Farewell Fiji, again
“Many Fijians have so little, but they have given us so much, to make us feel welcome and part of their families”
“I feel so humbled and inspired from this mission”
These phrases summarise many of the teams observations of their days visiting and contributing to mission projects around Suva.
The Mission commenced with many residents from Archer, families, friends, supporter groups, churches, previous Golden Oldies members contributing to the mission with donated equipment and materials; donations to purchase specialist equipment to take; and commitments to pray for the mission.
We purchased medical equipment and supplies, laptops, kitchen utensils, guitars, received donated carpentry tools, sports uniforms, childrens bible stories, bibles, school stationery, scientific calculators, teaching instruction manuals on core cirriculum subjects, family packs of childrens books and towels-soaps-toothbrushes, sheets, towels, pillow cases, tea towels, and other items that came to a total of 150kg of excess baggage.
Fiji Airways in their generosity heard about the mission to suppport the people of Fiji and offered to donate the full 150kg of space ‘free of charge’. That has never occurred before, and we were very appreciative of their sponsorship to bring all these treasures to their Fijian people.
We landed in Nadi, Fiji and all 21 boxes of excess freight thankfully were claimed off the conveyor belt, with only 40-minutes to find our ‘ground courier’ who was going to drive all the freight to Suva, 5-hours away. But, there was Customs to get through. We were required to have an Import certificate, Customs broker and pay import tax! An official Customs Officer opened the first box (50 children’s books) and started asking how much each book was valued at. Time was ticking on. 30-minutes before we had to check-in for our domestic flight to Suva. He asked about what we were doing, requiring a description of each box, then suddenly said ‘oh away you go, no charge this time’ There’s a saying in Fiji that says ‘God is good…All the time…God is good’ How very true that was at that moment with the many prayers of people supporting the mission.
Rushing through the terminal, we met our driver, crammed all 21 boxes into his car, and he headed for Suva. We met him at the Bible College 4-hours later! His car must’ve had wings!!
This event was the beginning of many little miracles that we encountered every day of this mission, as we saw God’s presence touch the hearts of people we met.
Bible College Home
The team returned to their ‘spiritual home’ again this year at the St Johns Bible College, after the College has been going through a major redevelopment over the past 2-years. Although not quite completed, the GOM team were the first ‘guests’ to be allowed to stay at the newly expanded College. Some slept in the yet to be completed Cafeteria, to ensure all the team could remain on the campus. The Chambers extended family showered the team in their love, wonderful hospitality and care, with the team being so appreciative, as every other team has felt in previous years. A sanctuary for a tired team as they returned to the college each evening.
Villages become families
The Villages welcomed the team, more as returning friends than visitors or strangers. The benefit of returning each year building trust, and renewing friendships was evident through the continued ‘talanoa’ (conversations) we had.
Arriving one evening to a squatter village on a hillside outside Suva, the village had prepared a makeshift shelter with tarps draped over the bamboo poles protecting us from the monsoon downpour we were encountering. This was the meeting room for that evenings event. From a kava ceremony, to formal introductions, to lovu-cooked food, to children dancing, and then engaging with Golden Oldies to dance under the stars on rain-soaked spongy grass, this became the model for many of the team visits to other squatter settlements we visited.
But there is a serious side to all this, as well as gifting some of the supplies we had brought with us, we wanted to further the partnership to build village well-being and offer spiritual encouragement.
One of the main projects significantly advanced was the ‘mud-brick’ vision.
To establish training in brick-making and carpentry skills, to then build affordable cyclone-proof housing and church buildings for these squatter villages. In addition to this is the expectation to sell bricks as another money source alongside their fish and veges currenlty sold at the road side.
Roger and Thomas, along with Alfred from Fiji, spent all week meeting church and village leaders, developing, revising, then revising their plans that could make the project genuinely feasible. At weeks end, they announced their much anticipated proposal.
A Project Manager is being employed by Golden Oldies to oversee the establishment and development of the making of mud bricks in 3 villages, one on the other main island of Vanua Levu. They are importing 2-new mud brick machines from China to compliment the one already about to start operation in making bricks. The first bricks made are going to complete a demonstration affordable home, a new Sunday school and extension to a church.
Building materials are scarce and expensive in Fiji , and being the first to offer this alternative cheaper mud-brick to expensive cement-bricks could help take the squatter villages out of poverty and overseas aid dependency, to offer these village-churches some greater self-determination and regular employment for their men folk.
The next 6-months will be a very interesting time for all involved, and something the Golden Oldies are very proud of supporting through fundraising for the seed money needed, technical and operational support as partners in the project.
Crafts expansion and diversification
One remote squatter village we visit relies solely on sales from its minute crops and fishing. The men row for 1.5-hours through mangrove creeks to the ocean, then another 5km out to sea to catch their fish, then return on the incoming tide with their catch. Sadly they are noting a reduced quantity of fish available, and with the sea levels notably rising as they share their concerns for their survival. Furthermore, on their village border demand for new housing is bringing the bulldozers alarmingly closer to invade their village lifestyle of decades. With all that doom and gloom, they challenged us! Get on with what you have and continue to innovate. Last year the team saw them experimenting with making grass brooms to sell. They had made two. And by the end of that mission they had made another 10 and delivered them before the team departed.
This year, they were prepared for the GOM teams arrival, and it was beyond our wildest dreams. They had diversified to make a range of crafts to sell. By the end of this visit they couldn’t believe they had sold everything, amazed and proud of their efforts. The value of their morning sales was equivalent to 5-months of selling fish and veges at the road side stall!
Visiting this village every year by the Golden Oldies has brought deepening friendships and some measure of new hope for the diversification of their micro-businesses.
‘It went on a long walk’
The oldest church on the Island with historical protection miraculously has withstood the recent cyclones. Although the kitchen wall collapsed and now has a tarp to protect it, the small congregation try to bring Gods love to this small bustling town. However, they confessed the Church woman’s invaluable ministry of sewing blankets for the new Mums and their babies at the local Maternity hospital was sadly in recess. The sewing machine the Golden Oldies had previously donated several years ago had ‘gone for a long walk’.
Now ‘amazingly’, a sewing machine had been donated for this years mission, and now we knew where the home should be for this machine. They were overwhelmed with appreciation, but how to reconnect with the local Maternity hospital again?
From this church we walked through the town to revisit the same Health Centre/Maternity Hospital again, we were surprised at the increased level of demand for medical services, and at the Maternity hospital the number of expectant mothers waiting for check-ups.
Health Centre busier
Previously the Health Centre was open from 6am-10pm, and it is now open 24/7 with doctors on duty all the time. Equipment and supplies are limited, so again the generosity of many people’s donations towards invaluable equipment was gratefully received. The Medical Officer in Charge is so busy, yet unbelievably, spent an hour talking to the team about the health issues of the region, and wanting to know more about the mission work the team were doing.
Then another God moment, as the discussion got onto reconnecting this local church woman’s ministry to the new mothers at the Maternity hospital. The Medical Officer approved and welcomed them to return and recommence their ministry.
Hospital serves 80,000 people
Through her we gained approval and access to visit the only Hospital in the region. A 16-bed ward with less medical equipment than the Health Centre! The Children’s ward was one bed and cot in the reception area. Their needs were obvious, without even asking, and is already a real focus for next year.
Free Education AND Transport
Education to secondary level, and most importantly transport to schools, is now compulsory and free in Fiji. Although truancy can be an issue for those in the villages, schools are focusing on improved academic standards, and a new trades-training academy has just been announced by the Government. Basden College that specialises in second-chance education reveals a good example of this academic culture, ‘if you stay away for a week, then stay away for the year’, they see ‘School is serious business to prepare you for the workforce’.
Another school has the ‘DEAR’ programme, cutting 15-minutes off the lunch break for reading. Before reading, they must brush their teeth then read. DEAR means ‘Drop Everything And Read’!
Three of our Golden Oldie Graduates, Wendy, Norma and Avila actually taught in classes here for the week. The school was hit with a sudden extreme shortage of teachers, so our ladies were teachers, which was both rewarding and exhausting -standing in front of a classroom of 45 primary school students! It also revealed, again, the lack of educational materials available, and how well the teachers do with so little.
Golden Oldies make National News!
The Fijian national daily newspaper ‘somehow’ heard about the GOM and sent a reporter to interview team members and take photos. Then at the end of the week a whole page was devoted to the Golden Oldies Mission to Fiji! It emphasised the teams partnering with the Bible College to help improve the lives of Fijians and especially their involvement with the squatter villages.
Remote Fishing Village -High Adventure
Travelling to the remote fishing village in Fijian long boats, down the widest river in Fiji, traversing through mangrove-bordered tributaries to the ocean was both nerve-racking and exhilarating. A first-time visit by a GOM team, and the entire village had spent all week preparing for the team. From the fish caught, to the lovu prepared, village welcome and hosting of the team by the entire primary school. They had prepared weaving, gifts and performed traditional Fijian dances and war-hakas by the camouflaged pasted boy-warriors.
The visit allowed the children to rehearse and perform their wonderful culture in front of visitors, something they rarely get a chance to do. Again it was great to share bible stories and dramas performed by our group, and leave educational materials, bible stories, children’s books and sporting uniforms with this idyllic village isolated from the world.
‘Walk in the Light’
The Christian message remains an integral component of the Fijian people, and how wonderful to see a nation close down on Sundays for church, family time and village celebrations. Sharing our faith together was uplifting for everyone, and everywhere we went people were so appreciative of team members praying for them. This was never more evident that at the small hospital and old people’s home where team members went from bed to bed praying for the sick and families by their bedsides, and the elderly. At both these sites the senior nurses commented about the ray of light and hope their prayers and visit had brought. A song the team learnt was ‘Walk in the light…’ and here is a shining example of that.
Mission is about Partnership and Relationships
The mission continues to develop friendships, partnerships, and a growing sense of family between the Golden Oldies Mission team members, and all the places and people they meet each time we visit. They have grown to trust us, and we have grown to hear their hearts. The team learning that we must not assume to know what they need, or that we know best about how to do things better. Far from it. They teach us that their simple ways of life, where individualism is replaced with family, and what’s mine is yours too, has values that we have forgotten in our busyness.
Although at the same time, they do want to progress from subsistance living to some greater village-self-determination.
The on-going generosity of many supporters donations and gifts, the GOM ‘Graduate’ programme, and developing projects like the mud-brick venture, are a few small, humble ways the Golden Oldies can help to improve the lives of our Pacific neighbours in Fiji.
in all honesty, we too learn so much from them, with their warmth of friendliness, culture, and faith. It challenges us to strive to become more caring, selfless, and village-community focused. And most importantly, to restore our soul and and keep God at the heart of all that we do and can become with Jesus as our Saviour and Lord.
Graeme and Jane
Founders/ Team Leaders Golden Oldies Missions