50 years in the South Pacific
The Bible Society of the South Pacific is one of the smallest societies in the family of Bible Societies around the world with a population of less than two million people, but covering a large area of about eight million square miles. Like most other Bible Societies, Bible Society work in the South Pacific Region finds its roots in the British & Foreign Bible Societies work that started in Tahiti in 1797 and which resulted in the printing of the New Testament in 1818. Since then more and more translation work has been carried out by the different churches and missions in the Pacific and the British & Foreign Bible Societies and later, the Americas, the Australians and the New Zealand Bible Societies came to shoulder much of the work of publication and distribution of these scriptures.
The work of the Bible Society in the South Pacific started of as a distribution depot of the Bible Society of New Zealand in 1967. Mr. Maurice Harvey was appointed Distribution Secretary for the South Pacific based in Fiji. Not only was he responsible for the great increase in the number of Bible sold each year he was here, for the first time people began to hear of the BFBS and the other Bible Societies and the United Bible Societies. Little by little interest in Bible reading grew. New translation of several existing Bible in island languages began. These include the Fijian, Tongan, Samoan, Niuean and Kiribati. The physical location of the Bible Society office was firstly at Matanitobua Street in 1967, then Victoria Arcade in 1974, then at Raiwaqa in 1977 in Suva,Fiji.
In December 1971, Maurice Harvey was posted to Jakarta, Indonesia, to be UBS Consultant for distribution. Maika Bovoro who was on secondment from the Fiji Government to help with New Fijian translation was appointed to take his place. Thus Maika became the first local appointed to this post.
At the time of the change of leadership, the office in Suva was responsible for the work in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Gilbert and Ellice Island. In the following two years, the ministry of the Bible Society continued to grow and expanded to take in Niue, Cook Island and Tahiti in the East, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna in the centre, New Caledonia and Nauru in the west and north of this section of the Pacific.
First translations of the scriptures in Tuvaluan, Rotuman OT, Vanuatu (Bislama), Wallis, Tokelau, Solomon Island Pijin and some small languages in Vanuatu were initiated. Republication of some old translations were carried out in the Houilou and the Futuna NT and portions.
Translation Consultant, Rev. Euan Fry continue to supervise translation in Fiji, Vanuatu and Rotuma. Dr. Ray Rickards later took over the Fiji office of translation as consultant. David Hastings of New Zealand was appointed Production Consultant. Many changes have occurred since these appointments.
As the ministry developed, the society was upgraded to a full-fledged Bible Society in 1973 at that time the youngest Bible Society in the UBS family, thanks to the guiding hand of the Lord, through the Bible Society of New Zealand, Australia and the UBS family as a whole. It was also in 1973 that the Bible Society was registered as a private company in Fiji. In 1982 upon legal advice, the Bible Society took steps to be registered as a Charitable Trust. This was done in 1984. At this juncture, the post of Distribution Secretary was changed to Executive Secretary. The Society then became responsible for Translation, Production and Distribution of the Bibles in 14 countries of the Pacific: Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, New Caledonia, Wallis & Futuna, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tongan, Niue, Western Samoa, American Samoa, Tokelau, Cook Islands and French Polynesia. Pitcairn Island though is part of this area is so inaccessible to us although we have had communication from them in the past. Being administered from New Zealand for the British & Foreign Bible Societies, their Bible needs are being met from New Zealand.
One of the greatest help we’ve had in the past was the coming of the yacht, Dayspring in November 1972. Built and owned by Ron Russell (English) and his wife Aggie (Fijian) the boat came into the BSSP service that year as a voluntary help. From the farthest island on the Marquesas in French Polynesia to the lonely islands of South Solomons, the isolated atolls in Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tokelau and the atolls of Northen Cook Islands, the Dayspring was able to take the precious Word of God, to the thrill of joy and thankfulness of the islanders and to the glory of God.
Maika Bovoro left the BSSP in 1980, and from 1981 – 1987, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola took over, first as an acting Secretary, then in 1983 as Executive Secretary. Because of limited resources, the whole Bible Society work was coordinated from Fiji, while Auxiliaries were set up in most Pacific Islands to oversee Bible Society work in their respective islands. These Auxiliaries became the hands and feet of the Bible Society.
In 1983, two Distribution Officers were appointed to share responsibilities for Eastern and Western Pacific. In 1985 one of the Distribution Officers, Senimili Bekanimoli was physically located in Honiara, Solomon Islands to coordinate scripture distribution into Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati.
Major scripture releases from 1981 to 1987 included the Tuvalu Bible in 1987 and the new Fijian New Testament translation of the same year. In 1988, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola finished with the Bible Society and Solomone Duru was appointed as Executive Secretary from July 4th 1988. In 1989, the Board of Advisors through its Personnel Sub-Committee decided to contract staff members on three year terms with optional for renewal. This also applied to Board members. Attempts were also made by the Society to include other South Pacific representatives into the Board, but because of financial constraints this would not be possible until later. The Board also made continued requests during this period to the world body for a Bible House and also to be admitted as an associate member of the United Bible Societies.
In 1995, the UBS was able to grant BSSP an interest free loan in order to build its own Bible House. In November 25th, the new Bible House located at Lot 10, Luke Street, Nabua, Fiji was opened by the UBS Regional Secretary, Dr. Jen Li Tsai. The Bible Society office moved to its new premise at the end of November 1995. From 1989 – 1995, the Bible Society created the following positions to meet the scripture needs of various groups of people. Wasai to reach Muslims, Youth-Young people; Media Office-non-print users. The Society was also able to secure a bookshop in Kiribati in June 1995, in the Solomons in November 1995 and appoint a representative in Vanuatu in early 1995.