Fiji: The way the world should be
Okay, we'd suspected as much.
God had sent us to Fiji to teach on Israel, but he always
seems to have a secret agenda -– which involves teaching us a few
Lesson one began as soon as our little feet hit the tarmac.
All we wanted was an el cheapo room for the night. It had been a busy
day, and our beauty sleep was sadly overdue.
But the tourism clerk had other ideas. Yes, she promptly
organized a hotel. And a shuttle. Then I'd mentioned Jerusalem -– and she and
half-a-dozen helpers kept questioning us about the Holy Land and the return of
Jesus for some thirty minutes, finally letting us go with a warm and genuine 'God
That set the tone for our ten weeks here.
Look -– when we were in Israel, far too many people were
hostile to Christianity and Jesus. Sure, we understand the complex reasons why.
But it's still sad.
Then, in New Zealand... How can we describe New Zealand?
Maybe the best label would be 'post-Christian'... NZ has been evangelized
and has known vibrant, genuine revival. Now that's all settled down into
embarrassed respectability. Don't mention Jesus too loudly, okay? People might
get the wrong idea about us.
But Fiji? Sure, the forest fires of revival are no longer
blazing high into the clouds. But everywhere the embers glow brilliantly, and
threaten to get gloriously out of control at the slightest breath of the Spirit.
Which means that I (George writing this bit) go into an
Indian shop to buy a sulu (oh for brown legs to go with it!) and wind up telling
all the staff about the nearness of the Lord's return. People here want
to talk about Jesus. Yes, even Hindus and Moslems.
Perhaps, though, our biggest shock was on Sunday.
No, island singing and music is nothing new to us. This was
different, though, from anything we're used to in New Zealand. It wasn't a
polished performance. It didn't have all the slick, essential, electronic
trappings of 21st century religion. Nor did the people come for what
is euphemistically called 'a blessing'.
A hundred or more Fijians of all ages had met to worship God.
And worship they did. That had somehow lived through the
problems, disasters, joys, shortages, routines of the week and wanted to give
heartfelt thanks to God. Their salvation was a real deliverance from destructive
temptations, the utter evil of the Old Ways, and escape from the clammy grasp of
the spirit world. God was to be praised.
They sang songs intended for ordinary people to sing; songs
that could linger through the week, not the professional cleverness of elaborate
musical arrangements that are nearly impossible to remember the next day. Nor
did they endlessly repeat the same phrase until the mantra induced a sense of
euphoria that need not be from the Holy Spirit. They sang to God.
That was their joy.
And if something in the preaching convicted them, there was
no need for a protracted, pleading altar call. There was no need for an altar
call -– period. Men and women -– particularly men, office-bearers even -–
would stride out to the front, tears streaming down their faces, confessing
their needs and failings to the Lord.
To be honest, we're finding preaching a delight. But also a
challenge. Fijian believers know Jesus and check everything with Him and the
Bible. This is no place for smart phrases and wheel-spinning. The local
ministers have ensured that a good foundation has been laid. Plus, we were
thrilled to find many Christians whose spiritual birth dated from a visit by
Barry Smith to Fiji, and his messages had remained in their hearts and minds to
It would be -– perhaps -– unfair to even suggest that the
spirituality of these village churches is in direct proportion to their poverty.
Surely it doesn't have to be? But (so far) our fondest memory is of a tiny
settlement of some six or seven homes. Maybe fifteen souls to a house. Wedged
beside a busy highway where trucks bearing shipping containers thunder by at
illegal speeds. Behind us, a river, where a grassy island serves as a drying
green for washing and an OSH-free adventure playground. And the church building?
A flat framework which locates a few sheets of old corrugated iron a scant two
metres above the mat-strewn earth, the whole supported on bamboo poles. No
walls. The congregation sitting enrapt, cross-legged on the mats, occasionally
throwing stones at a bunch of puppies that want to join us. Afterwards, a cup of
tea and a dry biscuit, and questions, questions, questions about the Lord and
His people the Jews. Israel will receive much prayer backing from saints who
feel privileged to make such a contribution.
Perhaps the Fijian village lifestyle makes trust in God more
immediate, less of a cliché. A garden is for food; when there is no money, the
next meal depends on the Lord's bounty. Hurricanes devastate unpredictably yet
frequently; an acknowledged wake-up call to backsliders.
A pastor we have lived with was crossing from one island to
another with a family. The boat's motor failed. Nothing they could do would
coax it back to life. As they were swept further and further from any sight of
land, the scant food the family had brought became rapidly exhausted. One day
adrift became two, three -– five! All believers, they prayed desperately to the
Lord, for they were driven to drink sea-water, which can be as lethal as
Incredibly, miraculously, on the sixth day, an Australian
couple were sailing their yacht and had spotted on the horizon the craft and its
human cargo. Naturally they assumed it was a fishing vessel. But remembering a
radio report of a family lost at sea, they changed course to investigate. You
can imagine the thankfulness of the hungry, thirsty victims as they were picked
up by the yacht, given water and food, and finally taken to land. The local
newspaper reported how they had prayed for rescue -– and how they had glorified
the Lord who had heard their prayers.
We are learning how to live in with Fijian village life. To
be led by the chief from house to house and invited in to talk about Jesus -–
here to a family, there to a group of school leavers. It's a steep learning
curve. Behind the welcomes do we see a burning zeal for the Lord, or is there a
wistfulness to get closer? We see sharp differences. On one hand the older,
formal churches who are moving into compromise, re-introducing the Old Ways, the
acknowledgement of other spirits, the drinking of kava both as a narcotic and as
a ritual offering. And on the other hand the newer Pentecostal groups who have
made a clean break with the past and any traditions that have so-called grey
areas that shade into darkness.
Ten weeks -– God willing -– we'll be living side by side
with Fijian believers, our creaking old limbs squatting painfully on woven mats
beside them, enjoying -– or learning to enjoy -– the fruits, the dalo and
cassava, the octopus and fresher-than-fresh fish.
It will be hard to come back to New Zealand. We have found
new family here in God.
It will also be hard for us to return to the land we love and
whose people we love with the suspicion -– more than a suspicion -– that (by
comparison with Fiji) the church in Godzone might be the church in Laodicea.
Rich, prosperous, with no needs whatever. Neither fired with enthusiasm, nor
coldly cynical; simply living a middle line, a balance, that's all.
But what if we hear the faint sound of Someone... ...outside...