Fijian-born Peni Tavodi was a member of the first Seventh-day Adventist missionary group in Papua New Guinea (PNG). He was first educated in Methodist schools (1894–1904), then Adventist schools (1905–1907). Peni had come into contact with Adventism by reading Ellen White’s books The Great Controversy and Bible Readings, both in the Fijian language. Baptised in 1905, Peni and his wife were later appointed to PNG as missionaries, first spending a year in training at Avondale College. From 1908 until 1918 Peni was a teacher for the Seventh-day Adventist Mission at Bisiatabu, not far from the Kokoda Track.
One morning late in 1918 Peni was working in his garden when he was bitten by a snake. He went inside, treated the wound as best he could and, without telling his wife, returned to his garden. Later, when not feeling well, he shared with her and others what had happened but by then it was too late to do anything. In all he lived nine hours after being bitten and chose to remain at home rather than end his life in a Port Moresby hospital. Boys from the school were with him until the very last. Peni pled with them individually to dedicate their lives to the Lord while both confident and willing to do what the Lord knew to be the best for him and for the work in PNG. He told his students where he wanted to be buried, a place overlooking the spot where he had lived and worked for almost 10 years.
The following Sabbath the heartbroken missionaries and students were addressed by mission superintendent, Pastor A N Lawson, who reviewed for them what Peni had stood for—one who was faithful unto death. He asked if there was one boy who would like to do what God wanted him to do and two young men responded. Grief stricken, Lawson felt the loss of Peni was “irreparable to the work”.
Decades later, Peni’s remains were moved to a new gravesite, with the surrounding area named the Peni Tavodi Memorial Park. Among the notables attending the memorial service that day were the local Koiari people, the Fijian Ambassador to Papua New Guinea and senior church leaders in PNG.
Adventism in PNG was growing very slowly during the years of Peni Tavodi’s service. Almost a century later the first fruits of his and other pioneers’ work have grown to a Church membership of almost 450,000 of the 7,000,000 people in PNG, worshipping in 962 churches. Today angels stand guard over Peni’s grave, which will soon be opened on that triumphant resurrection day. What a wonderful day of rejoicing that will be!
Lester Devine director emeritus of the Ellen G White/Adventist Research Centre at Avondale College of Higher Education.