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, www.dtc.ac.fj
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.