Thursday, September 23, 2010

Planting peace

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan 22nd September, 2010

In the midst of the International Day of Peace events yesterday, a vesi (indigenous hardwood) tree was planted by a Fijian peace-builder to symbolise the need for positive peace to be deeply rooted in the hearts of people called to a ministry of peace and reconciliation.
Arieta Koila Costello-Olsson, director of the Suva-based Pacific Centre for Peace-building, and daughter of Navuso, Naitasiri, found herself planting this sapling in her "home soil" as she marked the end of the International Day of Peace and International Day of Prayer for Peace Commemoration at Davuilevu Theological College.

Earlier Ms Costello-Olsson had been the keynote speaker at a forum for theological students, spouses, faculty and invited guests organised by the Pacific Conference of Churches, WEAVERS (the Women Doing Theology Project of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools) and Davuilevu Theological College organised to mark the IDOP/IDOPP.
The UN International Day of Peace on September 21 takes place, each year, in parallel with the International Day of Prayer for Peace (IDPP).

The UN day is a day on which armed conflict is meant to be stilled, a day for combatants to observe cease-fires, a day on which all people are invited to commit or re-affirm their commitment to non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
In 2010, the United Nations International Day of Peace, September 21, focuses on youth and development, under the slogan: "Peace = Future".

The day at the college began with the morning devotion following the liturgy (order of worship) specially prepared for the International Day of Prayer for Peace in which the focus was on Africa as part of the final year of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).
Ms Costello-Olsson, who is also the Pacific Representative to the DOV Reference group committee since 2008, spoke on the upcoming International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (May 2011, Jamaica) and the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence and the process of peacebuilding in Fiji.

Ms Costello-Olsson shared with those gathered about people, "in our country working hard to build peace in our country and restore the hope that was broken or weakened and to get better at telling the truth."

She went on to say that, "as Church, we are called to give direction and provide a space for healing, sharing, reflection and action for change. Sometimes we are good at doing this for others but we are not good at doing it for ourselves. As we journey to strengthen our recovery processes in our country, it is key that we are taking care of ourselves and being truthful and not projecting our anger or pain but looking within for constructive changes we can take to improve our situations."

As the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence nears, Ms Costello-Olsson called for people to celebrate the steps taken thus far to reduce violence, but also to put up new goals so that "violence is eliminated from our lives and we have real workable strategies in place to do so."
"We must create meaningful beacons or indicators of change so that we can track these improvements or these changes.

"This is key because it is easy to lose hope and give up when things are hard. We all have a serious role and responsibility to work for a positive peace, to strengthen our skills in peacebuilding and conflict transformation and to work within ourselves to serve our people in a better way so that our children have a better future nonviolently."

In his response to Ms Costello-Olsson's address, the Dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Very Reverend Father Feremi Cama, spoke on the need for non-violent responses to cycles of violence and conflict and the love of God as the core of peace-building.

"Non-violence is not the coward's way. It takes courage to be non-violent. Hatred is a cancer that eats us up inside. We must take ownership of our feelings because we decide to be angry or frustrated or to hate," he said.

femLINK Pacific's Veena Singh-Bryar spoke on the work of femLINK Pacific in empowering women and communities through its communications network and strategies, listening to the stories of the struggles of women at grassroot communities and ensuring that these voices and issues are then taken up and heard at policy and decision-making level in government and civil society.

She also shared on the important work femLINK is doing in the area of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

In his welcome to the guest speakers, the principal of Davuilevu Theological College, Rev. Dr. Epineri Vakadewavosa said that the college was excited to be able to play its part in the Decade to Overcome Violence.

"As we try our best to ensure the future ministers of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma understand the issues affecting the communities in which they serve, we have, over the last few years, introduced courses on globalisation, ecumenism and the issues of both violence against women and HIV and AIDS — the last two using curriculums developed by WEAVERS and SPATS.

From a theological education perspective, it is important to equip our students and future ministers, priests, deaconesses and pastors to be not only peacemakers themselves but to inspire and teach others to be peacemakers. "

The failure of past national reconciliation events because root causes were not identified and actual perpetrators and victims were not involved was discussed during the forum.

Speakers called on the church to take up the challenge and claim its biblical mandate to instigate reconciliation and peace processes that include collective truth-telling.

"As the church, we have to take a long hard look within ourselves to reflect, but we also have to find better ways to deal with things and to tell the truth about ourselves," said Ms Costello-Olsson.

The church — the body of Christ — is called to make, build and share peace.
Of course I refer to all of us as the church. Our call to share the shalom of God is an integral part of being a Christian.

As we strive to be agents of change and apostles of the Good News, our roles as peace sharers and our peaceful approach to conflicts in the family, community and nationally is not merely important but essential to heralding the kingdom of God.

As you go about your day today, I leave you with this pearl of wisdom gleaned from the Peace Forum: "Reconciliation is a place and space where truth, justice, mercy and peace meet."

"Be still, stand in love and pay attention."
Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beyond solidarity

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Thursday, September 09, 2010

In the hustle and bustle of the "Mother of All Festivals" it would have been understandable if most missed the arrival into Suva of the vaka (sailing canoe) O Tahiti Nui Freedom from Tahiti. On an epic journey that would take it from Tahiti to the Cook Islands to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Philippines and eventually to Southern China as the crew seek to reverse the trail of the first Oceanic settlers.

The Fiji Islands Voyaging Society and the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo arranged a traditional welcome ceremony for the crew of O Tahiti Nui Freedom at Albert Park.

As I arrived to say the opening prayer for the ceremony, I received news that the president of the Tahitian version of the FIVS would also be present.

We were in for a surprise as this person was none other than Oscar Temaru, former President of French Polynesia and current President of the French Polynesia Assembly.

Of Tahitian, Cook Island Maohi, and Chinese ancestry, Mr Temaru has been a vocal campaigner against nuclear testing by France at Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls since the 1970s.

His main power base has been in the poor suburb of Faa'a on the outskirts of the capital Papeete on the island of Tahiti, where he was born and educated.

A few days later, I was fortunate to meet Mr. Temaru again, this time at the Pacific Conference of Churches Secretariat.

As we shared a few bilo of yaqona he told those present the challenges that they faced in merely getting O Tahiti Nui Freedom to sail. While the Uto ni Yalo is made out of man-made and natural materials, O Tahiti Nui Freedom was made in the traditional manner. The group behind the vaka and its epic journey struggled to make this dream a reality.

Struggle is nothing new for the people of Maohi /French Polynesia.

Mr Temaru, is a long-time fighter for independence of his people from France. He shared with us memories of his participating in independence marches in Suva as a young man in the 1970s. At that time the Pacific Conference of Churches was at the forefront of the movements for self determination of the islands in the region and for a nuclear free Pacific.

While many islands were able to attain self-rule, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and the Indonesian-controlled West Papua still struggle to free themselves of colonisation.

An early political influence was Jean-Marie Tjibaou, philosopher and former leader of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), who was assassinated in New Caledonia in 1989.

When asked by an Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter "Most people call this place French Polynesia. What do you call it?" he replied "This is French-occupied Polynesia. That is the truth. This country has been occupied."

Mr Temaru has been actively campaigning for Pacific Islands' support for Maohi/French Polynesia to be put back on the UN decolonisation list.

Speaking to Radio Australia in July this year he said he was enlisting the support of all those countries, "to get our country back on the list of non-autonomous countries at the United Nations. We want to be independent like them, and to control our destiny."

Countries that used to engage in the effort for a nuclear free Pacific and support the struggle for self-determination now have different priorities and alliances with former adversaries.

Yet the Church still has a responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless, bring good news to the poor, to set the captive free, provide sight to the blind, end the suffering of the oppressed, proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

In the face of new types of oppression such as cultural and economic globalisation, the threat of climate change, violence against women and HIV and AIDS, it is important that we not lose sight of the other types of oppression that our brothers and sisters in the region face.

A few nights later, as I ducked out of the rain into the lobby of a local hotel, I bumped into Mr Temaru again. As the seasoned campaigner he is, he reminded me again of the important role the churches in Oceania have in leading the region to complete self-determination.

I took it to mean economic, cultural, spiritual as well as political self-determination.

In November 2009, Indigenous Peoples and church-based workers and organisations from Australia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Peoples' Hearing on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology.

Their declaration, issued to the nation-states and churches in Asia and the Pacific, the ecumenical movement and international community included the call to:

* Recognise Indigenous Peoples' sovereignty and ways of life consistent with indigenous cultural values. This will include the promotion of indigenous worldviews, knowledge, wisdom, and practices to meet the needs of all;

* Advocate for self-determination and food sovereignty;

* Respect and recognise Indigenous Peoples as custodians of Mother Earth;

* Strengthen solidarity among Indigenous Peoples and between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples based on non-discrimination, equality and mutual respect, social equity and peaceful coexistence;

* Advocate the re-reading of the Bible with a strong justice and peace orientation

Much of the conflicts which the people of Oceania find themselves in seem foreign to the Pacific way of life and churches have done a lot in seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis with mitigated results.

In the Pacific Plenary of the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Brazil, it was noted that the struggle for self-determination is still a priority for churches and people of New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

Support from the ecumenical family needs to continue to enable these peoples and their respective churches to seek what is best for their own future.

As we of Oceania sail our canoes through the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, many of the same rough seas remain to be sailed through to reach the Islands of Hope.

Our best hope to reach these islands is if we move beyond empathy and solidarity and join in the struggle to help the "least" of our brothers and sisters.

We also need to not only light the way for others to follow but speak peace to the storm and calm the waves which threaten to capsize the canoes of those who sail with us.

Only then can we say that we are being the voice of the voiceless, bringing good news to the poor, setting the captives free, providing sight to the blind, ending the suffering of the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour. "Be Still, Stand in Love, Pay Attention."

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with.


Let's make peace

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Last Friday, peace-workers from around Oceania completed 120 hours of intensive Peace-building training with the Pacific Centre for Peace-building and the Pacific Theological College's God's Pacific People programme.

Over three weeks, lay and ordained church workers who work in conflict areas of varying degrees (from family and community conflicts to social/political /national conflicts) spent time sharing experiences and learning tools to help them be better peacemakers.

In the first week of the training intensive, the participants learned about the analysis of conflict, justice, violence and society.

Divided into two parts, participants were firstly equipped with the tools to "map" and describe their society as they experience it, giving them confidence in talking about issues of conflict, violence and injustice in our society.

The second part of the week focused on understanding the roots of conflict and injustice.

This involved a joint exploration of how the structures of society contribute to conflict and peace.

The exploration also included understanding the importance of human needs and human rights theories as a the core framework for examining the complex causes of conflict, crime, injustice and violence, including the roles of identity, shame and humiliation in the cycle of violence as well as the impact of structural violence on other forms of conflict.

By the end of the first course our Pacific Peacebuilders had gained skills in analysing power and culture and psychological analysis of conflict as well as applying the theories and models into real-life situation.

The second week of the training intensive focused on helping the participants to recognise that awareness in trauma healing is essential for any peacebuilding process.

The instructors from the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding shared their learnings from the Eastern Mennonite University STAR Programmes, Father Michael Lapsley and Dr. Al Fuertes.

During this second course participants were introduced to various types of trauma and the effects of trauma on both individuals and communities.

They also examined the relationship between trauma, conflict and violence.

The course also included indentifying situations of trauma and resilience for individual and communal stories.

Particpants explored common responses to trauma; the role of the bod, mind and spirit in trauma; and the relationship between unhealed trauma and cycles of violence.

As part of understanding the trauma healing process, participants were introduced to the trauma healing journey model and analysing in the light of their own insights.

They learned new skills to address trauma at various stages.

The concepts of reconciliation and forgiveness were discussed in detail as participants examined what non-violent responses to violence and peacebuilding concepts transform and prevent trauma.

During this week, students shared their personal and common stories of trauma healing and discussed case studies from Oceania and the rest of the world.

The final part of this training intensive focused on the essential skills and knowledge for communication and building relationships.

According to the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding, no matter the level of peacebuilding work, effective practice relies on self-awareness and respecting others through human relations skills.

Practical peacebuilding skills needed for facilitating conflict transformation include active listening, getting beyond posturing, issue identification, identifying and working with commonalities, problem-solving, group facilitation, methods for structuring conversation in group settings, awareness of the impact of self on others.

Participants were challenged to try out new ways of addressing conflict in and out of class.

On the final day the participants spent the morning in a conflict simulation exercise.

As a fly on the wall I observed them putting into practice the many skills learned and understandings gained as they simulated transforming and resolving a violent conflict in which an occupying force invaded a country.

Community leaders, politicians and the military attempted dialogue while rebels tried to disrupt the process and representatives of big business tried to exploit the vulnerable but volatile situation.

In an unusual but positive result the Pacific peacebuilders were able to transform and resolve the conflict peacefully.

According to the facilitators, this particular simulation, based on the US-led invasion of Iraq, usually ends in violence with parties shooting each other.

However this exercise was not without its challenges as naturally non-violent people were challenged to play the roles of aggressors and oppressors.

I (and I am sure at least some of the participants) was amazed at the number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when attempting to resolve conflicts.

The types of trauma experienced by both oppressors and oppressed, looking for the root causes of the conflict rather than merely addressing things from a superficial or surface level, active listening and perhaps above all creating safe spaces for sharing and parties being able to trust peacebuilders are often things we over look in our rush to resolve or sometimes end conflicts we experience in our personal, communal and national life.

While the answers to our problems and conflicts may not be as clear cut or easy as we would wish, if we are serious about resolving them once and for all we need commit our time, our minds, our hearts, and be willing to look at ourselves and be open to others.

The longer conflicts remain unresolved the deeper they entrench themselves, the deeper the trauma and negative effects and the longer it will take to resolve them.

We need to commit to transforming conflicts in our lives. We need to support the peacemakers and peacebuilders in our communities.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity and the courage to transformation whatever conflict you face.

"Be still, stand in love, pay attention"

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

A cry to sing the Lord's song in Oceania

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday, August 18, 2010

As I sat in the plane on my way back home following the conclusion of the 2010 Pacific Church Leaders' Meeting in Auckland, I found myself trying to fathom the impact of the church leaders' cry to "'sing a new song'; to discern and proclaim afresh of God to ourselves, our people, our whenua (vanua or fenua) and our governments."

The cry was based on deep theological reflection on Psalm 137, led by eminent Fijian theologian, Reverend Dr Ilaitia Sevati Tuwere. This psalm refers to "singing the Lord's song in a strange land," made popular by the song By the Rivers of Babylon originally recorded by the Melodians and then by Boney M.

As the meeting was centered around the theme of migration, this cry was certainly a spark meaningful discussion, especially when the discussion was expanded to explore the understanding of the term oceania. The term 'oceania' was first used in 1831. In the context of the meeting it was used to refer to the context and people of the region of the world commonly known as the Pacific. This shift from Pacific to oceania is made to indicate identity and selfhood of people and nations in this region of the world and their commitment to be actively engaged in the work of expressing the visible unity of the church.

The cry of the Pacific church leaders was also in response to hearing and feeling the cry of the Maori people in Aotearoa New Zealand for greater connection and association as part of the people of oceania. As the Tangata Whenua (Maori people) struggle to sing their own song of justice, they called on the churches in oceania to ensure the meaningful participation of and solidarity action on the needs of the Te Aka Puaho (Maori Synod of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand).

The church leaders acknowledged that the household of God in Oceania, has four main pillars:

An acknowledgement that God has called us to this moment in our ecumenical history to discover anew what God is saying to us and to our people in oceania.

A call to all in oceania churches, civil societies and governments to reform and strengthen the bonds of solidarity and fellowship.

Our moral and ethical responsibility to shape the region of oceania to be more and more what God wants it to be.

The need for us as churches to recapture our regional responsibility to partner and accompany political leaders on key moral and ethical issues that underpin the changes that our region of oceania faces today.

The unified call of the Pacific church leaders was for churches, civil society groups, traditional communities, traditional leaders and governments to revisit our identity as peoples of oceania.

This means a fundamental and urgent rethinking of who we are in oceania on the following key areas:

The ecumenical vision taking into account a redefinition of ecumenism in our oceania and key aspects of sufficiency, wholeness, inclusivity and reconciliation.

Development models, driven by a 'more is better' principle that gives rise to poverty and inequality, exploitation and devastation of the environment and natural resources. Governance and leadership models that give rise to corruption, division and unhealthy competition among people of oceania. It also means renewed focus on the notion of self-determination as a key human rights issue in our region of oceania. The church leaders recognised the overarching nature of human rights in oceanic societies and understanding that human rights need to take account of religious and moral values held by churches, and the cultural norms that govern our people over centuries.

The understanding of being in a strange land led to the decision by the church leaders to stand in solidarity with all migrant communities from oceania, recognising the socio-cultural and economic challenges they face. As a result they called for greater recognition and protection of migrant communities in oceania, Australia and Aotearoa. They commissioned the Pacific Conference of Churches Secretariat to co-ordinate and facilitate research and advocacy initiatives on these issues at national, regional and international levels.

The leaders spent some time tackling the issue of resettlement, especially in regard to resettlement due to climate change and sea-level rise. They called churches and governments in oceania to address the resettlement of populations, as a pressing moral and ethical issue where the church, traditional and political leaders need to take responsibility and leadership.

Revisiting the calls they made at the conclusion of the 2009 church leaders meeting (known as the Moana Declaration) they reaffirmed the issue of resettlement of populations due to climate change as a critical issue of our time.

They recommitted themselves to engage in dialogue and discussions between churches, traditional leaders and governments on resettlement; to network and advocate for a regional and international agreement on resettlement for the protection of the rights of 'forced climate migrants'; and to forge partnerships between churches, traditional leaders and governments on mitigation and adaptation needs of our communities.

The cry of women and young people did not escape the ears and hearts of the Pacific church leaders either. While they remained mindful of the cultural and traditional values of oceania, they called for the inclusion of gender policies in our churches in oceania, recognising that such policies must be premised on the religious, moral values of our communities.

They also called on their churches to allow more meaningful and active participation of women and youth in the mission of the church. The leaders also endorsed and committed to the statement; 'Call to Reflection and Action' to the churches in oceania of the intergenerational encounter between the ecumenical pioneers and youth.

In terms of young migrants and the children of migrants the leaders, encouraged their churches and the PCC secretariat to ensure that youths of migrant churches, particularly those in Aotearoa and Australia are included in regional youth activities that foster ecumenical relations, share and deepen historical memory and foster our regional identity as people of Oceania. During the discussions on the church's response to the HIV and AIDS, the leaders affirmed that their response to pandemic lies in the heart at what it means to be a Christian.

Acknowledging the statement in the report of the Commission on AIDS in the Pacific calling for the continued partnership of churches with all stakeholders, especially at the national level, the leaders affirmed their churches commitments to the groundbreaking 2004 Nadi Declaration on HIV and AIDS, as well as to implement curriculum on HIV and AIDS and to equipping our ministers to engage meaningfully and practically with this issue. "We accept our Christian responsibility to share hope and love through our acceptance and care of people living with HIV and AIDS."

Following the consensus on the outcomes of the meeting, the church leaders sat around to discuss how, after talking the walk and talking the talk, they would actually walk the talk put these commitments into action within their own churches as well as through the Pacific Conference of Churches. In doing so they came another step closer to transforming their cry into a song. For more information on the 2010 Pacific Church Leaders' Meeting and the declarations and statements referred to in this column, visit

"Sincerity, simplicity, serenity and spontaneity"

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Mr J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: