Last Saturday, the people of Viwa and the Methodist community commemorated the history that connects them. The event was nestled between the Fiji Day dedication of the Baker Memorial Church, named after Rev. Thomas Baker the only European missionary to be martyred in Fiji, and the commemoration, on Sunday 12th October, of the Cabe Ni Lotu, or “The beginning of Methodist Mission to Fiji,” marking the arrival of Revs. William Cross and David Cargill, their partners in ministry, Elizabeth Cross and Margaret Cargill, emissaries from Taufa'ahau the Tongan high chief and by Josua Mateinaniu of Vulaga, in Lakeba on that very day 179 years ago (12/10/1835). The event on Viwa island was strongly linked to the events before and after it as it too was connected to a missionary – the Rev. John Hunt. The occasion was the dedication of a prayer chapel, built on the exact spot where Rev. Hunt used to pray.
A twenty-seven-year old former ploughboy from Lincolnshire, John Hunt and his wife Hannah, Hannah, arrived in Rewa on 7 January 1839 for a mission that was to last nine years – the rest of his young life.
Historian John Garrett writes about Hunt:
“He had been ordained in and for Fiji, lived close to the people. He understood them, listened to them, loved them. He lived near the centres of power of the great chiefs - Rewa, Somosomo on Taveuni, Viwa. His eye for personality -traits in Fiji's noblest men was sharp; he measured their quality beneath their outward status. They liked him; his dealings with them were frank, never
obsequious. ` `The fact is, ' he once wrote , ` ` the favor of a Feejeean chief is rather to be dreaded than courted , and the less a Missionary has of it the better. 'But the chiefs respected him.“
Garrett continues: “Though not technically trained for linguistic work as Cargill had been, Hunt learned the important Bauan dialect, which was to emerge as the standard of written Fijian: Before he died he had translated the New Testament and begun the Old. Hunt was as open as any of the missionaries to what he had to learn from the old culture of Fiji; he never ` `went native, ' remaining himself, English and a Methodist; but he talked of Christ rather than of European furnishings, clothing to the neck-line and punctual hard work. His readiness to follow the local custom of kerekere in giving away his own and his wife's possessions to Fijians exasperated some of his colleagues. John Hunt grasped this aspect of Fiji's social life and reaped its warm rewards. Nor was he easily shockable or prim; his observations of pre-Christian religion were acute; he also recognized that some of his own immunity from being killed and eaten was attributable to the special tabu holiness credited to a "man of God".”
The impact of John Hunt’s missionary endeavours extends beyond the Methodist community. Tomorrow (16/10) the youth of the Assemblies of God Calvary Temple community in Suva will open a theatre production at the Suva Civic Centre titled “Amen!: A Message to the Nation”.
According to the leader of the Calvary Temple youth and young visionary behind the production, Alipate Cakaunivare, “the production doesn't wish to be political. It is basically the voice of history crying out to the nation of Fiji- reminding her, lest she forgets that it was the transforming power of Jesus Christ that turned a heathen- dark cultured people- to a people claimed to be the friendliest in the world.”
“It also reminds the Christian who will watch it that like Mr Hunt- whatever God chooses to happen in our lives, our families, our church and our nation- we must say Amen- so be it with an eternal perspective, trusting and knowing that God is in control and He is up to something,” adds Cakaunivare.
Lusi Kunikoro, who is the Production Manager of the musical drama, said that this was the third production undertaken by the youth of Calvary Temple since 2012. The first, “Friend of the Wounded Heart” focused on social and youth issues – such as rejection, while the 2013 production centred on the issue of human trafficking.
“It’s not just about sharing the Gospel,” said Kuinikoro, “it’s also about addressing important issues”.
“AMEN!” showcases the missionary life of John Hunt and the social impact of the missionaries in Fiji.
It focusses on Rev. Hunt’s call to mission and his personal journey – especially with Ratu Seru Cakobau and Ratu Varani.
I first met Cakaunivare when he came to my office at the Methodist Church Connexional Office to seek permission and research assistance in developing the script. Thus began a 4 month process of script development by youth and teen scriptwriters who have worked on past performances, tapping the talents of the youth for costume production and design and 3 months of rehearsals.
“This use of performance art is not just for the sake of entertainment but to provide the audience with positive possibly life-changing message within both a faith setting and in an increasingly secular context,” says Kuinikoro.
“It’s a way to engage with young people – involving them and challenging them. We are presenting a worldview through the performing arts that challenges the globalisation of culture and also the view that performing arts are secular. “
Within both a faith setting and in a secular society
Tomorrow evening the sacrifice of the performers and production team will pay of when the curtain opens. The performance runs until Saturday 18th October.