At the Helm

The rhythmic beating of the lali proclaimed the arrival the newly appointed Principal of the Pacific Theological College and his family into the traditionally styled chapel at PTC.

It was February 8, 2011, 6.30pm.

Everyone stood and then the choir of Pacific voices broke out in song ‘Faafetai ile Atua’, their voices lifted to the heavens from where the blessings of new leadership had sprung from and must be dedicated to.

Rev. Dr. Upolu Luma Vaai took over the reins of PTC, the leading theological institute in the Pacific Island countries region, from Professor Feleteariki Nokise who had been in the position for about twenty years.

Rev. Dr. Vaai grew up on the island of Savaii in Samoa. He is an acclaimed author on Pacific Islanders indigenous identities within the space of colonialism and the need to decolonize Pacific mindsets.

His is a lifelong journey of searching for answers to the questions that burned his mind ‘What does God have to do with my culture, my land, and my people? Where is god in all of these?’

His quest for answers has taken him from Savaii to the world and now at the head of the PTC Vaka facing news oceans of change, anchored in traditions, Pacific cultural values and the Bible.

In the Chapel, Rev. Dr. Vaai’s family that included his aunt, high chief from Samoa Leana Pekina Gabriel, the representative of his home church and President-elect of the Methodist Church in Samoa Rev Faulalo Leti Paaga presented him to the Chairman of the PTC Council and Executive Rev. Dr. Leatulagi Faalevao.

Rev. Dr. Faalevao likened Rev. Dr. Vaai to Joshua, strong and powerful, leading the PTC Vaka into new waters, conquering challenges and making it to next shores. He inducted Rev.Dr. Vaai as PTC’s new principal. Rev. Dr. Vaai vowed his commitment to serving PTC and its member churches particularly that he would allow the Holy Spirit to lead him in rewriting a new story of ecumenism in the Pacific.

Receiving God’s blessings from the PTC Council and Executive Chairman Rev Dr Leitulagi who is obscured in this image by Dr Havea seen here in the black coat.

Rev. Dr Vaai’s wife, Tuamasaga Vaai also pledged to support his calling to serve PTC.  The induction formalities ended with the PTC community acknowledging and receiving Rev. Dr. Vaai as the new Principal. Dr Faalevao then inducted Rev. Dr. Vaai into office.

Mrs Tuamasaga Vaai is her husband’s partner in Ministry.

The emotional notes of ‘Here I Am Lord,’ usually sung to send off missionaries into mission fields completed the induction formalities.

The induction celebration ceremony was attended by notable theologians, Reverend James Bhagwan, the General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, academics like Professors Konai Helu and Randy Thaman, representatives from various churches and the media.

Congratulated by Professor Konai-Helu Thaman.

The Induction dinner followed at the Fale (recreation meeting area for PTC community) where the Vanua (indigenous Fijian ) performed a traditional kava ceremony to mark the occasion.

PTC Master programme student Reverend Isoa Vatanitawake making formal itaukei presentation with the whales tooth.
Rev Dr Leatulagi Faalevao accepts the whales tooth or tabua from PhD student Taniela Baleinakorodawa

Rev. Dr. Vaai’s family presented gifts to invited guests and gifted PTC with six thousand dollars. The cross cultural feel of the evening was memorable and something that adds color and context to the study of theology at PTC.

Dr Upolu’s close kin.
Jokapeci and Raijieli
The late Reverend Jeremaia Waqainabete from the Methodist Church of Fiji.

Women of the PTC community.

A week later, the Fijian community hosted a welcome dinner for the Vaai family.