Finding faith in Fiji
Almost three years ago our family went through a pretty traumatic event whilst living in Sigatoka in Fiji's Coral Coast. At the time, it felt like the sky of our world had come crashing down upon us. It was a perfect storm of things going wrong. A perfect storm of which we did not (at the time) wish on our worst enemies.
But before I continue with that, a bit of background to set the scene right.
I have grown up a 'Catholic girl' - attending Catholic schools, attending mass each Sunday. I did all the 'right things' in learning my bible stories and praying the rosary. My Husband was never a believer in God, or a believer in anything except Rugby, Sport and more Rugby. He had attended a few Catholic schools growing up, but had thought it was 'garbage'. So in order to keep the peace, I drifted off a bit, keeping my belief and faith to myself. I guess it was easier over 13 years of marriage to do that.
The day my Husband bought a bible from the religious cart in MHCC in Suva, both my eldest daughter and I were shocked. We thought it was a practical joke and we were the victims of a Candid Camera show. I was ropable when he refused to return it for a refund of the $60 fjd which I thought could have been put to better use.
Yes indeed, we've come a long way from where we began.
Faith to a Fijian, is like wearing thongs and eating BBQs to an Australian. I know that is a light-hearted analogy, but it does ring true on some level. In Fiji, your faith is part of daily life, it is not anything to hide or be ashamed of. Kids are born into it and grow up with it, it is a non-negotiable. I haven't experienced this type of 'faith freedom' in Australia, unless you are in a church service.
So, when living in Fiji as an Australian expat, the level of which people pronounce and display their faith can be confronting. It has, however, never bothered our family, as I said earlier, I grew up a Catholic. When living in Suva previously to 2015 I attended catholic mass most weekends, with my daughters, minus my Husband. When local friends would part ways saying 'God Bless', it was not an issue. My husband would tolerate it, but it didn't mean anything of significance to him.
Until July 2015 when my husband had a change of heart.
We were living in Sigatoka at the time. We had been going through a tough patch (for lack of a better description that would be appropriate for a blog post!) and had spent long days looking for a house rental in Suva. There had been major issues with my Husband's work in Sigatoka, which had thrown us off kilter, throw in some health issues of mine, and the fact that the schooling for the kids was suddenly stopped. Hindsight is marvellous, and using that to look back, we could have handled the cards we were dealt with in a different (dare I say, better) manner. Why not head home to Australia? We had committed to hosting a rugby tournament which was coming up in a couple of months. So we decided to go back to Suva.
Anyway, long story very short, we came home one afternoon after a particularly stressful trip into Suva and back. We were weary and almost fell out of the car ready for bed. What we came upon was like a Hollywood movie set, and we were the main actors, only we didn't know it.
At least thirty pairs of flip-flops greeted us on our doorstep. Literally so many that you couldn't see the concrete the step was made of. It's one of those moments that I wish I had taken a photo of. It will forever be etched in my mind.
We tentatively opened the front door, and to our great surprise was just as many Fijians from the local village (men, women and kids) sitting on the floor throughout the kitchen and lounge room. So many so that there was no floor available.
They beckoned us in with their beaming smiles - myself, my Hubby, and two girls - they made space for each of us to sit down with them on the floor. The floor of our house.
We had no clue what was going on and at this point, I was totally overwhelmed, not only from the tiresome trip, but from this unfamiliar scene that I had found ourselves a part of upon arrival home. It was really like we had been transported into a movie set. However, I had recognised a few faces as friends, so I knew we would be okay.
As fast as we were seated, the worshipping began. The most beautiful Fijian singing voices that I've ever heard. I've heard singing many times before in Fiji, and am always in awe of how every Fijian seems to be able to sing in tune and move to the beat just as well, but there was something extra special about this.
It was so moving. Tears were rolling down my face. I looked to my Husband whose face had virtually turned white - I don't know whether it was shock or discomfort in the surroundings (remember at this point he was not a believer in any form).
Then the prayers started - a lot in Fijian language, all I could understand was "Vinaka Jesu" (thank you Jesus).
More singing. More prayers.
One of the guests was introduced to us as the Pastor. He spoke in Fijian very passionately, and tears were rolling down everyone's faces. We didn't understand what was being said, but it was clear there was a lot of emotion in the room that afternoon.
A hour and a half passed, at which point we were invited to speak. I looked to my Husband telling him with my panicked eyes that he was to say something. Thankfully, he is a pro at speaking to a group without notice (me - not so much!). He thanked everyone for their prayers and kindness in our time of pain. He was being sincere in thanking them, but I wasn't certain if he believed any of it. The Pastor abuptly interrupted him startling everyone. He spoke in Fijian, so we didn't know what he was saying. Shortly after everyone left. Our friend stayed behind and explained things to us.
At a village meeting earlier, it was decided they would call the Pastor to come to our home from a far away village to pray for us, and provide counselling. He had travelled hours to be there. Our friend explained that when my Husband was 'mid-thank you speech', the Pastor had interrupted to tell the crowd not to worry anymore about our family.
As my Husband was talking, the Pastor had seen a bright white light above his head. He said it was the Holy Spirit and my husband's life was about to change dramatically. That is why everyone up and left because they knew we would be okay.
At this point, my Hubby wasn't convinced of anything, but he was definitely moved that people could be so kind.
When the room cleared, I looked around and there were at least twenty bags full of groceries left behind. I chased after a few of the last ones to leave to tell them they've forgotten their bags, to be told that it was their present to us - a week's worth of food! I was so humbled. I have tears rolling down my cheeks now as I type this.
For people who have almost nothing, to spend their little earnings on groceries for our family - is there anything more kind than this? Not only that, but the groceries they had bought were expensive 'international' type ones because they wanted to give us food we were comfortable with.
So, just taking stock of what had occurred up to this point.
The Village called a meeting to discuss my family's 'issue' and subsequent distress. They then decided to call for the Pastor who would need to travel hours to pray over us. As if this wasn't enough, they then spent all their earnings to buy groceries of which they probably had to catch a bus into town to buy, then lug them home on the bus, then lug them to our home. After which, they then put the Pastor up in the Village for the evening and probably paid and fed him too. All without us knowing this was going on.
If this isn't the very definition of kindness, love and generosity, I don't know what is.
I've written many times before on this blog how generous and kind Fijian people are. I know this to be true not just because of this story I'm telling today, but also because of many other daily occurrences which I have experienced living as an expat in Fiji. These stories I can tell another day. Today's story is is the most extraordinary, as it doesn't end there.
At this point, I must admit to you that had this not happened directly to my family, I probably would not have believed it. But I concur that this is a modern day miracle.
My husband has never believed in anything in his life. He would laugh at suggestions God is real. He would mock faith. He would be what you would call the furthest away from believing in Jesus that you would expect.
A few weeks passed, and we relocated to Suva. We had very limited money left at this point and my Husband spent $60 on a bible. I was literally ropable. The arguments that ensued were pretty big. This was the first of many shocks he gave us. He then found a church to attend (shout out to C3 Suva) and started attending daily bible study sessions. He started to say 'grace' before eating each meal. I won't lie, we laughed a lot at this 'new' man. Who was he? So different to anything we had ever experienced with him.
I don't know how to explain how he has changed since that night with the Village. My Husband can't even really explain it, except to say that now he is a believer in God. It has taken our small family by surprise (good surprise!) and our extended family were shocked at first too.
I am forever grateful to the village that saved our family.
I guess if you were to find your faith anywhere, Fiji would be a good option, because you are surrounded by it everywhere. Fijians are loud and proud about their beliefs and it is honestly one of the most beautiful things about Fiji. The fact that you can be so honest about your faith and it is celebrated gives you a sense of freedom and joy.
I know not everyone believes in God, so this post may seem far-fetched. I don't know how else to explain how my Husband went from total sceptic to Believer. Perhaps it was the pure love and kindness we were shown.
I will never forget that Fiji gave my Husband faith. Each day in my heart, and in my prayers I thank the villagers of Rukurukulevu for the generosity and kindness they bestowed upon a small Australian family who was struggling with their circumstances.
(I actually wrote this post a year ago, but had it saved in a draft folder - not sure if it was appropriate to share with the world wide web or not? Today I decided that I would share it because Faith is a huge part of life in Fiji. If you are a potential expat moving to Fiji, you're going to need to know this.)
Vinaka Vakalevu Jesu, for putting us in those terrible circumstances because it was through that pain in which my Husband found his faith. Have you heard of the saying "it's a blessing in disguise".
Well that's exactly what it was.
Until next time
Lolomas, SJ XXX
Have you read what the Fiji 7s team taught me? If not, please read this blog post:
Hello there, SJ here! BULA!
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Vinaka Vakalevu friends xx
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