The weather has changed; cool and dry yesterday to the hottest and most humid of our trip.
9 – 1030 am – De-Briefing with the Bishop
Bishop Brown leads a meeting to describe our schedule for the day, get impressions and discuss especially the future. We learn that high-level sources he has met with on the side have all been very positive about our visit, saying that it has been well-timed to help catalyze movement forward for the Church and Government. We now can work through a mutual cooperation agreement with the Church. We now can start to evaluate in detail how we might participate in and hold up some of the major projects and initiatives that the Church has been defining for its future. There is discussion about future channels of communication and protocols. The Bishop requests Fijian feedback and then from the rest of us and finally offers a summary statement of what the California-Nevada Annual Conference would like to see, moving forward.
1030 am – 130 pm – Free time
Many go gift shopping for friends and family back home.
200 pm – De-briefing with Church Officials
President Tugaue, General Secretary Wakairatu, Assistant General Secretary Tevita and about 50 others await us at the Nadi Circuit Church where we were welcomed on the 15th. Bishop Brown re-iterates and elaborates his summary statement and discusses it with the GS; there is good agreement and mutual commitment towards moving forward to work on details.
Rev Tevita apologies on behalf of himself and the organizing committee (himself, Josefa, Livai) for the often strenuous (and tummy-stretching) schedule that we have experienced. Each visit has been regarded as important and there has been much juggling and adjusting of priorities. For our various local hosts these visits have been extraordinary occasions. However, he says, no apologies for mosquito bites; itching and scratching are your own issues. (Your blogger adds for the uninformed: Fiji has no malaria.)
315 pm – Gifts
The General Secretary presents gifts from the Church to us; each is symbolic in many ways that he explains in detail. For Bishop Brown there is a carved sea-fairing outrigger canoe (takia) with a cross on the sail; a small kava bowl (tanoa) with a cup and; a necktie that is sold by the Men’s Fellowship. Minnie receives a basket-woven portfolio bag (ruvu) that is used to carry one’s Bible, a Hymnal a notebook and a fan. There is a Fiji-style fan with her name woven in, and a second fan in a Polynesian style from the GS’s wife. The other women also receive a basket and fan, the other men a mini-kava bowl and a necktie.
Gifts in exchange are then given (bolts of cloth) and Lekima gives a tabua to the President, who gives it to Josefa to speak the words of appreciation. A gentleman from the assembly then gives a tabua to the Bishop, who gives it to Luke for acceptance.
Kava is mixed and when Bishop Brown accepts the cup he says moce (“fairwell”), eliciting a mighty laugh and applause from the assembly. Then kava is served to Luke, the President and Josefa.
430 pm – Meal
The lunch that follows is typical of how we have been received by our Fijian hosts. It is delicious, abundant and varied. Most of the grand meals and tea services prepared in our honor have probably fed at least 50; many easily can be estimated at more than 100, some easily more than 200 and the upper end is hard to imagine. (Tea service for 500 anyone?).
The background work of the Fijian women in preparing these meals, serving them and cleaning up has perhaps been inadequately described and lauded in this account. The kitchen facilities available for preparing these banquets are typically far more modest than an American might assume There are only a few counters and sinks. Stoves are small. Rural settings may have no more than a kerosene burner. Much work is done sitting on the kitchen floor on mats that have been spread out. During meals many kitchens and preparation areas are wall-to-wall women, platters and pots with barely enough space to tiptoe between them. Much food is clearly prepared at homes and brought in. The levels of laughter and animated conversation among those working are notable. Three cheers many times over!
530 – 11 pm – Departure
We arrive at the airport at about 6, finding a long-long line already checking in for our 10 pm flight. Air Pacific (slowly) decides to assign a single check-in agent to all of us, but we have to check in individually in order to pay excess luggage fees (mats, kava bowls, other gifts) and the airport’s credit card system link is down. The agent is very patient with us and we with him. Present to wish us goodbye are many friends and family as well as officials such as the President, the GS, Rev Te, Ratu Jale, Rev Vaka and others. The last of us pass check-in at about 900 and our very full flight to Los Angeles leaves on time at
10 11 (Fijitime).
Having crossed that Dateline again it is still Tuesday when we get to Los Angeles and later San Francisco, mostly slept, wrinkled, a bit sticky and very very Thankful: for God’s Blessings and Grace, for the hospitalities that we have received, for all that we learned, for a sense of having helped and a way forward. This has just been a start. Much remains to do in the years before us including, we would hope, more visits to Fiji where there is so much of God’s Love to be found at every turn.