing arts    
  • Maituteau Karora for services to the Cook Islands community