“EASTER FOR THE SATURDAY PEOPLE”

This time last year we sailed into the Easter week under a newly arrived phenomenon that amended significantly the texture of normal life for all of us, the Covid19 pandemic. Since then, our lives have been altered forever. As we draw closer to Easter, one year since the pandemic infiltrated our shores, we must thank God and be grateful. The spirit of gratitude must always precede the spirit of negation. The former Principal of the college, Rev Dr Sione ‘Amanaki Havea from Tonga, has reminded us in his theology of celebration that because the Pacific is founded on communal sharing, the idea of celebration underpins life. Every gift should be matched initially with celebration. The gift of life, community, and the Earth. To lose this gift of celebration is to lose the realization of being gifted.

Trapped!

As we sail into the Easter spirit this year, while we normally focus the faith spotlight on the death and the resurrection of our Lord as the main events, it is natural that what happened on Easter Saturday (other Christian traditions called it Bright Saturday) is dismissed. Throughout history questions have been raised: What really happened on Saturday? Was Jesus really in the tomb? Was he sleeping? Was he really dead? Whatever happened on that day, it is clear from the biblical storyline that Saturday is part of the salvation process that God intended through the life of Jesus Christ. Easter Saturday, just like Good Friday and Easter Sunday, is not just one of the three days Jesus was dead and back to life again. Rather, personally, I would prefer to think of Saturday as symbolic of God’s time to expose our fragility and vulnerability. A time to remind us that God’s willingness, through Jesus, to be in the tomb is a divine resolve to be in deep solidarity with those still trapped in dark depressing tombs ? whom S.J. Samartha named in his poem “Saturday people”.

 

Squeezed between Good Friday and Easter

Ignored by preachers and painters and poets

Saturday lies cold and dark and silent

An unbearable pause between death and life

There are many Saturday people

To whom Easter does not come

There are no angels to roll the stones away

 

In the pre and post-Covid19 era, some people have moved on, resurrected from the torture and agonies imposed by uncontrollable forces such as pandemics and climate change. Some are still struggling, still carrying an unbearable cross in a never ending road to find one thing: Release! However some are still trapped in dark tombs, unable to see the dawn of the resurrection day, immersed in an unbearable pause between death and life, the now and the beyond, the here and the not yet, with no angels to assist to move them out of the tomb. Like some Israelites and prophets in the wilderness, they never get the chance to move into the promised-land. They dreamt of milk and honey but never tasted it.

Reimagine!

Most Saturday people are not strangers to us. These are the people who are unable to press further, trapped in depressing tombs endorsed by rapacious systems designed to unroll tomb stones and eliminate hope for life in the beyond. There are children who never grow old because they die from the malnutrition and the scarcity of food and water due to unjust economic systems in many countries. In the midst of wars and crises refugees sail on crowded, poorly equipped dinghies ? never arriving on dry land to find the peaceful, normal place where they hope to raise their children. Climate displaced communities never have the chance to heal from climate induced disasters. Vulnerable women, men, and children never see another day, due to constant beating and to extreme family violence that is also systemic. Adults never see the success of their children because they suffer from non-communicable diseases due, not just to individual choices, but more to the breakdown of the national health and socio-economic system. Detainees and immigrants never see a courtroom to fight for justice as they seek a home away from their troubled and war torn homes. Students fail before even trying, never see their full potentiality because their cultural and distinctive worldviews are normally denied by the established education system. Covid19 victims never see their loved ones for the last time before they die, abandoned by a failed health system. Many indigenous peoples are pushed not just to a margin, but to a margin of margins by rich corporations who flourish by turning lands and oceans into crucified ecologies. Economic systems, assisted by political complicities, are designed to make people accept without question the modern human-made tombs such as poverty, slavery, and secularism, to name a few. These are Saturday people that require our attention as we move into the Holy Week.

Resituate!

This Easter, one year after the start of the Covid19 pandemic, we are invited to resituate and realign our mission strategies to target those who die outside the promised-land. Those who continue to carry crosses built by empires, trapped in crucified bodies. Who remain in depressing tombs not because they want to but because they’re forced to.

But in order to do this, the church needs to redeem itself first from the traditional priestly plinth that normally situates priesthood and Christianity as a heavenly elitist society. The church needs to resituate its story within the radical justice-oriented earthly mission of Jesus on behalf of the Saturday people: the poor, the orphan, the outcast, the marginalized. A church that disturbs and unsettles rapacious systems that are Babylonian in nature ? in order to set free the vulnerable bodies of women, sick people, marginalized communities, and tyrannized ecologies; that assists in “opening up graves” in order to “bring out the dead” who have been turned by war hawks into “dry bones” (Ezekiel 37:10-12), giving them fresh breath, growing sinews, flesh, and skin. Saturday people are normally those who never reach resurrection, who suffer and die with Jesus “outside the city gates” (Hebrew 13:13). We need a church that dares to upend the curse of these depressing tombs to invite the light of the hope of the resurrection to these people.

Resurrection should not be just a bygone phenomenon that vaguely affects our lives, that finds its cadence only in worship liturgies nor should be about a supernatural otherworldly escape. Rather it should be about being in the worldto make a difference. As Anthony Kelly reminds us, “the effect of the resurrection is to see the world and to live in it otherwise”. In Luke’s gospel, after the resurrection, Jesus hit the road again, ate and broke bread with disciples. In John’s gospel, Jesus went back to cooking fish and feeding people on the beach. The “resurrection effect” starts with fresh empowerment to go back to deal with real stuffs, real people, real issues, and the real world. It draws its mana and strength from the resolve to enter the darkest experiences of victims for the sake of liberation. For God to be in the tomb changes the whole meaning of following the resurrected Christ. It involves empowerment to be part of the real struggle of real people to help dismantle the systems that prevent them from realizing the promise of an empty tomb.  

Let us remember the many victims of Covid19 during this Holy Week. May this post-covid19 Easter set a new tone of response to the crucified Saturday people, and a resurrection-filled cadence to those still trapped in dark depressing tombs! Manuia le Eseta!

 

Rev. Professor Dr. Upolu Luma Vaai

Pacific Theological College

29 March, 2021

Rev. Professor Dr Upolu Vaai challenged students of the Pacific Theological College to fight for the protection of Pacific ecology which is on the brink of collapse.

He issued the challenge at a welcome service for students at the Islander Missionaries Memorial Chapel in Suva on Friday, February 5.

Rev. Professor Vaai said insatiable, extractive economies of rich, capitalist systems have driven the Pacific to the brink of ecological disaster.

Professor Vaai is the Principal of PTC.

‘We in the Pacific are at the brink of losing our ecological home due to extractive economies of rich corporations who prefer to make a home for themselves at the expense of many vulnerable communities,’ Rev. Professor Vaai said.

‘Many of the policies around these extractive economies are built on the notion of ‘home-ownership’ and less on ‘home-keeping.’

Home-keeping, according to Professor Vaai, goes beyond the act of owning the home.

‘It is about protecting, sustaining, and restoring the home,’ he said.

Home-keeping to the point of sacrificing rights and privileges for the common good.

But humans mistakenly placing their rights above all other species, is harming everyone.

Harm to ecology is also translating to injustices many people now face. A lack of water, shelter and food scarcity and dire poverty.

©Fiji Times
©Fiji Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

These, according to Rev. Professor Vaai is due as well to the ownership driven agendas of powerful, greedy individuals who want to own everything, casting people out of the ‘home.’

The solution, he envisions is embracing ‘open horizons’ where we accept that the home includes various cultures, peoples and earth.

The College Strategic Plan 2020-2025 with the theme ‘Towards Excellence in Theological Education for Justice’ addresses the need to produce leaders who are not only priests and theologians, but also prophets and advocators of justice.

Classes at PTC start on Monday, February 8.

New students were introduced to the PTC Community at the Welcome Service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Service was also attended by staff of the Pacific Conference of Churches and its General Secretary Rev. James Bhagwan showcasing the spirit of ecumenism.

I enrolled at the Pacific Theological College Extension Education with high hopes after I took a sabbatical leave from my undergraduate studies at Bond University in Australia many years ago. I had wanted to do the Bachelor of Divinity Program. The outgoing PTCEE director then, Rev Dr Val Ogden gave me a thorough orientation and explained that if I wanted a strong background knowledge of the Bible and the growth and development of the Christian movement, I should begin at the Certificate Level. I was not prepared for Rev Dr Val’s honesty and spiritual guidance. To be honest, I was offended – I thought to myself certificate level is for those who have never read the Bible or those who have no idea about Christianity or Jesus Christ.

Today, I thank God for listening to her and enrolling to study at the Certificate program because it opened my eyes to see beyond the understanding I had of God and Christianity. The nine units I completed in the Certificate program gave me a broader sense of the will of God for humanity. In one of the units, the History of the Church, I learnt to see history through the hand of God working through both believers and unbelievers to fulfil His will in spreading the Gospel to develop the Body of Christ.
In the nine units in the Certificate Program, I was in awe of the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent of God. God indeed works in unique ways, and He uses people of all walks of life; the educated and uneducated, the rich and poor; He even uses people who are not considered as anything in society; whether believer or unbeliever, to do His will.
Brothers and sisters who are planning to study at PTCEE, I guarantee that you will not be disappointed with the courses provided. The Certificate Program sounds ordinary, but it is packed with knowledge and wisdom that explores both the secular and spiritual worlds and reveals that in both worlds; God is in control for He is the Creator of all things.
My adventure has not ended but has just begun, the first hill has been conquered; and in a couple of weeks, my faith journey will continue as I explore into the Diploma Program. I am excited to learn and see more of God as I go through the courses and reading His Word.
God spoke through the Prophet Jeremiah to the nation of Israel and said: “if you seek me with all your heart, you will find me”. Jesus Christ, in His Sermon on the Mount, said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled”.
Just a thought; in these times of uncertainty and fear, could it be an excellent time to exercise our faith in God and seek Him? If your heart desires Him, He will open the door, and He will provide the resources. A heart that captures the attention of God is a heart that needs Him.
Many have contributed tremendously to my journey as a PTCEE student. I thank God for this journey and the guidance Rev Dr Val provided in my early days as a student and who mentors me from England via emails and messages. My late father, who has always been my source of spiritual guidance. I am also indebted to my wife and three daughters for their continuous support, love and prayers. And, not forgetting the PTCEE team; the Director Sailosi Batiratu, Programme Administrator Nisha Raj and the Information Technology expert Nitesh Raj for their hard work and efficient efforts to assisting in my course choices and assignments. And I look forward to working with them again in the coming weeks as my faith adventure with God continues.
Vinaka.

 

 

Aitu Ostonu is the head of the Sunday School for the Oinafa Circuit of the Methodist Church of Rotuma.
She’s one of more than 30 participants of the Leadership and Management Training held in Rotuma from November 23 to December 4, 2020.

Aitu Ostonu in discussion with other Rotuma church leaders at the Leadership and Management Training.

The Methodist Church of Rotuma hosted the training that was organised by the Institute for Mission and Research of PTC.
The training shared essential skills for leaders of communities, churches and organisations.
These include things like time management, self-leadership, conflict resolution, and Jesus style of leadership.
Though biblical, theological principles form the basis of the training, participation is not restricted to members of the Christian faith.
Ms Ostonu said, ‘This training for leaders must continue and not be the first and last for Rotuma because as leaders we are learning so much.’ Rotuma faces unprecedented time. The advent of tourism, an increase of land disputes as Rotumans return home, changing lifestyles, and related social issues demand good leaders.
But good leaders, related Ms Ostonu, are around but do not have the requisite skills to lead in changing times.
We are chosen by the people to do the best we can to serve their interests, and if it means learning the necessary skills, we will do so, and so we appreciate this training.’
Rotuma’s system of leadership is traditional

At the helm is the Rotuma Island Council comprised of Gagajs or chiefs of the seven districts. Within each district are sub-chiefs that lead tribes or clans. The leadership style is somewhat autocratic, where the chiefs make the decisions, and the people are supposed to follow.
But Mr Ralifo Nasario, a Chief Steward for the Oinafa Methodist Church Circuit said times have changed.
‘People now challenge the chiefs or refuse to follow their decisions,’ he said.
‘People proclaim their individual rights, and this challenges the systems of leadership that have existed for many, many years.’
He added leaders of Rotuma needed to learn and adapt skills for leading during these changing times.

One of the critical skills he believes will help leaders is self-leadership.
‘A leader that exercise first self-leadership serves as a good role model for the community,’ he said.
‘He or she will be respected and followed.’
Head Minister for the Oinafa Circuit of the Methodist Church Reverend Mario Lagi Rigamoto said there is also a great need for young leaders.
‘They can learn from the older leaders,’ he said.
‘Many young Rotumans leave the island for Fiji, and this creates a gap in leadership.’
An issue that pushes at the conservative, cultural fabric of Rotuman society is tourism.
The older generation opposes it.
Their concern is that tourism will harm the traditional indigenous spirit of the island and harm its ecology. Some say it will bring in bad influences. Behaviours that are un-Rotuman, like undignified dressing. Others welcome tourism for the income it gives. The majority believe change is inevitable. They suggest managing it at an acceptable rate. And so the growing popularity of the Visiting Friends and Relatives concept instead of tourism. This compromise is all about allowing people to visit Rotuma and stay with families (homestay). As opposed to building a hotel.

Mr Ralifo Nasario

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another growing issue is that of land disputes. Rotumans returning home after long stints abroad, dispute land with those that chose to remain on the island.
These issues formed discussions at the Leadership and Management training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ends…

The eight-year-old boy watched in awe as the dolphins flipped in the air, dancing to the woman’s chant.
The chant, rose from a deep place within her, in magical lilting notes, and danced over the sparkling waves. It stirred the pod with invisible energy.
The matriarch responded, throwing her calf into the air.
The boy saw nothing else, but the dolphins. He heard little else but the chant. It filled his mind, and every particle of space of the brilliant blue, liquid landscape.
It flowed into him, striking a deep chord within. Frozen in his memory, it was a magical scene under a golden Pacific sun.
Much of Benjamin Dickson’s life now, began that day. On that beautiful morning on the shores of North Wagawaga in Milne Bay, East Papua New Guinea.
The chanter was Dilikoi, his aunt from the Tuooki clan of Uliawa, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea. She was singing the uliuliyabobo.
‘Dolphins were swimming by, and she went out and started chanting to them,’ he said. Dickson’s eyes lit up at the memory. He was back on the shore at Milne Bay.
After several minutes, Dickson spoke again.
‘When I asked her, she said she was asking the dolphins to throw their babies up into the air for us to see,’ he said.
‘It shocked me to see the dolphins respond.
‘I wanted to learn the chant. My aunt taught me,’ Dickson said.
‘I practised until I knew it by heart. Until I could sing it with a passion.
‘Until the dolphins also heard me and danced,’ he said.
Dickson was a teenager when the dolphins finally responded to his call.
‘I chanted louder. I was cheering when the babies got thrown up,’ Dickson said.
‘I wanted to swim out to them, the urge was that strong,’ he said.
‘It felt like I knew them, and they know me. I swam out, but it was much too deep for me,’ Dickson added.
‘I was hoping they would come right up to me.’
‘It felt like we belonged together, that they were my kin. My blood,’ Dickson said.
‘I felt this deep spiritual kinship with the dolphins. I knew they were my family because they understood me,’ he said.
Dolphins are Dickson’s paternal grandmother’s totem fish.
The 37-year-old artist volunteers his time with the Reweaving the Ecological Mat Project (REM). The Institute for Mission and Research of the Pacific Theological College coordinates REM.
The REM project promotes the adoption of an Ecological Framework for Development, released in a publication recently.

The framework places the wellbeing of people at the centre of development.
Wellbeing for Pacific Islanders includes more than the simple provision of basic needs. Important as well is a sense of belonging and identity with a community. This identity is very much tied to unique cultural values and practices. For indigenous Pacific communities, these practices have their source in nature. Totem’s like Dickson’s dolphin or trees as practised in some parts of Fiji. It may be a bird or herbal plant medicine traditions. Or even turtles.
Grounded on three pillars, ‘Theology’, ‘Economic,’ and ‘Cultural’, the REM Framework says all life is interconnected and should be valued.
The Frameworks says life for the majority of people in the Pacific is difficult to imagine if broken from the land, sky and sea.
Dickson paints these connections. An eagle soaring out of the forests. Majestic trees have people’s faces, signifying oneness with nature. The ocean with its brilliant hues of blue. The graceful moves of a cultural dancer. The powerful strokes of a warriors oars sailing the Pacific in traditional canoes.

All tell a story. An original account of Pacific peoples and their intimate connections with nature. Vibrant and diverse. One of holistic wellbeing where the web of life mattered, and people were not at its centre. But this is a story subverted by decades of capitalism. Capitalism commodifies the natural world and prioritises human beings.
Dickson’s art exhibition and auction were showcased at the Holiday Inn in Suva on the 30th of September. His paintings are also illustrations in a recently released publication ‘From the Deep – Pasifiki Voices for a New Story,’ with contributing authors from across the Pacific calling for change, for a new vision of development for the Pacific.
The publications, ‘Reweaving the Ecological Mat Framework,’ ‘Ecological Economic Accounts: Towards Intermerate Values,’ and ‘From the Deep: Pasifiki Voices for a New Story,’ and the Art Exhibition are vital activities of the REM project. A project that advocates for a change to the Pacific story of development, by rebuilding the original story.
‘I’m writing with my brush, pleading with people to keep our identity as Pacific people’s alive,’ he said.


‘We are stewards. We are custodians. Our duty to God is to keep our natural world alive.’
‘We need to be true to ourselves as Pacific peoples with rich cultures and traditions.
‘We are an ocean of islands that belong together and are unique.’
‘When we lose these connections, we lose our identity as Pacific peoples, and we fail as God’s people.’
Ends…

At just twenty years old, Nancy Catherine Vakatawa is the youngest church representative enrolled in an accredited four-weeks-long Certificate in Social Analysis Course held in Suva, Fiji recently.
Most of her fellow students are at least twice her age or much older with a wealth of experience in church work and dealing with social issues.
Some are church Ministers; others are heads of organisations. Ms Vakatawa said some moments in training, she felt inadequate, dwarfed by the combined years of wisdom in the classroom.
But made of tougher mettle, the young lass uses the experience as a great learning curve. One that will add to an already impressive repertoire.

Apart from her University Studies, Ms Vakatawa is also a Sunday School teacher, Secretary of the St Johns Bible Study Club and a social worker.
‘I am learning so much, just listening to all that combined wisdom borne of experience,’ she laughingly remarks.
‘I am a very blessed young person to be here to gain insights beyond my years.’
However, Ms Vakatawa’s insight was already ahead of her years and many peers, even before she joined the training.
Early this year, with a group of friends, she helped fundraise and build a new home for an elderly woman at Wailoku Settlement, just outside Suva city.
‘The day I met her for the first time, I felt hurt and mostly sad when I saw her run-down shack,’ Ms Vakatawa said.
‘The corrugated iron and pieces of timber were barely stuck together,’ she added.
‘Another tough wind and the house would have buried her.’
It was an eye-opener for the young Ra (a province) woman, vasu (maternal links) Kadavu (an island province).
‘Poverty never felt so oppressive until I met that old lady. Really, really felt bad for her suffering,’ said Ms Vakatawa, a sadness tingeing her eyes.
Increasing numbers of people enduring terrible living conditions in dilapidated and dangerous housing and squatting in mangrove swamps are one of the indicators of rising poverty in Fiji.
At least 30 per cent of Fijian’s are classified as living below the National Poverty Line.
A social scourge, poverty as a social justice issue is one of the Course’s focus topics, earning the dedication of an entire week.
Lyn Lala, the Institute for Mission and Research’s (IMR’s) Project Officer Social Analysis said the aim of the Course is to educate its participants on social issues that afflict the context, in this case, Fiji.
‘They are taught skills in analysing causes of social issues like poverty and identifying possible solutions,’ said Ms Lala.
‘The course is founded on the premise, ‘what would Jesus do?’ she added.
‘It’s a challenge as well to the churches to reach out beyond the pulpit and assist its communities with the social issues they face.’
Despite depressing poverty statistics, Ms Vakatawa is optimistic young people can make a difference.
‘Young people can totally make a difference, they can do something to help,’ she said.
‘Poverty is not going to go away, but we can alleviate the suffering somewhat if only we act.’
Director of IMR Aisake Casimira said it is important to mentor young people to raise leaders the likes of visionary forebears including Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara from Fiji and Father Walter Lini from Vanuatu.
‘There is a vacuum now in visionary leaders because the mentoring of future leaders has been neglected by our effort as a region to meet demands of a borrowed system that was a need at the time when many Pacific island countries gained independence,’ he said.
‘But we need to mentor our young people now because they are our best opportunity to make changes in our communities.’
The Social Analysis Course ended on September 17.

Ends….

 

 

 

 

Hundreds of Fijians living at the Jittu Estate informal settlement in Suva received help in the form of bales of clothes and food on October 20.

The donation from the Pacific Theological College is part of its aim of addressing social injustices like poverty in its curriculum.

It aligns with the PTC Strategic Plan 2020-2025 of ‘Towards Excellence in Theological Education for Leadership for Justice.’

It is a plan to provide for Pacific churches and the region, leaders who are not only priests and theologians, but also prophets and advocators of justice.

Jittu Estate Welfare Officer Sitiveni Ravatu applauded the donation as tremendous. “We have families who don’t have food to eat right now,” said Mr Ravatu.

PTC Community also gave the Vunilagi Book Club (VBC) boxes of children’s books. VBC is based out of the Vatuwaqa informal settlement.

The Club works with informal communities in Suva to improve children’s reading skills. Club director Mariana Waqa said reading impacts a child’s development. It stimulates their imagination and develops communication and social skill essential for life.

PTC set up a Committee to coordinate the donation drive over several weeks.

PTC identifies poverty as a social and economic injustice that causes widespread suffering.

In offering a helping hand, the PTC community hopes to give hope and build solidarity with those who struggle to make ends meet.

The donation also marked International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

At least a quarter of Pacific Islanders suffer every day in poverty-stricken situations.

In 2019, the United Nations High-Level Political Forum heard, a quarter of Pacific Islanders live below basic needs poverty lines. They struggle to make ends meet. Unemployment among women and youth is exceptionally high, and so are non-communicable diseases.
For example, in Fiji, 200,000 people live in poverty at 200 squatter settlements.

PTC identifies poverty as a social and economic injustice that causes widespread suffering.

In offering a helping hand, the PTC community hopes to give hope and build solidarity with those who struggle to make ends meet.

Ends…

 

 

 

 

 

Five students received Pacific Theological College’s top awards for various study categories.

For the Faculty Prize for Distinction in Thesis Work in the Master of Theology programme;

i. Leslie Boroko (Master of Theology – Church History) – Anglican Church of Melanesia, Solomon Islands
ii. Sioeli Sipaisi (Master of Theology – Church History) – Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga
iii. Sauileoge Pouli Jr (Master of Theology – Church Ministry) – Methodist Church of Samoa
iv. Esera Junior Esera (Master of Theology – Theology and Ethics) – Congregational Christian Church in Samoa
v. Sakiong Sanangke – (Master of Theology – Church History ) – Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea.
Esera Junior Esera also won the top prize (Departmental Prize) for Master of Theology – Theology and Ethics.
For the Bachelor of Divinity with Honors programme;
i. Lewis Iotua Tutairi (Etaretia Porotetani Maohi)- Bible Society Prize in Biblical Languages, George Knight Prize in Old Testament Studies, Tauinaola Shekinah Lavasii Memorial Prize in Church History
ii. Toboora Tamatone – Bible Society Prize in New Testament Studies, Judith Finau Ministry Prize, Malcolm Wilson Prize in Theology and Ethics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ends…

With perseverance and unity, Pacific Theological College Community navigated the challenges of COVID19.
On November 10, at the final Communion service for the Year 2020, the College awarded individuals who had shouldered the burden of community activities.
The following awards were given;
a. John Tidex Prize for Community Work – Sioeli Sipaisi.
b. Fiona McAdam Prize for Community Work – Panorama Setu, Marion Kapu, Elizabeth Samuelu, Liai Pouli
c. Jean Bell Prize for Leadership and Example – Panorama Setu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ends…

Fijian churches have been challenged to be Christ-like by addressing and finding solutions for social issues that oppress Fijians. 

The challenge came from the Principal of the Pacific Theological College Reverend Professor Dr Upolu Vaai while opening a four weeks-long Certificate in Social Analysis Course at the Jovili Meo Mission Centre in Suva, Fiji. 

Twenty-five participants, including ministers and pastors from various Christian denominations, executives of church charitable organisations, community-based organisation and social worker, are participating in the course.

Rev. Professor Vaai said with any action towards injustices that affect the marginalised and vulnerable, the Lotu runs the risk of losing the purpose of the Kingdom of God. 

‘Have we gone to church and listened to sermons/homilies that deal with income inequality or the growing wage gap between the rich and the poor or the global economic inequality that led to the worsening of the issue of climate change for example?’ Rev. Professor Vaai asked the trainees.

‘Often, we hear sermons that lock God in heaven, or in the church, disconnected from the struggles posed by violent systems and structures?’ he added.

‘Systems that dehumanise women for example, as tools for male pleasure? At worse, God is often directly or indirectly used to justify these violent systems?’

The Social Analysis course is coordinated by the Institute for Mission and Research. 

Students that undertake the course will learn skills in analysing social issues, uncovering its root causes, finding solutions and especially identifying the role Christians must play. 

Rev. Professor Vaai said the Bible shows a Jesus that challenged unjust systems and was close to the most vulnerable and needy.

‘Sometimes the Jesus presented to us in the Lotu is a passive Jesus of Christian piety and not the Jesus of the Bible that questions the status quo and challenge the violent political and economic systems that led to the marginalisation and stomach-wrenching poverty of people in the margins.’

The story of Jesus championing the poor provides churches with an example to follow. 

Head of the Fiji Evangelical Church Reverend Simione Tugi said the training has been a revelation.

‘To come back to a training like this, we see there is a big gap between what the church is doing and people’s needs that must be met,’ said Rev. Tugi.

‘We need to make the Church Christ centred again.’

‘We are not doing enough to look after the oppressed, the people that have no voice and that is what we need to be concerned about or should be the goal of the church.’

Mr Pajiliai Dobui, a lay preacher from the Methodist Church of Fiji, said the course allows participants to zoom in on various social issues.

‘Looking at it from the Bible perspective, I feel ashamed of myself on how we overlook the unfortunate, and we don’t take time to listen to them and their stories and why they continue to be oppressed.

‘The Lord himself has entrusted us to be stewards to be carers of these people.

‘Our structures, laws and regulations that unfortunately don’t consider everyone as equal.’

‘There is no proper assessment done and it’s no wonder these problems increase day by day.’

‘We need to look at these issues through the lens that Jesus used so we can deal with these issues much better than how they are now.’

Fuata Varea Singh said the course has changed her perspective on how to engage with member churches of the Council for World Mission in the Pacific.

‘It showed me how to do analysis to people that are oppressed, so I am really enjoying it.’

In Fiji, more than half the population live below the poverty line or on less than FJD 25 a week.

Some of the course participants linked the high rates of unemployment, teenage pregnancies, the illegal drug industry, and others to poverty.

Twelve per cent of the population don’t have access to clean, drinking water and climate change makes this worse in some communities. Saltwater encroachment has destroyed some water sources.

Non-communicable illnesses like heart diseases, diabetes and cancers have become the country’s primary cause of deaths.

Social Analysis Course Project Officer Lyn Lala said the course is essential for many church workers because it allows them to approach such issues with a more strategic approach.

She adds in acting strategically, resources are put to better use and impact, and individuals and families are truly helped.

The IMR has coordinated similar training across the Pacific Islands region. 

Ends…