Today the Methodist Church in Fiji pays its final tribute and bids farewell to its Chief Shepherd, the Late Rev. Dr. Tuikilakila Waqairatu.
Yesterday afternoon, his body was brought home to the Pender St. compound in which the leaders of the Methodist Church in Fiji reside; home to the Waqairatu family since 2005 when he took up appointment as the Deputy General Secretary of the church. This morning the funeral procession will leave Pender Street, making its way through Ratu Cakobau Road, Victoria Parade and finally to Stewart Street and Centenary Methodist Church for the funeral service which is expected to begin at 10am..
The funeral service will be conducted by the General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji, Rev. Tevita Nawadra Banivanua. Former Church presidents will also participate in the service, which is expected to include tributes from the Vanua, the local, regional and overseas churches and the family of the late Rev. Dr. Waqairatu. Following the funeral service, the cortege will travel along the King’s Road to Davuilevu where Rev. Dr. Waqairatu will be laid to rest, next to Baker Hall, the renovation of which he was spearheading, through the remnant giving programme he developed. The final rites will be conducted by the church’s interim president, Rev. Laisiasa Ratabacaca.
Students from Methodist Schools in the Suva/Nausori corridor are expected to form a guard of honour along the funeral procession route.
Given that the Methodist Church in Fiji is the largest religious community in Fiji with more than a quarter of the population considering themselves Methodists, Rev. Dr. Waqairatu’s funeral will be broadcasted live.
· I-Taukei language station, Radio Fiji One will carry live coverage of the funeral service, procession and committal.
· Television channel, Fiji One, working with Digicel, will broadcast live coverage of the funeral service from Centenary Church. It will include its coverage of the committal at Davuilevu in its replay of the service.
· The Methodist Church and Telecom Fiji Limited will provide a live internet stream for overseas viewers on https://my.tfl.com.fj/index.php?route=stream&stream=9d32a6a866ec8a8e6957f34dd230e49c&action=view
Last year, I watched as he worked ceaselessly with Rev. Banivanua in preparation for his first conference as President. It had been a busy year for the Church executives developing a Connexional Plan, revising the Constitution of the Church, and working to reconcile leaders who still carried wounds from the church’s schism.
As a young minister, joining the leadership team of the church, under the guidance late Rev. Dr. Waqairatu, I had the honour to spend some moments in conversation with him. He was passionate about his faith and the reconciliation, renewal and revival that he believed needed to take place in the Methodist Church and among the Christian community. While I still in theological college, he spoke to me about the need for the church to improve her communication internally and externally. This is not surprising, considering he had undertaken training in Radio Programme Production and Presentation and even creative writing while I was still an infant and for 16 years ran the Word of God Ministry on Radio Fiji. Late last year, in Korea, he shared how inspired he was by the spirituality of the Korean Christian community and the work ethic of Korean pastors, suggesting that this is where the future leaders of the Methodist Church in Fiji should have some training or experience.
Rev. Dr. Waqairatu’s ecumenical journey which began very early in his ministry during his studies at the Pacific Theological College and continued over a span of thirty five years to include ecumenical cooperation locally, regionally and on a global level. As the World Council of Churches acknowledged, he championed gender justice issues, encouraged spiritual renewal of the church and pushed for the church to continue a dialogue of reconciliation within and outside itself.
Ultimately Rev. Dr. Waqairatu strove to call the church to holiness and righteousness. Holiness of mind, body and spirit. This was the motive behind his somewhat misunderstood call for confirmed members and clergy of the Methodist Church to refrain from excessive drinking kava, smoking and over-eating.
In his last public message, issued for New Year’s day this year, Rev. Waqairatu called for 2014 to be a “Year of Righteousness.”
“Clean and just living accompanied by putting God first in our life are two strong and healthy ingredients for a successful nation building. For Fiji to achieve both, I am suggesting two things that every Christian must do. First, is to love, read, study and practice God’s word from the Holy Scriptures and second is to be spirit filled and spirit-led,” he wrote.
“Combining the two, God’s word and the leading of the Holy Spirit, a citizen of Fiji will find his/her way to RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness is powerful; it leads to prosperous and miraculous living and offers security to the land. The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous; and his ears are attentive to their cry.” (Psalm 34: 15)”
Many onboard the drua of the Methodist Church are wondering which direction the church will head now that this charismatic captain is no longer at the helm. Yet the drua will weather the rough seas under the watch of the seasoned skipper, Interim President Rev. Laisiasa Ratabaca who has not only served twice as President but also previously acted as interim president, following the death of Rev. Jione Lagi. This drua, designed to weather the winds of change, designed to accommodate all those who seek to aboard and travel on it, will continue the course chartered by the late Rev. Dr. Waqairatu, under the skilful guidance of the drua’s navigator, General Secretary Rev. Banivanua.
As you reflect on the life and work of this servant leader, please remember his wife and partner in ministry Iowana Waqairatu as well as their daughter, Roko Salote Waqanibete. Only a few days before his death, he walked down the aisle and gave her hand in marriage. His last words spoken in Centenary Church were as a parent, a father and father-in-law to his daughter and her husband. They were words of encouragement and reminding of the partnership and unity that they were entering into.
Farewell good and humble servant of God, enter into and share your Master’s joy. He will be remembered as the leader at the forefront of reform, reconciliation and change in the history of the Fijian church and its people.
For us who remain, the message remains – some are called to envision and begin the work, some to carry out the work and some to complete the work envisioned and begun by others.
Let remember that we are only given some time to do our part. We must make that time count.
Simplicity, serenity, spontaneity.