Mission Encounters

Dwight Kelly

Date: Wednesday February 12, 2014 / Author of post:

Planting Kava in a Dalo Field Namosi Village

Planting Kava in a Dalo Field Namosi Village

Out of my comfort zone

Dwight Kelly was selected by CWM Caribbean member church, United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands to participate in Face to Face, a 7-8 week programme where participants from around the world gather in one of three locations (Fiji, India, Zambia) to be exposed to the context, hear and witness the narratives of the people, encounter diverse theologies, histories, societies, social realities and personal stories. Dwight was a part of the group located in Fiji.

Face to Face challenges participants to engage with the realities of how the fullness of life is being denied to a large majority of the world’s population. It seeks to, not only expose but also, engage participants in cultural, social, theological and contextual realities so that they may grapple with and be motivated by the world around them. The programme is challenging as well as socially and theologically transformative for all participants.

Here are Dwight’s reflections on his Mission Encounters.

Planting Mangrove on Viwa Island

Planting Mangrove on Viwa Island

The story is told about a man by the name of Larry Walters, a 33-year-old man who decided he wanted to see his neighbourhood from a new perspective. So, he went down to the local army surplus store and bought forty-five used weather balloons.

That afternoon he strapped himself into a lawn chair, to which several of his friends tied the now helium-filled used weather balloons. He took with him, something to drink, a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, and a BB gun, figuring he could shoot the balloons one at a time when he was ready to land.

Walters, who assumed the balloons would lift him about 100 feet in the air, was caught off guard when the chair soared more than 11,000 feet into the sky smack into the middle of the air traffic pattern at Los Angeles International Airport. Because he was too frightened to shoot any of the balloons, he stayed airborne for more than two hours, and forced the airport to shut down its runways for much of the afternoon.

Bamboo Plotting-  to make the "wall" of a house- Namosi Village

Bamboo Plotting – to make the “wall” of a house – Namosi Village

Soon after he was safely grounded and cited by the police, reporters asked him three questions:
“Were you scared? “Yes.”
“Would you do it again? “No.
“Why did you do it?” “Because you can’t just sit there.”

Like Larry Walters I wanted to experience mission from a different perspective so I accepted with humility and expectancy the privilege I was given to participate in the Face To Face 2013 Programme in Fiji. This was an opportunity to move from Missiological concepts and theories to hands on practical mission experience. I cannot truly encourage mission if I have not been engaged.

This reflection paper seeks to narrate my learning experiences and growth on the Face To Face programme particularly to the three placements at Viwa Island, Mounivatu, and Namosi Village. I will also seek to discuss what I have learnt about the focus of mission and ministry both in terms of its process, methods, activities and areas of concentration. I will conclude with a statement of commitment that will guide my partnership with the Council for World Mission in my own context.

Bible Study with Men's Fellowship of Mounivatu Methodist Church Squatter Settlement

Bible Study with Men’s Fellowship of Mounivatu Methodist Church Squatter Settlement

“For 20 hours of the day there was no electricity”

I relished the risky opportunity of been taken out of my comfort zone of family and a familiar setting to be exposed to a new context. As I made my way to Viwa Island I felt like I was on a similar mission to the reconnaissance mission of the twelve spies in Numbers thirteen. From verses eighteen to twenty the spices were given the instruction to see what the land is like, good or bad, fat or lean, the place where they lived was it fortified or open and whether the people were strong or weak, few or many. It was from a similar basis that I started my intentional exploration seeking a new perspective.

On Viwa island I found no cars, trucks, bicycles, cats or dogs. Travel to and from the island was influenced by the weather of low or high tide levels. If it was low tide then access was restricted to rear of the island with the challenge of climbing one hundred and two steps. This was in contrast to my urban life and travel by personal car to undertake my business. For twenty hours of the day there was no electricity as this was made available from 6:00 pm to 10:00 pm daily by a generator funded by the corporation of all the villagers. There were no schools or shops and the people enjoyed a communal living. They shared whatever they had with each other especially food. They were also very hospitable host frequently serving huge portions which could be very startling. The communal living of the twenty eight housed villagers reminded me of the early church in Acts as there was oneness. Each day at 5:00am they met in the single church on the island for devotions after which they shared breakfast with each other. For me this was similar to Acts chapter two verse forty six. “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple and the breaking bread from house to house, they were taking meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.” This for me was a powerful display of community faith building and togetherness. Although I have daily family devotion back in my home context this experience was incomparable. I was challenged as to how I would help to influence this kind of activity on a consistent basis back in my context.

Coming From the Farm (Dalao & Kava) Namosi Village

Coming From the Farm (Dalao & Kava) Namosi Village

“The people on the island are strong and secure but some giants still exist”

I was also impacted by the rich historical events that happened on the island. It was on this island that the missionary John Hunt first brought the Bible to the Pacific and translated it to Fijian and printed it from the first printing press on site. John Hunt’s life of prayer for his mission challenged me to new levels of consistency and faithfulness particularly as we walked along the distant route to the secluded spot and place of prayer away from the village. This journey he took each morning at 2:00am. This life of sacrifice and prayer caused a shifting from cannibalism in Fiji. Truly the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availed much. I can also report like Joshua and Caleb in Numbers 13 verse 28 that the people on the island are very strong and secure but some giants still exist.

The giant of climate change was very evident as the land along the sea shore was eroding. Climate change has become a major issue for the Pacific. This evidence raised my awareness and contemplation of Climate Justice. This was a new concept to me that was discussed by Dr. Bird in our week of orientation. He shared with us Ama’amalele Tofaeono theological works on climate change. I agree with the proposition of Tofaeono that both pastoral-prophetic and ecological commitments must be made to addressing the challenges of ecological crisis, including climate change and the integration of religio-cultural knowledge into Christian doctrine sharing the values and practices. In our effort to reduce the effects of climate change at Viwa the team planted mangroves, an experience I will translate to my context where possible.

Departing Namosi Village as My Host Family and Villagers Sing Isa Lei (The Fijian Farewell Song)

Departing Namosi Village as My Host Family and Villagers Sing Isa Lei (The Fijian Farewell Song)

The placement to Viwa was experiential and my first real exposure to the Fijian culture particular the village system. I learnt of the culture of access, acceptability through their formal sevusevu ceremony with the chief and other leaders. I was transfixed by the heavenly, harmonious a cappella singing of the choir and congregation. There were no Public Address system, multimedia or musical instruments a big contrast to my home context but the impact was significant. I experienced a unique mix between religion and culture as the spiritual leader(s) connected with the village leaders drinking around the tanoa. I wrestled with the offshoots of smoking and the side effects of stupor and lethargy as I watched these proceedings. I also gained rich experiences as I connected with the people through sermons, Bible studies and one to one sharing. These impacted me greatly as the feedback discussions that followed were intensive and informative.

The squatter settlement experience at Mounivatu was humbling. Even though there are similar settings back home I never had the opportunity of living among them. As I did the many house visits and Bible Studies I was able to empathise with their pain. The giants of poverty, improper housing, limited amenities, along with social injustice were evident. This giant of squatter settlements in Fiji constitutes over twenty percent of the population. Here the conditions are primarily unhygienic and there is insecurity of land tenure along with low paid and unemployment. To someone looking on it would seem hopeless. It was through my dialogue with the people that I learnt of the great sacrifice that many of them were making and the vision they had. Many came from their villages to find employment to give access to or in order that their children could get a better education. For many this was a temporary situation as they have dreams and visions for better conditions.

Going Fishing with my Host Family (Saise & Seruwai Waqua) from Viwa Island

Going Fishing with my Host Family (Saise & Seruwai Waqua) from Viwa Island

“I was inspired by mothers and their commitment to family”

I was deeply moved by my interactions with the work of People’s Community Network (PCN) led by Father Kevin Barr. Their job of empowering the people of these poorer communities through workshops on social analysis and economic literacy greatly impacted me as I saw the transformation literally taking place. Through PCN’s work of daily visitations, monthly meeting and a savings scheme many have received alternate housing solutions. PCN strongly advocates for them and refers them to appropriate agencies for advice and assistance. One core truth I strongly believe is that we won’t know people’s story until we are prepared to walk in their shoe and work with them.

The Namosi village experience was another great lesson of communal living at a different level as this brought me back to my childhood which was similar. This had me reflecting on the individualism that exists through urbanisation. The village is surrounded by imposing mountains. Whereas agriculture makes them self sufficient, the giants of sustainable development and land mining presents a negative challenge. Their use of the land and it resources has allowed me to reflect on stewardship of God resources. They have also been victims of the injustice of price gouging meted out to them in their attempt to sell their produce. I was inspired by the work of mothers in their commitment to the family. Each lunch time they would sit on the school grounds having taken a cooked meal they would partake with their children. On the contrary family bonding was affected by their daily traditional social drinking as sometimes children were not given parental supervision whilst doing their homework.

The village is a catholic community and provided me with great lessons in ecumenism and partnership. From my observations and participations I have learnt about their reverence for the sanctuary, service and sacrament. I observed and enjoyed their contemporary styles of worship from their numerous charismatic groups.

Drinking Kava in the Sevusevu Welcome Ceremony at Pacific Theological College

Drinking Kava in the Sevusevu Welcome Ceremony at Pacific Theological College

This placement rid me of communication with the outside world and the use of technology as there were no telephone signals or available electricity all for the sake of heightened self skills. This was further reinforced by my inability to see myself physically in a mirror for the duration.

“I have a greater appetite for enabling God’s people to experience abundant life”

This Face to Face experience has allowed me to learn from and establish lifelong relationships whilst creating a network from like-minded partners in ministry all over the world. My world view has expanded. I have sharpened my ability as an observer, listener, encourager and in the provision of Pastoral Care. My conviction has now been confirmed through this experiential and practical experience that makes mission more effective. My ability to prayerfully listen to context, community and scripture has been enhanced. I have been tested in adaptability, trained in social analysis and transformed with a greater appetite to enable God’s people to experience abundant life. God has truly guided me along unfamiliar paths. Mine is therefore the challenge to be more the voice of the people. I have grown tremendously through self reflection, self awareness and self discipline.

Unlike Larry Walters in the story above I would do it again as the spirit of Joshua and Caleb is very much alive in me. We can conqueror and take possession. It is from this intentional exploration that I can make a more informed exposition that will lead to enlightened action(s). Thank you Council for World Mission, God’s Pacific People and United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands as this is a powerful experience in seeing life through the eyes of others and follow Jesus’ missions’ example.

I commit to exposing the church and youths in particular to the cultural realities of others and the possibilities of a more defined mission priority. It is also my commitment to form mission critical partnerships for development and to act as an ambassador for the cause of Christ and the Council for World Mission.