Wednesday, August 13, 2008

“A Century of Making Ministers” (the Church kind)

By Rev. James Bhagwan. Published in "OFF THE WALL" (Fiji Times p7, Wednesday 13th August, 2008)

A change of tone (not of tune) this week.
The Methodist village which I have called home for the last two years is in the final stages of preparations to mark a hundred years of existence. Now I gather that to some a hundred years is not that long for a village to exist, especially as some in the country lay claim to their villages being around one and a half thousand years before my, and very possibly your, Lord was incarnated in a province of the Roman empire known as Iudea to the Romans, Judea to the Jews, Palestine to the Palestinians, Israel to the Israelis and home to everyone believes they have a right to be there, physically as well as spiritually. Anyway, the point is Davuilevu is not an ancient village. However compared to the Arts Village in Pacific Harbour, Villages Six and Four of Suva and Lautoka, the fortified village in Delai Nabua, it is a vintage village. Compared to the new chiefly village of the Suva sea-wall and the empty village of the taxman next to it, it is almost ancient.

For someone used to living in the heart of the city, living in Davuilevu is a complete change: Surrounded by trees, plantations and nature; no buses rolling by, belching toxic fumes into your windows; no-one shouting “Bo-taal! Bo-taal” outside at six in the morning. The change, of course is dramatic as the life-change that led me there. Here in Davuilevu, as in many other villages, the pre-dawn lali wakes us up and calls us to personal and family devotion. The day begins with that singular focus on God and it remains until we close our eyes for rest at the end of the day. That’s not to say that we spend the whole day in meditation. But the underlying principal is that all our activities (even writing an opinion article) are an act of devotion. That can be quite a profound revelation to equate working in the teitei, cooking lunch for your fellow students, attending class, studying in the library and writing your assignments with an offering to God. It certainly does take the command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength,” (Deut.6:5) to an extremely physical and practical level.

So my village, which also happens to be my place of work, turns one hundred this year. For the last century, Davuilevu Theological College has been the training ground for almost every Fiji Island minister that has served in the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma (and Rabi too I might add). In those hundred years a lot has remained the same. Students work in their own plantation to supplement the small allowance they receive, in preparation for the small stipend they will receive once they are posted to the field and the self-sufficiency they are supposed to display and inspire in the community in which they serve. Personal and communal devotion remain integral parts of the spiritual development, while academic studies focusing on Biblical Studies, Theology, Church History and Ministry, as well as community work and practical ministry contribute to the holistic ministerial formation that takes place over three years.
Of course over the last century things have changed at the College as changes have taken place in the Fiji-Island society and in the mission of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. The basics are still there but courses for students include globalization; the Pentecostal movement; modern developments in pastoral care; a deeper understanding of mission in the post-modern age; learning-focused Christian education and an emphasis on ethics. As the college-principal said in addressing the Ministerial Training Committee of the Methodist Church, at a function last year,
“We at DTC believe that we are called to service; we work together as a community of faith to explore the future, so that we can help the church shape the present in the way God wants, as we move forward; God being the source and sustainer of our journey.”

Of course individuality and that thing called “free-will” ultimately determine the type of service a minister renders to God and God’s people, or to him or herself. However ministerial formation, such as provided at DTC, as well as the other theological training institutions in Fiji, all aim at equipping men and women to serve God and God’s people in an ever-changing and often confusing world. The 21st century has already provided its fair share of challenges to Fiji and during times of confusion and crisis people turn to their spiritual leaders for guidance. There is a clear and present need for the clergy to be able to be relevant to an increasingly educated congregation. It is seems that as more of the laity becomes well educated and with the impact of the media opening up the world, ministers are being left behind. The flock are going ahead of the shepherd, so to speak. The clergy need to have a level of theological education, be able to read the signs of the times and be aware of the reality of the issues that are affecting those under their care. The job description for a minister in the Fiji of today calls for a spiritual guide-counsellor-prophet-servant who needs to know when to be what and how to remain humble and loving through it all.

DTC celebrates its centenary from the 18th to the 23rd of August. The college is a hive of activity as we prepare to host the celebrations in Davuilevu on the 18th of August and continue celebrations during the annual Methodist Solevu and Choir Festival (not competition!) in Furnival Park, Suva. There are beautification projects, development and refurbishment projects, and celebration committee meetings on top of teaching and learning loads. Yet we embrace the load because we are here in this place of training men and women of God, recognising those who have gone ahead, those who lit the ‘light on the hill’, celebrating the calling which we have answered, albeit in our different ways, and reflecting on the work done and the work still to be done. As we reflect on the past and look to the future, however uncertain it may be at the moment, we know there is work still to be done, by all for all.

Perhaps John Wesley said it best when he said (although many may dispute it):
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means that you can.
In all the ways that you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as you ever can.”

For more information on the College see our website,

Next week: “One Man’s Genetic Experiment Is Another Man’s Dinner”
May your week be blessed with Love, Light and Peace!

Disclaimer: Rev. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty of the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College. The opinions expressed in this article are personal and in no way represent the opinion of the College or the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Che Bainimarama by Al-B

As illustrated by my talented but yellow (as in Hepatitis B) nephew...see his blog at:

Heroes and Villains of the Silver Screen and the Muddy Water

Published in The Fiji Times, Wednesday 6th August, 2008

I noticed a lot of hype recently about the emerging “Bulawood” in Fiji with the annual Kula Film Awards and the release of the latest… television movie transferred to film for Fiji audiences only. I would like to commend the work of the Fiji Audio-Visual Commission for their persistence in promoting Fiji as a location for filmmaking and the wonderful tax incentives for enticing producers to base here for their production (filming). Mr. Dan Bolea and his team, under the watchful visionary eyes of new chairperson, Sharon Smith-Johns work very hard, even if the results are not as immediate, financially rewarding or glamorous as we would wish them to be.

But as someone who has worked in the Audio-Visual (radio/TV/film) industry here and abroad, and as a local independent producer even won a film award for a very, very short film (only 90secs for the “Tree of Life” which won a Commonwealth Vision Award in 2003), I do feel that while a lot of attention is focused on drawing producers and productions into Fiji, the FAVC may be missing the mark a little on local producers and productions. After all, some small, even “insular” feature films, animated shorts, and short and feature length documentaries have gone on to win Academy Awards and many have been nominated, as “The Land Has Eyes,” proved. However, the tax incentives really exclude small local independent producers who have no film financing fund to tap into. Then there are the Kula Awards.

The Kula Awards are promoted as “Fiji’s answer to the Academy Awards” (or something to that effect). Well after a number of years of pretty much the same thing, it’s starting to look like, “Fiji’s wrong answer to the Academy Awards”. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud the initial concept, the Bollywood dances, the stunt skills and the original short films made by high-school students. It’s a great start. Unfortunately it’s still stuck in first gear. I have seen, and I am happy to be corrected if I have been short or near-sighted, no development of the budding talent. No sponsorship for some of these talented kids to go to film school in Australia or New Zealand, or Suva (I heard there was one, but couldn’t find it). No replays of the short films on TV or in the cinemas. It’s almost as if this is a token exercise. I’m sure it’s not though; perhaps just lacking a little “vision” in its cinemascope.

These thoughts ran through my head as I recently and patiently sat in Village Six and watched the ads and previews, including a very long one of the latest production to earn a “shot in Fiji” tag (maybe we need to be a bit careful about that kind of tag in our current situation), the made for television movie "Pirates Island: Lost Treasures of Fiji" (not to be confused with the other, local, Pirates of the DVD). Typically s the popcorn finished the main feature began. It was the latest installment (now number 6 if you lost count) of the popular comic hero, Batman, “The Dark Knight”.

Somewhere in the darkness, as the Dark Knight battled the Joker, a passage of dialogue was said that remained ingrained after Batman won (again), the lights came on and the spell of the magick of cinema was broken as everyone went back to their lives. In the film, someone says to Batman, or his alter-ego Bruce Wayne (or the actor Christian Bale) that the hero either dies or lives long enough to become the villain.

A few days ago, as I stood on the Rewa Bridge contemplating the sunrise (and the pollution from the buses), this piece of dialogue came back to me. Look at Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, onetime hero of Africa is now its bane. Although some may say that even though he was the only candidate in the recent presidential run-off election which he won (would have been rather silly if he had lost) at least he held an election. But I digress. The point of course is that he was the one-time pin-up boy for all liberation movements trying to throw off the shackles of colonialism, but in his stubborn refusal to relinquish power or accept his time has come, he is destroying the very country he helped forge.

But perhaps that is the problem with heroes. We in Fiji have had our fair share of heroes that hold on to power so tightly here that they eventually become the villain. Perhaps it is that the hero fears becoming a zero.

The German philosopher Friedrich Neitzsche had a lot to say about heroes, which he called √úbermensch or the “superman” (not the fella who wears his underwear outside his pants). According to Neitzsche, the superman is someone who in discovering himself also discovers that it is in his best interests to reject any outside notions about values, trusting rather what he finds within himself. He creates his own good and evil, based on that which helps him to succeed or fail. In this way good is something which helps one to realize his potential and evil is whatever hampers or stands in the way of this effort. Sounds familiar to us?

So given this very deep (for a Wednesday anyway) reflection on the superman and the heroes and villains of our coup culture today, and in the hope of getting some funding from the FAVC for a great idea for a locally produced and cast film, I present to you a locally flavoured reworking of the Dark Knight cast:

Batman/Bruce Wayne/Superman/Clark Kent (and any other hero in the film): Frank Bainimarama (note, there may be times when Mohammed Aziz will play the role of Batman)

Batman’s sidekick, Robin/ Superman’s girl, Lois Lane: Mahendra Chaudhry

Harvey Dent, Gotham’s District Attorney-turned criminal “Two-Face”: Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum

Alfred the Butler: Pramesh Chand

Police Commissioner Gordon: Esala Teleni

The Joker: John Samy or whichever media organization is in the ‘bad books’ – depending on whether it is the NCBBF Draft script or written by deported journalists.

Next week: “A Century of Making Ministers” (the Church kind)
May your week be blessed with Love, Light and Peace!

Disclaimer: Rev. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty of the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College. The opinions expressed in this article are personal and in no way represent the opinion of the College or the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.