Fiji Ministry- June, 2006
It was a week ago on Thursday, June 1, that my family dropped me off at the Dallas-Ft. Worth International Airport on a warm afternoon to catch a flight to LA, where I would have an 8 hour lay-over before boarding an international flight to the South Pacific where I would land on the main island in Fiji.
At the Dallas airport, I met Dr. and Mrs. Will Johnston from Houston, Texas, who would be my ministry colleague for this trip; Dr. Johnston is a young, warm-hearted Greek and New Testament Studies professor who teaches New Testament in both Dallas and Houston. This young couple were very gracious and good traveling companions as we made our way west to LA, arriving around 3:30 PM, west coast time. They then headed to their Air New Zealand flight, while I was to be on an Air Pacific (Quantas Air) flight 3 hours later, flying out at 11:30 PM from LA.
After I made it through international customs, I went to the phone to place a call to Pastor Michael Durham of Paducah, Kentucky, who was scheduled to do the conference with me; I wanted to let him know exactly where to come in the airport, hoping that he would have his cell phone on.
So I was in for somewhat of a shock, as I received the news from Michael that his plane had been grounded due to weather in Baltimore, and no more flights were available at all out of Memphis, Tenn, where he was to fly. He could not make it to LA that evening for the Fiji flight, and found out that the next flight from LA to Fiji 2 days later was full; that would mean that the very first flight to Fiji which had an open seat was 4 days later, which would have him arrive the day we would leave to come home! Providence had spoken. Neither Michael nor I was sure WHY God was not bringing him, we were only sure that he was not coming.
So as I boarded my 10 hour flight from LA to head down under, honestly feeling a little lonely, I realized that Michael’s six preaching sessions were now given to me (or at least most of them). Thankfully, I had brought more sermons and teaching material than I thought I would need; now I did need it!
So I settled in at the airport and began to work and prepare for the long flight, seeing what material would best fit this conference. I got very little sleep, not because I did not try, but found myself sitting between a businessman from Florida and a somewhat large Fijian. I was somewhat squashed and simply could not find sleep. So I prayed, read, and prayed more, and dozed off some (I think).
Losing a full day as you cross the international dateline, the plane finally arrived in Nadi (Nandi), Fiji, around 5:00 AM Saturday morning, which was around 12:00 noon on Friday Texas time. So I left Thursday afternoon, and arrived Saturday morning early. This would reverse itself, when I would leave Fiji the next Thursday night at 10:30 PM, arriving at the Dallas airport the same evening at 1:00 AM.
Can a Texan describe the beauty of Fiji? Impossible! Surrounded by the beautiful waters of the South Pacific, every direction that the eye can look there is beautiful water and islands scattered throughout the horizon. The Fiji Islands have approximately 400-500 islands, about half of which are not inhabited; the main two islands are about the size of New Jersey, so they say; it took us about 2 1/2 hours to drive across the main island from the north west to the southeast coast. There is natural beauty and lush green vegetation, trees, and flowers everywhere, from the dense jungle inland, that is very plush and green, to the Pacific ocean as far as the eye can see.
Fiji has 2 seasons, winter, which is from June through November basically and then summer, from December through May. But it is warm or hot year round, with also a strong rainy season. The main island of Fiji is divided in the middle by mountains and dense jungle, with villages, towns, and cities increasing the more one heads toward the coast in any direction.
Fiji has quite a history, both of suffering and gross heathenism, as well as gospel triumphs; the South Seas has a famous history of cannibalism; concerning the most renoun cannibal in Fiji’s history, one of its tribal kings, history records that he ate over 900 people himself; I almost purchased a cannibal fork as a souvenoir, but I resisted for some reason; somehow I could not see myself eating roast beef with it!
We were able to tour the Fiji National Museum, which showed the entire history of Fiji, including the Methodist missionaries that came from Britain in the 1800’s to bring the gospel there. The gospel was successful in bringing many to salvation, but not without the martyrdom of several, some themselves being taken by cannibals.
One of the most famous stories is of Thomas Baker, a 19th century Methodist missionary, who was eaten by cannibals; the local legend among the Christians now says that there are two differing accounts of why Baker was killed in that way. The first is that one of the local kings had professed to believe the gospel and wanted Baker to come and preach to his tribe; when Baker accepted an invitation to preach for a different king instead, this angered the first king, who then put a contract on Baker’s life to have him brought to him, so he could get his revenge for his NOT coming to preach; the revenge was that Baker was made a meal fit for a king.
The second account of Baker’s death is that, while befriending the king and spending time with him, Baker make the mistake of touching or stroking the king’s head of hair, and thus breaking cultural or tribal rules, this caused Baker’s death. Dr. Narayan Nair, founder and president of the Fiji Theological College, says that Baker did die this way, but history does not confirm which of these stories is accurate.
Either way, Baker’s story caused me to be very careful about 2 things, to be sure to preach everywhere I was invited and to not touch anyone’s head!!
There is today a preacher in the islands that was trained at the Fiji Ambassadors For Christ Theological College within the past 20 years, who now preaches the gospel in the South Seas; his own parents, during the 20th century were cannibals, and they taught him to eat human flesh; this man was then converted to Christ and now preaches the gospel to reach his own countrymen.
One of the most famous missionaries to these South Seas was John G. Paton, who labored among the cannibals on the island of Tonga, not far from Fiji; Paton lived there for over 30 years, God preserving him from death and danger, and he became a legend among both the natives and the English speaking missionary world. His autobiography is one of the most moving accounts in all of Christian history.
Our host, Dr. Narayan Nair, had already picked up the Will Johnstons 3 hours earlier when my plane landed and they were now resting at hotel; Dr. Nair met me by 6:00 AM, and we went straight to breakfast, then began our 3 hour drive to Suva, Fiji, the capital city of Fiji, on the southeast coast of the island, surrounded by the beautiful Pacific Ocean. We arrived at our hotel, nestled in the Suva Bay, and I proceeded to try to sleep; I was successful somewhat, sleeping several hours before having a dinner engagement on that first Saturday evening. The dinner would not be a long one, as both Dr. Johnston and I were scheduled to preach in local churches the next morning on Sunday.
I awoke feeling somewhat refreshed, presuming it was probably around 5:30 AM, only to find out it was 3:15 AM and I was wide awake. So I arose, refreshed myself, dressed for the day, and had plenty of time alone with the Lord and in His Word for final preparation for preaching that day.
Breakfast was early at 7:00 AM, as I would be picked up for an 8:00 AM preaching service at the Victory Bible Church, an Indian Hindi congregation. At this point, I should explain that Fiji is made up basically of two ethnic groups. The Fijian blacks, which are the original black natives of the South Sea Islands. They are beautiful people, many of them like dark-skinned Hawaiians or Polynesians, like the South Sea dark natives that you have seen in pictures. The second dominant group is the Indian population, who migrated from India; they are fully Indian in every way, in looks, dress, food, and speak the Hindi dialect, but with somewhat of a British accent; most all Fijian people also speak with what most of us would recognize as a weak and evolved British accent.
So I would be at the Hindi congregation on Sunday morning, where there would be the singing of both English and Hindi hymns; some hymns in English which I recognized and other hymns in Hindi, but which were set to the familiar English tunes; so I could hum along or sing in English while they sang beautifully in their native tongue.
The singing, Bible reading, and prayer lasted approximately 1 hour before time for the sermon. Everyone could understand English fully (this was true for the entire week), so I brought them greetings from the believers that I know in the U. S. (that’s you!) and from our local church here in Denton. I preached that morning from 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 in the heat of the morning on the truth of reconciliation being the heart of the gospel message, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself. I explained from vs 21, that God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be counted guilty of our sin, in order that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him, and how our sin was imputed to Him on the cross, that His righteousness could be imputed to us through faith alone. I told them, with all the passion I could muster, that in the message of the cross, God was saying to them that very day, “Be ye reconciled to God!”
The entire service lasted approximately 2 hours, with morning tea for everyone after the service, which consisted of hot coffee, hot tea, and bisquits (cookies & cake) for everyone; the men then sat in a circle visiting about the Lord and the Scriptures and the women sat in their own circle, fellowshipping and chattering away in Hindi.
The sermon from 2 Cor. 5 was the message for that church on Sunday, and the same text of Scripture became the text for 2 evangelistic sermons on the first 2 evenings of the conference, where both the conference attendees and the Christian public gathered for 4 evening worship services Monday through Thursday night.
The conference itself began on Monday morning, as I had 4 of Michael Durham’s sessions, in addition to my 4 original sessions. I took 2 each morning and Dr. Johnston took 2 each morning, from 8:30 AM until 1:00 PM, with morning tea from 10:30 – 11:00 AM each day.
Dr. Johnston spoke 8 times over 5 days on John’s Gospel, themes throughout the gospel on the person, glory, and work of Christ, dealing also with such themes as Christ as the Son of Man, the Word, the Bread of Life, and the Living Water; his messages were very edifying and enriching.
I gave my attention to several areas of truth: the nature of the atonement and the practical areas of the prayer life of a minister, the minister and the Holy Spirit, preaching, and seasons of revival, especially talking about the works of God from the past in their own South Sea Islands, both in Australia, Tonga (where John G. Paton served), and in Fiji as well, where in the 1850’s, the king of Fiji became a true convert to the gospel and became himself an evangelical Methodist lay-preacher.
My messages were as follows from 2 Cor. 5: 11-21:
- The Atonement: Substitution- Christ died in our place
- The Preacher and His Bible
- The Atonement # 2: Imputation- Our sins not imputed to us
- The Preacher and His Prayer Life
- The Atonement # 3: Reconciliation
- The Preacher, Preaching, and the Holy Spirit
- The Message and Ministry of Reconciliation
- The Ministry of the Spirit in Revival
Monday- Why Christ Died- 2 Cor. 5:11-21
Tuesday- Reconciliation- 2. Cor. 5:11-21
Wednesday- Avoiding and Dealing with Sin- 2 Samuel 11 (Life of David)
It was especially moving to realize that the leaders there don’t really seem to understand what it really means to preach the truths of the cross; so to have the opportunity to at least try to communicate what the cross really means in its theology and evangelistically was both exciting and sobering.
It was also a very moving experience to fellowship with and preach to these big, strong Fijian men and their wives, and to sing wonderful hymns along side them, hearing and seeing them singing from their hearts, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain An Interest in the Saviour’s Blood?” and “Master, Speak, thy Servant Heareth”:
Master, speak! Thy servant heareth,
Waiting for Thy gracious word,
Longing for Thy voice that cheereth;
Master! let it now be heard.
I am listening, Lord, for Thee:
What hast Thou to say to me?
Speak to me by name, O Master,
Let me know it is to me;
Speak, that I may follow faster,
With a step more firm and free,
Where the Shepherd leads the flock,
In the shadow of the rock.
Master, speak! Though least and lowest,
Let me not unheard depart;
Master, speak! For O, Thou knowest
All the yearning of my heart,
Knowest all its truest need:
Speak! and make me blest indeed.
Master, speak! and make me ready,
When Thy voice is truly heard,
With obedience glad and steady
Still to follow every word.
I am listening, Lord, for Thee:
Master, speak! O, speak to me! – Frances R. Havergal
The Fijians are warm-hearted, humble believers, who were most grateful for our being willing to come and share with them the true riches of God’s Word. And it seems that God was pleased to bless His Word, as there were numbers of them who would come in private with questions and points of discussion, with sincere heart-felt questions.
One evening, a church leader came to me in repentance over moral issues, after having heard in the message that David fell into grevious sin and that all of God’s servants must watch themselves and be diligent to keep themselves in holiness. We talked, prayed, and it seems that the Lord was granting him repentance and a new beginning in his life.
The conference was attended by several hundred, and among them were Bible churches, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, some Pentecostals and charismatics, along with independents, and Reformed Baptists; quite a mixture, but it was not ecumenical in nature; they were all there simply to learn more truth and to hear the truth of the Bible be taught and expounded.
The church in Fiji has its problems, mostly with lack of teaching, and with the dangers of carnal religious influences from the west trying to influence believers in the wrong direction. The well-known U. S. tele-evangelist has been there once, and during his one day visit, required the hotel where he was staying to do over $90,000 updated renovations for him to stay there, as well as requiring the Fiji government to provide over $30,000 cost for personal security and body guards. He went to hold a miracle healing service for 1 day; this is in a country where the average monthly income is probably $150 and a 3 bedroom flat (apartment) rents for $150 a month; he is expected back in the next 2-3 months again; so there is grievous error and damaging influences happening there as well.
Yet there are faithful, godly, and humble Christian leaders and pastors there as well, who believe and live the truth and desire to advance the kingdom of Christ with the true gospel. Please do pray for them and for the true believers in those islands.
Upon leaving on Thursday afternoon, there were tears, hugs, words of appreciation, and heart-felt Christian unity and love that bound our hearts together. The great need there, as it is in Eastern Europe, is deeper, more solid Bible preaching and teaching that equips the pastors and leaders more deeply in biblical doctrine that applies to all of life and ministry. Indeed, a man of God could go there and deeply invest the rest of his life in preaching and teaching continually, training and equipping leaders and churches, and he would have a hungry audience any time he spoke.
The leaders there have asked me to come back and bring others as well who could do conferences in the future, both in Fiji and in New Zealand, which is to the south of Fiji; this is a great and effectual door that has now opened. May the Lord send whomever He desires to go at His appointed times.
I want to thank the leaders of Ambassadors for Christ USA in Atlanta for inviting me to do the Fiji conference this year; I count it a huge privilege that God allowed me the gift of being called to go. And I want to thank those of you who prayed for and who supported this trip financially. We sincerely believe that God was glorified and His truth was communicated.
When the Lord brings it to mind, please pray for the church in the South Seas and for the advance of the gospel there. His name is being made great among those nations as well!
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