The outreach took a different turn when we split into two smaller teams. Ali and I were leading a team of 6 students (3 American, 1 Canadian, 1 Fijian and 1 Bangladeshi between ages 20-29). Apart from having the responsibility as team leaders, this part of the outreach was also distinctly different as we spent the time amongst mainly people from Indian background. Almost 40% of the Fijian population are from Indian descent, originally brought to Fiji as indentured labourers under British rule. Despite being officially “Fijian” now, they still maintain their own cultural traditions, language, dress and even food.
We first spent some time in Ba, a town on the coast that was also badly hit by cyclone Winston. Our contact there was Pastor Nemani who leads a church in the HART (Housing Assistance & Relief Trust) Village, a refuge for widows and women who have been kicked out of their homes. We led the church service on Sunday during which one of our team members shared his testimony on how he came to know Christ from a Muslim background. Afterwards we found out that his testimony had come at just the right time: only a few days before the church had buried one of their members who had been murdered by a Muslim man. One lady confessed she had been struggling not to let that foster hatred in her towards all Muslims, and hearing the testimony had softened her heart.
We spent our days doing house visits, connecting with people over a cups of sweet tea. It was a surreal experience to be invited into a home which consisted of no more than a cement floor and a wobbly timber frame, with a sheet of corrugated iron hanging over a bed. We heard a lot of painful stories and had opportunity to pray for people.
The evenings were spent back in the HART community, where we did youth ministry and also held a women’s group. It was a special and intimate time of sharing with a group of women who had come from such troubled backgrounds, talking about the value of women and our identity not being based on what we do but as beloved daughters of God.
On Friday 20th May we travelled by boat to Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu. There we split our time between the town of Labasa (pronounced “Lambassa”) and the more rural area of Dreketi. In both locations we spent time doing house visits, leading church services and youth ministry, doing some open air/street evangelism, community work (picking up litter, health education) and eating a lot of curry. We met with Hindus, Muslims and even some Jehovah’s Witnesses.
In Labasa we stayed at Pastor Prasad’s church. He has a growing and lively Hindi-speaking congregation. Most of the members are converted Hindus who came to Christ through seeing healings and other miracles. We also heard lots of stories of witchcraft, curses and demon possession which is apparently very common amongst this population. Having now seen it for myself I am officially a converted sceptic.
Some of our days felt rewarding and fruitful, but at other times we had to fight against feeling discouraged. We learnt a lot about the Hindu faith! Most Hindus believe that all paths lead to God and that the more devout you are to this god or another, the more those gods will bless you with riches/health etc. The message of the cross didn’t make sense to them and is hard to explain without implying offense to their gods. For the most part people were keen for us to pray, even in the name of Jesus. But like a vending-machine god, they were often happy to receive the blessings but not the Blesser.
We received good insight into what it’s like to work as a missionary amongst a population with so radically different a worldview! We found ourselves completely dependent on God for guidance, strength and discernment. And we noticed that as we built relationships, the families would receive us with increasing warmth and our conversations would deepen. I am convinced that gentleness, a genuine interest and no agenda is a far louder testament of our faith than any words are.
We are commanded to make disciples of Christ – not converts. I have come to believe that true conversion can only come through a God-inspired revelation in a person’s heart and mind. God surely uses the missionaries, the teachers and evangelists, but the real work is done by His touch.
Ali and I have learnt a lot about leadership these last weeks. It’s not always easy to know when to be patient and when to challenge – and how to remain steadfast, consistent and joyful when we ourselves are also being stretched out of our comfort zone. I am grateful for our team and how they’ve risen to each challenge, learning how to march in time with one another and love the people around them.