Double celebrations: Youth lockdown harvest in Fiji

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A few of more than 100 candidates from Lautoka District in Western Fiji.

It would have been easy to make excuses, to write off the year, postpone programs and try again later. Instead, young Adventists in Fiji adapted and pushed on with their year of evangelism, resulting in 911 baptisms.

Preparation for the Fiji Mission Youth Evangelism event in May began in 2019. This was the next phase in the Trans Pacific Union Mission’s (TPUM) planned harvest initiatives—2020 was the year focused on young people. The year started with promise.

In February, more than 1000 young people from across Fiji met in Cakau Multi-Purpose Hall in Suva for a series of training events. Guest speakers and facilitators, including departmental heads from the South Pacific Division, the TPUM and the local mission, led World Changer evangelism training and more than 700 young people committed their lives to Jesus as trained lay preachers for the Youth Evangelism campaign in May.

However, plans took a huge turn as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated and Fiji recorded a total of 18 cases. By the end of March, the nation had shut its borders and locked down for more than three weeks. The Fiji Mission youth department was forced to look for innovative alternatives.

“Shutting down the evangelistic event was not an option” said Pastor Fifita Vatulesi, acting Fiji Mission secretary and former youth director. “We praise the Lord for the global church initiative of Hope at Home.”

Through the Hope at Home initiative, young people led out in Sabbath programs including Sabbath school, vespers, closing Sabbath and, most importantly, AY programs in the afternoons. All these were aired in real time and livestreamed on Facebook as well as YouTube—every Sabbath for 13 Sabbaths.

“It was encouraging to see young people and their talents emerging during Hope at Home,” Pastor Vatulesi added.

Through diligent prayer and consultation, the youth department was certain that Hope Channel was the best medium to use. Samuela Koro, a young lay evangelist and church planter in the highlands of Namosi, was asked to be the speaker for the three-week evangelistic meeting to be aired on Hope Channel, on the local digital platform known as Walesi, and also on Hope FM 107, 8pm–9pm Fiji time, in the indigenous itaukei language.

The series began on May 24 and immediately became a hit, reaching more than 6000 people across Facebook and YouTube on the first night alone. As the series continued, views increased as churches remained closed. This resulted in the series being extended another week, allowing Mr Koro to dig deeper into God’s Word. By the end of the fourth week, Fiji announced it was COVID-19 free and restrictions eased slowly, allowing churches to open to a maximum of 100 people.

A group of pastors, led by ministerial secretary and evangelism coordinator Pastor Sefanaia Turava, conducted Bible studies to answer difficult faith questions asked during the evangelistic series. This continued for two more weeks.

“We praise God for technology and other innovative ways of sharing the gospel during the lockdown,” said Pastor Turava. “We also thank God for young lay evangelists like Mr Koro and his mission family—that in a time of global crisis, God’s message of hope was still delivered.”

Pastor Turava adds that these evangelistic meetings were indeed a reflection of Total Membership Involvement.

Welcoming the month of July, church members not only celebrated the re-opening of churches after 13 weeks but also shared the excitement as baptisms were held all over the nation. Youth Evangelism in Fiji recorded one of its highest baptismal counts as 911 souls gave their lives to Christ. Adhering to national restrictions and social distancing rules, there were baptisms all over Fiji. Worship for most churches had to split into two parts for churches and districts with more than 10 baptismal candidates.

The second phase of the youth harvest will see young people preaching through August and an evangelistic series in Hindi, started on July 5, using a similar model to the May series. More baptisms are expected as sites continue to have Bible studies.