Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sailing to the Island of Hope

Published in the Fiji Times, "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan," on Wednesday 18th April, 2012

Last week the administrator of Nasikawa Vision College, Korean Methodist Missionary, Rev. Nam-Gun Cho visited Seoul to attend a conference for Southern Seoul Methodist Churches. His visit also happened to coincide with voting day for the Korean National Assembly. 20 million people casting their votes in one day!

I managed to meet with Rev. Cho, during a meeting on the day after the Voting Day public holiday, to discuss with others a proposed Fiji-based project initiated by the Methodist Theological University. While it was certainly wonderful to meet my Korean friend from Fiji and catch up, my real joy lay in a plastic bag which he had brought for me – a special care package from my family.

The package contained a pair of Bata flip-flops which, because of my wide Fiji feet, are impossible to find and a few sulus. The sulu vakataga is not only comfortable to wear in the humid Seoul summer that is fast approaching. It is also part of my sharing of our Fijian culture with a largely homogenous people – many who do not know where Fiji even is. 

 As an unofficial ambassador of Fiji to the community here at the University, much like other Fijian students in Korea and other countries around the world, I do my part to promote our country and students are getting to know the “Fiji Pastor” or “Fiji Man” who wears a “skirt” and takes his shoes off before going up to the sanctuary of the Wesley Chapel to speak, sing or perform during the International Students worship.

Perhaps it is true that you can take the man off the island but never the island out of the man!

My package also contained two sulu vakatoga for home-wear or perhaps dormitory-wear would be more correct. One was a gift from a fellow minister from Rotuma, which serves constantly as a reminder of the diversity of people in Viti kei Rotuma (and Rabi and Kioa).

The other sulu is from the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo given to me to wear as the chaplain of the Fiji Island Voyaging Society – although being in Korea, I have been with them more in spirit than in the flesh.

In fact I was disappointed when I realised that I would not be able to join them in either their first epic journey in 2010, or their even longer adventure that they embarked on last year and are only just beginning to make their return.

Being away from home, I am not able to follow what little media coverage is given to this important and historic voyage. However by checking updates on and as well as Facebook posts by Uto Ni Yalo skipper, Johnathan Smith and other crew members, I am able to learn about their experiences and reflections on this journey.

The Pacific Voyagers fleet of traditional vaka may have individual aims and objects per vessel and team but together they share a vision called the Island of Hope. For them the “Island of Hope is a vision for the future where the Pacific is the first fossil fuel-free continent on Earth.

 The Pacific as a continent is an image adapted from the writings of Le Clézio, where each island is only the emerging peak of a vast, interconnected, undersea continent.” 

It is a vision is driven by island communities and based on unity, positive action, and stories of success.

The Island of Hope is also vision the churches in the Pacific had at the dawn of this millennium, as a response to the huge waves of cultural and economic globalisation. 

Much like the Pacific Voyagers, the Church envisioned an Island of Hope where “life is significant, valued and celebrated. There is a celebration of life over material wealth. 

The Island of Hope is in tune with nature and by sharing and caring, to which people want to journey in order to celebrate life in all its fullness (Isa. 25:6). 

The Island of Hope has the "mana" (power) to draw human beings together.”

The Island of Hope is sustainable, wholesome, peaceful and all-embracing. 

The concept of the Island of Hope is not merely a dream. It is founded in reality and has been our normal life in our islands. 

The institutions and values embedded in the Island Of Hope may not create wealth on a massive scale but they will never be responsible for creating second class citizens, destroying the environment at will, causing poverty, the debasement of humanity and denial of human dignity, as economic globalization is doing.

The Island Of Hope will never entail economic tyranny. 

Spirituality, family life, traditional economy, cultural values, mutual care and respect are components of the concept of the Island Of Hope which prioritizes relationships, celebrates quality of life and values human beings and creation over the production of things. 

It represents life-centred values deeply rooted in Pacific communities, which provide an orientation for a just and sustainable economy and a life of dignity.

As I reflected on our ocean voyagers and the Island of Hope, I wondered if we of Fiji have reached this Island yet or whether we are still sailing towards it.

If we are still sailing is their room for everyone on this canoe, regardless of who built it?

As we negotiate reefs, rocks and face the waves caused by the winds of change, are we all willing to take turns in holding the heavy steering oar and ensuring that we stay on course and not just go in the direction we wish?

The Island of Hope is visible on the horizon. We all want to reach our destination. Are we all joining hands to hoist anchor and sails? Or are we paddling in different directions and going nowhere?

And when we reach it, will we embrace it and adapt ourselves to living in its environment or will we try to change it to suit ourselves?

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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