Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How can you know where you're going, if you don't know where you've been?

Published in the Fiji Times as "Remembering the intersections" in Off The Wall With Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday, May 30, 2012

As part of my service to my host church in Seoul, I teach an adult Conversational English class. Last week, we were discussing two sentences, "I think we're lost." and, "I know where we are!" As we discussed the context of this conversation, my students made two observations:
“Men don't like to admit that they are lost,” and “Women, however do not hesitate to ask for directions”.

I know this is a generalisation (even though it may hold some truth) but perhaps it is something that is part of the human condition.

Some of us when visiting a foreign country, or even town only go where our hosts or guides take us. We don't even bother to look at a map to see where we are in relation to where we have been or where we are going.

About six years ago, my wife and I took our two infant children on a trip to New Zealand's North Island. We had saved up for this trip as a celebration for my graduation from the Pacific Theological College and as a reward for my wife's support while bearing two children, teaching and completing a post-Graduate certificate.

The fact that we flew out a few days after the December 2006 Coup d’├ętat raised some eyebrows, which rose even further when we actually returned home after our holiday. 

It was a short trip so we could afford to hire a car once we realised that catching a bus for everywhere we wanted to go with a 2 year-old and a nearly 1 year-old in tow was going to limit us.  We travelled around using a street and road map.  The few times we took a wrong turn weren't too bad as, being on holiday; we made each detour into an adventure.

On our way back from Rotorua, my wife remarked that if we had not had the map we might have just sat around waiting for people to take us places and not have experienced all that we did.

I was reminded of this experience as one of my younger i-Taukei Face Book-friends made the comment that she realised she was not aware of some important events in our country's history, and the deeply moving experience of becoming aware of the path of our nation.

My friend's "moment of awakening" came when in her research she came across then-Leader of the Opposition, Jai Ram Reddy's historic speech to the Bose Levu Vakaturaga / Great Council of Chiefs. It was the first time an Indo-Fijian had addressed this i-Taukei institution. Given its current status, it was probably the only time this would happen.

Jai Ram Reddy with the late Sir Paul Reeves (head of the commission
that developed the 1997 constitution)
She writes, “I read his speech with an emotional journey through time as the Hon. Jai Ram Ready started his speech. I felt that I was thrown back during Ratu Seru Cakobau’s era, ceding our Islands to Queen Victoria and then fast forward back to the moment he was delivering his speech, I felt I was in that conference room with our respected Chiefs. My vision starts to blur as I felt tears streaming down my face, I was so moved with enormous emotions. I was in High School when he delivered this speech; I was too young to understand the importance of his speech. How can a great man humble himself to the very ground that we stood on and how he understood the importance of this Great Council. I couldn’t finish his speech, I was too emotional, after the submission of my essay, I will definitely finish the Hon Jai Ram Ready’s speech...but I will leave you with what he said and I quote:

“ Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga na Peresitedi, na i liuliu ni noda Matanitu, na Gone Turaga na Tui Nayau, na Sau ni Vanua ko Lau, Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga nai liuliu ni Bose levu Vaaturaga , nai Talai ka Prime Minister ni noda vanua, Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga kei na Marama Bale , lewe ni Bose Levu Vakaturaga, Ni sa tiko saka na Turaga kei na Marama lewe ni bose ni veika Vakaitaukei, Nisa tiko saka na Turaga keina Marama lewe ni Matabose e cake, i Seneti. 

Today I come before you deeply moved by what this moment means-to you, to me and to all the people of our motherland. In a time which future generations will as a defining moment for this country, the grandson of an indentured labourer answers the call of the Bose Levu Vakaturaga.

And together we have an appointment with History.

Never before has an Indian been invited to address this august body. I am honoured and humbled to be the first. And I am grateful for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you in person. I have made many speeches, in many places and on many high occasions. But what I have to say this morning is for me the most important of them all”......

“Our Ancestors came to this land in search of a better life, in search of a future they dreamed of for their children and their children’s children. Though they travelled to these islands long, long after your ancestors, surely the dreams and hopes of those who landed from the Leonidas were not different from those who came ashore after the epic earlier voyages from the West.

Let me affirm that we honour your place, and the place of your people, as the first inhabitants of Fiji. We recognize, and have always recognized the unique and special role of this council, we seek not domination indeed we cannot dominate we are not the majority ethnic group in this multicultural nation; you are.

What we seek is partnership.

We seek a country whose children of all races grow up with deep understanding and respect for each other’s cultures languages and traditions. We seek a country which encourages the best and the brightest indeed encourages all its people of all races to work together.

We seek not to threaten your security; but to protect it, for in your security lies the basis of our own.”

I responded by saying that that was how many of us felt in 1997 when the new constitution was enacted. We are all members of one extended family. History is the path that brought us here. We would do well to remember our wider history and our commonalities rather than focus on our more recent divisive events.

You see, history, which is often dismissed as being "old news," or simply "the past," in our desire to move forward, is a map. It shows us where we are and where we have been, where others have been and helps us figure out how to get to where we need to go.

Often we are so confident or perhaps stubborn about the direction we are going in that we fail to pay attention to our surroundings, we are not mindful of the path we are taking to get to where we think we should be. In doing so, we neglect to heed the signposts telling us, for example, that the bridge ahead has already been burned, or washed out.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”

Friday, May 25, 2012

Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon of St. Francis of Assisi

 Most High, all-powerful, all-good Lord, All praise is Yours, all glory, all honour and all blessings.

To you alone, Most High, do they belong, and no mortal lips are worthy to pronounce Your Name.

Praised be You my Lord with all Your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
Who is the day through whom You give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour,
Of You Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
In the heavens you have made them bright, precious and fair.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather's moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You my Lord through our Sister,
Mother Earth
who sustains and governs us,
producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.
Praise be You my Lord through those who grant pardon for love of You and bear sickness and trial.

Blessed are those who endure in peace, By You Most High, they will be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord through Sister Death,
from whom no-one living can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Blessed are they She finds doing Your Will.

No second death can do them harm. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks,
And serve Him with great humility. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Get up, Stand Up!

Published as "Stand up ....and Go!"  in the Fiji Times' "Off the Wall with Padre James," 23rd May, 2012

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to preach in the weekly English-language service at the Methodist Theological University that is hosted by the International Graduate School of Theology. The service is attended by both foreign and local students.

The students seem to have gotten used to my sulu vakataga (very comfortable in the Korean Summer) and my habit of preaching barefoot (I consider the pulpit sacred ground).

My message came from a passage of scripture that most Christians have encountered, as early as Sunday School. Its a story found in Mark2:1-12 and in other gospels: The story of Jesus healing the paralytic.

For our non-Christian brothers and sisters and whoever does not have access to a Bible, the story briefly is this:
Jesus arrives in Capernaum and so many people want to see him that the house he is in becomes overcrowded. As he is speaking to the crowd, four men break through the roof and lower their friend lying on a mat. The man on the mat is a paraplegic. Jesus, in response to the men's act of faith, tells the paraplegic that his, "sins are forgiven." The Jewish religious leaders fuss over Jesus' authority to forgive sins. Jesus demonstrates his divine authority by telling the paraplegic to, "Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home." The man does so, having being miraculously healed.

In my message, rather than focus on the faith of the four friends who carried their friend to Jesus, or on Jesus demonstration of authority, I invited the congregation to join me and encounter the life of the man on the mat; the one whose life was lived at ground level, whose place was at the feet of everyone.

Try to imagine being stuck on a mat on the floor. Imagine having everyone look down on you, even the animals. Imagine breathing the dust and dirt from the floor. Imagine having to be carried around wherever you need to go.

This man was physically paralysed. But many of us find ourselves mentally and emotionally paralysed.
What paralyses us? What keeps us down on the mat?

It is fear. Fear paralyses us.

What is it we are afraid of?

Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of disappointing parents or elders. Fear of rejection. Fear of being alone. Fear of being betrayed. Fear of being wrong and laughed at. Fear of standing out. Fear of victimisation. Fear of discrimination. Fear of violence.

Our fear is our mat. We lie there, paralysed by our fear. We are afraid to act when our help is needed; are afraid to have compassion; and afraid to stand up to the powers and principalities and speak the truth.

Our comfort zones are our mat. Our failure to do what God, or the universe, desires of us; what our country, our families cry out for us do, is our mat.  Our doubt is our mat. Our laziness keeps us on the mat.

According to Altruists International, “fear is a natural response to danger that quickens the mind's efforts to anticipate and avoid potential peril or problems. However, stemming from the irrational part of the mind, it knows no logic and sometimes gets unhinged from its target.

People whose lives have been filled with fear often continue to be afraid long after the potential danger has been removed, making up their own, irrational, reasons. Chronic fear is a debilitating state of mind that weakens body and soul, associated with heart conditions, nervous disorders, stress, and paranoia.

This is especially dangerous when it affects the powerful, since it impacts the decision-making capabilities and distances people from the real consequences of their actions. 

Even worse, the natural result of fear is to act selfishly without regard for the wellbeing of others. This destroys the fabric of society by communicating to people that they are unloved and uncared for, inspires more fear in turn.”

Fear is something we in Fiji have gotten used to. In the last 25 years fear has become the mat on which we lie. It has become deeply rooted in our society, our culture.

Last week I heard the word fear used for two issues.

The first was in regard to the cancellation of the permit for the Ocean Pride march because of fear of the safety of the men and women who would be marching. Fear by some that by allowing this march to take place or to embrace with an open compassionate heart, they may be seen to be promoting a lifestyle that very few understand and that is not compatible with many of our beliefs and moral codes.

The second was in regards to the fear caused by the Public Order Amendment Decree.

There are concerns that the constitutional consultation process may not be as widespread and inclusive as long as there is fear about being able to meet, to speak the truth and from one’s heart without being victimized. 

19th century author, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky said, “Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” 

It has been said that the two strongest emotions are fear and love. Love is the opposite of fear.

Jesus words to the paraplegic are more than a message of healing and salvation. They are a message of love and encouragement.

No matter what you believe in, Jesus' words to, “Stand up, pick up your mat and go,” is an affirmation for us all.

They are a challenge to feel the fear and still go forward, move upward in love. To face our fears and still find the courage, from knowing what is the right thing; what is the true thing to be doing, and acting out of love to carry on.

Fear paralyses. Love never fails. So what are you waiting for? Stand up, pick up your mat and go!

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Joy of Accompaniment

The monk flipflop'd along the mountain path. 

He noticed a pair of bright red flipflops 
Fall into step with his dusty black ones. 

After a while they were gone 
As the merged path became two. 

The monk continued along the mountain 

With a spring in his step.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Upgrading the Armour of God

I was feeling a little worn out this week. It happens. 
We're human and self-emptying is not something easily done - just ask Jesus. 
Fortunately the Holy Spirit fills us again and again.

I realised that my old "Armour of God" was dented and cracked. 

Dented from battles, cracked from doubt and moments of lack of attention to the Spirit's direction. 

What can I say, I've been using the same one for years. 

I guess that's being a little too old school. 

So I decided to ask the Boss to fix up my armour. 

I think got an upgrade!

The thing about being weary and taking of one's armour is that you realise how heavy it was, how light you feel without it and there is a moment, as you soak in the pool of unconditional love  that you don't wan't get out; that you don't want to put it on again.
But when you do put it on - when you accept to go back out into battle.. 

and challenge the powers and principalities - wherever they are found - using loveforce and truthforce;

when you put that armour on willingly - it feels like a second skin
and engergises you completely for the mission that awaits... 

May be its just the upgrade.... either way, thanks God. Onward and upward.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Homophobia – A Test Case for Unconditional Love

Published in the Fiji Times' Off the Wall with Padre James Column 16 May, 2012

There is a song by Donna Summer and Musical Youth from 1989 titled, “Unconditional Love”. There were many reasons for this song to be popular in Fiji – the reggae style of the music with Musical Youth, the popularity of Disco-diva Donna Summer, etc. For me the music and the fact that the word “Agape,” a Greek word meaning unconditional love, often used by Christians to describe our understanding of God’s compassionate love for us – the same unconditional and compassionate love we are called to have for others.

“What a man, you know it's a bright and shiny day 
I want to say something to you 
I love you just like Jah do

I know a place where Jah’s people can run free,
It's a new kind of love and they call it agape, 
Don't take too long to find,
True love transcends all time,
That non-reacting, everlasting love.

Give me your unconditional love,
The kind of love I deserve,
The kind I want to return,
Give me your unconditional love,
The kind of love I deserve,
The kind I want to return.”

Don't try to change or tear your brother down,
Let him make his mistakes and he will come around,
Hasten just to pray,
In God's true word obey,
In non-reacting, everlasting love.

Give me your unconditional love..

By 1989 I had already resolved my issues with God’s unconditional love in a world where racism and a competitive macho community such as an overseas boarding school compelled young impressionable men to oppress and humiliate others for the sake of personal approval or to boost their low self-esteem.

Coming from a loving and nurturing family environment and a community that, when I left, was seemingly colour blind – my boarding school experience was at first profoundly disturbing, until I was able to see the racism and prejudice for what it was – insecurity, fear and the thinking that to show kindness was to show weakness.

 As a human being first and foremost, then a Christian and a Fiji-Islander/Fijian/Fiji-born (whatever!) who has seen and experienced both sides of the coin, my desire to be compassionate to my fellow human beings and all creation comes not just as a result of my faith and receiving God’s unconditional and loving grace, but from personal experience in the secular world and as someone called to the pastoral vocation.

Simply put, that means loving my God through loving my neighbour. However in the 21st century, the question of “Who is my neighbour?” is not answered as simply as Nicodemus would like. Our neighbours aren’t just people of different ethnicities, religions, provinces or status. Our neighbours, that Jesus challenges us to love, are the “others” in society. This includes, uncomfortably for some of us, gays, lesbians and transgendered people.

Tomorrow is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. According to the United Methodist Church, homophobia is the discrimination of people perceived to be non-heterosexual, regardless of the victim’s actual sexual orientation or sexual identity.  

I understand that this is a controversial topic that many people in either side of the issue feel very strongly about.

To put this into perspective – I would like to share the experiences of other countries – from a Christian perspective (my context and the context for over 50% of our population) on the issue of attitudes towards gays, lesbians and transgender people.

Last year, Dutch churches signed a statement condemning violence against homosexuals. The statement reads:

“Although we are not in complete agreement about homosexuality, we are one in the belief that man is created in God’s image and is valuable in His eyes. That is why people should treat each other with dignity – be respectful, peaceful and loving – and why violence against homosexuals, in any form whatsoever, is evil.”

Last Sunday 13th May, Pitt Street Uniting (Methodist and Presbyterian) Church marked International Day Against Homophobia with a special service, as they did in 2011.

Speaking on last year’s service Church minister, Reverend Ian Pearson, said homophobia “was a sin and in need of healing”.

“Heterosexism, the idea that heterosexual people are superior to homosexual people, is like racism,” Pearson said.

“Prejudice robs us all of our common humanity.”

Pearson said his own views about homosexuality has changed over time and hoped that other Christians will take a stand against homophobia.

“The fundamental message of Christianity is about the unconditional Love and Grace of God we see in the Person of Jesus,” he said.

“My reading of the Bible, ministry over thirty years, and my life and family experiences have convinced me that the Sacred includes people of diverse gender identities. This includes those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people, who live into their identity,” he said.
Pearson welcomed people of all gender identities to his church.

I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice... But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King, Jr., said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere' ... I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

 I know many people who have gay and lesbian children or relatives. I have gay and lesbian friends and have learned a lot from listening to them. All they want is to be treated with the same respect that any human being deserves to be treated with.

We all have our own views on the issue of homosexuality. That is not the issue.

What is the issue, especially with regards to homophobia, is that we are challenged to look at one another first and foremost as human beings. From a Christian perspective, that means loving each person – including each gay and lesbian person unconditionally. It means loving them as children of the same God.

Tomorrow let this marginalised community experience something many of them have been denied.
To borrow the words from the song: Give them your unconditional love, the kind of love they deserve. The kind they want to return.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Way of the Prayer Warrior

Last week I shared with you the story of young Joveci and the wonderful people from South Korea who felt moved by God to help him have reconstructive surgery on his face.
To visit Joveci, I travelled with Missionary Deborah Kim (who is now serving in Fiji at Vision College) to Sinchon, a suburb in Seoul, very close to the Han River. We met Rev. Nam Gan Cho the administrator of Vision College who apart from introducing me to Joveci and his “Korean Mum”, also introduced me to Yong Hee Lee, International Trade professor at Kyongwon University in Korea. Professor Lee is also the Director of the Esther Prayer Movement, and Joveci’s host.

The non-descript building which houses the Esther Prayer Movement is also a 24 Hour Prayer House for North Korea. In my very brief audience with Professor Lee, he shared with me the origins and mission of the Esther Prayer Movement and what is known as the Jesus Army.

The movement’s origins go back to 1990, at a time where, according to Professor Lee, “Korean society was being corroded. Bribery and corruption were rampant. The decaying morals of the country brought rise to a culture steeped in the love of money, obsessed with partying and filled with nationalistic pride, even within some churches. At the same time, the Lord was desperately seeking people who would offer up intersession, repenting for this people’s iniquities on their behalf, building up the wall and standing before Him, so He would not have to destroy us.”

A prayer group formed to meet for regular intercessory prayer – to pray for Korea, for its healing from negative values and “building a righteous society” to accomplish God’s justice. By 1994 the prayer group felt a burden in their hearts concentrate their intercessory prayers on North Korea.

 “The Lord deeply convicted us because we had been indifferent of the cries of agony and groans of 23 million North Koreans,” said Professor Lee. “It was like we could feel His sadness for the perishing North Koreans who were beaten and starved to death, without having an opportunity to listen to gospel. They have been dying of anti-Christ’s attacks -Communism and Atheism- just like the Samaritan beaten and robbed on the way to Jericho. God was asking ‘who would be neighbours to the starved North Koreans?’ In God’s eyes, we were exactly the same as the priest and Levite who turned away from their brother’s suffering.”

This focus became more concentrated as more information was received about the humanitarian crisis in North Korea. In July 1996, the Monday Prayer Meeting group considered it as an emergency and urged a praying movement, “Intensive Praying for North Korea” which continued for 63 days from June 30th to September 30th. The most critical shortage of food was anticipated in North Korea during this period. The intensive prayer programme included fasting.

However, Professor Lee felt that these programmes were insufficient. “Both South and North Korea were in spiritual crisis. Great fear of the possibility of communized South Korea and the inevitable judgment of war overwhelmed me every time I prayed for the liberation and salvation of North Koreans. The fear seemed to me to be a spiritual war in a national scale which would be unbeatable without day and night prayer. Life and death were in the balance.” He had a vision for a place where dedicated people could pray constantly for these issues. A place where Prayer Warriors could work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

“Members of our Monday prayer meeting embraced the vision of 24/365 prayer ministry with one heart.” At the end of February, 2005, a retreat for the prayer school was held. During this retreat, 20 intercessory prayer warriors dedicated to full-time praying (more than 40 hours weekly) and many devoted to part-time praying (more than 20 hours weekly).

The Esther Prayer movement gets its name from the Esther Fast, a 3-day fast based on the Old Testament story of Queen Esther, who with the Israelites fasted and prayed for three days to stop a plot to have all Israelites killed (Esther 4:16). It is part of the Jewish festival of Purim.

Professor Lee understood that a three day fast will not solve all the problems Korea has been suffering from. “Esther Fast is merely a beginning of prayer movement for the nation’s salvation. God will anoint those devoted to prayer with Esther’s spirit and build up an army of prayer: spiritual Esthers. This army will be composed of powerful intercessory warriors who will be hated by this world. The Lord will lead a ceaseless prayer among this army united in the Holy Spirit. My expectation is that salvation for South and North Korea, and restoration of all nations to God will be accomplished through continuous prayer. I give all gratefulness, royalty, and glory to God.”

The prayer warriors meet daily in the 24/365 Prayer House (based on the concept of the International House of Prayer or IHOP) in Sinchon for intercessory prayer. There are also relay prayer teams so that 24 hours a day, someone is praying for North Korea as well as for South Korea.  In addition the movement sends out intercessor-missionaries for North Korea who are based along the De-Militarized Zone between North and South Korea. They form the frontline of the Jesus Army and their core activity is to pray for their neighbours in North Korea.

According to Professor Lee, the 24/365 prayer has always been running through Christian history. “The Moravian prayer movement, continued for more than 100 years, was a representative sample of it. Through this movement, John Wesley was converted and numerous missionaries were dispatched. Though it has not been often recorded by historians, the Holy-spirit has masterminded numerous 24/365 praying ministries at monasteries, local churches, and anonymous small prayer meetings for ages. The current trend of arising 24/365 houses of prayer all over the world, including IHOP has been expanding exponentially. The prayer movement’s rapid growth at this time is unprecedented.”

The Esther Prayer Movment holds a Candlelight Vigil and Prayer Rally for North Korean every Monday night at the Seoul Rail Station. This is part of a growing Station “Public” Prayer Vigil programme.

Back in 2009 I wrote the following in an article for column that was not published due to the Public Emergency Regulations: “Despite what some say, prayer is action.  We may feel powerless in our own situations but through prayer we can not only receive strength, we commit our concerns to a higher power, a God that moves in mysterious ways. Hearts can be touched, minds can be changed and relationships can be changed by the power of prayer.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever faith journey you travel, you have a space where you worship, where you can join with others to either silently reflect and meditate or actively pray for the nation.

When you pray, please do not just pray for yourself and your families, your village or community. Do not just pray for the people you know and the needs that you have. Remember that as you pray, others whom you may not know, whom you may never meet, may be praying for you. Please pray for all those in positions of community, religious and national leadership.”

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Second Chances

Published in the Fiji Times "Off the Wall with Padre James" Wednesday, 2nd May, 2012

From the centre of Vitu of Levu to the Soul of Asia; this is the story of 13 year-old Joveci Kawaira. It is a story of love, compassion and second chances.

Joveci comes from Draubuta, Navosa, in the interior of Viti Levu. When he was born, his left eye was damaged by the hand of a midwife who tried hard to pull him out after complications with the delivery.  The new-born baby had to lose his left eye few days after the birth when the damaged eyeball was bleeding and became infected.

Not only was Joveci’s life complicated by his disability, he also had to go through childhood without his left eye which gave him a hideous look.  As I listened to Joveci’s story, I tried to imagine what type of life this shy boy, with the biggest smile I have seen in a long time, must have had. If there was name calling and taunts from the other children, Joveci must have just assumed that this was his lot, his fate.

All that changed when a medical team from the Kwanglim Methodist Church in Seoul, South Korea visited one of the villages near Joveci’s school, Noikoro District School in 2010.

The secretary of the medical team, Deaconess Mi Suk Kwak heard about Joveci and met him. She was moved by Joveci’s story. The image of this one-eyed boy remained with her when she returned to Seoul and she committed herself to prayer for God’s guidance and help for Joveci.

Last year, when Deaconess Kwak returned for a second medical mission trip, she sought out Joveci. Meeting him for the second time she was convinced that God wanted her to help Joveci.

On her return to Korea she contacted Rev. Nam Gun Cho, the Director of Nasikawa Vision College, who had coordinated the mission trips. She asked him to find Joveci and take some pictures of him so that she could get some support for Joveci’s medical treatment.

The passion and dedication of the deaconess finally paid off as offers of support for Joveci began to come in. The vice chancellor of Korea Medical University, one of most prominent medical schools in Korea, decided to pay for his operation.

She was able to arrange free accommodation for Joveci as the medical procedure was expected to take up to 12 weeks.

It was not all that easy, however. Deaconess Kwak had to do take up part time work to earn enough money to pay for Joveci's air fare – around $2,600 Fijian dollars. Finally she had all the funds and everything was in place for Joveci.

On Easter Monday, 9th April 2012, Rev. Nam Gun Cho went through the departure gate at Nadi International Airport with Joveci, who felt like everything was a dream. This was his first big trip and he was going on a 10-hour plane ride.

This was also the first time he was going away without his parents. Rev. Cho shared with me how Joveci was crying after saying goodbye to his parents on the phone, before the plane flew out of Nadi. Once again God smiled on Joveci. An uncle of his, who works in Japan, was also on the flight and so Rev. Cho swapped seats so that uncle and nephew could sit together.

Meanwhile Dr. Kim, the vice chancellor of KMU, organized a special surgical team to undertake Joveci's operation ranging from ophthalmologist to plastic surgeons for the reconstruction of Joveci's eye. 

After thorough examination, the doctors decided to have two operations for Joveci. The first procedure was is to reconstruct the inner and outer skin around the hollow left eye by transplanting Joveci's inner mouth and thigh skin and injecting sillicon. With the operation a success, Joveci is now recoving and preparing himself for the second operation. This will be to put an artificial eyeball to provide a normal facial outlook for Joveci.

At the Esther Prayer Centre (see next week’s column for more on this wonderful group), I met up with Professor Yong Hee Lee who is accommodating Joveci in one of their guest rooms for visiting missionaries. Joveci is not alone. Knowing that Joveci would need someone to care for him after the operation and ensure that this teenager coped with being away from his family, friends and village; and being in a country with a different language, Deaconess Kwak, is sacrificing her family time to look after Joveci.

She told me that her husband and her son, who happens to also be student at the Methodist Theological University, understand that Joveci needs a “Korean Mother” while he is away from his parents and the vanua.

Joveci is a shy young man. But if his grin is anything to go by, he is truly grateful of the blessing he has received. Having experienced the love of God through a stranger, a vulagi has made a deep impact on Joveci’s life, and I would imagine his family’s life too.

We can learn something from this story. It’s not just about second chances, or the possibilities in surgery. We can learn from Deaconess Kwak, to open our hearts and allow ourselves to be moved to have compassion for everyone we meet. And we can learn from Jocevi, to receive God’s love and blessings with open arms.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”