16 June 2008

sega na leqa

"No worries" ("senga na lenga") ... we learned this phrase very quickly at the beginning of our time in Fiji, and it set the tone for the whole visit.

Several times throughout our trip, I've described how we didn't intentionally plan the timing of our travel (with places, events, seasons, etc.), yet I continue to be amazed by how divinely-guided our journey has been. Once again, God surprised us as He prepared us to visit Fiji. We added this South Pacific island to our round-the-world itinerary at the last minute, but we knew then that we had no contacts & no plans there... However, now we have a family there through the Int'l Sports Coalition (one of the divine networks that we've been welcomed into throughout the trip).

While we researched Fiji a bit before our arrival, we had no idea that our year's experience would seem to culminate in just 12 days there... "Fijian time" is like "African time" (relaxed, perpetually late, unclear time-lines)... Fijians love music and blend harmonies like Africans... Fiji even reflects Madagascar's "island culture" a bit (independent, resourceful, and a blend of Polynesian, European, Asian & African ethnicities). There is also a very significant influence from India (culture, religion, food, people). Fiji's beautiful beaches reminded us of the beaches of Thailand (with amazing coral & marine life), except that they're generally more expensive. The in-pouring wealth & influence of "western" nations seem to set the prices of some resorts to well over a thousand dollars a night! Finally, as we discovered in other parts of the world, many Fijians Believers are faced with a significant amount of nominalism & mere "tradition" of a high percentage of "Christians" in this culture.

I'm extremely thankful that God designed our trip so that, before heading back to North America, we would be re-immersed in a non-"western" culture... where poverty is evident, family is highly-valued, faith is tangible, and our comfort zones were stretched once again. We had to smile when we first arrived in Nadi and a woman addressed our questions/concerns about logistics with "Just relax... you're in Fiji now... sega na leqa."

God's lessons "not to worry" continued throughout our visit in Fiji, and we found ourselves letting go (once again) of "western" concepts of time (restraints & schedules), especially as we began to stress about planning our "island get away" for a couple nights to an outer island somewhere... God broke us of that anxiety and opened a door through our "Fijian mother" and friend, Selina, who graciously helped us plan a low-budget visit to Mana Island. She also connected us with her 2 friends that work there: the manager of the backpackers that we'd looked into originally and the youth activities coordinator of a nearby exclusive resort. Through her, God provided an island experience within our budget AND connected us with an amazing yet small community/family of Fijian Believers while we were there... He never ceases to amaze me.

We spent our last morning in Fiji at Selina's church community which has a HUGE children's program. Again, God convicted me of my habit of worrying. The theme verse for the youth service was Matthew 6:25, ""Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear..." When they asked us to share, I had to admit my weakness to these young people, and I encouraged them to really trust the Lord... He will provide... just as He has for us throughout this entire trip... more than I could ever imagine!

So, to recap our time in Fiji, I'll start from the beginning... Arriving in Nadi the evening of July 3rd, we were welcomed with the smiling face & huge hug of Selina Sarasau. We were pretty sure that she'd be there, but we hadn't received confirmation before leaving Sydney. It was such a blessing to be greeted so warmly!

The very next day, we got on a bus to Suva (Fiji's largest city with about 400,000 living in this west coast metrolpolis of the main island, Viti Levu). After a beautiful 4-hour bus ride around the south side of the island, we arrived and were greeted by our friend Tom Tiko & his mom, Ula. The Tiko family graciously hosted us for our 5 days in Suva -- housing us, feeding us, letting us hitch rides with them, helping us connect with ministries, and including us in their family celebrations. Tom also introduced us to Caleb Ludwig, the Director of Student Life at the Univ. of the South Pacific. (Like the Student Life that we connected with in Christchurch, New Zealand, this chapter of Student Life is an extension of Campus Crusade for Christ.) Caleb invited us to share at their end-of-term, student-led meeting, and we played a couple short "pairs" games before telling them a bit about our journey together, siting Mark 6. Shortly before this meeting, Caleb also introduced us to the Campus Crusade staff, including Jeff & Jennifer Lauer, who spontaneously invited us over for dinner & fellowship.

Also, while in Suva, we met up with Captain Kesoni & Merewalesi Qoriniasi from The Salvation Army, and we got to hear a bit of their story in serving for the past 3 years as Corps officers with the Suva Central Corps (church) that shares the campus of Fiji's TSA District Head Quarters. We got connected with them through their family friend (& our new friend) Darren Frazer from TSA-Winton, New Zealand.

That Friday night, we joined Tom & his fellow youth leader Lucy for a visit to Pacific Harbor (on the south coast of Viti Levu). After arriving a bit late ("Fiji time"), we joined a group of about 20 youth and were invited to share some of our experience... so I did it through my recreational/experiential-education style with an activity I call "Who are you listening to?" (one we've done a number of times throughout the trip). It'd been a little while since we'd been asked to lead activities for a youth group, so it was a lot of fun!

Saturday, we ventured into the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park -- a incredible, tropical rain forest with heavenly pools & waterfalls to swim in. Even there, God protected us... You see, both our hosts and the local park services guy warned us not to bring valuables due to the few muggings of the past there, but God provided an angel to go with us & keep us safe... Surprisingly, he came in the form of a new Western Australian friend named Mark. All along the way, we were amazed at God's creation and sang His praises all day long!

That first Sunday, we worshipped with two very different communities of faith. The first was with another friend from the ACE conference, Pastor Joe Mateiwai, who leads a Christian Outreach Center congregation called CenterPoint Church. This lively & spirit-filled service was held in their newly-acquired warehouse-type space, which now allows their congregation more room for growth & development. During the service, Pastor Joe spontaneously invited us to share in front of the entire congregation and later to meet with some of the young people from his church in the afternoon. After sharing with them, we attended our second worship service of the day... at the Tiko's church, Wesley City Mission Church, where we met several people including 2 women connected to YWAM-Fiji.

On Monday, we traveled back over to Nadi (on the west coast of Viti Levu), where we were embraced by Selina, her daughter (Tamarisi) and granddaughter/namesake (Selina). Immediately, we joined them in a fellowship/appreciation dinner for some leaders of their recent "Family Day" program. Tuesday, we set off for our relaxing, 2-day "get away" Mana Island (mentioned above). We spent the days exploring the island -- from the 360-view mountain top to the coral-rich waters off the coast. Each evening, we spent in fellowship with local Believers who worked in the exclusive resort next door to our backpackers. Our new friend, Tu Villi graciously introduced us to his colleagues, friends and Family. In fact, one night Tu Villi & other Brothers serenaded us with beautiful harmonies of praise songs... amazing!

Back in Nadi, we reconnected with Tom Tiko's older sister, Adrianna, who took us out to Port Denarau and who we hope to catch up with in Vancouver as well. (She's a pilot for Air Pacific.) Then we went up to Lautoka for a day trip to stop by The Salvation Army and then YWAM. First, we met up with Capt. Ulamila "Mila" Vakawalebua from TSA in Lautoka (another friend of Darren Frazer from New Zealand). Although our visit with them was brief, we met her commanding officer, helped to "send off" their youth leaving for a Youth Councils retreat, and got to hear some of Mila's story & call to TSA. Then, we visited the Personal Transformation Center associated with YWAM, and we met Tress, Tina and a few others there. They are about to begin their first Biblical Counseling training course in July, so say a prayer for them!

Friday night, we were invited to lead the youth group meeting at Selina's church (the International Full Gospel Tabernacle Church). The gathering included nearly 80 young people ages 14 to 30+, and I managaed to successfully facilate 2 games & the "Who are you listening to?" activity, incorporating scripture & a bit of our story. It was so wonderful to share in such an interactive way with young people again, just like I did a lot in Africa & India. The evening was annointed by the Spirit, and the young people really seemed to hear God's voice through me... which is something I continue to give thanks for.

Before leaving Fiji, we squeezed in a few more authentic local experiences, including getting some Fijian dresses or "chombras" tailored (thanks to Tamarisi's help), exploring the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (with the younger Selina & our new friend Joe), and eating lots of authentic Fijian food like "palusami" (coconut milk-curd mixture wrapped in taro leaves) & "kakoda" (a raw fish/coconut milk dish with a little spice).

Finally, Sunday, June 15th was the longest yet shortest day of our trip -- boarding a plane in Nadi at 3:15 pm and then landing in Vancouver at 2pm the same day. We began the day in worship at the English service (8:30am) at Selina's church, which was followed by Sunday school for all ages and then a youth service for school-age youth while the Fijian service was going on for the adults. It was a packed morning! Afterward, we ran home to freshen up & grab our bags, and then our new friend, Eroni, joined us at the airport to send us off. When we met Eroni at the youth night on Friday, he shared his passionate story & call to work in spreading the Gospel & discipling new Believers in remote villages in the interior of Fiji. We said our goodbyes to him & our "Fijian family" through a group prayer -- praying over Eroni, being prayed over by Selina, and thanking God for His work through the three of us.

It's strange to be back in North America after 11 1/2 months. Fortunately, I'm currently reading a book my mom gave me about re-entry. It's written for missionaries' care/support teams (neither of which I have exactly, other than a few individual Believers) to learn & understand how to encourage & facilitate a healthy re-entry process for the missionaries they commissioned & sent out. I realize now that Hope & I will need to keep each other "in check," hold each other accountable, and support each other through the re-entry process... in hopes of avoiding shock, cynicism, detatchment, and/or avoidance. This incredible journey has effected us both in ways that many won't understand or take time to try to understand... But that's okay. Our Heavenly Father understands, and He will continue to shape our character to be more & more Christ-like through all types of experiences.

We're thankful & continue to be amazed by our extended eternal family all over the world, especially as we're connecting with such incredible Believers & friends here in Vancouver... But I'll save that for the next blog entry.

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