Fiji – part 2

Fiji - part 2

Fiji - part 2

We're on an island, totally out of touch with
civilisation.

On the map, it's Naviti, part of the Yasawa
group to the north-west of Fiji. For us, it's a ten-hour trip on
a cargo boat with a few hundred locals, concrete blocks, drums of
fuel, multitudinous boxes and one pessimistic cow.

At various islands, passengers and freight go
overboard into a 5-metre tinny powered by a 40hp Yamaha. We chug
slowly on, while the ship's longboat whizzes its burden into a
bay, quickly offloads and catches up with us.

Eventually (ten hours later, like we said)
it's our turn. Everything is a great joke as we two geriatrics
and our excessive and oh-so-essential luggage make the perilous
transfer into the aluminium boat with a dozen others and their
bags and bundles. We rocket to shore. Half a hundred villagers
are there to welcome, to help, to splash joyously in the
shallows. We jump (think: creakingly, cautiously) into
very warm water. Total strangers carry our bags off –
somewhere. The runabout speeds off to chase the ship.

We're here. Wherever 'here' may be.

Five days and many preachings later another
little runabout hurtles us into open ocean and through a choppy
passage between two islands. George isn't sick (Eileen writing
this bit
) which has to be a miracle. It's Sunday, 11.00am, so
we nose into a backpackers' resort and teach on events in Israel,
the implant and the return of Jesus, to surprised tourists and
delighted staff.

Then on to another village. Wherever.

The church building and pastor's house is in
thick jungle. Believers were suffering fierce persecution
(think: physical attacks, not just verbal abuse) from
local Methodists. Then God sends a rather specific hurricane that
only damages the Methodist church and homes. The locals take the
point; there is now an enthusiastic working together. In Fijian
islands one is too close to reality to risk playing religious
games or explaining away God's nudges.

We have a formal audience with the chief's
eldest son. Tradition specifies that we offer him a gift of kava.
(In fact it's not originally a Fijian custom; the practice was
imported from Tonga.) But kava is a narcotic; it is also drunk
with acknowledgement to the spirit world. So we make a gift of
cash - which means his whole family will benefit. After a lengthy
discussion we are given the freedom of the village. This is no
tourist trap, so this is no cute formality. It is a serious
matter that can and will affect everybody, because a Fijian
village is simply one large home for one large family, divided
into many dwellings.

And we preach. And they listen. And God is at
work.

The remote churches actually expect that God
will be teaching them. They believe that their lives will be -
must be - changed by what they hear. Yet there is no
credulity. No gullibility. No 'it's from overseas so it must be
true' mentality. There is courteous, questioning caution. A
desire to understand, to probe, to check everything with God and
with scripture.

Speaking through an interpreter is a great
safeguard. Vague phrases, lyrical descriptions, tangled sentences
just won't make the jump from one language to another. The
quickfire repartee that wows 'em in Whangarei has to go. And it's
down to a clear, simple message from God.

Fiji may or may not be a tropical paradise.
It's not a spiritual paradise. Fire walking and turtle summoning
are popular Satanic practices that help bring in the tourist
dollars. Don't give us the line that it's mind over matter
– unless you can give us a demo. Pain control may be a mind
thing, but the thickest leathery Fijian foot will burn through on
those white-hot stones; a hanky catches fire from one metre
above; and if one of the walkers has cheated on the rather yucky
ritual beforehand, the whole team gets injured. We're talking
demon worship here, as any born again former fire walker will
tell you.

Now, ponder that New Zealand is hell-bent on
reinventing itself into a post-Christian, neo-pagan society. Only
a few months ago on National Radio, Henari Te Ua in Whenua
chaired a discussion with three or four tohungas where
they described seriously the backlash from the spirit world if
Maori artifacts are moved without the correct ritual and mindset.
And they told of the problem of finding youngsters to train as
tohungas who haven't been contaminated by being born
again.

Nobody objected. Few even noticed. We’re
conditioned to be Politically Correct.

Anyhow, where were we? Oh, right: on a remote
island somewhere in the Fijian archipelago.

It’s tricky, trying to preach when a
couple of large land crabs click their way solemnly in front of a
squatting congregation. Or when a well-meaning elder puts a
burning mosquito coil beneath Eileen’s seat (George
writing this bit
) and nearly cremates her.

It’s nice to know God is here. We go
from village to village – at night – by boat: no
moon, so we have only the light of our solar torch to show us the
coral heads.

Walking through one of these villages after
sundown is unforgettable. If the community has no generator, all
we see is a succession of yellow oblongs: doorways of huts or
houses, with the gentle light of a kerosene lantern illuminating
families clustered on flax mats enjoying the evening meal. Should
we be heard and recognised, then voices call to us, inviting the
palangis to come and eat with them. Afterwards, it’s
easy enough to get thoroughly lost. Villages are a maze of paths
that wind between a myriad homes. But there’s always some
little kid who will slip a trusting hand in ours, lead us out
into the jungle and to the local pastor’s house, then
happily scamper off into the pitch darkness back to the
family.

And later? Several weeks have passed since we
wrote the last paragraph. We say a tearful goodbye to the final
village, planning to sail in a small boat to the other side of
the island, there to intercept the big tourist catamaran which
will whisk us to Nadi.

Nobody has heard the forecast. Hurricane Erica
is nearby. All small craft have been advised to stay home.

It is calm enough on the leeward side of the
island, but as we round the headland we meet the full force of a
rising wind, and finally our tiny vessel is chased by waves that
crash over our stern and outboard in a manner that bodes ill for
our future.

We are poor sailors, even poorer swimmers. Yet
(and the Lord gets full credit for this) we aren’t scared.
Even though it is necessary to put three of the larger Fijians
overboard to wade ashore to lighten the boat. Eventually the
great catamaran pitches and tosses into the bay and we make the
perilous transfer – we and our luggage – aboard.

What now? All that is in the past. We are
home. Enjoying European food and low humidity. But what have we
learned?

Or rather, what are we learning? We’re
learning how to handle being materially rich. No, we don’t
feel guilty about it. We’ve a nice house with the usual
Kiwi goodies. But we’re suddenly aware that many people
have almost nothing. No car. No electricity. No income. No money.
A hand-to-mouth existence. They live in continual dependence on
God – and they acknowledge the fact. To each other
and to Him.

What do we take for granted? And what are the
scriptures directed at the rich, warning them – warning
us – of the pitfalls and temptations of being
materially wealthy?

At the beginning of this year we took for
granted that it is other people – like Americans –
who are rich.

Now? Perhaps we’d better do some serious
Bible study. And prayer.