Friday, November 27, 2009

Break On Through

Published in The Fiji Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009

About a decade ago, someone referred to me in a conversation as a "Spiritual Wanderer." However, as every creature on Earth has an accent, it also sounded like, "Spiritual Wonderer".
At that time both descriptions were correct in their pronouncement. After all, "all our life is a journey. All life travels that journey." These were my thoughts on Saturday morning as dawn broke Fiji-style at Suva Point, and I stood on the shore to survey the flotilla of canoes in the Laucala Bay; one awaiting a sunrise blessing, adorned with a frangipani salusalu. Next to that canoe, dwarfing it in size was the 21st century drua. The double-hulled canoe named Uto ni Yalo - The Heart of the Spirit is made out of synthetic material but complete with traditional-designed manual giant rudder/oar. It too awaited blessing.

Uto ni Yalo is one of seven ocean-going double-hulled canoes which have been built for the Pacific Voyagers' network, voyaging groups in American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Tahiti, Tonga and Western Samoa. The development of the canoes was made possible by the Okeanos foundation, an international philanthropic organisation based in Germany, formed with the objective of protecting the ocean environment and marine life.
Fiji's involvement in this project is due largely to Letila Mitchell, Manoa Rasigatale and Colin Philp, who recently formed the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society and lead the awakening to rekindle Fiji and Rotuma's proud maritime heritage. The trio hope to revive traditional Fijian canoe building, sailing and navigational knowledge, skills and customs and voyaging, in order to re-establish cultural links and traditional sailing routes.

My role on Saturday was to seek God's blessings on the event and for the drua, its crew and passengers, the first of which were the contestants of the Miss South Pacific Pageant. It was somehow fitting these young women of the Pacific, who will raise awareness of the issue of climate change among the many people of the Pacific following the pageant were the first passengers on a canoe that would be used to promote the issue of ocean noise.

As I watched the Uto ni Yalo make its maiden voyage, complete with fair maidens onboard, my thoughts shifted to another fair maiden who was being farewelled that morning. You see on Saturday, I also attended the funeral of a woman who despite her own adversities inspired others to overcome their own. Her name was Belinda Mani. A good friend of my wife during their university days, Belinda was, at the time of her death, a lawyer, describing herself as a "people's advocate". She was also a paraplegic.

The eulogies at her funeral paid tribute to a woman who did not let her disability conquer her life. Her determination to live life to the fullest and be all that she could be inspired others who were able-bodied to do so as well. While her body could not keep up with her indomitable spirit, her legacy will live on. Rest in peace Belinda.

The new day of Tuesday, November 24 dawns as I write, and I am reminded of another group of women who like Belinda are part of the breakthrough of the barriers.

This afternoon, six women will complete ministerial formation at Davuilevu Theological College, the largest number of women to graduate from the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma's training institute for clergy. For a church that is perceived to be a bastion of a traditionally male-dominated society, this is an important day.

These six women and two others were the largest number of women to be accepted into the ministry within the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma at the Nausori Methodist Church during the 2006 Bose Ko Viti. It was also the same year that I and most of their male classmates also entered the ministry.

The next time we were to meet would be at Davuilevu Theological College, where they were first-year students and I a first-year member of faculty.

Of worthy note is that a female minister, Reverend Mereia Votomosi is the Head of the Bibical Studies Department at Davuilevu. This year in its mini-conference, the church appointed its first female Divisional Superintendent, Reverend Kelera Wesele.

The Methodist Church in Fiji has one of the highest numbers of women ministers in the South Pacific.

Today is also a special day for a woman who has created a legacy of breaking through the barriers, again doing so in her own way, as are the contestants of the Miss South Pacific Pageant, as did Belinda Mani and as will the six female ministers who will soon be leading their flocks through the paths of righteousness.

This woman embodies what it means to live in a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-faith environment. Today my mother, the unconventional, the feminine feminist, Rachel Bhagwan turns 71. Happy Birthday Mother!

In my family we have always seen November 25 as the beginning of a special two-month period.
Mother's birthday marks the arrival of the Advent season (it is Advent Sunday on November 29).

A month later, Christians mark the birth of Jesus. Another month after that, by my late father's birthday of January 25, it is time to knuckle down and get into the New Year.

The Advent season is, for Christians, a time of preparation for the incarnation of God among humans in Christ Jesus. The focus of the entire season is the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent, and the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent. Consequently, Advent is far more than simply marking a 2000 year old event in history.

It is celebrating a truth about God, the revelation of God in Christ whereby all of creation might be reconciled to God. During this time we pray for the grace to accept the Christ who comes in God's name, the Christ who broke barriers of social, cultural and religious status and evoked a consciousness of peace on Earth and goodwill toward all. This Advent let us ask God for the courage to be Christ for others.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love, peace and joy!

* Reverend Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, serving as Librarian/ Assistant Lecturer (Theology & Ethics) at Davuilevu Theological College and as an Associate Minister at Dudley Methodist Church in Toorak, Suva.
* All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organisation that Mr Bhagwan is affiliated with.

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