Saturday 11 February 2023 | Written by Rashneel Kumar | Published in Features, In Depth, National
Kevin Iro remembers vividly the first time he met his life partner Tina. It was in Rarotonga on New Year’s Eve 1986, the night Cyclone Sally hit the island.
Kevin was 18 and Tina had turned 16.
“We were out in town mucking around. I was with my cousins, she was with her cousins and we just happened to meet. She had gone to school with one of my cousins that I was here in Raro with, so that was the connection, they met and we were introduced,” says Kevin.
The cyclone caused extensive damage leaving hundreds of people homeless on Rarotonga and severely damaged buildings in Avarua.
Tina, whose dad worked for Air Rarotonga at the time, had to return on the first flight back to New Zealand.
When Kevin got back to New Zealand, they reconnected – and there began their 37 years (and counting) journey of friendship, love and commitment.
“Obviously she knew my name and when we got back to New Zealand, she called me … she pursued me, not the other way round,” Kevin says with a laugh.
A year later Kevin was selected for the New Zealand rugby league team, becoming one of the rising stars of the game.
In the same year he signed a professional contract with England-based club Wigan.
Tina would visit Kevin a couple of times in England before moving in with him.
“She was there from day one. In 1988 or 89 she moved in and then we moved into our own place, and wherever I got contracted we were together. Eventually we had three kids in England during that 10-year period, and one in New Zealand, and the last two born here,” says Kevin.
When Kevin first proposed to Tina, he didn’t want a “big flash wedding”. They knew if they came to Rarotonga it would be a massive Cook Islands wedding.
“I said no, let’s elope,” says Kevin, “at this time we were not in church, we didn’t know the ins and outs or what actually the covenant of marriage (in Christ) is. We were just young people living life.”
After a bit of discussion, they settled for a wedding in Bali. Both sets of parents were a bit disappointed as they wanted a massive wedding, but agreed to attend, along with Kevin and Tina’s friends.
The hotel they stayed in arranged for a wedding celebrant, who Kevin says may have been a reverend.
“I loved the vows, basically he had this long list of things Tina had to do to serve her husband and it went all the way from cleaning to whatever, and for me he said ‘Kevin, you will provide’. That’s all.”
At their “first wedding”, Kevin was 25 and Tina 23. They had their eldest daughter who was eight months old at the time.
“We were trying to get married around him playing league and stuff so I got pregnant and said let’s wait,” says Tina.
The couple returned to England and had three more children as Kevin switched clubs before moving to St Helens, one of the successful rugby league clubs in England.
Things became a bit tougher, especially for Tina who was raising four children with Kevin travelling around the UK for weekly matches.
“Tina had been away from family and friends for so long with four kids, by this stage, basically it was getting hard without that family support system. I said okay, I will retire at the end of 2000 and we agreed to go back to Raro because both of us have Rarotonga heritage and both love the place.”
Towards the end of his professional club career at St Helens, Kevin grew interested in Christian faith through two Samoan players who joined the club – Vila Matautia and Apollo Perelini.
“I was aware of God; I might have gone to church once or twice a year when I came to Rarotonga to stay with my aunt – my dad’s eldest sister – and she was a stalwart at the church.
“During my playing days I would pray but I didn’t know who I was praying to. I didn’t have any knowledge of who God was and that Jesus came and died on the cross for us and gave us life, none of that.
“Then I met these Samoan boys who were Christians and funny enough they found a New Zealand pastor in St Helens and he became our team chaplain.
“All of a sudden in my last two or three years of my career I had Christians around me and they would talk about God. It was not that I wasn’t listening, I was just not paying attention but I looked at who they were as a man and how they carried themselves, and it got me thinking.”
Kevin says one of the reasons for returning to Rarotonga was “to find out who God is other than to return to our heritage and roots here”.
“I thought I really want to go back and find out if God is real.”
When they returned home, Tina says she discovered for the first time in her life what financial pressure felt like.
For Kevin “there was no longer that outlet, that high spike of an adrenaline playing week in week out at highest level and playing in front of 40, 50 to 100,000 people, that sort of lifestyle”.
After their fifth child in 2004, “everything spiralled out of control”.
“Juggling life, children, debt became a heavy blanket on our lives. We began to argue and be cruel,” says Tina.
“In the end (in 2007) I jumped on a plane and planned my exit out.
“The poor children. We think by leaving, we are doing it for the children but every child deserves a mother and father, every child deserves a safe family environment.”
Kevin says he didn’t care at first and didn’t even know where Tina was staying.
Around this time, he was pursuing God for answers and “trying out different churches” when he received an invite from his cousin to attend their church.
“There was an Australian pastor who was preaching and the only thing I remember from the sermon was ‘the next time you pray, expect an answer’.
“Tina was gone a week, she had taken two kids and left the rest behind because that’s what you do when you divorce, you split everything.”
That night Kevin had an encounter with God.
“In New Zealand I get a 5am call from my husband. I could tell by his voice something had changed – ‘Tina, I have had an encounter with the Lord - I am ringing to say I am sorry’. Sorry was a word I hadn’t heard in years. The Holy Spirit had visited him in his bedroom for what seemed like two hours and spoke to him about me (to ask for forgiveness), us (to reconcile our marriage) and him (to forgive me and others).”
Kevin was crying – “I wasn’t crying to get her back. I was crying because of the fact Jesus came into my life and gave me all those answers and gave me that spirit of forgiveness.”
“I couldn’t believe it, I was like a new being and all I wanted to do is ring her and say sorry, I forgive you and could you forgive me. But she knew the moment that she heard my voice that something had happened and I was different.”
In 2008 at the Crown Beach Resort they renewed their vows under God’s covenant.
“Our new vows we did came with a lot of thoughts and a lot meaning went into it because of what we have been through. We also understood then we were under God’s covenant because we have submitted that union to Him.”
Their renewed covenant promise before God was to value, respect, love and honour each other for the rest of their lives.
Tina adds: “One thing he (Kevin) promised me is that he would value me for who I am because to have strong relationships is to allow each individual to live their dreams and I think that has really helped us. Because we are so different, to be fulfilled as an individual we need to be able to follow our dreams and we give each other a lot of space to do that … he is busy with Marae Moana stuff, something he loves to do and I’m with painting people’s houses and doing the charity stuff which is my happy place.”
Kevin and Tina Iro have ministered to people, including in their Celebration on the Rock church, with marriage issues and challenges similar to theirs.
He says some of them thought nothing could ever bring them back but “God worked miraculous things in their lives like He did for us, but you got to give Him a chance”.
“It’s hard to sort of explain to them because in your mind when you are trying to do your own thing and you don’t know God, you think it’s impossible to reconcile but in God you actually can.
“You can do things in your own strength, both pushing and pulling, one going one way and the other another way, it’s very hard to come to a resolution but thankfully God came up with answers and changed my heart and in turn that changed Tina’s heart, we were able to forgive each other.
“We had a testimony saying that God is the God of impossible, you may think everything is over and the relationship is completely finished and destroyed for whatever reason but then God shows up and miraculously heals all those hurts, all those pains.
“It doesn’t mean you will not have those battles again but you have an understanding and you know that God’s there. He would not have come to our rescue if He didn’t have a plan for us to be together.”
Tina says they often laugh that if it
wasn’t for their faith they wouldn’t be together today.
“Our advice to young married couples – put Jesus as the centre of your marriage.
“Life is way too hard without Him.”
TONGA KELLY on 12/02/2023
Well done Whanaunga and congratulations 🥳. When you are bought up on Tikanga and then see the Tikanga of the lord you get given a choice of two gates to travel thru and right now you are in gods gate . Nice to hear the hubby does Marae stuff as that means he attends the Tikanga gate of Tohunga and Ariki that still live and breathe but travel the gate of our Tupuna under Io Hinengaro and blessings to you too ariki for taking him back as he needed a kick up the arse and got it lol 😆 much Aroha from you all and blessings from my Hapu to yours .