Thursday, October 30, 2008

“Let Your Light Shine”

Published in the Fiji Times as, "OFF THE WALL with Padre James Bhagwan," 29th October, 2008, page 7

Happy Day-after Diwali!

The smoke has cleared from the sparklers, rockets and other legal firecrackers from last night. The last sweet is digested or leftovers shared for morning tea this morning.

For many of our Fijian brothers and sisters that are Hindu, yesterday was especially significant. For the rest of us, the sweets, lights, and the fireworks were are bonus to the public holiday.

For me, with a heritage that includes relatives who are Hindu, Muslim and of many other religious backgrounds as well as Christian denominations, the fact that Fiji recognises the special days of all its people is one of the positive features of our country.

I remember co-producing a short documentary on Diwali during my days with the Ministry of Information's Film and Television Unit a decade ago. We filmed the preparations and rituals in the days leading up to Diwali and the actual day and night of Diwali. During this period I met and filmed people from many different ethnicities and even religions celebrating and commemorating this day and what it means from their respective points of view.

In particular, I remember filming a special Mass in the Hindi language at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, in which Indian cultural adaptations were used. That service and many others that I have attended and participated in during this particular time of the year in the Methodist Church's Indian Division focus on the Christian perspective of celebrating light, particularly Christ as the Light of the World. Incidentally, the Indian Division often uses the diya (a small earthenware lamp) as its symbol to symbolise the Christ-light.

For those of us who are not Hindu and have enjoyed the revelry and delicacies of this festival, it would do us some good to reflect on the need for light in our lives and in the life of our nation.

During a sermon I preached at Dudley Church in Suva, some time ago, I said to the congregation that while we like to have light to help us see, to illuminate our path or work, sometimes we find light uncomfortable. One of the reasons why we find light uncomfortable is when we have been in the dark for so long that we are no longer used to the light and when it is given to us, it hurts our eyes. Even though we have been stumbling around in the dark we cover our eyes when the light is turned on or shined on us. It takes time for those who have been in the dark to get used to the light.

Another reason why we can find the light uncomfortable is that the light sometimes illuminates that which we would prefer be kept in the dark. Things, actions and thoughts which we wish to hide from others, and sometimes even from ourselves.

If feel that this is a reflection that can take place on a number of different levels: personally, in one's relationships with others and also, given our country's political and social crisis, what this means at a national level.

Perhaps, Monday's Political Forum was a start of the political leaders of Fiji to get used to seeing the light together. However, the light is a gift to all and as such must be shared with all. That means that our leaders – elected, appointed, ordained and those who have taken the reins of leadership or had leadership thrust upon them must not let those whom they lead be left in the dark. That is one of the responsibilities of the person who bears the torch. They must hold it high enough to be seen and so that others can see.

For Hindu's, special prayers offered to the Goddess Lakshmi last night were for wealth and prosperity. On another level, as the world reels from the global economic crisis, Diwali is just as significant for it give us an opportunity to shine the light on what we value.

A friend of mine recently shared his thoughts on the economic crisis. His view was that while everyone will be affected by the crisis, those hit the hardest or to put it in his words, “those with the most to lose” were those whose investment was in 'virtual' wealth as opposed to 'physical' wealth. I am not a economist, in fact matters of finance are often well beyond me. But what I gathered from his statement was that a lot of people had based their future on a finances that were only on paper. Those whose wealth is in the land, livestock – physical stocks will be deeply affected but not as much as those who placed all their bets on speculated stock increases.

I'm not sure if I understood him correctly, or if he was a hundred percent right on his analysis, but he did make a point for me. Or rather he made me ask myself, what is it we value? The Anglican priest at my nearest church said, this Sunday, that those who valued themselves only by their monetary value were now founding out just how poor they were.

This global economic recession will only add to our national and personal financial struggles. Many people who work for multi-national or trans-national companies may find their wages cut, or worse find themselves out of a job. The spin-off this crisis will go all the way down the line as people have less money to spend on essentials, let alone luxuries.

But of Fiji and the Pacific are rich. Not just because we have, natural resources or small cottage industries which often flourish during these financially trying times as we have seen in the past. We are rich because we value so much more. We value relationships – our extended family, our community, our friends, our neighbours. We value goodwill, something often undervalued by economists, in other parts of the world at least. We understand and practice reciprocity. We value human dignity, despite our weaknesses which often lead us into discrimination.

The light has the potential to shine through the shadows of ignorance which keep us apart, shining its beams on our commonalities. Our common humanity, our common struggles, and our common future.

So despite the dark clouds; despite the shadows; despite the night – the light prevails, shining through, to give us hope. Hope for a brighter day. Hope for the truth to be revealed. Hope for better tomorrow. Hope for us to see the future together.

Perhaps this is a Diwali message for all of us, regardless of our religious, cultural or social background.

May the rest of your week be bless with peace, love, hope and light!

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with. Email:

“Father to Son”

Published in the Fiji times as, "OFF THE WALL with Padre James Bhagwan", 22/10/08 page 7

Warm Greetings from 'chilly' Scotland!

Today my son Francisco-Xavier turns four years old. It is the first time that he will not have his father with him on his birthday. Many may say, “well he is four years old and there are many birthdays to come.” This is understandable from the perspective of an adult who has seen birthdays come and go. However for someone who is only completing four years of existence, this is quite a hard concept to grasp. As a father who has, until now, never been away from his children for more than three weeks, this is also a difficult time. Especially when my “Little Einstein” 'borrows' his mother's mobile-phone and sends me an SMS text message which reads, “Dear Daddy, all I want for my birthday is for you to come home. I loooove you (obviously to emphasise how much) and I am a good boy. Please come home soon. Love Francisco.”

It is on days like this that I understand the sacrifice many men and women make when, as military, police or civilian peacekeepers and observers, they leave their loved ones in order to serve the greater good. To miss birthdays, wedding anniversaries, births and deaths even Christmas is not easy when you are in a group that can be a surrogate family is hard enough. There are many who endure on their own, with their only consolation being the eventual end of their tour of duty and the fact that they are serving humanity.

As I read the most recent message from my son with the follow up comment from his patient (slightly eroding patience these days) mother, my thoughts flashed back to the day he was born with great pomp and ceremony (from me), much huffing and puffing and the odd scream and obscenity (from his mother) and serenity (the wonderful midwives at the CWM maternity unit).

I remember the moment he entered the world, how my heart skipped a beat as I waited for the midwives to inform me that this bloody mass that had just been delivered was alive and well. The joy when I saw him draw his first breath and heard his first cry. How afraid I was to carry him in case I dropped this fragile new being. The realisation that my life had changed forever.

My son is fortunate to be loved by his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and even on occasion by his little sister. How many children grow up yearning for the love, or even acknowledgement of their parents and family members? My son wants his daddy home for his birthday. How many children want to see their mummy or daddy even just once? I think of those who collect for Christmas presents for the children of prisoners. I think of those who struggle to provide a loving environment for the children at Veilomani, Dilkusha, St. Christopher's and other homes for abandoned children. I think of those in prison who are ostracised by their families, when the one thing they need is love and hope.

My son and my daughter are fortunate indeed. They are loved and this love is expressed in a way in which they can understand and share. They belong to a family which celebrates love: the love of God, the love of each other, the love of neighbour, the love of life and all God's creation. They belong to a family which believes and practices service before self. They belong to a family which holds respect, truth, justice and mercy as immutable values. With God's grace, they will grow up with these values and virtues as an integral part of who they are.

Yet I pray that they will not have to grow up too soon. That they will be able to enjoy their childhood and their youth. That they will not have the responsibility of providing for a family thrust on them so early, like many children in Fiji and around the world do: searching for work, for food when they should be playing hide and seek or going to school.

I often wonder what the future holds for my children and the children of their generation growing up in Fiji. Will they grow up believing that 'might is right' and as such (to borrow a line from the film, “The Mission”) that 'love has no place in the world?' Will they see soldiers on parade as a source of admiration or on the street as a source of fear? Will they learn that hard work, ethics and a thirst for justice, peace and integrity is what makes a leader, or will they see that power is to be gained by any means possible? Will they learn to love their country, or will they learn to look for the best way out? Will they learn to serve others, or will they learn to serve themselves? Will they learn to recognise and acknowledge differences in culture, religion and race while celebrating the common bonds of nationality and humanity, or will they only know discrimination?

I started to write a birthday card for my son, before realising that I might see him before he receives it. I once wrote a letter to my late father, when he was contemplating whether or not to join the 2000 interim government's constitution review commission. The Fiji Times was kind enough to publish that letter from a son to his father. I hope they will be kind enough to publish this letter from a father to his son:

Dear Francisco-Xavier,

I am sorry that I can't be with you on your birthday. I want you to know that I am thinking of you today and wish you a very happy birthday. Do you know that there are many boys and girls who also do not get to be with their parents on their birthdays? So you are not alone. But some of these children may never see their mummies or daddies again. You have your mummy and sister and grandma and big family very close to you. And soon you will have your daddy with you.

You will get many presents and maybe even have a party for your birthday. Some children never get any presents or have even a cake for their birthday. So you are a very fortunate boy. I hope you have a lot of fun on your birthday but please remember all the little boys and girls in the world who do not have any fun on their birthday.

My son, on this day I want to hold you and hug you and kiss you. I would very much like to play with you and help you open your presents and blow your birthday cake. I promise you that, if God allows me, next year I will be there.

For your birthday:
I pray that all your dreams will come true;
That every time your heart is broken, it will grow twice as much;
That the world will be as kind to you as you are to it;
That love and courage will grow abundantly in you;
That God will always guide and protect you;
And that mummy and I will be there to see you grow into a man.

I love you very much. Have a Happy Birthday!
See you soon.
Love from Daddy.

May your week be blessed with love, light, peace, hope and joy!

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

“Reflections and Resolutions”

Published in the Fiji Times as "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday 15th October, 2008, p7

Greetings from 'Merry Olde' England!

I've never been the kind of person to make New Year's resolutions. I have always preferred to make birthday resolutions because I see that as the beginning of my year. This can be somewhat confusing to people who only make resolutions between December 31st and January 1st and then struggle to maintain them for between twenty-four hours to three hundred and sixty five days. I've always considered my birthday as my “New Year” and it is the day I choose to reflect on the year past and the year to come. You may call it a moment of personal praxis.

It goes without saying, though, that before, during and even after this rather deep, and one hopes, meaningful moment, there is a cause for celebration. One has survived another year on planet earth with all its challenges.

So many of us found time amidst our daily struggles of nation-building, power-grabbing, roadside protesting, riding out the storm of the global economic crisis or just trying to put food on the table and a roof over the head to remember out national day. For some it was a day of parades; some an excuse for a pool party; others a day to sleep in. Some spent time with their families, some spent time in jail. Some prayed and fasted, while some feasted.

In the United Kingdom, so I have informed, Fiji Day celebrations began as early as the weekend before, while some are yet to happen, scheduled for this weekend. We had a wonderful Fiji Day reception at the Fiji High Commission in London, with High Commissioner Pio Bosco Tikoisuva and the High Commission staff the consummate hosts. Guest ranged from members of the Diplomatic Corps, former Harlequins rugby players and former Fijian citizens and residents to Fijian men and women serving in the British Army and some of us who have found ourselves here for work, study and play.

There was some small talk of the situation at home, particularly the recent High Court ruling on the legality of the President's actions in December 2006 and the interim government. Some were of the view that now all those who have been sitting on the sidelines, using the question of the interim government's legality as an excuse would have to do more talk. Some just said, “Taki!” or led boisterous renditions of “Bula Malaya” and “Lomaloma”.

For many though, it was a time to catch up with fellow Fijians. Old friends, new friends and even long lost relatives. The Fiji Way was quite evident on Fiji Day.

However, once the celebrations faded and as I travelled through the countryside, enjoying the somewhat rare sunshine and warmth for this time of year (so I have been informed), my thoughts returned to the contemplation of our nation's future.

Our President, in his Fiji Day address, highlighted the imperative for the “leaders in the Church, the Vanua and the Government” to work together, speak and listen to each other for the sake of not just the nation-state, but the sake of all who call Fiji home.

The significance of the High Court ruling on the eve of the commemoration of our Independence should not be ignored. I understand that many of my brother and sister Fijians are disappointed and bitter by the outcome. I understand that many of us consider the President's call for unity and cooperation merely more of the same annually spouted rhetoric.

Yet I firmly believe that every time we come to a fork in the road; every time we are at a crossroads or watershed in our lives or the life of our nation – there is a choice that must be made and a direction that is travelled. We chose which path we walk along. We can continue to walk the road which we believe is our own, the path we have always walked; or we can take a look at the signpost and try to figure out if this new path, this new opportunity will take us closer to our destination.

The road travelled together is never an easy journey. Our leaders must take care to lead their people to a safe haven, not merely to their best friend's house. They must be prepared for people not to want to go in the direction they want them to go, acknowledging that there might be another way, a better way, not necessarily the 'high-way'. Above all our leaders must remember the golden rule of travelling in a group: 'you can only go as fast as the slowest member of the group.'

I would like to share with you a little prayer that I was fortunate to offer at our gathering in London. It is a simple prayer, as prayers at big functions usually are. It is brief, yet for me it shares many of our common hopes and desires:

Almighty God, Creator of the Universe:

As we gather here on this day to celebrate, to remember and join in fellowship as sons, daughters and friends of Fiji;

We pray for your continued blessing on our beloved nation.

We thank You for the times of triumph despite the ongoing challenges we face as a nation, knowing You have been with us always.

Give us the grace to grow in love, service and obedience to Your laws, by what ever mean we come to know them.

Have mercy for our failures Lord and make us into a people who will not forget You.

We pray for the Vanua: the land, the sea and the sky and all that is within it. We pray for your protection as we face the effects of climate change...rising seas, more intense cyclones, drought and flood. Help us to keep our covenant as good stewards of the land, to use the resources you have given us for the greater good as well as ourselves.

We pray for our nation - strengthen and defend us in our daily struggles to be a land of freedom and of hope. Continue to give us the courage to endure whatever may befall. Let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

We pray for the spirit of reconciliation, tolerance and understanding to fill our people, O Lord; that we may grow united in love and appreciation for who we are as Fijians.

May we extend a hand to each other in selfless giving even when we feel we are the ones in need. Teach us to choose our leaders well.

We pray for our leaders: national, religious and within the community - give them Your heart and wisdom to govern humbly and justly. Make them worthy examples for the youth to emulate.

We pray for those who serve the cause of peace – as peace makers and peace keepers. We pray for our nation to be a place where mercy and peace – the fruits of unconditional love will thrive in abundance.

Loving God, as we thank you for the last 38 years of independence, we ask you to help us be a people who are interdependent... who can rely on each other as brothers and sisters , who can work together to truly build a better Fiji.”

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace.

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Grog in the Golan Heights

We arrive in the dead of the night.

We losé in sight of Lebanon

Mix mix


There is a bit of Fiji on the other side of the border

Where Fijian blood was spilt in the cause of freedom and hope

in the search for peace.

So here we sit

Four Peacekeepers, a Peacemaker and a Peacebuilder

All doing their bit to pass the peace

Mix mix

We sit on the border


Ready for the sunrise

to reveal to us

our location

even though we know where we are

on the journey of our nation

walking and working



“A Birthday Wish for Fiji”

Published in The Fiji Times as "Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan" Wednesday 8th October, 2008, page 7

The long weekend is approaching. Well for you in Fiji anyway. Friday 10th October, being Fiji Day will be a public holiday and apart from the usual official events many will take the opportunity to enjoy an early start to the weekend. Around the world, however, many Fijians will take the day off or get together on the weekend to renew their friendships and remember their homeland.

The United Kingdom is no exception. The Fiji High Commission will celebrate Fiji Day on Thursday the 9th with a reception complete, according to the coconut cellphone network, with a lovo. Many Fijians living overseas use this day to get the underground oven, which some times ends up being an over ground or even kitchen oven (depending on relevant laws) fired up. Considering that the Saturday (4/10) Daily Telegraph newspaper announced the arrival of winter with cold and rainy days forecast, those who brave the weather to the sake of tradition will end up being the heroes of the day.

In the desert heat of the Sinai Peninsula, the men and women of 2FIR “Fiji Batt” of the Multinational Force and Observers at the MFO Headquarters at El Gora will have a delayed Fiji Day celebration which includes the different songs and meke performances for guests from among their colleagues at MFO. This event, complete with lovo and special Fijian gifts for guests, is considered by the organisers to be a way of promoting Fiji and the 2FIR's contribution to tourism.

It will be a special week for me as the Fiji Day reception in London coincides with my older sister Lois's birthday (very convenient as it saves on a party, whichever way you look at it). The actual Fiji Day of 10th October is marked by a special Evensong service at Westminster Abbey. I fondly remember my last Fiji Day in London in 2000, when amidst the post May 19th crisis those of us gathered in Westminster Abbey to pray for our nation and our families.

This year again many, both home and away will pray for peace and harmony in Fiji. Despite the accents and different patterns of speech, the different styles of dress and customs we adopt, we Fijians are a patriotic lot. And not just when the Flying Fijians (7s or 15s) take the field or Vijay Singh hits a hole in one. While the debate continues on a common name at home, those of us abroad find ourselves being called or calling ourselves Fijian. Somehow Fiji Islander, even a brand I used to promote, does not have the gravitas that being a Fijian bestows.

In the days leading up to both my eldest sister's birthday (this year also coinciding with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement) and Fiji Day on the horizon and being away from home, I have been reflecting on what Fiji Day means to us, given the long and winding road we are trudging along.

As a local television and radio producer, I have covered many Fiji Day events around the country. I find it rather disappointing that of the many re-enactments of the Cession of 1874, I have yet to see a re-enactment of the 1970 Independence ceremony. While we have countless young Fijian men happily donning cotton-wool beards to play the part of Ratu Seru Cakobau, or suit to portray Sir Hercules Robinson and others present; no one seems to be interested in taking up the role of Prince Charles or Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara. Even the Instruments of Independence, so formally presented by the Prince of Wales to then Prime Minister Mara have been mislaid. It seems that we have as much chance of finding it as the US Forces have of finding Osama bin Laden.

So we celebrate our independence by remembering our cession. The official documents of independence are missing. Is it any wonder why we are in the situation we are in today? We romanticise the past and look suspiciously at the future. Many will pray and fast on Fiji Day and then ignore the voice of God in their hardened hearts. Thirty-eight years since ostensibly being given control of its destiny Fiji continues allow itself to be dictated to by countries whose foreign policy is and will always be the benefit of itself and its people, not ours. Over the last twenty one years Fiji has given them every excuse and opportunity to do so.

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese warrior-philosopher wrote that, "When the leader is morally weak and his discipline not strict, when his instructions and guidance are not enlightened, when there are no consistent rules, neighbouring rulers will take advantage of this." (Sun Tzu, The Art of War, 500BC)

How do we make our nation stronger? How do we as a people, as a country withstand the onslaught of globalisation through the homogenisation of culture, the promotion of individualism, materialism and the consumer mentality, which looks good from a capitalist point of view, results in economic and social disaster as the current financial crises of the United States and Europe plainly show us? How do we protect our country from moral decay and corrupt leadership? How do we as a people achieve the task received thirty eight years ago to be a nation that stands united, that honours and defends the cause of freedom ever? How do we march onward together?

I don't have the answers. I wish I did but I don't. Not all of them. But many of us have and continue to seek these answers, trusting in our intellect, the lessons that have been learnt throughout history, the mistakes of ourselves and others and trusting in the grace of God.

Let us share the answers we find. Let us listen to one another. Let us work together as a people, a nation. Let us celebrate our commonality and our desire for peace and brighter future.

That's the best birthday present we could give our country this year.

Happy Birthday Fiji!

May the rest of your week and your Fiji Day weekend be blessed with love, light and peace!

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with. Email:


Published in The Fiji Times as "OFF THE WALL with Padre James Bhagwan"
Wednesday September 17, 2008, page 7


It is my last night in Jerusalem. As I sit on the terrace of my room at the King David Hotel, I can see the Old City in front of me. It is quiet tonight. I look over to the Jaffa Gate, into the Old City. I see David's Tower, perhaps the very one from where he spied Bathsheeba, the mother of the wise King Solomon. It is so peaceful.

Tonight I sense a different energy from that of which I wrote, last week. I recall my own quiet moment at Ha-Kotel, the Western (Wailing) Wall - my prayer for Divine guidance. I review the past week, which has taken me from this holy city to the Golan Heights and the beautiful Shebaa Farms, disputed territories on the Israeli/Syrian and Israeli/Lebanese borders. To Mount Hermon, a possible site of the transfiguration of Jesus and from which, one can see into Syria.

One night, camped on the shores of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), I lay down on my sleeping bag and imagined Jesus with his newly called “fishers of men”, lying down, after a day spent preaching, teaching and healing, somewhere near where I had just laid my head.

As I travelled, I saw the scars of centuries of conflict. Conflicts based around the disputed possession of land. Regarded by some as sacred, by others as a sacred birthright and by yet others, as simply the only home they have known.

Standing on the ramparts of Nimrod's Fortress on the slopes of Mount Hermon, hand-hewn blocks that made this the most secure part of the Holy Land, bear silent witness to wave after wave of invasion and defence. Crusaders, brigands, rival warlords and Mongolian hordes have poured through this land in their thirst for possession, power and glory.

Burnt-out tanks bear witness to the Six Day and to the Yom Kippur wars. Wars that one learned of in high-school history classes, become a stark reality. To this reality is added an awareness of the continuing conflicts, upon which I touched, last week.

In my brief travels in this land to which so many of us feel so connected; I have met people who, daily, rise above adversity. People who, by their warmth, their hospitality and their willingness to engage – in a peaceful way – others who may perceive them as an enemy; inspire us to do the same.

Tonight, I sense a different energy in this holy city. It is an energy familiar to me because it is an energy that I,happily, feel in my own country. It is a positive energy. It is hope. The hope for a better tomorrow.

My hope for Fiji is a true and lasting peace based on a shared vision of the future. A vision, not of merely for change for the sake of change; but, for our prosperity as a united nation. The road may be difficult, but I believe that if we walk together, we can help each other along the way and together we can reach our destination. My prayer is that we find the courage to do so.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace.

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with. Email:

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

Published in The Fiji Times as
"OFF THE WALL with Padre James Bhagwan"
Wednesday 10th September, 2008 page 7

Shalom Aleichem from the Holy City of Jerusalem!

I spent my first Shabbat (Sabbath) in Jerusalem this past weekend. During Shabbat, every one greets each other (as Mr. Rabuka often does in his opinion article) with “Shabbat Shalom,” the special Sabbath greeting. Shabbat is observed from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Shabbat Eve Dinner is held on Friday night. Members of the family, (this Friday, my older, wiser and better-looking sister and I) gather around the table, sing psalms, say prayers, sharing consecrated wine and challah bread together, before enjoying a special dinner.

There is an energy in Jerusalem that is hard to describe. Certainly, it is a spiritual energy emanating from a place that is sacred to Jews, Christians, Muslims and the odd Hindu. There is also a strong sense of tension. After all this is the centre of the Holy land; a disputed land, within it a population living in the constant shadow of war, where almost everyone is a member of a military unit. There is a sense of sadness, especially in the Old City, where so much blood has been spilt because of religious conflict; the will to dominate politically and to posses the Holy Land wholly.

Sitting at the King David Hotel where many world leaders have met to work towards settlement of the various regional conflicts; one cannot help but feel the palpable quantity of energy spent in trying to find solutions; in the quest for a lasting peace.

The phrases “Shalom Aleichem” (Hebrew) and “Salam Aleikum” (Arabic) both translate in to English as “Peace Be Upon You”. These are phrases of greeting, both in the secular, contemporary sense and a religious/cultural context. They are also prayers of hope from a people who genuinely desire peace, yet still struggle, not with fear of the loss of power, of land or of identity as we fear in Fiji; but of annihilation.

I had the pleasure of meeting some of our soldiers from 2FIR serving with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Peninsula, as I travelled from Cairo to Jerusalem, last week. Some of my new friends have served many tours in the Sinai and the Lebanon. During our time together, they shared some of their experiences with me, including of the day in 1996, that the UNIFIL Fiji Base at Qana in South Lebanon was shelled by Israeli forces in retaliation for Hezbollah attacks. This resulted in the deaths of over one hundred civilians and injury to two Fiji soldiers. Our Peacekeepers have seen the horrors of war and understand how blessed our country is, even during times of turmoil.

Fiji's Peacekeepers are respected by the military forces they serve with, as well as by those between whom they aim to keep the peace. Acknowledged by their peers as the best Peacekeepers in the world, they bring a unique ability for generosity in conciliation to their military role. Perhaps, it is the legacy of the talanoa process that we share around the tanoa. Or it is because they feel that they are in the Holy Land. Even that, it is an adaptation of the matanivanua concept. Even more, it is the genuine nature of compassion and love, lying at the core of our society, which shines forth through them, making them both intuitive and successful in their efforts at conflict resolution.

They could sit with Hezbollah and, over coffee, counsel its leadership to keep their foot soldiers in line while, maintaining such good relations with the Israelis, that they were the only battalion to receive forewarning of armed retaliation so that Fiji personnel were not harmed.

Fiji's economic problems, from this perspective, seem small, living as we do in such abundance and neighbourly generosity, compared to the true poverty that I witnessed on the road from Cairo to the Gulf of Aqaba. Our political issues, so soluble, compared to the complexities of negotiation in this region; which even with the combined effort of the world's political and religious leaders, lacks the will on the ground, both sides, to truly see the other person's point of view.

The issues we face in Fiji are very important and need to be addressed if we are to soon reach the peaceful and prosperous future that we all deserve. There is then, a need for those who are intuitively instruments of peace and those who find themselves with the opportunity to be peacemakers in our nation, to work together in the spirit of harmony that comes when we put our egos aside and work with the joy and pleasure that comes from truly selfless endeavour.

It is well to remember that peace is not the merely the absence of war, but the absence of fear; the presence of courage, love, mercy, compassion and justice and the according - wholeheartedly - to our perceived enemy; the very dignity that we believe ourselves to be worthy of.

If our nation's divisions are to heal; if the 'People's Charter' is to become a lasting source of peace and a foundation upon which an appropriate form of democracy can be established, rather than a document merely ratified by process; if we are to have the peace that we all desire; then there is the need for a space to be made.

A space in which all who “talk and walk” peace in our nation, be it as a member of the community; through political, religious or social activism, or by everyday example, can share with open hearts what each feels must be done for the greater good of Fiji. By this exchange alone, we begin to heal ourselves, our communal relationships and from this small seed of listening to each other, an understanding that can begin to heal the world at large.

While it would have been better for the country, if this process had been undertaken before December, 2006; it is not too late for this dialogue to take place - and it must take place, both formally and informally. The meetings, this year, between Mr. Qarase and Commodore Bainimarama; that between the Methodist Church and the RFMF, were a good start; but they must continue, in spite of and because of, the current allegations of treason on the part of Commodore Bainimarama. It is essential that such dialogue looks to the fears and insecurities of both sides of the conflict, which often mirror each other.

As I reflect on the work of the churches in Israel to act together to pursue a lasting peace, I realise that now, more than ever, the churches and other faith based organisations in Fiji, need to come together to listen to each other and to what The Spirit is saying to all believers.

We must recognise that the Almighty moves in ways mysterious to us yet with absolute justice, love and providence for even the least among us to affect Divine will. Divine will is always for the highest for all, never one ahead of the other.

If, given its stand against the military regime, the Methodist Church's current leadership of the Assembly of Christian Churches in Fiji and the Fiji Council of Churches is not able to bring member churches together, then now is the time for the Pacific Conference of Churches and the World Council of Churches Office in the Pacific, both based in Suva, to provide a means to enable the constructive dialogue which is long overdue. This could be a manifestation of the 'Theology of Hope' that the PCC seeks for the region.

As you read this and take your own conclusions, please spare a thought and a prayer for our Peacekeepers around the world, who continue to serve the course and cause of peace for others and whom, I guarantee you, dream of peace in their own land. To all of you who have served as Peacekeepers on behalf of our nation, my heartfelt thanks and loloma, with that of all of my family, for your tireless service, devotion to duty and financial contribution to the economic development of our national infrastructure over the last three decades. I have faith that your experiences in the wider world will serve as a guide to the rebuilding of our communities and our nation.

As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons (and daughters) of God” (Matt 5:9).

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace.

Reverend James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

Toso Chalo

Published in The Fiji Times
"Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan"
3rd September, 2008 page 7

As you read this article, I am most probably wandering around in the desert heat of the Sinai Peninsula at the early stages of a spiritual exodus of my own. I am actually on my way to the United Kingdom, but that is a story for another day.

During the many farewells that I have been accorded by the various communities within the Methodist Church in the last few days, many a conversation has turned towards the fact that there will be at least IRB Rugby Sevens World Series tournaments that my being in the UK will afford me the opportunity to attend. When this realization occurs, speculation even suggests that I should try to go to Dubai for the Rugby Sevens World Cup. Being a Talatala, the suggestion is often made that I should offer myself as a chaplain to the Fiji Team when they are playing nearby.

Of course this is not to say that my sole purpose of traveling to the UK is to be “on standby” for the Fiji Team or the Pacific Islanders for that matter, to offer spiritual services in order for a team pass to the tournament or test match. However, it has raised in my mind the issue of spiritual guidance for our sporting ambassadors, such as the National Sevens team.

On of my colleagues at the Davuilevu Theological College, Rev. Waisea Kania, has had first hand experience of providing spiritual preparation for our Sevens team, a with a very positive outcome. He was the spiritual mentor, one could say, of the Fiji’s successful campaign at the San Diego leg of the IRB 7s Circuit in 2007, visiting the US at the time, when he was drafted into the squad, so to speak, by coach, Dr. Waisale Serevi.

That the majority of Fiji Islanders, Methodist or not, consider themselves spiritual people is perhaps a generalization, but for many sports people, their “psyching up,” or mental preparation is often quite spiritual. Now I am not a sports psychologist, but given our National Fifteens attitude during last year’s World Cup campaign, I am convinced that having a minister (Rev. Rinakama) on the coaching staff (he seems to combine the physical and spiritual into an effective form of ministry) was beneficial to the team as a whole.

With the National Sevens manager yet to be decided (or announced), the FRU board may wish to consider the spiritual mentoring needed by the team as part of the abilities which any manager brings to the table. Dr. Serevi certainly seems to do so. Perhaps I should stress here that itIt would certainly help with discipline, both on and off the field and be an important part of the non-physical preparation a winning side needs to do. Of course, this being said, the FRU may have to seek clearance from the Fiji Human Rights Commission to ensure it is not encroaching on the religious rights of minorities who may not believe in the same God as the team, coach and manager, but have the right to pray to Him for the success of the team or their own success with a Scratch and Win lotto ticket. The team management might also have to check with the FHRC to make sure that it is not offensive to say a team prayer together, broadcast on television for thousands of nominal Christians and non-Christians to see, or for the captain, coach, manager or even fan to thank God publicly after a game. Even for those for whom rugby is a religion.

I know I may have taken the chairperson of the Fiji Human Rights Commission’s recent statements on the work of the Methodist Church’s evangelism department, to an exaggerated level, but it seems that many “official” statements recently are, in the words of my almost four-year old son, “rather silly.”

Christianity is a missionary religion. The last words of Christ to his disciples before His ascension was for His follower to proclaim the good news in their neighbourhoods and to the ends of the earth, My understanding of Islam is that it is also a missionary religion, seeking propagation. Perhaps Dr. Serevi could explain to Dr. Shameem that his public profession of faith is his exercising of his freedom of expression.

It is almost a case of the “Rooster Chicken” or the egg – which comes first: Freedom of Religion, or Freedom of Expression. And what about the freedom that the minorities Dr. Shameem is so worried about, can exercise – the freedom not to listen or say, ‘thanks but no thanks’. Maybe the rewriters of the “Most or Some People’s Charter,” will have to have look at the prayer that almost every parliamentarian has either prayed or bowed their head out of respect at the opening of every session of Parliament, whether that is impinging on the religious freedom of the nation. Or maybe the point has been missed altogether by those who like to wave the red flag when religion, perhaps Christianity, or Methodism in particular is mentioned. After all the sharing of one’s faith with someone of a different faith, will at the very least allow for some education on another religion and possibly lead to interfaith discourse and a mutual understanding, which is essential for a pluralistic society in which we live.

I was on the receiving end of a taxi-driving citizen’s exercising of his right to express his view on the “current clean up campaign and charter exercise” as espoused by his fearless leader. The honest devotion to the “cause” (at least this cause has a full-colour brouchure as opposed to hastily written operational orders written in 1987 or word of mouth and whimsical fancies of 2000) was of course befitting a member of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces, off duty, out of uniform and driving a taxi but “a thousand percent” behind his commander. Candid debate ensued when I asked the “rooster or the egg” version of which comes first, the Charter or Democracy. However, while I admired this soldier/taxi driver’s loyalty, passion and commitment to the course of action, I could not help but wonder whether the propagation of the People’s Charter was impinging on my freedom as a member of a religious minority (okay so there are more Indian Christians than Scientologists in Fiji – but compared to Muslims and Hindus we are a small group; even small if just count Indian Methodists) which holds to an older and internationally recognised charter. Will my religious charter count towards progress and peace my country? Or will I have to say yes to pseudo political rhetoric in order to have my say count?

One thing my charter-evangelising soldier/ taxi driver agreed on: that our country is still very young (38years only) and compared to many of the places where our soldiers serve as peace-keepers, our country is still better off. We are dealing with our problems with relative peace and civility. We can still sit with those we oppose around a tanoa. Above all, we still have hope.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light and peace.

Rev. James Bhagwan is an award-winning radio and television producer and writer. He is currently on leave from the Methodist Davuilevu Theological College where he is a member of the Faculty. All opinions expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the opinion and policies of the Methodist Church in Fiji or any organization that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.