One of the things that Billy Wetewea loves about studying at the Pacific Theological College is the rekindling of connections with his oikos, his culture, nature, land, creation.
‘Now I’m really more Pacific Islands oriented in my understanding through my academic journey and how PTC oriented the courses to really emphasise and talk about theology in the context of our culture,’ said Mr Wetewea.
He felt disconnected from these as a child growing up in New Caledonia, his homeland he prefers to call Kanaky.
‘I felt this disconnection, I didn’t even speak my language,’ he said.
‘It frustrated me, so I started learning my Uvea dialect by reading the Bible.’
Mr Wetewea or Billy as he is popularly known at PTC joined the College about six years ago in 2013 to learn English through what was then God’s Pacific People’s Programme for three months. He stayed on for the Peacebuilding Training Intensive, Pastoral Counseling and Community Bible Studies courses that improved his English speaking skills further.
This enabled him to return in 2015 for his undergraduate studies in Divinity and now he is into the final year of his Masters Programme in Biblical Studies.
While in Fiji, he feels he has come to understand the Pacific islands even better, especially since mingling with students from various countries who have all oriented him to their unique cultures. This connection with the Pacific is something he feel is missing for many Kanaky’s growing up in Euro-centric New Caledonia.
‘Studying here has made me aware of how disconnected we are from the Pacific Islands although we are part of it,’ he said.
Born of a generation of church ministers, Bill says the Lord’s work is in his blood and it was inevitable he would become one.
‘My dad, grand-dad, brothers, uncles are church Ministers of the Protestant Church of Kanaky New Caledonia,’ he said.
‘My purpose is to serve God and his people because this is where I am happiest.’
Billy reckons now that he is ‘aware’ of the cultural disconnections of his people and the dwindling emphasis placed on it, he wants to make that one of his life works as well.
‘I will take with me the experiences from the Pacific and implement it,’ he said.
‘One of the simple things I can do if I work in the parish is to organize trips or travel exchanges to other Pacific Island countries to share our cultural values and learn from others and build our faith without abandoning our identity as a people.’
He also plans to translate articles written by students of PTC on the merge of different cultures and scripture, into French for the benefit of his people.
‘We don’t have resources and if they can learn from the translated articles that this is the way and how other Pacific islanders think about the land and their bible and the way they view theology in terms of their culture that will really aid the connections that needs to happen,’ said Billy.
‘One of the best places to start is Sunday school and if we can retrain our children to think differently from the way the colonizers or missionaries taught us then there is hope for the future.
‘Not everything is lost; we can find ways to connect again with the ancestral knowledge that is within us.
‘We must know our culture because that’s who we are.’