Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Twisting Hemispheres...

Over the last month, it has been hard to keep the Rugby World Cup out of conversations. Even with the Flying Fijians not progressing beyond the pool games – valiant and impressive as they may have been, the conversation round the tanoa, at tables, on buses and just about everywhere else has been not only about the World Cup but also about the issue of Tier 1 and Tier Two nations and the sense of discrimination felt by those in the second group that are often made to feel like backward relatives who are invited because they have to be and because they bring the best gifts to the party.

The fact that the last 4 teams remaining in the tournament were Southern Hemisphere teams may have been heartening for those of us who still think of the world as divided along the equator into the rich and powerful North and the poor and exploited South. Our past desire for strong “south-south” partnerships has been out of necessity as well as an expression of solidarity.

But we’ve also been “looking north”. The government for years has had a look north policy - politically, and economically. Our rugby players have also been looking north, to Europe, Japan, the Americas etc.

Perhaps we need to change our perspective.

I remember as a young boy meeting a man who visited my school, who was known as the Wizard of Canterbury. One of the interesting things I remember from his visit was a map he showed us. It was a map of the world, the kind we are used to, with one difference. The map was upside down for us  - with the South Pole, and New Zealand at the top and the North Pole and northern hemisphere at the bottom.

What a sense of empowerment my classmates and I felt that day. We were literally on top of the world! I have since often wondered what dominance of the southern hemisphere could mean for the world and what a rethinking of the hemispheres would do for how we see ourselves.

Could we go one step further?

Instead of North-South, perhaps we might benefit from an East-West orientation, split along the Prime Meridian of 0 and the Antemeridian of 180 degrees rather than the equator. The conventional split along the prime meridian is of course historically Eurocentric. Half way around the world from us is the Greenwich Observatory in Greenwich London, from where the first longitude was marked. Accordingly Western Hemisphere is the half of the Earth that lies west of the Prime Meridian and east of the Antimeridian, the other half being called the Eastern Hemisphere.

This means that, allowing for a few twists and turns, similar to the twist of the international dateline to ensure that Taveuni, Udu Point, Rabi and parts of Lau are not literally divided into yesterday and tomorrow (depending on which side of the meridian you may be), it would place Fiji, along with Melanesia, part of Micronesia, New Zealand, Australia, Asia, most of Africa, the “Middle East” and Europe in the Eastern Hemisphere also known as the "Oriental hemisphere". Polynesia, the Americas, Caribbean, Greenland, most of the as yet United Kingdom, parts of France and the west-coast of Africa would be the Western Hemisphere.

Looking at the world in this way could perhaps provide us with another perspective of the world and how Fiji with the world.

Taking this perspective to our favourite sport of rugby, the US, Canada, Argentina, Samoa, Tonga, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England and possibly France would be the Western Hemisphere rugby nations while Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, South Africa, Italy, possibly France (as there’s more of France on our side of the meridian) and even Russia could make up the Eastern Hemisphere rugby nations.

Could rugby as a sport benefit from tournaments within the eastern and western hemispheres? It is quite possible. Would spectators and fans of rugby enjoy these games? That is highly likely.  Would World Rugby agree to something like this? Given the recent reflections of Jeremy Duxbury (read “Rugby outcry” in the 5th of October, 2015 edition of the Fiji Times) – not likely.

How global trade and geo-politics would be shaped by such a shift in orientation would be an interesting discussion. Would trade agreements be renegotiated? Given our foreign trade and investments recently, we are already in business with many countries in the Eastern Hemisphere. Perhaps this orientation would strengthen our relationships with these partners and open up a few more markets.

The reality however is we are in a global village, or on the edge of the village. World Rugby is just another example of our place in the global village – providing the ingredients and doing the cooking, yet still waiting to see if there are seats available for us at the feast.

Yet, visualising the shifting our axis of symmetry or our orientation from North-South to West-East is really an exercise in contemplating the possibilities, the alternatives to the status quo. It’s a way of looking beyond our horizons and our comfort zones. It is a way to step out of our own worlds, and out of our own points of view and look at the other’s point of view.  

For example most of us tend to be urban-focussed people. Urban drift continues to be a major issue in Fiji. The Suva-Nausori corridor and increase in informal settlements bear testimony to this. There is also an urban-centric view, in terms of approaches to issues facing us.

In Monday’s Fiji Times (“Survivor shares story” F/T 26/10) my sister, Sharon Bhagwan Rolls, raised an important issue regarding Breast Cancer awareness. After sharing her own experience she went on to challenge readers to move beyond the horizon of being satisfied with simply raising awareness in an urban-centric oriented approach to also look at the issues of accessibility, affordability and full information, to “good surgical options if needed but also treatment via radiation following a lumpectomy or any other early cancer detection.”

There is certainly a need for more rural-centric perspectives. Not just in projects and development but in also terms of what we value: from technology to nature, from materialism to relationship, from individualism to community, from ownership to stewardship, from out there to in here – from vertical and hierarchical or top down approaches to horizontal, participatory approaches which recognise our interdependence.

Sometimes that shift may be 90 degrees, sometimes 180 degrees. Or sometimes it may only take a small degree of shift to change the status quo and “level the playing field”.

Even if the shift is a 360 degree movement that brings you back to the same spot, something will have changed. The situation may be the same, but you and your perspective will have shifted all the way around.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Veilomani for the Boys

Off the Wall 21st October, 2015

My son turns eleven years old on Thursday and so we have begun to have more regular “father and son” conversations. Some are about adolescence and puberty, others about faith, growing up in a changing world and of course the ‘you’re growing up now’ conversations about self-discipline and social responsibility.

Yet there are some boys and young men who do not have that opportunity for “father and son” conversations, at least not in the conventional sense. These are boys raised by their mothers as solo parents, or by their grandparents and guardians, or by the state or care facilities.

In the past the Methodist Church in Fiji cared for orphaned or abandoned children at their orphanage in Dilkusha. However as the little boys grew to manhood, it became inappropriate for them to reside at Dilkusha, even though they were housed in a separate unit. With an increase in vulnerable young women and girls being brought to the home for care, the Church decided in 1970 to find an alternative refuge for the boys. After an exhaustive process of searching for a new location for a Boys’ Orphanage, a property was bought from the David Sharan Family of Ba. Veilomani Boys’ Home was finally established and officially opened on the 6th of November 1970. “Veilomani” taken as the i-taukei word for “Love” describing the Church’s efforts to give the much needed love for the boys.

From a small beginning of some 5 children the Home today caters for 24 children between the ages of 7 to 43. There are primary school children, secondary school children and vocational children with three senior boys. These senior boys were transferred from the Dilkusha Girls Home because of the age factor and continue live at Veilomani because of mental health issues. One of the older boys is now 38 but does not speak, the other is 38 but suffers from epilepsy and another aged 24 is mentally weak.

Like its sister institution, Dilkusha, Veilomani Boys’ Home is part of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s Department of Christian Citizenship and Social Services. It is an approved facility under the guidelines stipulated  bythe Fijian Government’s Ministry of Social Services minimum standards for all care giver institutions in Fiji.

Veilomani has been operating for more than 45 years. During these years the dedicated staff at the Home have endeavoured to provide a “home away from home” to all children. This means providing accommodation, food, clothes, daily needs, education, stationaries and other school requirements, opportunities to participate in non-formal education and spiritual and moral formation through local church activities (Church Services, Youth Fellowship, Sunday school, Bible studies, prayer fellowships etc.) sports, family get together etc. Opportunities are provided for children to create an identity for themselves by seeking, learning and developing their visions and talents; and to obtain the level of sustainability to be able to return to their own family, society, community and the nation at large.

It hasn’t been easy work. The Home situated on approximately 7 acres of land is basically a wooden building bought by the church way back in 1966. In 2012 the entire roof of the Home was blown away by cyclone T.C. Evan and it had to be rebuilt. Even with funds from the Church and from the government as well as donations and assistance received, Veilomani Home still carries a Bank Loan of $35,000.00 which it has been struggling to pay off.  This year the Home also had to come up with a $20, 00.00 premiums.
By 1985 it became abundtly clear that the children that were taken in the Home needed some form of training so that they would be able to find employment to earn a living. Thus in 1985 the Methodist Church built a small training Centre known as the Veilomani Rehabilitation Workshop. The young children were provided training in the following trade; Carpentry and Joinery, Automotive and Welding.

 Around 2005 Government also began to show interest and began to provide a small grant of around $15,000.00 per annum to assist the training programme for these young people.  BY this time children from various other homes began to show keen interest in getting trained and the Centre began to take in children as day scholars. By 2009 when the late (Rev Sarwesh Kumar Singh) took over the Superintendent ship of the Boys Home and also as the principal of the training Centre it had become very clear that there was a need for more professionalism in the training programme and provide training that could be certified and recognised and provide skills and qualification for the boys.

 After much negotiation with Government and the Church the proposal for recognition as a vocational insititute was accepted. This resulted in a change the name of the training Centre and inMarch 2012 the training Centre was renamed the “Methodist Veilomani Rehabilitation and Vocational College” and registered to become the 15th secondary school in Ba. The college now trains young people in the following trades:
a.      Carpentry and Joinery
b.     Automotive Engineering
c.      Welding and Fabrication

Apart from the following subjects that students choose to undergo training in, the students have to also undertake the following compulsory subjects – Math’s and English, Basic Computer studies, Agriculture and Bee Farming.

The Vocational College is also an inclusive special school and children with special need are also taught at the school. We have student who is deaf and dumb, young people with some physical impairment, etc. A lot of the children are slow learners or non-readers.

The greatest satisfaction for those who toil at the Home and the Rehabilitation and Vocational College is that each year some 20 young people find employment. Young men trained at Veilomani have found employment at the Gold Mines, at FSC and in many local industries in Ba.

Next Saturday, the 31st of October, is Veilomani Boys Home College “Open Day.” Held at the Home in Ba, there will be display of the work done at the College, and products, including their delicious honey, for sale. All proceed from sales and any donations received will go towards urgently needed blankets, pillows, bed sheets, kitchenware (utensils and other items) and mattresses for the boys.

If you are able to visit them for their Open Day please do. The boys will be glad to see you, even if you are just visiting. And if you are able to share your “Veilomani” with them, it will be returned in abundance.

Living History


On Monday I spent 22 hours on the island of Ovalau. It was my first visit to the island and the “Old Capital” of Levuka in 13 years. The last visit had been with the 2002 Commonwealth Games Baton as part of the build up to those games. The baton did the rounds of Fiji’s first capital including Delana, where a number of signatures (or marks) were made by chiefs on the Deed of Cession on the 10th of October, 1874.

My visit this week, however was not really in connection with the past, but more connected to the future. I was there for the first day of the Lomaiviti Division’s Methodist Youth Fellowship annual camp which coincides with Methodist Youth Week. The camp was held in Vatukalo village, which is just before St. John’s College in Cawaci. As secretary for communication and overseas mission for the Methodist Church in Fiji, I took a number of sessions on social media and the cultural shifts and challenges that young people need to be aware of in a media saturated environment that is one of the hallmarks of the 21st century.

The young people who are attending the camp come from the six circuits that make up the Lomaiviti Division with a number of young people either unemployed or working shift work at the Pacific Fishing Company Limited, PAFCO. Being a Christian programme we discussed the challenge for young people living and expressing their faith in an increasingly secular environment. In the evening at the welcome service I had the opportunity to not only preach but listening to the beautiful voices of the children of Vatukalo singing choruses. Other presenters at the camp this week include Fiji Media Watch’s media education team and a representative from the Police Cyber-crime Unit, as well as the Secretary for the Young People’s Department of the Methodist Church, Rev. Jone Davule.

During a break from the programme, the Divisional Superintendent of the Lomaiviti Division, Rev. Simione Ravaga, took me for a tour of Levuka to see what if anything had changed since my last visit over a decade ago. We visited Delana Methodist High School and the house in which the Deed of Cession was signed, the Fiji Corrections Facility in Delainasova where new CCTV cameras have recently been installed to bring the centre up to par with other Correctional facilities in Fiji and popped in to Gulab Daas and Sons, one of the oldest shops in Fiji.

Rev. Ravaga and I spoke about the challenges facing Levuka which has limited space for development both physically, as it is bordered by the ocean in front and the high volcanic mountains behind, and because Levuka was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2013. I recalled over two decades ago producing radio promotional advertisements for “Back To Levuka Week.” The week of the 10th of October is always of significance for Levuka, not so much for 1970’s Independence but for 1874’s Cession, with annual re-enactments of the signing of the Deed of Cession. This year’s Back to Levuka Carnival was used as a platform to raise awareness for the current generation on environment protection. Late last century, Levuka was a finalist in the “Tidy Towns” competition. This year’s carnival focused on the “3Rs” of "reduce, reuse and recycle," only fitting as Levuka was the venue for the recent National Climate Change Summit.

There are, however signs that the “Old Capital” is not being forgotten and has a future as well as a past.

I shared a ride from the airfield, Bureta Airport, into town with an engineer from PACFO who told me about the recent project for a new $13 million 4,000 metric-tonne freezer, which will allow storage of tuna to enable a regular supply for production of tinned tuna for US-based Bumble Bee Foods. Work is already underway on the site. Regular supply of tuna will translate into regular employment for the many for whom PACFO provides a livelihood.
There are fledgling industries in Levuka too. South Pacific Elixirs Company hopes to take the United States by storm with the bottled kava drink, “Taki Mai,” promoted as a “sports drinks to calm, sooth and relax the body” in Hawaii and mainland US in a number of department and health food stores.

There’s been a lot of activity in Ovalau recently. Earlier this year the Fiji Roads Authority rebuilt the road in the main street of Levuka to provide better drainage and repaired the street lights. The RFMF ‘sappers’ are working on repairing the bridge at Levuka Vakaviti Village. Climate Change adaptation measures are also evident with construction of sea-walls along the coastal road to protect villages. A full-time social welfare officer has also been appointed to Levuka recently.

We drove up to a clearing at Vuma Village where young people were working on the construction of a house. According to Rev. Ravaga, this house is the result of a project for 15 of the village youth which began in 2011 with their planting of yaqona. This year’s harvest has enabled the youth to contribute a third of the cost of the housing with the state providing the other two-thirds.

Back in Levuka, there are plans to make use of the UNSECO World Heritage listing to breathe new life into the ‘old capital.”

In May this year, a team from the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) of Australia has handed over a scope of works for immediate, medium and long guidelines for the preservation and restoration of historic sites in Levuka – focussing for the present on the Holy Redeemer Anglican Church and Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church. Plans are also underway, for more opportunities for discussion and collaboration by all stakeholders for the protection and management of “Levuka Historical Port Town” to improve its overall state of conservation, and ensure it complies with the recommendations of the World Heritage Committee.

Perhaps even the Fiji Museum, which lacks adequate space to display all its collections of artefacts in Suva may extend is little Levuka branch. The restoration of Levuka will inspire ordinary Fijians, as well as tourists to revisit our ‘living history’ and an ponder the future. 

Facing Our Fear - Pinktober 2015

My mother, Rachel Bhagwan, introduced me to the practice of walking for a cause. Over the years we have “walked” (a term I prefer to “march”) in for women, girls and children who suffer from violence, to reclaim the night, to raise our concern at the issues of water rights, human rights. We have walked in celebration. We have walked to raise awareness. We have walked in protest. We have walked in solidarity.

The last time I walked with my mother through the streets of Suva for a cause was last year’s Reclaim the Night March, on Saturday March 8th – International Women’s Day. It was not an easy walk for her. She was battling breast cancer at the time. Yet to encourage her two youngest grandchildren, to affirm the work for women which her daughter and eldest granddaughter we now doing and to support my efforts in rounding up some of our young men from the Dudley Church youth group to join the march – she walked. She set her best foot forward and kept her pace throughout the march. So consistent was her pace that at one stage during the march I had to ask her to slow down. When she asked why, I informed her that because the young women leading the march had tired and slowed down and, because of her consistent pace, she was now leading the march!

Earlier this year, she was “not feeling well” enough to walk in the solidarity march for West Papua. But she sent her blessings to share with her friends and those who knew her who were walking.

Last Saturday my dear mother walked with us in the FASANOC Women In Sports Walk & Talk to raise awareness on breast cancer as part of “Pinktober” the month of raising awareness on Cancer, particularly on breast cancer and other forms of cancer affecting women and funds for organisations that work with those facing the battle with cancer. Unfortunately dear mother was only present in spirit and in a picture that her little granddaughter Antonia carried  during the walk. She had won the battle with breast cancer, but lost the war, passing away on July 31st this year.

Last year when she announced to our family about her “lump” we rallied around her, as we had done in 2010 when my sister Sharon was diagnosed with breast cancer. Like Sharon she had her mastectomy and chemotherapy. We were grateful that she did not have to go for radiotherapy as Sharon had endured. The initial results were good! She recovered and was back in action, carrying on with her civil society work and generally doing good, listening to and helping those who needed an ear, or an advocate. We celebrated her 76th birthday in November. We celebrated Christmas. This year we marked her 1st anniversary of her mastectomy. Mum was strong. Mum was a survivor. But this was not to last.

Following Mother’s Day this year, her health declined. Rapidly. By the time test and scan results came back it was too late. Because mother had left it too late. The cancer had been removed from the breast last year, but had already made its way into the blood stream and to her brain. The test of the lymph nodes and all the focus on the breast cancer was clear, but the damage was being done elsewhere.

She struggled with dignity and with her amazing sense of humour, until she could no longer fight. It was a struggle for me, who had known this woman all my life as a vibrant, beautiful, spiritual force of energy, of activity, to see her lying helpless in bed. It took all my faith and courage to minister and care for her with my family members and finally guide her into eternal life.

The irony of it all was that along with my late father, my mother was one of the early advocates of breast cancer awareness. I grew up knowing about breast cancer in both women and men and have always known about self-examination for breast cancer. Both parents discussed cancer in men and women openly at home among other issues affecting life in Fiji. She had seen her own daughter’s battle with breast cancer and supported her through it.  Yet she had neglected to trust herself, her instincts in addressing her own condition until she was compelled to do so by the family.

Last Saturday, I held my daughter’s hand (and carried her on my shoulders when she got a little tired) as she carried her grandma’s photograph. We walked for mum/grandma. We walked for sister/Aunty Sharon. We walked for the mothers, sisters and daughters of our community, who have struggled, fought, survived and lost the battle with cancer, in particular breast cancer. We walked for our friends who have walked on and walked strong for their children and now for the children of others. We walked to remind ourselves to be aware of cancer as a reality in our family.

Later that morning I heard one of my sisters in ministry, Deaconess Asena Senimoli, share her experiences to those who participated in the FASANOC Women In Sports Walk & Talk. Like many women, she went through denial and looked at every reason and option under the sun to avoid facing the fact that she had breast cancer. Yet she was able to face her condition and fight it successfully. It is sad that we are only able to celebrate a few who face their fear and fight. Far too many of our mothers, sisters and daughters - as well as our fathers, brothers and sons - choose denial until it is too late to do anything but manage symptoms.

Yes, the idea of having cancer, any kind of cancer can be scary, for both women and men. Yet we must not let our fear paralyse us. To those who have family members facing cancer, or possibly facing cancer – support them to make the right decision to get tested and get treatment.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


Off the Wall 2/9/15

You may have noticed the advertisements for Raksha Bandhan specials last week. Over the last weekend Raksha Bandhan was celebrated by the Hindu community specifically although it is also a many non-Hindu Fijians of Indian descent also celebrate the occasion.

Last weekend, as is her practice every year, my second sister Sharon, tied a rakhi on my hand and then lovingly stuffed a gulab jamun sweet in my mouth. She organised my daughter and niece to do the same (literally) to their brother and cousin (my son and nephew). My sister and I promised that despite our occasional disagreements and explosive discussions, we will care for each other, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Raksha Bandhan honours the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures. Typically, today, women present a rakhi to men and, in return, the men promise to protect the women who offer them a bracelet. Although usually associated with Hinduism, Raksha Banhan has reached a wider cultural status—often celebrated by Jains, Sikhs and even some Muslims across India, Mauritus, parts of Nepal and Pakistan.

A sister ties a colourful bracelet, called a rakhi, around her brother’s right wrist. This represents her love and prayers for her brother. It means that she will always pray that God will keep her brother safe. In return, the brother promises to look after his sister and protect her throughout her life. He gives his sister a gift of money or jewellery.  They give each other sweets to eat.

The word raksha means ‘protection’ and bandhan means ‘to tie’. Raksha Bandhan is a festival that strengthens family ties. Many women send rakhis to brothers who live far away. If a sister has no brother, she will give a rakhi to a cousin, or to a friend, as long as he is prepared to make the same life-long commitment. A number of my female cousins used to visit me to tie a rakhi on my hand, although now that they live overseas, they tend to send me an e-rakhi via facebook. The sentiments expressed and commitments made remain.

A number of stories explain how this popular festival began. One tells of a fierce war between good and evil, when the demon king, Bali, fought Indra, king of the gods. Indra was driven out of his kingdom and feared that he might be beaten. His wife, Indrani, prayed for help. Lord Vishnu gave her a silk bracelet to tie around Indra’s wrist. She was promised that it would keep him safe. The promise came true. When Indra and Bali fought again, the bracelet protected Indra. The demons were overcome and Indra won his kingdom back.

According to one legendary narrative, when Alexander the Great invaded India in 326 BCE, Roxana (or Roshanak), his wife sent a sacred thread to Porus, asking him not to harm her husband in battle. In accordance with tradition, Porus, the king of Kaikeya kingdom, gave full respect to the rakhi. On the battlefield, when Porus was about to deliver a final blow to Alexander, he saw the rakhi on his own wrist and restrained himself from attacking Alexander personally.

Rabindranath Tagore, the Indian Nobel Laureate for literature, invoked Raksha Bandhan and Rakhi, as concepts to inspire love, respect and a vow of mutual protection between Hindus and Muslims during India's colonial era. He later started Rakhi Mahotsavas as a symbol of Bengal unity, and as a larger community festival of harmony. In parts of West Bengal, his tradition continues as people tie Rakhis to their neighbours and close friends.

In India today, some suggest that Raksha Bandhan has become a secular festival, which in turn opens up the celebration to be an opportunity to express renewed love between siblings and sometimes between others who share a bond of brotherhood.

“Given that the pretty ornamental thread is an affirmation of a sister's love for her brother, the character of the festival is inclusive,” wrote Mohammed Wajihuddin of The Times of India, whose article quotes liberal Muslims and a Muslim cleric who recognised the inclusive character of the celebration. 

Raksha Bandhan, has transcended religious barriers. Here in Fiji perhaps it can also transcend ethnic and cultural barriers as an occasion to be thankful for family ties and pray for God’s blessing and protection upon those who are close to you.

Even Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.” (John 15:13)

One of my favourite Christian songs with Brother and Sister in the lyrics is known as the “Servant Song”:

Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey, and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christlight for you in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I'll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow, till we've seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony,
born of all we've known together of Christ's love and agony.

Brother, sister, let me serve you; let me be as Christ to you;
pray that l may have the grace to let you be my servant too.

May we all find time to celebrate the bonds of love which bind us and commit to strengthening those ties which may have loosened over time.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Journeying Together in the New Exodus

The Methodist Church in Fiji had a historic moment yesterday as they passed a revised Constitution and a new Code of Conduct.

While the whole church and a number of working groups contributed to the constitution and the code, two unassuming Australians played an important role in compiling the final draft which was passed Yesterday (Tuesday).  Malcom and Marion Gledhill have become part of the story of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s New Exodus through their tireless efforts.

“It has been a great privilege to assist the Methodist Church in Fiji with the revision of its Constitution and Regulations, and the development of the Code of Conduct,” said Mr. Gledhill, after the Constitution and Code of Conduct were passed by an overwhelming majority of the Representative Session of Conference.

“We serve in Fiji as volunteers from the Uniting Church in Australia, a partner Church of the Methodist Church in Fiji. UnitingWorld is the agency of the Uniting Church National Assembly that sends volunteers to live and work alongside people in our overseas partner churches. When we work together, sharing knowledge and experience, we join with each other in the mission of God.”

Mrs. Gledhill, who is a Deacon in the Uniting Church in Australia said volunteering is always a two-way process.

“Overseas partner churches value the experience and knowledge shared by the volunteers, and the volunteers (and the Uniting Church) gain from living and working with the partner church. Volunteers find richly rewarding experiences from new friendships, and new knowledge gained. This has certainly been our experience volunteering with the Methodist Church in Fiji!”

“We have now made 4 previous visits as volunteers to the Methodist Church in Fiji – each of 4 weeks’ duration, and we were looking forward to our 5th visit for the month of August 2015 and the 2015 Annual Conference. We have appreciated sharing ideas, food and laughter, as well as sad times, with our friends in the Methodist Church. The Conference staff morning teas are always a highlight! We have enjoyed visits out of Suva, to a Church institution, or a village, or another town - the beautiful flower arrangements in your churches - your amazing choir singing and your generous hospitality. The deep spirituality of your Church life and the practices of Methodism have been a source of inspiration.”

Sadly, the couple arrived for our first visit in November 2013 on the day of the funeral of Rev Solomoni Vakaliwaliwa who had prepared the first draft of the revised Church Constitution for the 2013 Annual Conference. Mr. Gledhill benefited from studying his work and with the invaluable assistance of Church Executive Administrative Officer, Mr Patiliai Leqa and the Constitution Review Committee was able to prepare the proposed revised Constitution which was approved at its first reading at the 2014 Annual Conference.

Mr. Gledhill has also worked with the Constitution Review Committee on new Regulations relating to Ministers, Deaconesses, and questions to be asked at Church meetings, and other subjects. These new or amended Regulations were also be presented to the 2015 Annual Conference for approval.

What are the main changes in the revised Constitution?
•              a new statement of the core beliefs and purposes of the Methodist Church
•              a chapter on ministry that brings together the 2 ordained ministries – Ministers of the Word, Sacraments and Pastoral Care and Deaconesses, and the 2 accredited lay ministries - lay pastors and lay preachers
•              a new paragraph recognising that classes in the local church are the foundations of the Church structure
•              a more detailed statement of the authority of the Annual Conference
•              the list of official meetings of the Church includes the monthly meeting of the local church (bose vakarau) – the Circuit leaders’ meeting may agree that particular matters may be decided at the bose vakarau
•              a revised statement of the authority of the President to act if for whatever reason it is not practical for the Conference Standing Committee to meet 
•              some changes to terms of office of Conference officers and circumstances in which they will be eligible for re-election.

The development of the Code of Conduct was undertaken by a Consultative Group, working with Mrs. Gledhill, with final drafts being presented to the Standing Committee of the Conference. While codes of conduct and codes of ethics used in other denominations offered useful ideas, the final draft Code of Conduct for the Methodist Church in Fiji was developed to be relevant and appropriate for the Fijian context. Contributions from women members of the Consultative Group were particularly valuable.

“We stand in a long line of Christian people who have over the past 180 years travelled from Australia to Fiji and from Fiji to Australia to share in ministry and service. We honour the service of those who have gone before and trust that many will follow in future. We are thankful for the unique contributions that Fijian Methodists have made to the Church in Australia and say ‘thank you!’ for the welcome, friendship, care and hospitality that you have given us in our visits to Fiji. “

The Methodist Church in Fiji owes a debt of gratitude to the Gledhills and their sending Church, the Uniting Church in Australia for continuing to journey with their brothers and sisters called Methodists in Fiji in their New Exodus. 

“Praise Be”

Off the Wall 12/8/15

As the second term holidays approach, Suva City comes alive with multitudes arriving for not only the Hibiscus Festival, but also the Methodist Church’s Annual Conference, and Solevu and Choir Competition. With up to 788 choirs taking part in the week-long programme, the Choir Competition has been a prominent feature in the Fiji music scene for the last 50 years.

The history of a Methodist Choir competition in Fiji goes back to the inauguration of the Methodist Church in Fiji Conference in 1964, with the Conference Cup being awarded to the Raiwaqa Methodist Church Choir, conducted by Ratu Aca Dina Vunakece. Raiwaqa kept the Conference Cup for another 2 years before relinquishing it to Nasova/Nasese Church in 1967. In 1978, the cup changed to the Raiwalui Cup and was won by the Centenary Church Choir, conducted by Sir Josua Ralulu Rabukawaqa. Centenary also won the Methodist choir competition in 1981 when once again the cup was changed, this time to the Ratu Cakobau Trophy. The cup was to change names twice more, to the Koniferedi Cup in 1986, won that year by the Kadavu Choir and to the Ratu Aca Vunakece Cup in 2003, won again by Centenary Church. A separate cup, the Sir Josua Rabukawaqa Cup, for Category One Choirs (those with over 80 members singing) was launched in 1991.

This Friday the 2015 Methodist Church in Fiji’s Annual gathering will begin in Suva with children singing praises to God in Toorak’s Furnival Park. Out of the mouths of babes, the tone for the Methodist Church 2015 Solevu will be set. Yet for the first time, the Solevu will not be a choir competition but instead a festival of praising God through song, through music, and even in dance.

One may think that because there is no longer a trophy to sing for, the numbers of choirs participating this year would be low. However the desire to sing to the Lord, even a new song, and the fellowship at this annual gathering of the Methodist Community has proven very strong, with over 300 choirs registering for the festival of praise. It is also not only choirs that will take the stage.

This year, for the first time a special category of “Bhajan” or hymns in the Hindi language has been included in the programme. This will include both traditionally sung hymns, with traditional instruments being used, as well as hymns accompanied by modern instruments. This celebration of the diversity within the Methodist family also has traditional dances from a number of different cultures during the lunch hours.

The Solevu will be traditionally opened by the Methodist Fijian fellowships from the South Hemisphere, represented by New Zealand and Australia on the 15th of August and closed by the North Hemisphere fellowships, represented by the United States of America and Great Britain.

This celebration of faith in song, music and dance forms a prelude to the Annual Conference which will also have a number of significant moments.

The first of these will be the induction service of the President, Vice President, General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary and department heads who were elected at last year’s conference. While the programme for the service is still being finalised, it looks to build on the last induction service in 2013 to be a further celebration of the inclusive community that the Methodist Church hopes to become through its Lakoyani Vou or New Exodus.

In a first for Conference, the ordination service for those ministers who have completed six years of ministerial formation and practical experience, will not be held on the Sunday following the conclusion of the conference but will take place during the conference itself, on the evening of Wednesday the 26th of August. This change frames the ordination service as part of the conference, rather than an event at the end and provides the newly ordained ministers with the recognition of the full conference who will be present.

While the business of conference, its agenda, is set by the Church’s constitution, this year will see a revised constitution presented to the conference for adoption, marking the end of a three-year process which included consultations with and recommendations from the congregations via the divisional annual meeting. The new constitution will bring in some positive changes for the church and also ensure that regulations and issues that need to be constantly updated to keep up with the Church’s journey can be done so without impacting the foundational document of the Church. Along with the new constitution, the long-awaited Code of Conduct for ministry and lay leaders, which also has been developed over the past two years, will be presented to conference for adoption. This will provide clear guidelines to the behaviour expected of their ministers, deaconesses and leaders for effective ministry for the people of God and for the protection and wellbeing of those they serve.

These changes, and other issues to be discussed, ring in a new song for a New Exodus.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”