An Unorthodox Contribution to My Spirituality.

Tanya is a University of the South Pacific student awaiting her graduation later this year, 2022. She accompanied the Bible Society of the South Pacific team as a volunteer. This article is her contribution to Bible Society’s work and these are her personal opinions and experiences.

I was asked to recount my experience accompanying the BSSP Christmas distribution team across Viti Levu in the form of a blog. I must admit that my years of academic writing in university have gnarled my drive at creative writing and story-telling. So, the idea of a blog has never been attempted and totally new but nevertheless I welcomed the challenge.

A TRIP OF NEW OBSERVATIONS

It was on Saturday, 11th December that I had received a call from my elder sister – Teps, asking me to accompany her on their Bible Society 2021 Christmas Distribution tour across Viti Levu. Dazed mid-nap from the previous night’s wedding celebrations I agreed groggily and without hesitation before resuming my cozy nap. Chaos ensued Sunday night as my sister and I rummaged through our clothing looking for suitable stuff to pack for the five-day distribution, all the while the realisation of what I had agreed to unnerved me. In all honesty, amidst my indecisiveness of whether being spiritually apt to go on this trip (a thought quickly trampled by my sister), I more eagerly anticipated my chance of sight-seeing than what the initial attempt of the trip was.

After a prayer at the Pacific Energy bowser located by the Sawani-Serea road junction, we started off our long journey at around 6am towards Vunidawa. The team consisted of Talatala, Bis, Teps and myself. Of course, after Sunday’s post-church grog match, I did what I had recently mastered effortlessly, catching some sleep along the way. Falling in and out of slumber, the journey was still long but I was in for a surprise because right after departing Nawaqabena we met a group of Naqali kids supposedly either on their way to or from the farm. Their enthusiasm on receiving their books and having their picture taken perhaps became all too overwhelming as they collectively agreed to discard their cane knives for that quality picture, however they were reassuringly encouraged by the team to keep it in instead.

Children of Naqali, Naitasiri on their way to their farms received their Christmas storybooks from the Bible Society team.

Thus, they posed for this terrific picture which suddenly became a fan favourite. Unexpectedly, I began anticipating meeting kids along the way, just to see the joy and enthusiasm on their faces as they received their books and got their picture taken. I noticed the further we moved from civilisation, the more grateful and excited people were at receiving their Christmas package. This is in no way a demeaning strike at our urban centres and suburbs but the sheer appreciation and genuine gratefulness was what I noticed firsthand amongst my fellow highlanders and for me, that was satisfying enough. Additionally, these people were sincerely appreciative and at times surprised that such a team made an effort to bring the WORD in its various forms to them, to reach grassroots. Gradually, sight-seeing had become secondary and I eagerly became more involved with the team, as amateur as I was I offered to be a photographer whenever they needed. My excitement was met when we encountered kids in the most unusual places. Driving past Naluwai we met a few teenagers who had just received their COVID-19 vaccine jabs from the Vunidawa Health Centre and were on their way home.

Teenagers returning from Vunidawa Health Center for their COVID-19 vaccinations to walk right to Naterumai village, Naitasiri.

We continued onto Serea village before encountering these kids again at the Serea-Laselevu junction. It was saddening to see them slowly striving on-home in the scorching heat and for us helplessly having no room in the car. Considering we spent close to an hour at Serea, you would’ve been sad too if you saw these kids try and cover 3-4 miles of distance in such unbearable heat. It was half a day and getting the hang of mission work, as I was now calling this trip, I knew that we were far from done and we still had a long way to go before reaching Wailoa power station. Upon day two, even as we travelled up arduously on the road’s mountainous terrain towards the Hydro dam and leaving the Naqelewai junction we still caught sight of kids in the most unusual places.

These siblings from Naqelewai were alone at their roadside farmhouse with their parents probably out in the plantation and they received us enthusiastically; and of course we also met a mom with her two boys along the road just past the Monasavu dam and still a long way off from Nadrau, which was proving to be more surprising as it was enlightening.

There is great emphasis on both the former and the latter because in the middle of what was theoretically (or so I thought) uncivilised untainted lands, Fijians have somehow still managed to settle it.

FIJIAN HOSPITALITY

Recovering from Sunday’s post-church grogginess on day one, I prayed and playfully confessed to my sister that I was craving for some fish even though we were travelling up in-land (colo) and in the indigenous community we all knew that you only eat fish from the coastal regions and outer islands but nonetheless I craved longingly. As a kai-wai, some yummy fish served with chilles and moli (lemon/lime) would knowingly cure my unbearable grogginess. On day one there were plans to have lunch with our family at Nabena, Matailobau and when lunch was served (malea vakalolo with rourou) my prayers were answered and I was more thankful than I was surprised because of course, God delivered even in something as minute as this. The size of the Malea’s (Tilapia) and the tasty Boka’s (Dalo/taro) we had demonstrated the fishing skill of my Momo (uncle), a skill that could most probably rival that of any fisherman from the islands.

Our accommodation for day one was our EFL family at Wailoa power station who provided us with a quaint little ‘A house’ to rest in for the night before giving our tyre’s a good pump prior to continuing on for day two. Now, of course the gist of all of this is the inexplicable Fijian hospitality and to further accentuate the truth of this, was the floods of invitation we received along the way to take shelter, get some rest or have a hot meal. As late as we were from coming down the Nadrau-Tavua route, there still was a delicious meal waiting for us at our host’s in Tavua town (‘the lateness’ I will dive into later). Similar implications apply to our gracious hosts from Vatukoula my Tovata’s from Saqani, our YWAM-BSN family of Adam Street, Lautoka and of course our Nalebaleba family at Sigatoka Special School. I cannot overlook the instances of not only invitations of tea but the offering of it throughout our distribution such as Vatukoula’s AOG church and Wasewase Lautoka’s juice, tea and pastries. As well as being grateful to our Nalebaleba family in hosting us for grog. Certainly, the term ‘Fijian hospitality’ has been a recurring theme for Fiji Tourism and these! These exemplary instances are something I, as a Fijian am stupendously proud of.   

MISSION-WORK- an unorthodox contribution to my spirituality.

Avisai inspecting our flat tyre at Lutu. Wainimala.

Assuredly, I still have a few words left to share and this trip if described with one word, would be ‘enlightening’. I say this as a person who has always had a wayward outlook on spirituality and God especially. My enlightenment came from seeing the work and faith of the Christmas distribution team during my five days with them. If you have carried out mission work, then you’d know that mission work isn’t always smooth-sailing, ‘God always keeps you on your toes’. Obviously, I’ve saved the juiciest bit for last and it starts on day one. I remember us trying to chase sunlight after departing Serea and we were delighted to reach Lutu (Wainimala) around 3 or maybe 4pm in the afternoon. Our delightment was short-lived when on our bid to make it onto Matainasau was disrupted by a flat tyre. There, a few short metres from the entryway into the village, we sat. To further dampen our situation, our spare tyre was less useful than the flat one. I gravely panicked and almost failed miserably at composing myself but the team wasn’t openly panicking just yet. Instead the two men, ‘Bis’ and ‘Talatala’ walked back to the village to get help while Teps and I sat there expectantly. There wasn’t any luck in the village and we struggled with the available tools we found in the car. My anxiety peaked as my mind raced of where we could sleep if we were to stick around Lutu? Who would take us in? What would we eat? After some time, exasperated from all our attempts, a white fielder turned into the village and made its way toward us. The team were hopefully and almost sure that this was God-sent, I however, braced for disappointment as I’ve so often done before. Alas, I was proven wrong when this man offered us a TOTAL TOOLS auto air compressor 12V (if that’s the proper term for it- I also later Googled it out of mere fascination), a brand that I’ve highly undervalued and believed to be a knock-off because they were simply sold at Rups Big Bear enterprises. An enterprise where you could find kitchenware, clothing and hardware all compacted under one roof. Dumbfounded, I was first in front of the audience to witness this tool work its magic and the sincerity of its owner in helping us. While I knew God was using everything incredulous to aid us I still shakily refused to acknowledge it. The man who helped us later introduced himself as a talatala of a denomination that we had just distributed Christmas booklets to. After having both the spare and flat tyre’s pumped, we thanked the man immensely before cautiously proceeding onto Matainasau. Although this meant that we had just a village left to reach before Wailoa, the road was too narrow, meandering and becoming more treacherous. Just past Matainasau we assessed the treacherous route ahead and decided to change our tyres, from the flat to the spare one.

Our amateur mechanics having a go at the spare tyre after Matainasau.

Realising that the two men, Talatala and Bis had no vehicle mechanical knowledge profounded me more. My anxiety peaked as the sun swiftly sank but to my surprise the men continued working and my sister unbothered, reassured me to have more faith, before taking pictures of nature amidst handing tools to the men. As I silently questioned their calmness, one or two of them would occasionally say as if to reminisce that this is/was what mission work was. Diligently the men completed their work and we left for Wailoa at around 7pm knowing full well that we were only alive and moving because of God’s grace. Reaching Wailoa that night, the two men more exhausted than ever, especially after successfully mastering the art of changing and pumping tyres, something they confessed to never having done before. Although, with crisis averted I still went to bed agitated and the events of the next day would grant me the reasons why. We had successfully made it past the Monasavu dam and Nadrala and as excited as we were at seeing Navai, we failed to reach it as our spare tyre blew.

With Navai in sight we sat there, the men set to repeat their new-found skills as amateur mechanics while Teps and I, set about calming ourselves away from a second’s panic. Well more so, myself than Teps, my sister’s faith disallowed her from deranging like a lunatic in the midst of chaos. A trait I’ve come to admire over the years, especially since it grew with her years at Bible Society. This was a trait, the men also possessed. I don’t know if it was an organisational policy or just already spiritually armoured persons choosing to associate themselves with the organisation. Whatever it was, it was becoming more interesting and even appealing the more I observed it. The two men successfully removed both tyres, the flat and the spare one, after a distress call to Tavua. Our cavalry was to come, take our spare tyre back to Tavua for a new one and then return, as per our agreement. Being marooned at around 8-ish that morning, we waited for our cavalry. Morning turned into noon and help arrived at around 2, and thankfully with the driver’s resourcefulness to use his spare tyre instead, saved everyone the hassle of wasting daylight.

The two vehicles trailed each other towards Tavua after 3 in the afternoon, our rescuers four-wheel drive patiently ensuing ours as we struggled to continue distribution with what little daylight we had left. We accomplished work in 3 villages before reaching Tavua. The team never lost their energy, as they kept reiterating, “Qo gona na mission”, literally translating, ‘this (trials/hardship) was what mission was about and it wouldn’t be as such without hardships along the way’. The rest of the trip along Ba, Lautoka, Nadi and Sigatoka was as easy and uncomplicated as urban centres are meant to be. Knowing the ‘nooks and crannies’ of Viti Levu’s coastal highways, we knew the storm had passed and I had now understood that this was what mission-work was, as unconventional as this one may have been.

Nowadays, I’ve learnt to be more trusting in God and let him control the situations I so often cannot. I cannot say that I’ve been completely transformed but I’ve had added new perspectives on ‘walking with God’ throughout this trip. The BSSP team did such amazing work and I’m forever grateful for the invite. Keep with excellence and Godspeed BSSP!

Christmas distribution team 2021

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