My husband, John, and I recently went to Fiji to see the partnership at work between the Uniting Church in Australia – through UnitingWorld – and the Methodist Church in Fiji. We travelled with two families from NSW; making a party of 12, with six adults and six young people aged between 12–19. We were very ably led by our team Leader, Megan Calcaterra, UnitingWorld’s projects and administration officer.
Whilst there we met with the president of the Methodist Church of Fiji, Rev Dr Tevita Banivanua and the general secretary, Rev Epineri Vakadenavosa, who spoke about the new changes and challenges within Fiji. The church has a new Constitution, and a new Code of Conduct to be implemented in 2016, and the changes to the logo are more in keeping with their ‘New Exodus’ theme as they move forward.
Due to the disruptions of Military Coups, there were no Conferences – their annual gatherings – allowed to be held in 2009, 2010 or 2011. Succeeding Conferences were of shortened duration, but now with a more stable Government, there is a strong emphasis on appropriate change as they look to the future. There is also a conscious effort to increase the involvement and training of women for and in ministry.
At Davuilevu Theological College we met the principal, Rev Anil Reuben, who is the first Fijian of Indian decent to be elected to that position. The college has one Bachelor of Divinity class and three Diploma of Theology classes and we were told that they can only take 25 new students each year, sometimes from 200 applicants.
We met a wonderful lady, a second year diploma student, who without her scholarship from UnitingWorld would not be at the college. She was so thankful for the support she receives. Comments from the staff extolling the excellence of this student made us realise how important it is to be able to offer this practical financial support.
At the college we also learned that until a year ago none of the books were catalogued, making it very difficult for students to find what they needed. Many of the books are old… but now catalogued. And they are slowly trying to upgrade the quality of good study and reference material.
The highlight of our visit was spending an amazing Sunday morning at an informal settlement just outside Suva. We shared in their Sunday School and had been invited to bring a musical item. We chose a song about the names of the Disciples sung to the tune Jesus Loves Me.
Following Sunday School we shared in worship, and again had been asked to present an anthem, where we chose an Aboriginal version of the Lord’s prayer. The church was a simple iron building at the end of a muddy track, but the pictures on the walls, neat curtains at the windows and vases of flowers made it a place that was very special. There was a very real sense of joyous worship and fellowship and we felt very welcome and comfortable.
UnitingWorld, through its partnership, has been supporting the children at the settlement for many years, making sure they have the appropriate uniforms and books to attend school. They were beautiful children, and their parents were so appreciative of the support they receive. At a morning tea after the service we heard the stories of two young people who have received scholarships the whole way through their schooling, and who are both now at university – the first in their families to be able to do so.
Another partnership project supports The Methodist Women’s Fellowship, as they strive to increase gender equality, and empower and equip Christian women. They are also concerned with reducing domestic violence and work with both men and women through workshops and study group programs.
They run three literacy programs aimed at young children who are unable to attend early education programs. The women who shared with us were strong Christian leaders, with hopes of attending The World Federation of Methodist Conference in Houston, Texas and the UnitingWomen conference in Adelaide in 2016.
We did have some rest and recreation, with a day on an idyllic tropical island resort where some members scuba dived to participate in a coral planting project that helps regenerate areas of dead coral reef. We also visited an eco-park with beautiful gardens and rainforest walk, which is involved in breeding programs for two types of near extinct iguanas and a species of turtle.
Overall it was a trip of a lifetime and the fundraising efforts of the participants now contributes $6,000 more to the ongoing works of these supported projects.
If you would like a similar holiday experience, inquire about the InSolidarity Tours run by UnitingWorld. They visit a number of countries with a different theme for each trip, and are a great learning and sharing experience. To find out more visit http://www.unitingworld.org.au/about/church-connections/insolidarity/.