Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Published in the Fiji Times' "Off the Wall with Padre James" (as The Ultimate Sacrifice)

Last Sunday, I had the honour to preach at Chungdong First Methodist Church, the birthplace of Korean Protestantism. Established and started in 1885 by the pioneer American missionary Henry Appenzeller, the church has always been a vital meeting point between East and West and a place where the beauty of diversity is celebrated in God's unity. This important feature of the church has gained further prominence when the English Ministry was launched in 1997 and had its first service on June 1 in the historic Bethel Chapel.

I chose as my text, Matthew 27:54-56:
So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God!” And many women who followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him, were there looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses,  and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

Preaching on the theme, “A Chorus of Witnesses,” I shared stories of transformation and Christian witness in the context of Fiji. I included, apart from personal family testimonies of my parents, the story of Hannah Dudley.
I also introduced the congregation to Ratu Elijah Varani:

The centurion in our bible reading for today must have been a respected warrior in his day. Centurions led companies of between sixty to two hundred soldiers. In battle they led from the front, occupying a position at the front right of the century formation. Fighting alongside the legionaries they commanded, they led and inspired their men by example displaying the skill and courage that may have brought them to their rank in the first place.

Yet this warrior, this warlord and his soldiers, were humbled, moved, and forever changed by what they witnessed that day in Jerusalem. His words echoed through the centuries, words uttered by professional soldiers, pagans or gentiles. “Surely he was the Son of God!”

Earlier this year I visited Jeju Island and found myself at the St. Isidore Centre, a wonderful Catholic community merging agriculture and contemplation. They have a special meditation path which has large bronze sculptures portraying the life and ministry of Jesus, including fourteen Stations of the Cross, which depict the Passion of Jesus. The Stations are also known as Via Dolorosa or Via Crucis and originated in pilgrimages to Jerusalem. At the station of Jesus’ death is a striking depiction of the event in our reading today.

The image of the centurion reminded me of the story of another fierce warrior who encountered Jesus. However this warrior was not a Roman centurion. He was a Fijian warrior chief by the name of Ratu Varani.

Varani was the nephew of Namosimalua, chief of Viwa who had converted in 1839 for dubious reasons.  Before his conversion Varani, a chief who had adopted this name, which was a Fijian corruption of the word “France” after his capture of a French ship in 1834, was the known as “the human butcher” of Cakobau; a treacherous, bloodthirsty and daring man, who had killed hundreds personally and sent many more to the ovens of Bau for cannibal feasts. 

Varani initially approached the missionary, Rev. John Hunt to teach him to read.  Hunt gave lessons using passages from the only complete book available in Fijian, St. Matthew’s Gospel. 

The significance of some of the passages in the Gospel, especially Matthew Chapter 27 was not lost on Varani, nor was the honesty of Hunt’s prayers.

One day, Varani was found to be sobbing as he read Matthew 27.  “Why did Jesus suffer like this?” he asked a Fijian convert who said, “For you, sir.”  “For me?  Do you mean this?” asked Varani.  “Yes sir,” was the reply.  “Then I give myself to Jesus,” Varani said.

He sent word to Cakobau of his intent to convert and Cakobau replied that if Varani did, he would kill and eat him. Varani replied that although he feared Cakobau, he feared God more. 

On Good Friday, 21 March 1845, Varani made his public profession of faith at the early-morning prayer service.  As early as an hour after his conversion, his deadly skills were called upon. He refused.  Again and again he was called upon to kill and he kept refusing, even when insulted.  When protecting missionaries or converts, he used only defensive measures and whenever possible intervened to prevent the deaths of innocents. 

He was a candid and influential preacher. His conversion had had caused mounting anxiety of an upcoming war between Bau and Rewa to erupt into an emotional wave of Christian revival with nearly 100 persons professing faith in the first week alone. 

In 1853, Ratu Elijah, as he was known after his baptism, went to Ovalau to quell fighting between the Tui Levuka and rebellious mountain villagers.  His unarmed intervention was unsuccessful this time and after surviving an ambush, was attacked and murdered as he rested. (Sources: John Garrett / A. Harold Wood)

Two public professions by two warriors, made on two Good Fridays, separated by culture, context and time – but united in their belief in Jesus as the Son of God.

Varani’s conversion, his transformation from violent aggressor to peaceful protector shows that true, meaningful and lasting positive change is possible. It is possible for a person. It is possible for a community. It is possible for a country.

There are questions we must ask ourselves:

Are we committed to the natural process of transformation – of metamorphosis?” Or do we fear change so much that we accept the status quo?

What can inspire us to have the same surrender of the negative and destructive elements of our personal traits, the traits in our community?

Can we have the courage to remain true to our processes of personal and communal transformation, like Varani, even when we are threatened with violent reprisal?

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

True Hospitality

Published in the Fiji Times, Thursday 12th July, 2012

Last week, my fellow international graduate students at the Methodist Theological University and I had the privilege to attend the 7th Congress of Asian Theologians. It was an opportunity to listen, to meet and discuss with some of the current leading lights of Asian theology over 4 days of plenary sessions, panel discussions and thematic group sharing.
Participants at the 7th Congress of Asian Theologians

It may seem like "boring academic stuff" but with the theme, "Embracing and Embodying God's Hospitality Today," the Congress was anything but as 24 women and 46 men involved in the study of Christian religion engaged with the issues of Migration and Multicultural Society; Christian Unity; Interreligious Relations; Ecological Justice; Peace and Conflict Resolution; Gender.
Sharing ideas at CATS VII

I had an opportunity to participate in one of the morning devotions, offering an intercessory prayer for the people of Oceania- struggling for self-determination, facing the challenges of climate change and seeking sustainable democracy and lasting just and peaceful societies. Together the congress not only joined in prayer for the entire region but remembered individual island-nations, including Fiji negotiating these winds of change.

Sharing the Pacific context
While New Zealand and Australia were represented at the Congress, as the lone small-islander (referring of course to the small islands we come from - I was one of the biggest people there of course!), I took the opportunity to share some of the regions issues in terms of the ongoing search for visible unity among the churches, ecological and economic justice issues and the challenge of the church to engage in the issues of gender.

Above all though, it was an opportunity to listen. Listen as someone from a region whose natural inclination for hospitality has many times been taken advantage of, and someone who has expereinced what happens when people practice selective hospitality.

In a powerful statement issued at the culmniation of the congress, participants of the Seventh Congress of Asian Theologians (CATS VII), called for "a serious commitment to recognizing God’s hospitality and embodying it in churches, between churches, among religions and in the midst of creation":  

Affirming the belief that God is the ultimate host of the whole creation, and that as “recipients and agents our hospitality is simply an overflowing of God’s abundant hospitality and our joyful and thankful response to it”, the participants spoke of a hospitality in a theological and moral sense, which is, spiritual, just, warm and welcoming, beyond mere physical comforts and financial considerations. Regretting that Christians have not necessarily been the ideal and just hosts in the past and present, they urged the churches to embrace God’s hospitality and become effective witnesses in a discordant world.
Panel Discussion

The message from the participants of CATS VII challenged churches to take up a prophetic role in the advocacy for:
·        justice and human dignity of all individuals, especially the marginalized, the indigenous and migrant workers;
·        shedding assumptions of superiority and embodying God’s gracious hospitality to the richness and spiritual treasures of other religions;
·        pursuing the role as peace builders through active theological and spiritual engagement, dialogues and conflict resolutions;
·        a  serious commitment to ecological justice and environmental theology; and
·        confronting gender discrimination, and all kinds of violence against women and children in society and churches;  

The message mentions a special remembrance of the re-unification efforts in Korea. It also expresses the hope that the recommendations would be translated into action in order to witness to God’s hospitality.

CATS VII recorded deep gratitude and appreciation of the local Korean churches and congregations, as well as the faculty, staff and students of the Methodist Theological University, for their wonderful hospitality. “Theirs”, they wrote, “was the setting and nourishment for our reflections and conversations.” The international students’ demonstration of hospitality was in the form of hosting a cultural entertainment programme with songs and dances from Asia, Afria, Latin America and the Caribbean as well as a “flash mob” performance of “I Wanna Taki taki” led by the only Fijian there!

The message ended with the following expression of humility and hope:
“The hospitality of the Triune God, which we are to embrace and to embody, is the supreme expression of self-emptying and self-giving, as manifest in the incarnation, ministry, cross, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our message of hospitality, which we declare here and carry with us as we journey back to our many nations and churches, is one of courageous vulnerability and faithful gift of ourselves to our neighbors and to one another.” (see

Rev. Dr. Heup Young Kim
Reflecting on the Congress, I recall the words of Korean contextual theologian Rev. Dr. Heup Young Kim who summarised the theme of “Embracing and Embodying God’s Hospitality Today,” in Asia by asking the following question on the opening day:

“What would Jesus do to strangers and others in Asia if he came in this age of migration, globalisation and science today? What would he do and how would he welcome immigrant workers, multi-cultural marriages, refugees, the disabled, prisoners, people in other religions, other beings on this susceptible planet, possible extraterrestrial (ET) guests from outer space, beings which come into existence by manipulations of science and technology, and so on?

This is a question on which I believe everyone in Fiji, regardless of their religion, needs to reflect. It is my belief that hospitality (reciprocated or not)is a way of life in Fiji, and key to Fiji once again being the way the world should be.

The challenge as Rev. Dr. Heup Young Kim puts it is a shift in the way we understand and practice the universal Golden Rule of “Doing to (or Loving) others as we would have done to us (as we would be Loved) to move from “loving others in our own way” to “loving others in their own ways!”

That is true hospitality.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


Acting Like A Right Tweet

Published in "Mai Word", Mai Life Magazine, June 2012

My nickname for the last two decades has been “Bird”. There are many possible origins for this label. It could be because I am secretly a descendant of the “Tagata Manu” or Bird-man of Easter Island. Maybe my alter-ego is that of Thoth or Horus – gods from ancient Egypt (Thor was already taken, as was Hulk). The fact that I like the Leonard Cohen song “Bird on A Wire” – also sung by Aaron Neville sounds much better than a comparison to Big Bird from Sesame Street.

My mother liked the nickname “Bird” and was always encouraging me to ‘fly high’. I realised later she meant as in ‘like the angels’ or ‘reach for the stars’ not as in the end of the phrase, “Why drink and drive when you can smoke and... “

It makes perfect sense then, that this Bird would eventually find himself on Twitter; tweeting every now and then.

At first I was unsure about opening a Twitter account. I didn’t want to be known as a “Twit,” thinking that was what people on Twitter were called. I felt a little more comfortable when I was told that people using Twitter were called “Tweeters”.  Okay, I agreed, I’d give it a twirl (... or is that a tweet?).

As I have reached my first Twitter milestone of 1000 tweets, here is a selection of choice morsels from the beak of the Bird.

·         Dreams are free... only if you don't mind missing the end because you have to wake up.

·         I was going to write something about the relationship betwn distraction & procrastination. After a while on FB I decided to do it tomorrow.

·         If I held services at the swimming pool, would the words "Let us pray," mean "do a lap"?

·         I would much prefer that instead of all these books we could just go to the forest/bush/jungle and listen to the trees. Probably learn more.

·         A first sighting for some residents on the A400 Block. Islander wearing only sulu and tattoos foraging for instant noodles...#hungry-yaar!

·         Date night... via skype.... darn kids keep interrupting... oh well they are the result of date nights....

·         Happy Earth Day humans! Happy Your Day Earth! ... Earth? Earth? Are you there? Sorry folks, the Earth has left the building.
·         Unfortunately Paradise is closed at the moment, but only for maintenance and we'll be open again soon.

·         They said, "Go ye therefore!" So I went. But I keep asking myself, "Am I there yet?" Am I there yet?" Am I there yet?" Am I there yet?".....

·         Footloose: Wearing flipflops when everyone else is wearing closed shoes...

·         Blast from the past... that oughta last. The flag ain't half mast. But my kids are half caste. Oceania is so vast... wast(up?)
·         Why is it that people think it's funny when the blind man wonders around shouting, "My Dog, My Dog! Why have you forsaken me?"

·         When I was little, my dog caught birds. Later when I was nicknamed "Bird", I had a friend called "Dog." Luckily he can't bite.

·         I think that when I called my friends to "get out of their boat" yesterday, I didn't tell them that I was sitting in a canoe. Cheating?

·         Now and zen my mind starts playing tantrics on me!

·         Someone suggested I follow Deepak Chopra. I told them that I already got in trouble for trying to follow Priyanaka Chopra.

·         Just in: My 7yr-old daughter's contribution to last night's festivities: "Mottos are for pooftahs. I'm off to the pub. I may be some time."

·         The man @the coffeeshop asked what I would like. I told him, "World Peace." He was not impressed. But he did ask if I wanted whipped cream.

·         When asked the meaning of the "Finger pointing to the moon" analogy of reason, logic &contemplation, I was tempted to say, "Pull my finger".

·         Joining the meditation a little late, I sat down in time for everyone to take out their smart phones as we searched for the Mystic App.

·         My wife informs me that she is sleeping on case-less pillows because the boy-genius keeps "borrowing" them for sack races with his sister.

·         Have declared the the Republic of Jamesistan will hold a period of national mourning in memory of Adam Yauch #Beastieboys.
·         Please note - mourning will be suspended during all Fiji Games at the Glasgow Sevens this weekend.

·         Working out in the gymn when Rosi Loa's "Raude" came on in the headphones... dropped the weights for an impromptu meke and taralala!#boogie
·         Note to self, the "Tui Boto" only works when you are in a group.....

·         The presenter on Confucianism spoke so fast that at the end I was left in a state of confusion. Pity, becos I liked the Chow Yun Fat movie.

·         9 years ago Archbishop Mataca said to me, "James, if she's not here soon, we're going to go to Fiji Club without her." #happyanniversary Mae
·         I had to wake my best man up early on my wedding day: 4 hours earlier, dope on yaqona we realised neither of us had sandals for the wedding.
·         As I went to sign the marriage register, Archbishop Mataca whispered in my ear, "Remember James, she's Catholic, so this is HMS Nocomeback!"

Visit for more! 

An award-winning former multi-media (Radio/TV/Print) producer, director, presenter and writer, now minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji – Rev. J. S.Bhagwan is a graduate of the Pacific Theological College in Fiji and is currently studying at the Graduate School of the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, Korea. He has two turbo-charged children, a patient wife and a collapsible three-legged stool.

Nekked on the Island of Love

Published in "Mai Word," Mai Life Magazine, May 2012

“Pastor James, we’re going to an island...” came the voice of Pastor Nam, one of my colleagues from the Gaepo Methodist Church.

“Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth Pastor James?” “Uhuh,” I replied trying to turn down the mental music of George FIJI Veikoso and J-Boog of Hawaii. “Is this an outdoor island or an inland-no-man-is-an-island kind of isand?” One could never make assumptions in a country with indoor snow skiing and man-made oceans complete with wave machines.

As it turned out we were going to a real island. As real as an island one can get so near Kim Jong-un and his toy rockets and missiles.

Jeju Island, known to many as the “Island of Love” or “Honeymoon Island” and even “Island of the Gods” is a favourite destination for Korean newlyweds and considered to be the Korean equivalent of Hawaii (a possible explanation for the Fiji and J-Boog vision earlier).  However, for me it was the Island of Church Staff retreat.

This meant that there was to be no visit to the famous Love Land Park, no looking, peeking or even “tut-tuting” at the 140 sculptures representing sexual organs and positions, sex toys, “hands-on” exhibits.

Instead we went to look at larger than life bronze sculptures of Jesus’ ministry and reflect and meditate on the deeply moving depictions of the Passion of Christ. Not the movie but a walk through a bronze populated Via Dolorosa in the middle of a Catholic mission farm. Being Lent, and being a self-confessed “sunbaked servant of the Most-High God (aka Jesus-freak), this was the obvious choice of activities.

However I did later wonder how tourists, on returning to the mainland (or whichever land they came from) would explain pictures of themselves smiling (saying “kimchi” as the photo is snapped) and making “V” shapes with their fingers, while standing in front of a one-story high butt or a giant sculpture of a woman ...erm... how shall I put this... enjoying her own company. Well I guess that’s a great conversation starter: “Would you like to see our honeymoon photos?”

 That’s not to say that I didn’t have my share of interesting experiences on Jeju.

The hotel where we spent two nights had a sauna. A traditional Korean sauna. That means one has to get natural and bare all and sundry. For the average Pacific Islander, that is a fair amount of all and sundry to bare. For the tattooed Pacific Islander.... well... just be prepared for all eyes on you.

So it was scrub-a-dub-dub, followed by soak in hot water, then soak in even more hot water. Then the steam-room (or human size kuvui) followed by another scrub-a-dub and then another soak in the hottest water bearable for human skin (which makes you rethink the whole plucking chickens in hotwater thing) before a final scrub-a-dub. To be honest I’m not sure if this is the traditional method of using the sauna or whether my male colleagues just wanted revenge for the times people have joked about them having smaller feet than mine. I guess they meant I needed bigger shoes than them.

On our first morning after my sauna experience, I noticed that one of the doors in the sauna opened to an indoor swimming pool. This was a joyful discovery as I had only the evening before mourned the fact that the outdoor pool was still empty as it was technically still winter. Due to a lack of time I promised myself a pre-breakfast (and pre-scrub-steam-soak) swim the next day. No matter what the weather is or where I go, my togs travel with me.

The next morning we all strolled to the sauna. While my friends undressed and began their scrub-steam-soak ritual, I changed into my togs and slipped off to the pool. After finishing a few laps, I looked up to find two pastor colleagues, standing at the edge of the pool in not their swimsuits but their birthday suits.

They jumped in and splashed around, swimming, paddling on their own and occasionally racing with me.

I waited until they were totally at ease, floating around, pretending to be human starfish before I dropped my bombshell.

I pointed out that I was wearing togs. As they chuckled to themselves about my foolishness, I  pointed out that this particular “indoor” swimming pool was in fact surrounded by large windows. Anyone outside could see clearly into the pool area and also see who was swimming.

The chuckling stopped. Even the  floating stopped. Anchors dropped and the two submariners sat up to take note of my statement. I then pointed another fact to them. The door from the women’s sauna also opened into the pool area. What’s more a door to the hotel lobby was also visible.

Then the final bullet; I slowly pointed at the wall and waved. Slowly they turned, to face a security camera.

I have never seen people get out of the pool so fast in my life.

An award-winning former multi-media (Radio/TV/Print) producer, director, presenter and writer, now minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji – Rev. J. S.Bhagwan is a graduate of the Pacific Theological College in Fiji and is currently studying at the Graduate School of the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, Korea. He has two turbo-charged children, a patient wife and a collapsible three-legged stool.

As Mad As An Easter Bunny On Sale

Published in "Mai Word, " Mai Life Magazine April 2012

Easter falls early this month and your eyes have most likely already had their fill of pictures of Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny in advertisements for the Easter Sale. This is a bonanza for the people who sit somewhere in a room coming up with names for “sales”. Why this year alone we’ve already sold ourselves on New Year’s Sale, followed very quickly by the Back to School Sale, the So-You-Lost- Everything-You-Bought-In-Our-Christmas-New Year-and-Back to School-Sale-In-The-Flood-Sale, Valentine’s Day Sale, the No-Valentine-On-Valentine’s Day Sale, the Post-Valentine’s Day-Broke Up-With-Your-Girl/Boyfriend-Sale, the Mad March Sale, and the one-off (perhaps) We’re-Going-To-Have-A-New-Constitution-and-Elections-Really-Really-Soon-For-Real Sale.

Most Jesus-freaks, like myself, do understand why the advertising people use the Easter Egg and Bunny in their selling of groceries, perfume, jewellery, clothes, furniture and hardware. Images of bleeding, tortured and dying or dead Jesus would not really make you go out and buy a number 14 chicken. But you never know unless you try. I mean, think about it, wouldn’t a big cross be the perfect image to sell hardware. “Jesus’ cross would have been lighter if he used our hardwood!”  “Don’t do it the old-fashioned Roman way – try our new range of power tools. Perfect for making crosses in half the time!” “Not enough nails to crucify? No problem, try our liquid nails!” “No need to look for thorn bushes! Just grab a roll of our barbed wire – easily twisted into crowns or any other shapes to suit your need!"

Even if the pagan fertility symbolism of eggs and rabbits (think go forth and multiply – no not maths class) is lost on the general populace, bunnies are a bit out of our geographical locality. Mind you it’s probably more eye-friendly to have old bugs on an advertisement rather than the local animal options. I mean seriously an Easter Mongoose? Maybe an Easter Rooster? Then again, even if we did go with Easter poultry, how would we answer our offspring when they ask us which came first, the Easter Chicken or the Easter Egg?

I have yet to receive any complaints, however, about the Easter Egg. Unfortunately for our poultry pals from Wainadoi, the only way they can be appreciated at Easter is if they can figure out what my son would probably be asking me soon: “Dad what do they feed the hen to get it to lay marshmellow, caramel and chocolate eggs?”

Mind you I come from the generation that were given real (I mean chicken’s) eggs at Easter time. I remember painting my Easter Egg at Sunday School and proudly showing it to my parents afterwards. I also recall, rather traumatically, my disappointment when I peeled off the painted shell to find that there was no Easter miracle for me. Jesus may have been resurrected but my Saviour and bestest friend who changed water into wine had neglected to change my chicken egg into a chocolate egg. I eventually did let Him off the hook, figuring the whole being raised from the dead and breaking the bondage of sin thing may have been a more important priority, but it wasn’t easy.

I mean now there’s a great opportunity for a sale promotion if ever there was one – “He broke bonds of sin and death for you at Easter.... And we’re breaking the bonds of economic recession with our massive clearance sale!” No? Okay how about this one, “On the third day He rose again.... And for two days our prices will be the lowest possible!” No? I didn’t think so either.

Perhaps the sale-namers are really a respectful bunch of guys and dolls. After all they are really only telling us where we can get our candles, hot cross buns, eggs, and other Easter requirements at the lowest price from the friendliest staff. And they’ll also help us buy our ghee, fireworks, semolina for sewaiyan or halwa and put slash prices on everything from electric mosquito zappers to air fresheners just so you can get that special Christmas / Eid / Diwali / Battle of the Giants / Sullivan- Farebrother Trophy finals present for the one you love.

Now please excuse me. I really must dash to before the “It Rained in Suva on a Wednesday” Sale on disposable umbrellas ends, and I have to see a certain Special Administrator about a city on sale.

An award-winning former multi-media (Radio/TV/Print) producer, director, presenter and writer, now minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji – Rev. J. S.Bhagwan is a graduate of the Pacific Theological College in Fiji and is currently studying at the Graduate School of the Methodist Theological University in Seoul, Korea. He has two turbo-charged children, a patient wife and a collapsible three-legged stool.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

DMZ Dreaming

Published as "Different Colours, One People" in the Fiji Times' Off the Wall with Padre James Column - Wednesday 4th July, 

One of the most frequently asked questions I face from my friends in Fiji is, “Have you been to North Korearethis is, “No.” However I now have to moify this response as a result of my experiences last week.

I first learned about the divided Korea in high school history classes, studying conflicts. During those classes, I learned about the circumstances surrounding the Korean War and the division of North and South Korea. However it was not until I came to Seoul, that I began to understand how deep the wounds of the war and this division are. One Sunday, in Church, I watched a video about how Christians were persecuted by communist soldiers during the war. As I read more about the situation in the North and listened to stories, and witnessed the frustrated hope of those in the South for eventual reunification – some not knowing whether their relatives are alive or dead – I began to appreciate what I was learning, for this is an important part of understanding modern Korean society.
Crossing the line of Civilian Control - entering the DMZ

As a result, last Friday I found myself at the USO office at Camp Kim. The United Service Organizations Inc. is a private, non-profit organization whose mission is to lift the spirits of US troops and their families, with programs and services and 160 centers worldwide. At about 7.30am I got on a USO bus headed to Panmunjeom, a point near the 38th Parallel known as the United Nations Joint Security Area (JSA), which is on the boarder of North and South Korea. An hour after leaving Seoul, I crossed the  Civilian Control line marked by an electric fence that runs the entire width of the country and entered the Demilitarized Zone or DMZ, a buffer zone which stretches for two kilometres on either side of the border.

I am no stranger to buffer zones. Four years ago I visited the Sinai Peninsula and toured the Area of Operations in which Fijian Soldiers with the 2FIR Fiji Infantry Battalion serve in the Multinational Force and Observers between Israel and Egypt. To visit each of the Observation Posts, Checkpoints and Sector Control Centres (Fiji forces being based in the most dangerous location) required wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet and riding in an armoured vehicle with an armed escort. On the tour of the DMZ, however while we has a military escort, only toured the areas designated for such purposes and so no vests or helmets were needed. This despite the fact that in the Sinai there is a 1979 Treaty of Peace between Egypt and Israel. There is no such treaty between the North and South, only a ceasefire agreement and so the two Koreas are still technically at war. Signs warning of minefields along the road that leads to the United Nations Joint Security Area and the scene that presents itself at Panmunjeom bear witness to the tension between North and South.
"In Front of them All" : The United Nations Joint Security Area - facing North Korea, only 100metres away...

Panmumjeom lies 50Km north of Seoul. It is where the ceasefire or armistice agreement was signed on July 27, 1953. Presently, Panmunjeom is the current location where South and North dialogues take place. The Joint Security Area (JSA), is set up on the Military Demarcation Line within the UNCMAC compound and reserved for talks between the United Nations Command (UNC) and its Communist counterparts (North Korea and China). On entering Camp Bonifas, the base camp for the United Nations Command visitors must sign a voucher where you agree to accept responsibility for "injury or death as a direct result of enemy action". This serves as another reminder that we are in a “war zone”, known as the most heavily fortified border in the world. For this reason, the soldiers from the United States, South Korea and the 14 United Nations member countries who provide military support have as their motto: “In Front of Them All”. (Visit: for more on Camp Bonifas and the UN/JSA)
Inside the conference room straddling the North/South Korean border

After a security briefing we are shown to the conference rooms that lie on the actual border, half of the building in each of the “Koreas”. The conference table is on the border with the UN flag and row of microphones marking the actual border. It is in this room that I am able to symbolically “cross into” North Korea, under the watchful eye of a US Army Corporal and a South Korean soldier. Outside the northern door is North Korea. It is a door closed to us.
UN-JSA conference room, the flag and line of microphones mark the border - taken on North Korean side

Even though there is a ceasefire, ideological battle between the two Koreas continue. North Korean soldiers regularly make obscene gestures and insults to their Southern counterparts who stand stoically in a modified tae kwon do stance with dark sunglasses on, unflinching and intimidating as they face the North.
"My brother/My enemy"... Facing the enemy - South Korean Soldiers in position on the border
- the concrete line in the middle of the picture is the border

The Bridge of No Return -
the posts on the bridge mark the North/South border
Our tour of the Joint Security Area takes us to the “Bridge of No Return,” used for the exchange of  prisoners of war after the Korean War ended in 1953, and an observation post from where we are able (surrounded on three sides by North Korea) to see the North Korean “Propaganda Village” of Kijong-dong with what is the third tallest flagpole in the world (160metres) . As we leave the JSA and continue in our DMZ tour we pass the South Korean village of Taesong-dong, the South’s “Freedom Village.”

Inside the Third Infiltration Tunnel
Our next stop is the Third Infiltration Tunnel, one of the tunnels built, apparently for a planned invasion of the South by the North, and discovered in 1978 after a tip by a defector from the North. It is over a kilometer and a half long and is 350 metres underground. Although its still It is estimated that approximately 10,000 soldiers can move through this tunnel in 1 hour. 

Tourists peer into North Korea...

From the Mount Dora Observation post we peer through the haze for a final glimpse of North Korea before heading to Dorasan Station, the northern most train station of South Korea. This station connects the South to the North, and was envisaged to connect further to China, Russia and Europe. In operation between 2007 and 2008, today it sits empty, disused.

Rail tracks leading towards North Korea which lies less than a kilometre away

On the way back to Seoul, I felt I had just awoken from a surreal dream. There are many signs and symbols of the hope for reunification – but this is at yet still a dream. A dream of a people bound by blood but separated by ideological differences of their leaders.
A sculpture promoting unification of north and south at site of the third tunnel

Sitting in the bus back to Seoul, as the images of the DMZ became a blur in the past a feeling of frustrated hope was burned in my heart. As I reflected on the situation in Korea and what I had experienced during my tour of the DMZ, my thoughts drifted home to Fiji. Sure we are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious country, but is it possible to be, in the words of the late Lucky Dube, “different colours-one people”?

A literal reminder of  the metaphorical minefield of national unity

The barriers for a unified, reconciled, peaceful and just Fiji are not the concrete, barbed-wire and explosive barriers I saw at the DMZ. The minefield we face is ideological. It is the minefield of insecurity, ignorance, arrogance and greed. But we are slowly negotiating this minefield. Let us keep focused on where we are walking; guiding and helping others who are walking with us. Let us also stretch out our hands to those who are walking towards us from the side. They are taking the same risks as we are. For either of us to put a foot wrong now could be disastrous.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”