The coolest thing about my time in Fiji was seeing how God works.
Every day we were off doing something. We began at an orphanage called Loloma [Love] House, playing with the kids and a lady began to cry because she couldn’t speak English with us. Straight off the bat, I knew we were doing something special. We visited church services and ran kids groups and some of my mates gave sermons. Especially every time we sang together, I could feel the room vibrate with a multitude of voices praising God. Wow, the Fijians have a talent for singing- harmonies that are just known and hymns that look simple but sound how I figure music will sound in heaven. The sense that God smiled every time we joined in on a hymn.
A bit of a side note is my pastor pointing out that singing and liturgy is actually rather important because sometimes the message of the sermon gets a little lost [sometimes pastors aren’t actually theologically trained]. Originating in Britain, the translated books found in Methodist churches at least are the true and clear message of the gospel, and our lives as Christians. A regular reminder outlined in the words of timeless hymns and bluntly stated in what sometimes seem like stodgy creeds and prayers read every week.
I saw the way God works across the world. While the differences were striking, it occurred to me that we were all worshipping the same God, and all He requires is for you to profess with your mouth and believe in your heart that he is Lord and raised Christ from the dead to be saved [Romans 10:9]. Once that was straight in my head, I could enjoy the wild singing along with the solemn hymns, the yelling and the times of silent reflection, dancing with the kids and shaking hands with the adults. In all of these situations, God was working. As important as denomination is in the West, going to Fiji I learned to appreciate a living faith in the Seventh Day Adventists along with the Methodists simply due to the fact a clearly living faith meant they were going to heaven and not everyone who professed to be a Christian would. Seventh Day Adventists told me how they had been addicted to grog [kava] and alcohol but God had turned their lives around. Methodists told me they had been Seventh Day Adventists and found God in their current church. And I got a clear feeling that all God wanted was their love and acceptance and he loved them regardless of everything else. Year 13 itself is technically run by the Anglican church, but I go as a regular attendee of Hillsong, and mix with a melting pot of people simply in love with God.
I saw the way God worked through every situation. While we can either see our wealth as a reason to rejoice in God or become numb to His blessing, I was struck by how Fijians can rejoice despite their poverty. I met so many people who seemed to have nothing but instead recognised what they did have as provision from God. My homestay family had a tin shed with no furniture but a few cupboards and a fuzzy television, yet the mother shared with us how her and her husband had begun with nothing and were so incredibly blessed to have a house now, and enough food for them and their son. She gushed about how even his talent in playing soccer was a gift from God because it meant he might one day have a career as a professional sportsman [a dream for a lot of Fijians] and neither her or her husband had given him that talent. Moments like that, of utter vulnerability when it came to discussing the Lord, became remarkably precious to me.
I noticed the work of God not only in the Fijians, but in the people around me. From the first day, everyone was on their guard to be as loving as possible to one another. When we were tried and felt like snapping at someone who had done something stupid, we remembered they were just as tired. When someone cried, they immediately had a dozen shoulders to lean on, but no pressure to. God worked through everyone to both show his love and remind us he was still there. One night that really just exemplifies what I’m trying to say is the night I had a panic attack. I haven’t had one in so long that, when I began to cry in front of my friends and the concerned faces began to close in until I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t remember what to do. I ran away, down into a garden, and expected to either be ignored or for a bunch of well-meaning people to follow me, but just one did- my mentor Kiara, who sat with me and helped me to breathe as I tried to understand what had happened through shuddered sobs. The next few hours blew my mind. Kiara held my hand and didn’t push me, and when she left, a friend silently joined me and told me stories until I could focus on his breathing instead of my own. When I tried to ask a question about a story and my voice cracked, he didn’t comment, just simply drew me close and answered calmly before continuing his story. And, when I emerged from the depths, notes were waiting from my friends so I could feel the support while no one was watching.
I was overwhelmed by love. By support from a team who encouraged me, held my hand and built me up when I couldn’t stand up by myself. A group that had somehow managed to solve something without calling it a problem. Friends I could count on. And the most astounding thing was that they didn’t do that in their own strength. And how do I know? Because I’ve had panic attacks before. Told to be quiet, that I was making a scene and treated like a leper. To show astounding love is only possible when moved, I’ve discovered, by the One who is love [1 John 4:8]. And so, God moved the people around me, and reminded me that he was always there for me too. And the next time I felt like snapping at one of them, I tried to love them not as they had loved me, but as God had loved me.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear involves punishment. The one who fears has not been perfected in love. 19We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:18-19.