The vanua and Tevita’s faith

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The vanua is the epitome of Pacific identity. In the Fijian context there are multiple interpretations of the vanua. It can be the land, the environment, the community, or the cultural and social system in which people are integrated.

The vanua offers a sense of belonging, blessing and pride to its people. It is home to knowledge, belief systems, values and a collective identity. It is respected as sacred, safeguarded and valued. Thus, to enter a new vanua or space where there are people, protocols must be respected and adhered to. Disregarding this is a sign of disrespect and an insult to the stewards of the vanua.

The Methodist Church, as the first Christian religion to arrive in Fiji in the 1830s, is held with high regard in most traditional/indigenous communities. Historically, when the first Methodist missionaries arrived, they converted chiefs and their subjects followed. Since then, the Methodist Church has been closely associated with the vanua and to separate the two is considered dishonourable.

This is one reason Adventism is absent in traditional spaces today. The beliefs and practices of the Church are not always aligned with the practices of the vanua.

Frontline missionaries in Fiji.

Adventism arrived in Fiji in 1891, about 60 years after Methodism entered the country. The Advent message spread quickly, however not always to the hearts of the country’s chiefs. On the island of Bau, Fiji’s dominant power before it was ceded to Great Britain, attempts to introduce Adventism have been difficult. To date there is no Adventist church on this once powerful island.

Just as John I Tay, JE Fulton and the pioneer missionaries to Fiji had the vision and passion to share the Advent light in challenging environments, so do today’s frontline missionaries in their effort to share the Advent message on Bau. The missionaries consist of a group of dedicated, retired and unemployed individuals who, in their pursuit to break through to the island, go through a series of personal ministry training and practice events immersed in prayer and fasting.

Tevita and his wife Tima moved from Bau Island to Taro to house-sit an aunt’s home. While living on Taro, Tevita saw two missionaries and asked them to visit his home. He shared with them the struggles he and his wife were going through. Tevita is a military officer and after years of merry-making and partying, his wife fell very ill, which saw her continually admitted to hospital. “At this point, I was desperate and started praying, asking God to heal my ill-struck wife,” he said. “My two kids are still very young and I cannot deal with losing my wife.” The couple started praying and they worshipped at home on Sundays, committing themselves to God and expecting that, through these efforts, Tima would recover and live. However, she was still very ill. She was so ill that the couple decided to make a deal with God: if He would heal Tima, they would follow whichever church God intended for them.

Tevita was convinced that the path of the missionaries was the path to follow. “I saw the consistency the missionaries had and that they would put up with taking a long ride just to see me and my wife,” he said. “To me their mission was intentional.”

Taro is about an hour and-a-half bus ride from Suva. The sacrifice and dedication that Tevita saw in the missionaries convinced him of their faith. He undertook a series of Bible studies and was baptised during the July harvest program.

Tevita’s family.

Today, Tevita’s wife is in good health and both have become frontline missionaries: to be a beacon of light in a predominantly Wesleyan environment. Their goal is to take the gospel to the island of Bau and Tevita’s vision is that one day soon, there will be an Adventist church on the island.

Tevita is certain that God has called his family to take the faith to Bau and he is aware that traditional protocol will have to be followed. He also recognises his traditional lineage in the island as tuinidau or guardians and protectors of the island’s natural resources. This is the link that God can use to have the Advent message enter Bau.

Kesaia Vasutoga is a social work educator at the University of the South Pacific and a member of Samoa Seventh-day Adventist Community Church, Fiji.

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