‘We present this newly renovated chapel to you to be re-consecrated for the worship of God and the service of all people,’ the congregation proclaimed together.
‘And by what name shall this chapel be known?’ asked Deputy Chair of the Pacific Theological College (PTC) Council and Executive Rev. Dr. Epineri Vakadewavosa.
‘Islander Missionaries Memorial Chapel,’ responded the audience.
This exchange marked the rituals part of the re-dedication ceremony of the Islander Missionaries Memorial Chapel on July 17, 2020 attended by Suva’s ecumenical community an staff and students of PTC.
The Islander Missionaries Memorial Chapel is 52 years old. Its history though is so much older than that. The seeds of its existence were sowed right from the very beginning, as Pacific islanders moved across the Pacific sharing the gospel and bringing their fellow men to Christ.
‘These early missionaries were mostly the ones that built and started theological colleges, converted grassroot communities, took the gospel to remote island communities before European missionaries, were literally the hands, feet and eyes of European missionaries on the ground,’ recounted PTC Principal Rev. Professor. Dr. Upolu, while sharing the history of the chapel.
However, these islander missionaries remain nameless, largely unrecognised, their sacrifices largely undocumented in mainstream Pacific textbooks mostly written by Europeans.
The 1967 General Assembly of the Pacific Conference of Churches (PCC) held in Lifou, New Caledonia agreed to its members churches raising funds for building the chapel as a lasting memorial and an act of thanksgiving for the ministry work of the islanders.
Funds were raised through special services held in every village on the 27th of June 1967 and sent to PTC.
Rev. Professor Vaai said this effort symbolises de-colonisation as Pacific islanders attempted to correct the dominant narrative of European and American missional work in the Pacific, reclaiming their place in the Christian mission narrative.
‘But this narrative should not be in anyway intended to underrate the equally heroic sacrificial services of European missionaries even at sometimes to the cost of their life,’ said Professor Vaai.
‘However, it is about questioning and overturning a dominant colonial narrative that has contributed to the suppression and non-recognition of similar services offered by indigenous missionaries and many indigenous people.’
‘I may say that this chapel is symbolic of this vision of justice and decolonisation initiated by our forebears.’
In his sermon, Rev. Dr. Vakadewavosa said the chapel also serves to inspire and remind students of PTC that it is a missional college.
‘It must bring the good news of the kingdom, good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, to proclaim the good year of the Lord in difficult times, in situations and context.
‘Our role is first and foremost for Christ to be known to all people even if our names are not known, not written or forgotten.’
‘In this chapel we are reminded that God equips and calls women and men and even children to be his messengers of grace.’
‘God equips and appoints the right time for mission because the mission is not for our glory or benefit but for Gods glory and the benefit of Gods people and creation.
‘Every time we are reminded that we are called to God’s mission in the Pacific and beyond and we have a role to participate fully and sacrificially in the mission of God.’
‘God’s mission is the heartbeat of the church in the Pacific in these modern times.
‘Its survival depends entirely on our sincere and faithful response to our love for God and his son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.’
‘Our brother and sisters in the faith who we are remembering today were God fearing missionaries with deep commitment to the mission of God because they loved God right to the end of their journey – they gave their all even if their names are not written in the records of history.
‘That did not deter them in their mission for God. ‘
The Chapel is also hailed as the centre of PTC being its engine room or powerhouse.
On 9th December 1968, the then Chairperson of PCC Reverend Dr. Sione Amanaki Havea dedicated the chapel and since then, this is its first major extensive renovation.
Renovated to the tune of $51,000 the Chapel underwent roof replacements, was retrofitted with a skylight, its posts reinforced, its floors replaced with gleaming tiles, a cross designed with fine Tonga magimagi design is now hung over the altar.
Works also included converting the chapel equipment room into a chaplain’s office, repainting the building and its walkways and redesigning the floor beds.
The Chapel rededication is also marking the College’s 55th Anniversary celebrations.
College Principal Rev. Professor Vaai also announced a proposal to be submitted to the PTC Council and Executive for June 27 to be set aside as a Memorial Day for the islander missionaries that sacrificed their all for Christ.