Bishop Helen-Ann reflects on her recent visit to Fiji with the Youth CommissionBuilding the church on hope and resilience
Bishop Helen-Ann shares some reflections on her recent week in Fiji, as Youth Liaison Bishop to the Three Tikanga Youth Commission.
If you travel three hours’ drive north from Suva, you reach the turn-off that leads to the village of Maniava. This was a journey I took last Saturday, along with Archbishop Winston and forty young people from across our Anglican church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. Forty slow minutes passed on a dirt road, occasionally encountering cattle and horses tethered by the roadside. Thankfully the condition of the road meant we couldn’t travel very fast, which was just as well, as some of the animals looked as though they might have taken a step or two directly into our path! On occasion the road dipped, and a narrow bridge enabled us to cross a river; it became painfully obvious that any small amount of flooding could mean that whole communities would be cut-off completely from the outside world. Yet for all its remoteness, here we were journeying into the heart of our faith community, the Body of Christ, part of the rich and often complex tapestry that makes up our Three Tikanga church. The ‘outside world’ for a few hours at least was far from my mind, as I struggled both to comprehend the reality of what I was seeing, and the overbearing intensity of the heat. When the photograph was taken that accompanies these reflections, I was forced to bend over slightly, not because of any particular intention of mine to reach the height of the amazing and resilient children that were helping me, but because I was about to pass out due to the heat; the spade was literally holding me up! My water bottle was empty, and I desperately needed shade. Thankfully both came eventually, and I recovered. But it was a stark reminder to me of our sheer vulnerability as human beings.
Vulnerability was in many ways a constant theme of our week on the Tikanga Youth Exchange. Every two years, young people from across our church come together in a particular context, for a week’s worth of shared work, reflection and prayer. In many ways this is about the temporary formation of community for a (hopefully) longer-term gain; an intentional way of coming together. With a focus on following in the footsteps of Jesus as his disciples, there is rawness to the time spent in one another’s company: openness and honesty, joyfulness and tears, and sheer wonder at new, shared experiences. Rawness can come though a response to the glimpsing of a magnificent view; the beauty of a tiny but vibrantly coloured flower; the incredible aroma of frangipani placed round necks in a welcome gesture. This is surely what lies at the heart of being human: to recognise and marvel even just for a split second at our place in the world; to sense the beauty of God’s creation; to see Christ in the eyes of the one we share the peace with during the Eucharist; to struggle with people and situations we find intensely difficult. For all the politics of our church, and the messiness of our broken relationships, when it comes down to it, the simple assertion that God is a God of love is all we need at times to be able to put one step in front of another.
Vulnerability shone through, not least because our focus for the week was on climate change. We preferred to use the phrase ‘climate action’ with a hope that we could somehow remember that beyond the talk and obvious science, at some point we do need to do something about it! When we arrived in Maniava, I for one was glad of the ceasing of the bumpy journey. The cool air conditioning of the car however was replaced by the heat and humidity of the mid-point of the day. It was clear to me, that we had arrived into what looked like a temporary place, there were no homes as such, rather tents and precarious looking tin-structures. It turned out that the tin that made up the homes was what was recovered scattered across the surrounding valley and hillsides. Maniava was virtually destroyed in 2015 by Cyclone Winston. One of the effects of climate change is increased everything: increased heat, increased sea levels, increased intensity of tropical storms. The effects are real, and they are happening now.
The people of Maniava were, in spite of their immense obvious struggles with a lack of adequate and safe shelter, filled with joy at their welcome to us; they sang praises to God; they even provided a chair for this bishop so I didn’t have to sit on the ground (just one of so many examples of gracious hospitality that I found deeply humbling). Following our welcome, we left the relative comfort of the shade and headed outside and up a hill to the site where the new church was to be built. My task was to help Archbishop Winston dig the first soil for the foundations, and bless the land. The children from the village eagerly gathered round to help me, two of them spent the whole time clearing ants away from my toes, and others put their hands with mine as we pushed the spade downwards in the dry and dusty soil. It was heavy and hot work, the heat and humidity ever present.
My abiding reflection on this whole experience is that we cannot ignore the plight of the most poor and vulnerable, those who inevitably suffer the most when weather systems form, and wreak havoc. The increasing intensity of tropical weather systems are most likely a direct result of humanity's misuse of the earth and its resources. We all have a part to play now in safeguarding the future for generations to come. It is our ignoring our stewardship of God’s creation that is the issue here; and with that I emphatically condemn Destiny Church leader Brian Tamaki in his irresponsible and utterly abhorrent comments about the earthquakes and other natural disasters that have affected both islands. Religious leaders have a duty to speak out when bad theology is at play, and there is no basis whatsoever for what he says in the name of God. The only sin here is our sin of forgetting how we are called to nurture creation with God. Hence the urgent need to act on climate change, and act now. While nation states work through detailed and continued political negotiations on reducing carbon emissions, we can start by simply using less plastic, recycle more; be kind to one another, and the land we live on and amongst. Kindness and compassion are active aspects of human nature; Paul is quite intentional in his naming of the fruit of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians. Bearing the fruit of God’s Kingdom has to start with a change in attitude from selfish gain to seeking the welfare of our neighbour, wherever and whoever that might be. It is only when we do that that real transformation can be enacted. This season of Advent, let us commit and recommit to our calling as disciples that all may be transformed through the life of the Holy and Blessed Trinity, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Above all, let us be people of hope, since above all, faith is so often hope in things unseen, yet sustained by the God who goes before us so that we might never be alone.
Story Published: 5th of December - 2016