A mass baptism has followed an eventful evangelistic series in Fiji presented with local churches as a cross-cultural ministry practicum by seminarians from Avondale College of Higher Education.
Twelve students travelled with Avondale Seminary head Dr Kayle de Waal, wife Charmaine and daughter Charé, and ministry practicum director Dr Erika Puni to the country’s second-largest city, Lautoka, for the 19-day immersive during semester break (July 12-30).
They partnered in pairs with seven local Seventh-day Adventist churches to present Messages of Life from Jesus, a 10-part series prepared by Dr Puni. The series ended with a baptism on July 28. The day began with more than 2000 people worshipping and fellowshipping in Sabbath school and church and continued into the afternoon with 107 people, 86 from the churches with which the students partnered, publicly declaring new life in Christ.
Some of those baptised had been studying with local church elders. Others were young adults—including the son of the district’s head minister—attending church or friends of church members. One man had no previous association. He stopped at a food stall across the road from the Lautoka Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. While eating his dinner, he noticed a screen and projector outside the church showing Tarenne Greenwood preaching inside. Her message, amplified by speakers, interested the man, so he returned the following evening and every evening after that. He decided, on the final evening of the series, to get baptised.
Preparation proved key to the success of the series. Drs De Waal and Puni presented discipleship training sessions for all local church leaders over the two preceding Sundays. The sessions “were an opportunity to partner with the local churches and learn together how we can grow the kingdom,” says Dr de Waal.
A structured Monday to Thursday itinerary during the series ensured the students were best prepared. Mornings at Lautoka included worship and a debrief with local church elders. Dr Puni would then summarise the evening’s presentation, noting the points the students needed to emphasise. After lunch, the students returned to their accommodation at Fulton College to prepare for the meetings.
"We weren’t just sitting in a classroom. We were out in the field and doing work where the results will be seen in eternity."
The students could not prepare for unexpected challenges, though. Venues varied from churches to a small shelter in the front yard of a house—and even the side of a main road.
Sound reinforcement at Saru church initially proved problematic for Benjamin Lowe and Marius Jigau. However, the positioning of speakers outside the church enabled members of the community to listen in their houses and on the streets. Some eventually listened in person and made a decision for baptism.
The impact of so-called “Fiji time” encouraged Aileone Tuiafiso and Apelu Tanurasa to take a more flexible approach to the timing of their meetings.
And when Ross Craig and Asovale Isitolo first arrived at their site on Friday, it was nothing but an empty block of land. However, by the time they were to preach on Sunday, the members of the Kilikali church had assembled a temporary shed complete with a screen for the projector.
“God blesses as we step out in faith, even though it can feel uncomfortable,” says Paul Mackie, who paired with Azora Ufagalilo at the Vitogo church. Josh Carnie, placed at Lagi Lagi church with Siaosi Rimori, grew through the experience, too. “We weren’t just sitting in a classroom. We were out in the field and doing work where the results will be seen in eternity. It was an amazing reality check of the power of Jesus and the transformational power of His Word.”
The Avondale Ministerial Training Scholarship Fund financially supports the practicum. The students thank the fund’s board and donors along with Drs de Waal and Puni, and Lautoka district head minister Pastor Tula Tula Tiko for “providing such a great opportunity to minister”.
The practicum empowers the students through coaching to “apply their pastoral and preaching skills in public evangelism,” says Dr Puni. “I was encouraged as I observed personal growth, confidence and passion for sharing the gospel among our students.”
—with Tarenne Greenwood and Eden Ashcroft