Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“Piercing Souls and Pricking Consciences”

Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times, 27/4/11

No doubt the “first crucifixion” in Fiji (FT 23/4/11) has received both criticism and positive response from members of the Christian faith community involved and those of different denominations, perhaps even different religions.

Some may feel that the freedom to express one’s spirituality and faith is the more important issue. Others that this type of expression borders on gruesome and sacrilegious. Yet others may think that this is just another stunt by a faith which professes many good values but struggles to adhere to them.

My first thought when reading about this event was, in fact, to hope that the nails used were sterile. The last thing anyone wants when performing what they consider their religious duties is an infection.

However, what struck me was the reason that young Antonio Vusonilawa gave for allowing himself to have his hands nailed to a cross on Good Friday. Obviously the act, however incomplete or lacking (two six-inch nails instead of 3 eight-inch spikes, a severe beating, having one’s back ripped to shreds by a roman flagrum, a crown of thorns being impressed on one’s head, being stripped naked, being pierced by a spear) was one designed to not only profess a desire to understand and appreciate, in a way, what Jesus the Christ went through for the sake of humanity, but also to provoke.

I have seen some provoking re-enactments of the crucifixion by Christians, in Fiji and abroad. In Dudley Methodist Church in Suva, the practice on Good Friday for a long time was for the youth of the church to dramatise the passion of Jesus – from his betrayal to his death on the cross. Recently we moved away from this as we realised that the congregation was so used to the performance, that the youth found themselves pushing their performances to the limit to get a reaction from their audience. This went on until one occasion, when some children were so traumatised by the torture inflicted on “Jesus” that they refused to enter the church and screamed or cried whenever they saw the young people who had played the roles of soldiers and Jesus.

So we tried something different. As I mentioned in last week’s column, Dudley Circuit, during Holy Week, focused on the elements of Christ’s suffering: the wooden cross, the nails and spear, the crown of thorns, the whip and His shame as he hung naked while his seamless tunic or robe was gambled over.

In the services where I preached, members of the congregation was encouraged to hold the instruments of suffering – a (mini)cross, nails, a crown of thorns. We watched the flogging scene from the film, “The Passion of the Christ.” It was a gruesome, hard to view seven minutes and parents and guardians were advised to shield their children’s eyes from the scene, if they found it too brutal.

The themes associated with these five moments of suffering were five respective calls: the call to follow; the call to trust; the call to the Kingdom, the call to mission and the call to unity. The themes were there to remind us not just to focus on the physical suffering of Jesus but to try to reflect on the reason why Christ would be willing to go through this for you and for me. The themes also called for us to respond to this by following, trusting, seeking, serving and communing with God.

Mr. Vusonilawa is quoted as saying he wanted to “pierce the minds and hearts of Fiji’s youth and deepen their faith in God” in the hope that “they feel something special for the Lord this Easter,” (FT 23/4/11).

Part of the challenge to follow Christ is the call to take up one’s own cross, to know the cost of following Christ and to pay that cost – even if the price is one’s life. However in all of the suffering that Christians, disciples of the Anointed One, are challenged to endure -the love, the light that they are to share must never diminish with each adversity faced. In fact, Christians are called to be God’s agents of transformation in this world.

This means along with piercing hearts and minds, we must prick consciences. We must help people hear the groaning of creation, open eyes to the injustices in our world and help binding wounds and restoring souls. This is how we not only testify to the crucifixion and the death of Jesus, it is also how we bear witness to his resurrection and await his return.

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

Rev. J. S. Bhagwan is holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) from the Pacific Theological College and is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Suva Circuit in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. This article is the opinion of the author and does not necessary reflect the views of the Methodist Church or this newspaper. Em


Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times 20/4/11

On Monday evening I walked into the Dudley Church Holy week service holding a cross. The theme for my sermon was “The Wood of the Cross: The Call to Follow”.

It was not a very big cross, probably only a metre high. I held it as I preached and reflected on different types of wood used in the Bible as part of God’s plan of salvation – from the wooden Ark that saved the animals and one righteous family in the Flood to the wooden cross that bore the Son of God and the weight of the world’s sin.

Many of us who claim to be Christian, are in fact Christian by convention, that is, church goers rather than by conviction. We believe Jesus is our Lord, the Son of God who died for our sins and by believing in Him we hope for eternal life. That is all well and good but what about living by his teachings? It seems that often we just want to be members of the club for the benefits (wonderful benefits indeed), but do the bare minimum possible to join, filling the registration, signing to abide by the rules and paying the subscription.

But as we approach the annual commemoration of the redemptive act of Jesus, His atonement for our sins, there is an opportunity to reflect on what it mean to be a true Christian.

In the Acts of the Apostles, the first use of the term Christian is made in the ancient Syrian city of Antioch, now near Antakya, in modern-day Turkey (Acts 11:26).

Mike Gascoigne writes that the word "Christian" is comparatively rare, appearing only three times (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16) and is therefore unlikely to have been their usual name. They were sometimes referred to as "The Way", although this was also not their preferred name, but more likely a term of abuse given to them by others. It is possible that the term "Christian" was also given to them as a term of abuse, although they gladly adopted it for themselves because they were happy to accept suffering and abuse in the name of Yeshua (Jesus). The two most popular names that they normally called themselves were "Disciples" and "Saints".

The word "Disciple" (mathetos in Greek) means one who is trained or taught; a student or follower. Jesus the Christ was very clear what it meant to follow Him. ‘Then he said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23 NLT)

For those of us who think that our crosses as Christians or Disciples of Christ are too heavy to carry, here is a story that I read and shared with my congregation on Monday night:

One day a man complained to God that his cross was too big and heavy. God took the man to a large warehouse with a small entrance door and said, "Go inside and leave your cross by the door. Inside you will find crosses of many different sizes and shapes. Take whichever one you like."

"Wow," the man thought, "this is more like it." So, leaving his cross just inside the door, he went into the huge warehouse. Inside were hundreds of crosses. And, yes, some were bigger than the others, but even the smallest one he could find was much bigger than the cross he had been carrying.

After searching through all the crosses for several hours, the man headed back towards the door in disappointment. Nearing the door, in a darkened corner, he saw a small cross. It was smaller than any other cross he had found in the entire warehouse. Joyfully he picked it up and carried it through the door to show it to God.

"See what I found!" he cried joyfully as he approached God. "It is just the right size for me. I can carry this cross."

"I’m glad you can handle it," God replied. "That is the same cross you brought here."

At the same time we are also called to help each other carry our crosses. In the story of Simon of Cyrene, a Libyan Jew in Jerusalem for the Passover who finds himself giving relief to a physically broken and exhausted Jesus and carrying the Cross a short distance, there lies the call for each one of us to be willing to bear the weight of one another’s burden. If we can take up that cross and deny ourselves If we, like Simon, can truly take on Christ; be in Christ in the agony of Good Friday then we can truly come to be with Christ in the Joy of Easter and then we will be blessed.

As we struggle hoping for someone to help us with our own crosses, our sin and our shame, our frustrations, our weakensses, are we able to keep our eyes open to the others struggling with the weight of their crosses? Whose cross can you bear?

Easter symbolises not only Christ’s death and resurrection but our death to since and our becoming a new creation. It is a time of repentance and forgiveness, of making peace and reconciliation. It is a time of healing. “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Easter is a time for Christians to remember that Jesus gave His life not just for Christians but for the whole world (John 3:16). It is a time to reach out in love to the brother and sister as well as the neighbour and stranger.

A wise older sister from halfway around the world shared with me today, “when I watch life unfold, I think about the perfection of the divine plan. Let us pray for all humans this Passover that we realise that we are One, in one Source and that kindness is everything. Everything always works out and better than any human could imagine.”

Dudley Holy Week services are at 7pm tonight and tomorrow and at 9am on Good Friday. On Easter or Resurrection Sunday we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with a combined sunrise service with Wesley City Mission at the Suva Peace Garden (just in front of the Suva Civic Auditorium).

May this week be holy and blessed for you and this Easter, may you find new life and the strength to not only carry your cross but to help others carry theirs.


Rev. J.S. Bhagwan holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) from the Pacific Theological College and is the Circuit Minister of the Dudley Suva Circuit of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma

Honouring our Trees

On Friday the International Year of the Forests will be launched in Fiji, with the theme “Celebrating Forests for People”. It follows the success of the Plant a Million Tree Programme, which according to the Forestry Department has already resulted in 1.4million trees being planted, even though the programme doesn’t actually conclude until tomorrow, 14th April.

Last year, the Methodist Church’s Davuilevu Theological College had a similar programme for the college, with the community planting native species and fruit trees around the campus. Later in commemoration of International Day of Peace, an indigenous species of tree was planted by the keynote speaker at the College’s Peace Day programme, symbolising the desire for peace to be rooted in our homeland.

My parents always encouraged the protection of trees – big and small – much to the frustration of gardeners and brush cutter operators who often saw no value in some of the plants. I remember many long sessions of my mother trying to educate many a grounds-man on the oxygen creating role of trees.

Considering the amount of deforestation which takes place as land is “cleared” for farming or industrial development, the importance of protecting trees cannot be overstated in maintaining of the balance of the fragile ecosystem which many of us take for granted. In this regard, I often wonder as to how land that contains trees can be called, “unproductive”.

I was once told that to appreciate the work of trees in producing the much needed oxygen our bodies need, all I needed to do was try to breathe out and into a paper bag for five minutes. The point was made in two and half.

The objective of 2011 United Nations International Year of the Forest is to create awareness of the urgency to protect fragile global forestry and encourage a greater sustainability in their use. This

International Year will help cultivate an appreciation of the role of forests in conserving the strength and vitality of the planet.

According to the United Nations, nearly a third of the world’s people depend directly on forests, 300 million of them live in forests, and 80% of the world’s biodiversity is created in them. Most of our human physique comes from our forest-dwelling ancestors, and forest-dwelling has shaped our behaviour, cultures and beliefs.

Last year there was much ire raised on the impending uprooting of the famous Dudley High School Baka tree, to protect a school building. After consultation with the Forestry Department we were able to find a solution that would protect both the building and the tree which holds sentimental value to Dudley current and former students and staff, as well intrinsic environmental value to the area. All it took was a little planning and discussion and a lot of commitment.

When my children were infants, my wife taught them a song that not only served as a lullaby, but also provided a wonderful example on the importance of trees. It’s called, “The Tree Song”. Two of the verses are as follows:

I saw a tree by the riverside one day as I walked along.

Straight as an arrow and pointing to the sky growing tall and strong.

"How do you grow so tall and strong?" I said to the riverside tree.

This is the song my tree friend sang to me:

“I've got roots growing down to the water,

I've got leaves growing up to the sunshine,

and the fruit that I bear is a sign of the life in me.

I am shade from the hot summer sundown.

I am nest for the birds of the heavens.

I'm becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be:

A strong young tree.”

I saw a tree in the city streets, where buildings blocked the sun.

Green and lovely I could see it gave joy to everyone.

"How do you grow in the city streets?" I said to the downtown tree.

This is the song my tree friend sang to me:

“I've got roots growing down to the water,

I've got leaves growing up to the sunshine,

and the fruit that I bear is a sign of the life in me.

I am shade from the hot summer sundown.

I am nest for the birds of the heavens.

I'm becoming what the Lord of trees has meant me to be:

A strong young tree.”

This year of the forest, what can we do to nurture strong young trees? In urban and rural communities are we willing to sacrifice a piece of personal or communal land or work with municipal councils to set aside land for nature reserves?

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

Rev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Suva Circuit in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.

My sister’s fight with cancer.

Padre James, and son Francisco-Xavier with their matching crew-cuts in solidarity with sister/aunt Sharon who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer

Benjamin Disraeli, 19th Century British Prime Minister and novelist once said, “Sweet is the voice of a sister in the season of sorrow.” Charles M. Schulz, the author of the “Peanuts” (Charlie Brown) comics added his five cents worth with, “Big sisters are the crab grass in the lawn of life.”
I have two older sisters, one who has been like a mother to me as well as my teacher of serious art, philosophy and sophistication; and one who was the light relief from the eldest sister, teaching me about popular culture and the mini-golf and bumper boats as a break from the museums and galleries. I enjoyed both in traditional Gemini tradition. Both have been my bosses at different periods of my life. Both will most probably say that I make a better brother than employee or subordinate. Both, along with our mother have been inspirations in my call to serve the community, through their own work.
Both of my sisters are strong women. However, they have cried on my shoulder many times.
While I had been supportive of my sisters’ work in the past, it was always with the understanding that serving the community and working for peace, justice and equality was something we were raised to do with only the contexts and scope of our work being the difference.
In November last year, my sister Sharon was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Like the father’s daughter that she is (as our mother and I often concur), she felt the fear, but dealt with it and the disease head on. The positive attitude she has maintained during her healing period has surprised many people, from colleagues to friends and family.
Many of us, when we discover ‘a lump’, growth or something unexpected with our help are so frightened that we prefer not to know. We refrain from seeing the doctor or convince ourselves that it will go away. Sharon’s decision to have a biopsy and find out her true medical condition and on finding out about the breast cancer, agreeing straight away for a mastectomy was the most courageous act I have seen in a long time.
There are many like Sharon who have made the same decisions when faced with cancer. Unfortunately far too many people either don’t bother with self examinations and addressing the problems straight away. Their inaction often costs them their lives.
A few weeks after her mastectomy, Sharon began journaling her experiences and feelings during this difficult time in a web log or blog titled: A Somewhat New Sharon. In her first journal entry she wrote:
“Three weeks since my mastectomy Monday (November 29) and as I amble along the seawall (admitedly I’m not walking as fast as I would right now) I am reminded to take it easy.Yes, I am resting especially when there is still some post-op tenderness/soreness to deal with but mentally, my mind is (uninduced)a- buzz thinking ahead about arrangements for what will be a very new year… The morning had started with another morning walk with Sian and we got caught in the rain but as we looked around at the silvery greyness we spotted a rainbow in solitary glory.That was fairly significant as I have to admit it’s not easy taking a break from work and I don’t mean editing stories or reading reports. It’s probably what’s been suggested to me – focus on yourself, not on some of the operational matters which yes do continue to tick over but I am sure there must be a way collectively press the “pause” button and take time to smell the roses so to speak, not worry about meetings ….or certain emails. Meanwhile I have to admit, it is very easy to spot the people who know I know I have had a mastectomy ….they tend to speak to my left breast! Otherwise, I am quite normal really!”
After the mastectomy, Sharon found out that she would have to undergo both chemo-therapy locally and radiation therapy abroad. In February, Sharon began her chemo-therapy. Again in her blog there is the positivity, that I believe is essential to the healing process and our wellbeing, especially after getting a “post-Mastectomy-Monday-all-new Amazonian woman-look up a notch to the GI Jane style ala Demi Moore (but sigh not the physique just yet).” The crew cut (number two on the clippers) was “really spurred on by a more noticeable flimsy loss of hair.” She adds, “Aside from one shop assistant’s stare I didn’t notice much else…..the stares that is – maybe it’s just regarded as yet another style-statement, which yes technically it is.”
From her sharing and her blog, I have been given an insight to how Sharon is coping with breast cancer, how this has brought her main caregiver (her daughter, my niece) Sian even closer together, and how her faith and her friends and family have been a source of strength to her in this difficult time. It has given me a real appreciation for those who live and battle with cancer in all its forms.
Sharon still works, and works hard – except for the days of and a few after her chemo-therapy. She’s travelled locally and abroad determined not to let the cancer get the better of her.
Last week my son Francisco Xavier and I got our hair cut to match Sharon. Perhaps this was the biggest gesture of solidarity that as males we could make to her. As my hair was being cut, possibly by the same pair of clippers, a hymn came to mind:
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 Christ-light for you in the night-time 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 I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
Read Sharon’s story on and take time out to find out about cancer and how it affects both men and women.
May the rest of your week be blessed with light love and positive peace.
Rev. J.S Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister of the Dudley Suva Circuit of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily contain the views of the Methodist Church or this newspaper. Email:

Women, Water and the Well

Published in OFF THE WALL – Fiji Times WEDNESDAY 30/3/11

Last Sunday the Gospel reading according to the lectionary was John 4:5-42 which is the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a long reading but one rich in meaning, both in terms of Jesus as the “Water of Life” and the issues relating to cultural and ethnic differences between two groups of people living next to each other.

Yesterday I received an email from the Ecumenical Water Network's Seven Weeks for Water 2011, a Lenten Study on Water, Conflict and Just Peace.

According to EWN, the biblical stories of women at wells speak of hope and conversion. Rebekah demonstrates her kindness and generosity to Abraham’s servant and becomes the wife of Isaac. The Samaritan woman discovers the source of living water when Jesus defies all social conventions of the time and approaches her. Yet these positive experiences stand in sharp contrast to the every-day reality of many women and girls around the world.

Women and girls are particularly affected where clean water and safe sanitation are lacking. They are often responsible for fetching water, an exhausting task which deprives them of time and energy they could use to earn an income or go to school. The lack of clean water and sanitation is sorely felt by women and girls, for example during menstruation. It also puts them at risk of becoming victims of violence. Many women and girls face sexual harassment and rape when fetching water or when they have to go outside for lack of toilets in their homes. The burden of fetching water can aggravate domestic violence when women cannot cope with all the chores their husbands expect them to take on.

According to a report of the United Nations’ Development Program (UNDP), women and female children spend more than 10 million “person years” carrying water from remote sources each year.

With growing water scarcity, women and girls must travel longer distances to obtain water, a chore that often occupies several hours of the day. In some cases, women and children leave at dawn travelling miles to the nearest well, sometimes returning at midnight laden with containers of water. A woman might have to spend an entire night waiting at distant water pumps for her turn to fill her water container.

Tuesday’s Fiji Times highlighted the plight of families in the Low Cost Housing in Bulileka, Labasa. There residents are resorting to collecting rainwater and river water to alleviate their water problems. Squatter/informal settlement residents also struggle with water issues and often are forced to share or pay high prices for water from neighbours fortunate enough to have a regular clean water supply.

Rev. Dr Priscille Djomhoue, a professor of Greek and New Testament at the Protestant University of Central Africa in Cameroon writes that, water “is the source and powerhouse of life. Without it the earth would be an arid desert, where life would be impossible because of famine and drought. Even though we know that it can be the cause of death (through floods, drowning and water-borne diseases), water is generally seen and appreciated for the advantages and benefits that it brings to the life of living beings.”

She adds, “when Christ’s side was pierced and water flowed from it (John 19:34), he was like the rock from which water flowed to quench the thirst of God’s people as they journeyed to the Promised Land (1 Cor. 10:4; John 7:38). He is also the temple (John 2:19ff) from which the river flows to sustain and give life to the New Jerusalem (John 3:37; Rev. 22:1 &17). Moreover, the Holy Spirit, the life-giving power of God the creator, is compared to water (John 7:39), as a symbol of the whole of the Good News brought by Christ (John 7:37b-38), the symbol of the everlasting blessedness of the elect, whom the Lamb, their shepherd, leads to rich pastures.”

Last Tuesday World Water Day was celebrated globally. This week water woes continue here in Fiji and around the world. The challenge for communities and societies in the face of rising corporatisation and privatisation of water service providers continues to be profitability verses the basic human right to access to clean drinking water.

The loss of self-sufficiency is often followed by the loss of self esteem. We, who take our water for granted, need to be ever mindful of the preciousness of water. Let us support and accompany those to still struggle, even in our islands of abundance, for clean drinking and washing water.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace and the thirst to drink deeply from the water of life.

* Rev. J.S. Bhagwan holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) from the Pacific Theological College and is a former faculty member of Methodist Davuilevu Theological College. He currently serves as the Circuit Minister of the Dudley Suva Circuit of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma or of this newspaper.


Published in OFF THE WALL - Fiji Times 23/3/11

On Sunday I received news of the passing away of Mrs. Grace Magdelene Deoki a few days short of her 94th birthday.

Mrs. Grace Deoki was born in Levuka, Fiji, on 21st March 1917, her birthdate though was registered in 1918. She was the eldest of eight children born to Paul and Damayanti Herman, who were Christians from Kerala, India.

Grace was educated at the Marist Convent, later becoming a school teacher. In 1932 she married the late Rev. Ramsey Deoki , the first Indo-Fijian to become an ordained Methodist minister in Fiji.

Ordained in 1939, Rev. Deoki remained the only Indian minister for the next 20 years. “Being the first Fiji-born Indian to apply for a position in the church, Rev. Deoki faced a lot of difficulties. Questions were asked whether he ought to be accepted on the same status as his European” counterparts and he kept struggling to gain recognition.

He started preaching inside and outside the Methodist Church. Rev. Deoki represented Fiji at the May 1963 General Conference in Adelaide. During the discussions around the coming together of the Fijian and Indian Synods of the then Methodist Church in Australasia for the formation of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Rev. Deoki fought for Indian autonomy in the Methodist Church in Fiji, fearing that integration of the Fijian and Indian Churches would lead to Indians being swamped by numbers. His struggles meant the setting up of some standards and guidelines for the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in future.

Rev. Deoki is remembered as someone who embraced and moved easily amongst all sections of Fiji's multi ethnic and religious society. He was well known for his years of selfless service to the multiracial communities of Fiji. He possessed an intimate knowledge of the Hindi language and of Indian culture yet had absorbed much from Western culture. Through this, he was able to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in a profound manner. He had lofty ideals and was truly ahead of his time. He was also a founding member of the Indian Reform League, a social and sports organisation formed in 1924 to cater for the needs of Fiji Indians.

On 1st January 1964, he was appointed the first Indian Divisional Superintendent of the Indian Division.

That same year Rev. Deoki died and Grace was left a widow at the age of 49 and her 7 children fatherless. Three of her children were married at that time, Titus, Irene and Doreen. The other children - Ian, Maureen, Lorraine and were studying and working, while Angela was a primary school student.

Apart from helping her husband in the church, Grace was involved with the Red Cross and various other organizations, but after his death, she engrossed herself into serving the people of Fiji.

She traveled widely in many countries and spoke a few languages, and apart from English and HindiHINDIhi, spoke Malayalam and Tamil, as well as Fijian, fluently.

In 1971 she completed a comprehensive course and obtained a diploma in sociology from Selly Oak College, England.

At the invitation of the Indian Government, she spent 2 months in India, studying various aspects of women’s organizations and their services to the country and people.

Grace spent many years serving in various organizations, welfare and community groups in Fiji and was the first local person to hold such responsibilities:

· Girl Guide Commissioner for Fiji – the first local to hold the post.

· President of Pan Pacific South East Asia Women’s Association.

· President of National Council of Women of Fiji.

· Y.W.C.A. Director of the original Board.

· Red Cross – member of Board of Directors. Also as Welfare Officer.

· Fiji Government Education Advisory Board member.

· Stri Sewa Sabha – President and member for some 35 years.

· St. Giles Hospital (mental hospital) Board member for 5 years and then Chairman of Board for 5 years. She worked very hard to improve the conditions of the hospital and patients.

Mrs. Grace Deoki was respected and loved for her dedicated services by the people of Fiji. In 1976 she was honoured with the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) by Her Majesty the Queen.

In 1984 Grace moved to settle in Brisbane, Australia. Her children, Titus, Irene and Angela are settled in Brisbane with their families. Ian and Maureen have made New Zealand their home. Doreen moves between Labasa, Fiji, and Brisbane. Lorraine is in Sydney.

Grace was a caring person who loved people of all races. Her services to the people of Fiji involved all races and she loved it. It was her calling to serve her God. She is survived by 7 children, 17 grandchildren and 23 great grandchildren.

A special memorial service for the Late Grace Deoki will be held on Thursday 24th March, 2011 (tomorrow) at Dudley Memorial Church in Toorak, Suva at 12pm to coincide with her funeral in Brisbane.

May the rest of your week be blessed with an appreciation for every opportunity to serve our fellow human beings.


* Rev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.

COMPASSION AND SERVICE: Exercises in Practical Humanity

Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times6/03/11

Last Thursday, I led the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo and their families in a special farewell service before the vaka (canoe) departed on their next epic voyage to promote traditional sailing and navigation, Pacific culture and highlight the need for each islander of the Pacific to protect our Ocean.

On Friday afternoon before the Uto Ni Yalo set sail,as the Chaplain of the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society, I had a quiet moment of prayer with the crew before they were reminded of the purpose of their voyage, the inspirational message of our nation’s president and the advice of the captain for them to look out for each other as they journey on the Suva to Auckland leg of the voyage.

After a final prayer for crew, the vaka, family members and supporters who had turned up to farewell these maritime ambassadors and following the traditional bole (challenge), the crew cast off and the Uto Ni Yalo left for its next legendary journey.

Later that night as I heard of the massive earthquake in Japan and the ensuing tsunami, with a Pacific-wide tsunami alert in effect, my thoughts immediately flew to these brave men and women at the mercy of the elements.

Later, as I saw images of the destruction to boats and ships, among vehicles, buildings, and almost an entire country, once again I was reminded of the fragility of what humans often take to be permanent human-made structures in comparison to the force of nature.

I have been deeply saddened that in the midst of such disaster and trauma, with a nuclear crisis looming (a call for reflection to all countries that use nuclear energy), with so many men, women and children dead, missing and suddenly homeless, there are those express a judgemental attitude from the safety of their own homes.

Some have claimed that this natural disaster is “God’s judgement on the people of Japan for idolatry” or “for homosexuality.” Some are proclaiming the apocalypse. These “Christians” hold this view as a result of an understanding of a vengeful God of the Old Testament, they forget the prophets God sent first to call people to repentance and they fail to realise the love, compassion and mercy offered through Jesus Christ.

What the people of Japan need now is our love, our compassion, our prayers. They need our solidarity and accompaniment. If the recent disasters in Japan and Christchurch, Chile, Haiti are a result of sin, it is more likely that they are result of the whole of humanity’s sin towards God’s creation, the earth. Our planet is groaning as a result of the damage we humans have perpetrated in our self-interests.

On Monday I had an opportunity to speak to a group of Rotarians in Suva. Rotary, like Lions, Apex, Stri Sewa Sabha, Poor Relief Society and a few others are service and humanitarian fellowships. At the core of these groups is the commitment to altruistic service, that is, to selflessly work for those who are in need.

Japan has been a friend of Fiji for a long time. I still remember my travel to Japan when I, along with two other colleagues from Fiji Television, produced a series of documentaries about Fijian students living in Japan, Paulo Nawalu’s contribution to rugby in Japan and the Tuna Fishing Industry (following a tuna from Fiji to the Tskiji Fish Market in Tokyo and finally to a Sushi Bar).

Each year for nearly three decades, Japanese volunteers come to Fiji to use their skills to help in education, health, and sustainable development etc for the benefit of the people of Fiji. Many communities have hosted these volunteers and as a result have Japanese “sons”, “daughters”, “brothers” and “sisters” – members of their extended family. Approximately 20,000 Japanese tourists visit Fiji each year.

A pastor serving in Korea, another country which like Japan, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, has volunteers that serve in Fiji, wrote recently:

We'll be tempted to interpret this as God's judgment on the Japanese people. I see no evidence for that… Let's not USE a tragedy to try to scare people into faith. It's wrong… We'll be tempted to freak out, express how terrible it is, and then move on in the next news cycle. This is called "blowing in the wind" and it's not very helpful. Instead - let us express our compassion. Do what we can to help. God has blessed many of us with vast resources. (Matthew 25) Pray for Japan and for their recovery… Let's ask God to help us see where He is working for good in this tragedy and lend a hand. And let's be known as the people who were still concerned and standing by the Japanese people after everyone else had lost interest and moved on. This is essentially how we should response in any crisis.”

Let us this week reflect on and strengthen our compassion and commitment to service. Let us think about how we can show our support to our brothers and sisters in Japan. Let us exercise our practical humanity.


Lent A Time of Renewal and Transformation

Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times 8/3/2011

Today members of the Christian community mark the beginning of Lent. Lent is a period of reflection, meditation and preparation for Easter, the annual commemoration of the death of Jesus the Christ and the celebration of His resurrection.

Lent is generally understood as being forty days long. The forty days represent the time that, according to the Bible, Jesus spent in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, where he endured temptation by Satan. However, different denominations determine the forty days differently.This practice was virtually universal in Christendom until the Protestant Reformation Some Protestant churches do not observe Lent, but many, such as Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans do.

Today is Ash Wednesday and in services in the Catholic and some Protestant communities, Christians have their foreheads marked in the sign of the cross with the ashes from burnt palms of the Palm Sunday from the previous year, by a priest, a deacon or a layperson like a Eucharistic minister. The mark is worn for the rest of the day.

Ash Wednesday also symbolises the Christian belief that humans were created from dust, and will return to dust and ash when they die. This belief, however, is offset by the belief that the death of Christ allowed for people to be more than simply dust; it allowed for an eternal life in heaven, outside the body. It can either be a stark reminder of what will happen if Christ’s commands are not followed, or simply a symbol that because of Christ, one's spirit does not die with one’s body.

While there are no biblical descriptions of Ash Wednesday in either Roman Catholic or Protestant Bibles, however, there are numerous descriptions of people using ashes to mourn or to express penitence. References to ash and penitence can be found in the books of Samuel, Job, Esther, Matthew and Daniel.

Lent is a time of renewal, a time of spiritual transformation. Yesterday, I was privileged to lead the opening devotion and conduct a Bible Study at the Pacific Conference of Churches Programme Advisory Group meeting in Nadi. The group was encouraged to reflect on transformation and renewal based on St. Paul’s letter to the Romans:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

This year’s Ash Wednesday scriptural texts focus on true fasting, in particular on Jesus view of fasting (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18).

Last year, at the start of my Lenten journey, I received an email with a meditation on Lenten Discipline. Regardless of our faith journey or spiritual expression, it is something worth reflecting on:

Fast from judging others; Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; Feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness; Feast on the reality of all light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; Feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; Feast on God's providence.
Fast from complaining; Feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; Feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; Feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; Feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; Feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; Feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; Feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; Feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; Feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; Feast on prayer that sustains.

May your week and your Lenten journey be a time of renewal and transformation.

Rev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.

A World at Prayer

Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times 1st March , 2011

This Friday morning, as we edge closer to the end of daylight saving, the women - and a few men - (the majority hopefully staying home to look after the children) of Dudley Church will gather in the pre-dawn light to pray and reflect on the theme “How Many Loaves Have You.”

Throughout the first Friday of March, Christian women and men all over Fiji and around the world will participate in the World Day of Prayer.

World Day of Prayer is a worldwide movement of Christian women of many traditions who come together to observe a common day of prayer each year, and who, in many countries, have a continuing relationship in prayer and service.

The World Day of Prayer is an international ecumenical Christian laywomen’s initiative.[citation needed] It is run under the motto “Informed Prayer and Prayerful Action,” and is celebrated annually in over 170 countries on the first Friday in March. The movement aims to bring together women of various races, cultures and traditions in a yearly common Day of Prayer, as well as in closer fellowship, understanding and action throughout the year.

The Women's World Day of Prayer started in the USA in 1884, when Mary Ellen James called for a day of prayer in 1887, she was not planning a great worldwide movement, destined to become the largest ecumenical movement in the world organised and led by women. She was simply reacting, as a Christian, to the society in which she lived. The wife of a Presbyterian minister in New York and the mother of seven children, Mary Ellen was aware of the problems faced by many women around her, particularly new immigrants to America - the awful slums with their poverty, unemployment, poor housing, lack of health or educational facilities. Something had to be done.

Two years later, two Baptists called together a Day of Prayer for the World Mission. The Day of Prayer initiated by these two women expanded to neighbouring countries, then on to Europe and other continents.

Through World Day of Prayer, women around the world affirm their faith in Jesus Christ

share their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows, their opportunities and needs. Women are encouraged to become aware of the whole world and no longer live in isolation to be enriched by the faith experience of Christians of other countries and cultures; to take up the burdens of other people and pray with and for them; and to become aware of their talents and use them in the service of society

Through World Day of Prayer, women affirm that prayer and action are inseparable and both have immeasurable influence in the world.

This year’s programme for World Day of Prayer has been prepared by the women of Chile, a country on the West Coast of South America and the western edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The theme for 2011 is in the form of a question, "How Many Loaves Have You?" The theme serves as an invitation to enter a process that draws us into the Bible, into the context of Chile, and into the real situations of lives and communities to which these women belong.

The theme and the Scripture readings have a special meaning for Chile and its history scarred by times of extreme exploitation. In four stories told during the service, the women describe critical devastating times when people chose to resist evil by forming community. Those participating in a World Day of Prayer service will be encouraged to consider times in their country or community when evil was overcome by people acting together for the common good and to seek out a deeper level of understanding by reflecting in small groups to answer the questions: “How many loaves have you?” “What are your gifts? What can you share?”

While the history and organisation of this special day of prayer is traditionally organised by the women of Christian communities, it is a time for all, women AND men and children to reflect on the struggles of other communities and at the same time acknowledge the blessings they receive that enable them to survive and even flourish despite the odds. More significantly we are challenged to be a source of blessing to others.

At Dudley, the World Day of Prayer service will begin at 6am. Prime Minister of Fiji, Commodore Bainimarama will join the congregation for the service in which women of all ages and ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds (and a few men) will lead the worship.

I invite you to join us or one of the many World Day of Prayer Services in communities around the country this Friday. We will share spiritual bread – the Word of God. We will break bread together. We will ask each other and ourselves, How many loaves have you?” “What are your gifts? What can you share?”

Rev. James Bhagwan holds a Bachelor of Divinity in Ecumenical Studies (Hons) and serves as a minister in the Dudley Circuit of the Indian Division of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma.

The Challenge for Churches to take ownership of HIV and AIDS response

Published in Off the Wall - Fiji Times 23/2/11

On Monday I attended the first day of a Training of Trainers programme on HIV and AIDS for lecturers, tutors at theological schools and training institutions for deaconesses and pastor as well as chaplains of institutions. Representatives from a number of Christian denominations were taken through an introduction on HIV and AIDS, the work and role of the Churches in responding to the epidemic.

The training programme is being organized by the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools (SPATS) and UNAIDS as a means to ensure those training ministers, deaconesses, pastors and working in the spiritual education of lay members, especially young people have the capacity to discuss and engage with HIV and AIDS from a Christian perspective.

For some, despite HIV and AIDS being present in Fiji for nearly two decades, it was their first time to learn about the virus and be introduced to those whose worlds have been turned upside down because of it.

The keynote address was given by Rev. Dr. Cliff Bird, a lecturer in Theology and Ethics at the Pacific Theological College, who teaches a course on HIV and AIDS. The course designed by SPATS is titled “Hope, Healing and Wholeness in the Context of HIV and AIDS”. Unfortunately this course has only been taught in a very small number of theological schools resulting in only few ministers being educated on HIV and AIDS as part of their ministerial formation.

In his speech Rev. Bird began by highlighting a common negative reaction to HIV and AIDS, which participants may have heard directly or indirectly.

“There are many people who say and believe that HIV and AIDS is a curse and a divine punishment upon persons who live loose and immoral lives – persons, they say, who have been living in sexual sin. And by sexual sin they might mean sexual promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity in marriage, gay relationships and so on.”

Rev. Dr. Bird said that in Oceania, this type of reaction to HIV and AIDS, “stems from two roots: the first root is cultural – traditional belief in our cultures link the causes of illness to some spirit power or divine being either directly or indirectly through human agents; the second root is “Christian-biblical” – a common belief in the various forms of Christianity in our region and beyond link illness (e.g. HIV and AIDS) to sin in a person’s life.”

Rev. Dr. Bird express his disagreement with this particular view. “In saying this I am not condoning specific cultural beliefs that work against and negate life, and I am not condoning sin however we try to understand it in our modern era. I am nevertheless saying that these negative reactions to HIV and AIDS are misplaced and too simplistic as explanations for a pandemic that is both broad and complex. I subscribe to the position that we need to address the fact of HIV and AIDS in a more holistic manner.”

Commenting on the risks which are part of the freedom that human beings have to choose between alternatives, Rev. Dr. Bird said that moral evils which occur as a result of wrong choices made by human beings, “in relation to HIV and AIDS we make decisions that make us and others around us open to suffering.”

He was quick to add though, that not every choice is made freely or under normal circumstances.

“Take for instance many young girls in the poorest of Third World countries who were and are forced into prostitution and sexual encounters and practices to earn money in order to simply eat and drink. They have very limited or no choices at all and are, therefore, forced by economic conditions into extremely vulnerable situations and to the risks of infection. From this perspective HIV and AIDS is also very much an economic and distribution problem. Moreover, there is enough evidence that many girls and women got infected with the virus through rape during situations of war and ethnic violence and hostilities. From this perspective HIV and AIDS is also a political and militaristic issue.”

That afternoon this message was driven home to the participants as we watched a documentary film called “Angels in the Dust.” The film is story of hope and healing in the face of a staggering crisis. AIDS is leaving entire South African villages decimated and thousands of children orphaned, with no adults to raise them. The inspiring story of Marion Cloete, a university-trained therapist who— with her husband and three daughters— fearlessly walked away from a privileged life in a wealthy Johannesburg suburb to build Botshabelo, an extraordinary village and school that provides shelter, food, and education to more than 550 South African children.

This movie left many people feeling emotional as we saw and heard from children who contracted HIV due to rape or being forced into prostitution by their own parents and as we saw thousands of graves in a cemetery where every week at least 100 people were being buried from AIDS related deaths.

In our final session for the day we had the opportunity to hear from and dialogue with two HIV positive people. As we heard their stories and they shared the situations of others, it became painfully obvious that while many Christians do respond with compassion and love to those living with HIV and AIDS compared to the rest of those who make up the response of the Church as a whole, it is only a drop in the ocean.

In 1994 the late Archbishop Jabez Bryce – Anglican Archbishop of Polynesian said: “Those who discriminate against persons with AIDS do not follow the gospel of Christ.”

That statement was true then and is still true today.

May the rest of your week be blessed with light, love and hope and may you share this blessing with all you meet.

Rev. James Bhagwan is the Circuit Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.