Tuesday, November 30, 2010


2nd December 6.30 to 10ish at the Suva Civic Auditorium...
performances by Ocenia Dance Group, Hope FIJI, Kadavu Choir, Wesley City Mission Praise and Worship Team, Dynamics and more....
tickets only $5 from PCC or FJN+ offices and at the door.... see you there!!!!!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Is a National Consciousness Possible?

Published in The Fiji Times - Off the Wall with padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Yesterday's Fiji Times (FT 2/11) carried an article in which once again the wrong assumption was made that All Saints Day is only commemorated by the Catholic Church.

In fact, it is part of the Christian calendar and is celebrated by a number of Christian denominations, including the Anglican Church (hence All Saints School in Labasa).

While Methodists may not have a specific feast day or major church service to commemorate All Saints Day, according to the journals of Methodism founder John Wesley, it was one of his favourite days in the Christian calendar. (Wesley was of course, an Anglican priest until his death).

The article also neglected that the day after All Saints Day was All Souls Day.

While doctrine and dogma may divide why it is done, All Soul's Day pays respect and remembers the souls of all friends and loved ones who have died and gone either to heaven or to purgatory.

Later this week, the festival of lights will be celebrated in Fiji.

Diwali is a major Hindu religious festival just as Christmas and Easter are recognised as major Christian religious festivals and Eid is recognised as a major festival for Muslims.

However, beyond that Diwali is a major event for all Fijians — even to the point where it is celebrated as a public holiday.

Because like Christmas and Easter, the date for Diwali is able to be determined in advance, it is able to be gazetted as a public holiday.

Eid as a moveable feast — determined by the sighting of the moon is not and so Prophet Mohammed's birthday is celebrated as a public holiday.

The point is that the entire nation celebrates Diwali in some way or the other.

We dress up the day before and wear Indian outfits to work.

Many of us, especially the children enjoy tucking in to the sweets and savouries made for Diwali.

We enjoy setting off firecrackers or watching them light up the night sky and we marvel at the dazzling displays of lights in homes.

Similarly, many enjoy the sewai (vermicelli) served during Eid, and many non-Christians get together as a family and exchange gifts and have a meal during Christmas.

On these days, just as on days when Fiji is playing in a sevens cup final, many of us are of one mind.

We truly have one focus and intent. Our consciousness is shared.

The other day I read about the Global Consciousness Project (GCP), an international effort involving researchers from several institutions and countries, designed to explore whether the construct of interconnected consciousness can be scientifically validated through objective measurement.

According to GCP, the subtle but real effects of consciousness are important scientifically, but their real power is more direct.

They encourage us to help make essential, healthy changes in the great systems that dominate our world.

Large scale group consciousness has effects in the physical world.

Knowing this, we can use our full capacities for creative movement toward a conscious future.

We live in a country where the web of life is acknowledged.

We innately know to respect the land, sea and the air because that is what sustains us.

We live lives of reciprocity – sharing and caring.

This is our natural state.

We all traditionally value relationship over material wealth.

This sustains us when we encounter difficult financial times.

We succeed not when we are independent but when we are interdependent.

Some time ago I attended special Mass in the Hindi language at the Sacred Heart Cathedral, in which Indian cultural adaptations were used.

The service, known as the Missa Puja 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.

On Thursday evening, the night before Diwali, members of Dudley Circuit's Nanuku Settlement Church will hold a special candle-light service to celebrate the Christ-light that burns in their hearts — the light of justice, compassion; the light of unconditional love.

There are forces at work that promote individualism, materialism, selfishness and greed.

These forces aim at dividing communities based on ethnicity and gender, which are nothing more than biological differences or religion — our spirituality and path to union with God.

What if instead of finding things to disagree on, to fight about, to dispute — we could spend one day supporting one part of the community in their important day. We could let their joy be our joy.

We could allow our joy to be theirs.

Our times of sadness would be theirs, our times of needs would be their time of generosity.

It sounds idealistic, I know, but perhaps that is what we need right now — the courage — have an ideal and the conviction to live it.

One people, one nation, one future together.

May your day, the rest of your week and your Diwali be blessed with the divine light of simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

*Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma serving as Librarian/Assistant Lecturer at Davuilevu Theological College and Associate Minister of Dudley Circuit in the Indian Division. 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.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Genetically modified food danger

Published in The Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre J.S. Bhagwan - Wednesday, October 27, 2010

With a strengths, weaknesses and loopholes of consumer protection laws in Fiji beginning in Suva today, I have been thinking of the quality and type of foods that are imported into Fiji, some of them genetically modified.

In December 2007, I represented the Pacific Conference of Churches at a Global Consultation on Genetics and New Biotechnologies and the Ministry of the Church in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I shared my concern that while economic development is important for the nations of Pacific; governments and churches need to examine the possible negative social, economic and health implications of the introduction of farming of genetically-modified crops for export or local consumption.

Looking at the devastation of communities, local economies and cultures by the actions of Biotechnology companies involved in Genetically-Modified crop farming such as Monsanto, in Mexico, Paraguay and Latin America, but also the impact of large-scale GM farming on small farmers in North America, the Pacific needs to heed the "writing on the wall" and be proactive in this area.

The danger of overlooking the health and social implications and focusing on the immediate economic benefits for a few, when looking to introduce the planting of GM crops, is real.

Already we have heard of the States of Victoria and New South Wales in Australia, not renewing the ban on growing genetically-modified crops.

This has direct implications on Pacific Islanders as many of our countries import food products from Australia.

Genetically Modified Foods, Plants, Animals, Additives, Body Products, Fish, Crops and Trees have had their genes manipulated, changed, and put into other species that normally they would not mate with, blend with, consume, or grow in. Incredible combinations have been produced, and have been found to have mutations, diseases, abnormalities and trigger other diseases that otherwise may have remained dormant.

14 South Pacific countries - American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu - have recommended a moratorium on the import of GMOs pending the implementation of appropriate national risk assessment and risk management procedures.

Genetically Engineered Foods Pose Higher Risk for Children

In his publication, "Seeds of Deception," Jeffrey Smith writes that GM foods put our children at risk.

Children's bodies develop at a fast pace and are more likely to be influenced and show the effects of genetically modified (GM) foods. That is why independent scientists used young adolescent rats in their GM feeding studies. The rats showed significant health damage after only 10 days, including damaged immune systems and digestive function, smaller brains, livers, and testicles, partial atrophy of the liver and potentially pre-cancerous cell growth in the intestines.

Children are more susceptible to Allergies

Children are three to four times more prone to allergies than adults. Infants below two years old are at greatest risk-they have the highest incidence of reactions, especially to new allergens encountered in the diet.

Even tiny amounts of allergens can sometimes cause reactions in children. Breast fed infants can be exposed via the mother's diet, and fetuses may possibly be exposed in the womb. Michael Meacher, the former minister of the environment for the UK, said, "Any baby food containing GM products could lead to a dramatic rise in allergies." GM corn is particularly problematic for children, as they generally eat a higher percentage of corn in their diet. Further, allergic children often rely on corn protein. Mothers using cornstarch as a talc substitute on their children's skin might also inadvertently expose them via inhalation.

Children are more susceptible to problems with milk

Milk and dairy products from cows treated with the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH) contain an increased amount of the hormone IGF-1, which is one of the highest risk factors associated with breast and prostate cancer. The Council on Scientific Affairs of the American Medical Association called for more studies to determine if ingesting "higher than normal concentrations of [IGF-1] is safe for children, adolescents, and adults." Sam Epstein, M.D., Chairman of the Cancer Prevention Coalition and author of eight books, wrote, "rbGH and its digested products could be absorbed from milk into blood, particularly in infants, and produce hormonal and allergic effects." He described how "cell-stimulating growth factors . . . could induce premature growth and breast stimulation in infants, and possibly promote breast cancer in adults." Dr. Epstein pointed out that the hormones in cows could promote the production of "steroids and adrenaline-type stressor chemicals . . . likely to contaminate milk and may be harmful, particularly to infants and young children."

Children are more susceptible to nutritional problems

A 2002 report by the UK's Royal Society, said that genetic modification "could lead to unpredicted harmful changes in the nutritional state of foods." They therefore recommended that potential health effects of GM foods be rigorously researched before being fed to pregnant or breast-feeding women, elderly people, those suffering from chronic disease, and babies. Likewise, according to former minister Meacher, unexpected changes in estrogen levels in GM soy used in infant formula "might affect sexual development in children," and that "even small nutritional changes could cause bowel obstruction."

Children are in danger from antibiotic resistant diseases

Children prone to ear and other infections are at risk of facing antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, due to the use of antibiotic resistant genes in GM food. The British Medical Association cited this as one reason why they called for a moratorium of GM foods.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

*Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma serving as a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: padrejames@gmail.com

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saints Among Us

Published in The Fiji Times - Off The Wall with Padre James Bhagwan on Wednesday 20/10/2010

Shalom Aleichem!

On Sunday, I attended mass at St. Michael's Church in North Sydney with my nephew Amiel, cousin Lynette and her husband Assanke Mathes. Apart from the personal spiritual fulfilment of worship and the service of the Eucharist, the occasion was special for two reasons.

Firstly, Amiel is my Godson.

When his parents married, I was Assanke's Best Man and when their son was born, I was asked to take on the responsibility of being their firstborn's Godfather.

I may have made rather comic references to my role as my niece Sian's Godfather in a column in Mai Life Magazine, but still in my early twenties, I found myself taking responsibility for the religious education and spiritual formation this little boy.

This became physically difficult as Amiel and his parents moved to Australia but the decision to be a Godparent and the weight of that responsibility was a critical element in the paradigm shift my spiritual life was to take. Of course with one Godchild out of the country, when I accepted my niece as my Goddaughter, she was to receive a double portion of my commitment, as well as having to hear my attempts at speaking like "The Godfather," Marlon Brando.

So the opportunity to attend worship with my Godson (and his parents) at their church was one I cherished. We sat next to each other during the service, knelt, prayed, sang (I was fortunate to not only know the tune to the hymns but remain in tune during the hymns) and worshipped God together.

We affirmed our faith together and we affirmed his faith journey together.

The second reason that the service was special was that this was also the first feast day of Australia's first saint. Sister Mary MacKillop was that evening (this past Sunday) canonized by Pope Benedict XVI and is now known as St. Mary of the Cross

According to the St. Michael's Church Newsletter, Mary Helen MacKillop, at age 24, opened a Catholic School in a disused stable in Penola, South Australia.

In 1867, at the age of 25 she became the first sister and Mother Superior of the newly formed order of the sisters of St. Joseph of the Sacred Heart.

She adopted the religious name Sister Mary of the Cross.

In Adelaide they founded a new school at the request of the bishop, Laurence Bonaventure Sheil. Dedicated to the education of the children of the poor, it was the first religious order to be founded by an Australian.

The rules written up by Father Julian Woods (who had been her parish priest in Penola and had supported her desire and dreams to serve the poor) and Mary for the sisters to live by were an emphasis on poverty, a dependence on divine providence, no ownership of personal belongings and faith that God would provide and the sisters would go wherever they were needed.

The rules were approved by Bishop Sheil. By the end of 1867, ten other sisters had joined the Josephites who had adopted a plain brown habit.

The sisters later became colloquially known as the Brown Joeys.

During 1869 Mary and several other sisters travelled to Brisbane to establish the Order in Queensland.

Two years later she was in Port Augusta , South Australia for the same purpose.

In 1871 they also established a school in Burra. During this eventful year, Mary was wrongly excommunicated by Bishop Sheil, who was against most of the things that she had fought for, on the grounds that, "she had incited the sisters to disobedience and defiance."

Shortly before his death, Bishop Sheil instructed Father Hughes to lift the censure on Sister Mary. An Episcopal Commission was to later exonerate her completely.

By August 1871, the sisters had not only survived, they had thrived. Over one hundred and twenty women had taken vows and become Sisters of St. Joseph. Being only 23 years old on average and being sent away to any part of Colonial Australia that had need of their services, the sisters had to be tough.

Mother Mary MacKillop died on 8th August 1909 and was laid to rest at the Gore Hill Cemetery.

After her burial people continuously took earth from around her grave and as a result her remains were exhumed and transferred, on 27 January 1914, to a vault before the altar of the Mother of God in the newly built Memorial Chapel in Mount Street, Sydney.

As I listened to the parish priest of St. Michael's, father Michael O'Callaghan, speak on St. Mary of the Cross' life and work,

I began to reflect on another Australian woman who did similar work and is considered (unofficially of course) a saint by many in Fiji, Hannah Dudley.

Known to many as Hamari Mataji (our honoured mother), Hannah Dudley was born in New South Wales, Australia about the time Mary MacKillop was establishing her first school in South Australia.

This somewhat eccentric and fiercely independent woman was the founder of the Methodist Mission to the Indians in Fiji.

From her arrival in 1897 to her final departure from Fiji in 1913 due to illness, Hannah Dudley worked tirelessly, establishing the first school for Indian children in Suva on her verandah, visiting homes, holding night classes for young men, Christian instruction and on Sundays she held services on her verandah. On Sundays she also walked three miles to the local gaol to speak to 400 prisoners and pray with condemned prisoners about to be hanged.

She wanted a wooden church and collected money to have one built and it dedicated on 19 December 1901 at the site of the present Dudley High School, called the Indian Mission Hall.

To this day, under the somewhat infamous baka tree, you can still see the foundations of this building.

During her first year of arrival in Fiji, she began adopting orphans.

She started with two girls and a boy but soon the number of adopted children had grown to eleven.

The most famous of these was a boy given to Hannah Dudley by his father when the mother deserted him. He took his foster-mother's name and became Raymond Dudley. He went on to became the President of the New Zealand Methodist Conference in 1956.

As her adopted family grew, the Church decided to build an orphanage for her at Davuilevu but she refused to move there.

In 1904 an orphanage was built at Davuilevu, called The Dudley Orphanage for Indian Children. It is now known as Dilkusha Girls Home.

Many lives were greatly influenced and nurtured, not just by Hannah Dudley's personal work but in the legacy that lives on in the Indian Division of the Methodist Church, Dilkusha Girls Home and of course, the schools (Intermediate and High) that bear her name.

I am sure Hannah Dudley would agree with the words of St. Mary of the Cross, "The cross is my portion - it is also my sweet rest and support. We must teach more by example than by word."

As Australians celebrate their first Roman Catholic Saint and Fijians remember a Methodist Sister who was saintly, let us all commit to living the legacies we inherit. For in doing so we are blessed.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity.

*Rev. J.S. Bhagwan is a probationary minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily contain the views of this newspaper, the Methodist Church or any other organisation or group that Rev. Bhagwan is affiliated with.

Email: padrejames@gmail.com.

Visit: http://thejournalofaspiritualwonderer.blogspot.com

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Evergreen and Project Green

Published in "Off The Wall" - The Fiji Times, Thursday 7th October, 2010

ON Saturday afternoon (Sat 2/10/10) members of the Dudley Methodist Youth Fellowship and I visited the Nanuku Squatter Settlement in Vatuwaqa, Suva to distribute baigan (eggplant) and chilli potted plants in phase one of their Project Green. Project Green aims to encourage those in the Nanuku settlement to plant their own vegetables as most residents live impoverished lives. The Dudley Methodist Circuit has a small church there and runs a scholarship programme and food bank to support the community.

Project Green started as an initiative to get the Dudley Methodist Youth Fellowship involved in more community-based work as part of putting their faith into action. I am all for singing gospel praise and worship choruses, bible studies and quizzes and fun-nights but there is more to being a Christian than that. Being a Christian involves us going out beyond the four walls of our churches and out of our comfort zones, where we confront not only the reality of the suffering of those less fortun

ate then ourselves but our attitudes towards them.

The concept of "pot-planting" vegetables is the brainchild of Rev. William Lucas, Divisional Superintendent of the Indian Division and Culture of the Dudley Methodist Circuit. Rev. Lucas, who grew up in Navua comes from a farming background found himself involved in rice farming, which meant being knee deep in wet grassland, planting, milking cows as a child. During his stationing at Sigatoka, he used to encourage those in the rural farming community to plant their own crops in order to make use of the land available to them, giving encouragement and advise whenever he was on a visitation.

Now stationed in Suva, Rev. Lucas has turned his backyard into a small vegetable plantation, with round cabbage, lettuce, eggplant, long-bean, Chinese cabbage, tomato, pumpkin plants. While this is an excellent idea and something that the Methodist Church has tried to inculcate in its student ministers at Davuilevu Theological College, Rev .Lucas had more than supplying his family and grateful neighbours with fresh veggies in mind. His aim is to encourage as many people as possible, especially those living the poverty line to plant their own fruits and vegetables in whatever land they have available to them.

For some this may mean flowers sharing space with vegetables in residential gardens, for others small urban neighbourhoods setting aside pieces of land for communal plantations. However for the community in Nanuku, neither option is possible as what little land is available is not suitable for planting due to the high salt content in the water from the swamp.

Rev. Lucas suggested to our youth group to collected recycled paint tins, bottles, cans, cracked buckets and once the group had enough, they spent an afternoon at the Minister's residence, fill them with soil and planting the 30 eggplant, chilli and tomato seedlings. "Project Green" is an experiment of sorts. It is not a hand out, it is a form of "green-spiration". The residents at Nanuku who have received the potted-vegetables must nurture them. They have been challenged to follow the example and plant their own. They will also be called to share the results with their neighbours and encourage others to do the same. I understand that in this current age of political (or non-political) correctness, it may seem insensitive to use the term squatter instead of the now-accepted "informal settlement", but a visit to Nanuku where our brothers and sisters live on land that is reclaimed mangrove swamp or tiri and where one has to carefully navigate old tyres laid down to created safe paths to the sparse homes that are built, sometimes overnight, over the tiri reminds us of the precarious situation that residents of Nanuku live in. Many of us may not be comfortable with the word "squatter", with the lack of dignity that "squatters" may suffer. But perhaps it is important to feel uncomfortable, to be reminded that many people in our world, in our country continue to suffer structural oppression.

I sensed the "eye-opening discomfort" of our young people as they struggled to maintain their balance while walking on the tires, as their wrinkled their noses at the smell of the swamp, as they saw for themselves the conditions their fellow church members lived in. I saw understanding dawn on them as they witnessed the joy with which residents received the potted seedlings; the humility they experienced when they received gratitude from those they were helping through a project they may have grudgingly gotten involved in.

There is a lesson in this project that goes beyond merely feeding the hungry. It is in allowing yourself to be used as an instrument of the greater good, that you receive the most benefit - the joy of fulfilling your responsibility in the web of life.

"Be Still, Stand in Love, Pay Attention."

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: padrejames@gmail.com

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Planting peace

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan 22nd September, 2010

In the midst of the International Day of Peace events yesterday, a vesi (indigenous hardwood) tree was planted by a Fijian peace-builder to symbolise the need for positive peace to be deeply rooted in the hearts of people called to a ministry of peace and reconciliation.
Arieta Koila Costello-Olsson, director of the Suva-based Pacific Centre for Peace-building, and daughter of Navuso, Naitasiri, found herself planting this sapling in her "home soil" as she marked the end of the International Day of Peace and International Day of Prayer for Peace Commemoration at Davuilevu Theological College.

Earlier Ms Costello-Olsson had been the keynote speaker at a forum for theological students, spouses, faculty and invited guests organised by the Pacific Conference of Churches, WEAVERS (the Women Doing Theology Project of the South Pacific Association of Theological Schools) and Davuilevu Theological College organised to mark the IDOP/IDOPP.
The UN International Day of Peace on September 21 takes place, each year, in parallel with the International Day of Prayer for Peace (IDPP).

The UN day is a day on which armed conflict is meant to be stilled, a day for combatants to observe cease-fires, a day on which all people are invited to commit or re-affirm their commitment to non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
In 2010, the United Nations International Day of Peace, September 21, focuses on youth and development, under the slogan: "Peace = Future".

The day at the college began with the morning devotion following the liturgy (order of worship) specially prepared for the International Day of Prayer for Peace in which the focus was on Africa as part of the final year of the World Council of Churches' Decade to Overcome Violence (DOV).
Ms Costello-Olsson, who is also the Pacific Representative to the DOV Reference group committee since 2008, spoke on the upcoming International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (May 2011, Jamaica) and the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence and the process of peacebuilding in Fiji.

Ms Costello-Olsson shared with those gathered about people, "in our country working hard to build peace in our country and restore the hope that was broken or weakened and to get better at telling the truth."

She went on to say that, "as Church, we are called to give direction and provide a space for healing, sharing, reflection and action for change. Sometimes we are good at doing this for others but we are not good at doing it for ourselves. As we journey to strengthen our recovery processes in our country, it is key that we are taking care of ourselves and being truthful and not projecting our anger or pain but looking within for constructive changes we can take to improve our situations."

As the end of the Decade to Overcome Violence nears, Ms Costello-Olsson called for people to celebrate the steps taken thus far to reduce violence, but also to put up new goals so that "violence is eliminated from our lives and we have real workable strategies in place to do so."
"We must create meaningful beacons or indicators of change so that we can track these improvements or these changes.

"This is key because it is easy to lose hope and give up when things are hard. We all have a serious role and responsibility to work for a positive peace, to strengthen our skills in peacebuilding and conflict transformation and to work within ourselves to serve our people in a better way so that our children have a better future nonviolently."

In his response to Ms Costello-Olsson's address, the Dean of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Very Reverend Father Feremi Cama, spoke on the need for non-violent responses to cycles of violence and conflict and the love of God as the core of peace-building.

"Non-violence is not the coward's way. It takes courage to be non-violent. Hatred is a cancer that eats us up inside. We must take ownership of our feelings because we decide to be angry or frustrated or to hate," he said.

femLINK Pacific's Veena Singh-Bryar spoke on the work of femLINK Pacific in empowering women and communities through its communications network and strategies, listening to the stories of the struggles of women at grassroot communities and ensuring that these voices and issues are then taken up and heard at policy and decision-making level in government and civil society.

She also shared on the important work femLINK is doing in the area of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.

In his welcome to the guest speakers, the principal of Davuilevu Theological College, Rev. Dr. Epineri Vakadewavosa said that the college was excited to be able to play its part in the Decade to Overcome Violence.

"As we try our best to ensure the future ministers of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma understand the issues affecting the communities in which they serve, we have, over the last few years, introduced courses on globalisation, ecumenism and the issues of both violence against women and HIV and AIDS — the last two using curriculums developed by WEAVERS and SPATS.

From a theological education perspective, it is important to equip our students and future ministers, priests, deaconesses and pastors to be not only peacemakers themselves but to inspire and teach others to be peacemakers. "

The failure of past national reconciliation events because root causes were not identified and actual perpetrators and victims were not involved was discussed during the forum.

Speakers called on the church to take up the challenge and claim its biblical mandate to instigate reconciliation and peace processes that include collective truth-telling.

"As the church, we have to take a long hard look within ourselves to reflect, but we also have to find better ways to deal with things and to tell the truth about ourselves," said Ms Costello-Olsson.

The church — the body of Christ — is called to make, build and share peace.
Of course I refer to all of us as the church. Our call to share the shalom of God is an integral part of being a Christian.

As we strive to be agents of change and apostles of the Good News, our roles as peace sharers and our peaceful approach to conflicts in the family, community and nationally is not merely important but essential to heralding the kingdom of God.

As you go about your day today, I leave you with this pearl of wisdom gleaned from the Peace Forum: "Reconciliation is a place and space where truth, justice, mercy and peace meet."

"Be still, stand in love and pay attention."
Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva. This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: padrejames@gmail.com

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beyond solidarity

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Thursday, September 09, 2010

In the hustle and bustle of the "Mother of All Festivals" it would have been understandable if most missed the arrival into Suva of the vaka (sailing canoe) O Tahiti Nui Freedom from Tahiti. On an epic journey that would take it from Tahiti to the Cook Islands to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Philippines and eventually to Southern China as the crew seek to reverse the trail of the first Oceanic settlers.

The Fiji Islands Voyaging Society and the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo arranged a traditional welcome ceremony for the crew of O Tahiti Nui Freedom at Albert Park.

As I arrived to say the opening prayer for the ceremony, I received news that the president of the Tahitian version of the FIVS would also be present.

We were in for a surprise as this person was none other than Oscar Temaru, former President of French Polynesia and current President of the French Polynesia Assembly.

Of Tahitian, Cook Island Maohi, and Chinese ancestry, Mr Temaru has been a vocal campaigner against nuclear testing by France at Mururoa and Fangataufa Atolls since the 1970s.

His main power base has been in the poor suburb of Faa'a on the outskirts of the capital Papeete on the island of Tahiti, where he was born and educated.

A few days later, I was fortunate to meet Mr. Temaru again, this time at the Pacific Conference of Churches Secretariat.

As we shared a few bilo of yaqona he told those present the challenges that they faced in merely getting O Tahiti Nui Freedom to sail. While the Uto ni Yalo is made out of man-made and natural materials, O Tahiti Nui Freedom was made in the traditional manner. The group behind the vaka and its epic journey struggled to make this dream a reality.

Struggle is nothing new for the people of Maohi /French Polynesia.

Mr Temaru, is a long-time fighter for independence of his people from France. He shared with us memories of his participating in independence marches in Suva as a young man in the 1970s. At that time the Pacific Conference of Churches was at the forefront of the movements for self determination of the islands in the region and for a nuclear free Pacific.

While many islands were able to attain self-rule, French Polynesia, New Caledonia and the Indonesian-controlled West Papua still struggle to free themselves of colonisation.

An early political influence was Jean-Marie Tjibaou, philosopher and former leader of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), who was assassinated in New Caledonia in 1989.

When asked by an Australian Broadcasting Corporation reporter "Most people call this place French Polynesia. What do you call it?" he replied "This is French-occupied Polynesia. That is the truth. This country has been occupied."

Mr Temaru has been actively campaigning for Pacific Islands' support for Maohi/French Polynesia to be put back on the UN decolonisation list.

Speaking to Radio Australia in July this year he said he was enlisting the support of all those countries, "to get our country back on the list of non-autonomous countries at the United Nations. We want to be independent like them, and to control our destiny."

Countries that used to engage in the effort for a nuclear free Pacific and support the struggle for self-determination now have different priorities and alliances with former adversaries.

Yet the Church still has a responsibility to be the voice of the voiceless, bring good news to the poor, to set the captive free, provide sight to the blind, end the suffering of the oppressed, proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.

In the face of new types of oppression such as cultural and economic globalisation, the threat of climate change, violence against women and HIV and AIDS, it is important that we not lose sight of the other types of oppression that our brothers and sisters in the region face.

A few nights later, as I ducked out of the rain into the lobby of a local hotel, I bumped into Mr Temaru again. As the seasoned campaigner he is, he reminded me again of the important role the churches in Oceania have in leading the region to complete self-determination.

I took it to mean economic, cultural, spiritual as well as political self-determination.

In November 2009, Indigenous Peoples and church-based workers and organisations from Australia, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand for the Asia-Pacific Indigenous Peoples' Hearing on Poverty, Wealth and Ecology.

Their declaration, issued to the nation-states and churches in Asia and the Pacific, the ecumenical movement and international community included the call to:

* Recognise Indigenous Peoples' sovereignty and ways of life consistent with indigenous cultural values. This will include the promotion of indigenous worldviews, knowledge, wisdom, and practices to meet the needs of all;

* Advocate for self-determination and food sovereignty;

* Respect and recognise Indigenous Peoples as custodians of Mother Earth;

* Strengthen solidarity among Indigenous Peoples and between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples based on non-discrimination, equality and mutual respect, social equity and peaceful coexistence;

* Advocate the re-reading of the Bible with a strong justice and peace orientation

Much of the conflicts which the people of Oceania find themselves in seem foreign to the Pacific way of life and churches have done a lot in seeking a peaceful solution to the crisis with mitigated results.

In the Pacific Plenary of the World Council of Churches 9th Assembly in Brazil, it was noted that the struggle for self-determination is still a priority for churches and people of New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

Support from the ecumenical family needs to continue to enable these peoples and their respective churches to seek what is best for their own future.

As we of Oceania sail our canoes through the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, many of the same rough seas remain to be sailed through to reach the Islands of Hope.

Our best hope to reach these islands is if we move beyond empathy and solidarity and join in the struggle to help the "least" of our brothers and sisters.

We also need to not only light the way for others to follow but speak peace to the storm and calm the waves which threaten to capsize the canoes of those who sail with us.

Only then can we say that we are being the voice of the voiceless, bringing good news to the poor, setting the captives free, providing sight to the blind, ending the suffering of the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favour. "Be Still, Stand in Love, Pay Attention."

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with.

E: padrejames@gmail.com

Let's make peace

Published in the Fiji Times - Off the Wall with Padre James Bhagwan, Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Last Friday, peace-workers from around Oceania completed 120 hours of intensive Peace-building training with the Pacific Centre for Peace-building and the Pacific Theological College's God's Pacific People programme.

Over three weeks, lay and ordained church workers who work in conflict areas of varying degrees (from family and community conflicts to social/political /national conflicts) spent time sharing experiences and learning tools to help them be better peacemakers.

In the first week of the training intensive, the participants learned about the analysis of conflict, justice, violence and society.

Divided into two parts, participants were firstly equipped with the tools to "map" and describe their society as they experience it, giving them confidence in talking about issues of conflict, violence and injustice in our society.

The second part of the week focused on understanding the roots of conflict and injustice.

This involved a joint exploration of how the structures of society contribute to conflict and peace.

The exploration also included understanding the importance of human needs and human rights theories as a the core framework for examining the complex causes of conflict, crime, injustice and violence, including the roles of identity, shame and humiliation in the cycle of violence as well as the impact of structural violence on other forms of conflict.

By the end of the first course our Pacific Peacebuilders had gained skills in analysing power and culture and psychological analysis of conflict as well as applying the theories and models into real-life situation.

The second week of the training intensive focused on helping the participants to recognise that awareness in trauma healing is essential for any peacebuilding process.

The instructors from the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding shared their learnings from the Eastern Mennonite University STAR Programmes, Father Michael Lapsley and Dr. Al Fuertes.

During this second course participants were introduced to various types of trauma and the effects of trauma on both individuals and communities.

They also examined the relationship between trauma, conflict and violence.

The course also included indentifying situations of trauma and resilience for individual and communal stories.

Particpants explored common responses to trauma; the role of the bod, mind and spirit in trauma; and the relationship between unhealed trauma and cycles of violence.

As part of understanding the trauma healing process, participants were introduced to the trauma healing journey model and analysing in the light of their own insights.

They learned new skills to address trauma at various stages.

The concepts of reconciliation and forgiveness were discussed in detail as participants examined what non-violent responses to violence and peacebuilding concepts transform and prevent trauma.

During this week, students shared their personal and common stories of trauma healing and discussed case studies from Oceania and the rest of the world.

The final part of this training intensive focused on the essential skills and knowledge for communication and building relationships.

According to the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding, no matter the level of peacebuilding work, effective practice relies on self-awareness and respecting others through human relations skills.

Practical peacebuilding skills needed for facilitating conflict transformation include active listening, getting beyond posturing, issue identification, identifying and working with commonalities, problem-solving, group facilitation, methods for structuring conversation in group settings, awareness of the impact of self on others.

Participants were challenged to try out new ways of addressing conflict in and out of class.

On the final day the participants spent the morning in a conflict simulation exercise.

As a fly on the wall I observed them putting into practice the many skills learned and understandings gained as they simulated transforming and resolving a violent conflict in which an occupying force invaded a country.

Community leaders, politicians and the military attempted dialogue while rebels tried to disrupt the process and representatives of big business tried to exploit the vulnerable but volatile situation.

In an unusual but positive result the Pacific peacebuilders were able to transform and resolve the conflict peacefully.

According to the facilitators, this particular simulation, based on the US-led invasion of Iraq, usually ends in violence with parties shooting each other.

However this exercise was not without its challenges as naturally non-violent people were challenged to play the roles of aggressors and oppressors.

I (and I am sure at least some of the participants) was amazed at the number of factors that need to be taken into consideration when attempting to resolve conflicts.

The types of trauma experienced by both oppressors and oppressed, looking for the root causes of the conflict rather than merely addressing things from a superficial or surface level, active listening and perhaps above all creating safe spaces for sharing and parties being able to trust peacebuilders are often things we over look in our rush to resolve or sometimes end conflicts we experience in our personal, communal and national life.

While the answers to our problems and conflicts may not be as clear cut or easy as we would wish, if we are serious about resolving them once and for all we need commit our time, our minds, our hearts, and be willing to look at ourselves and be open to others.

The longer conflicts remain unresolved the deeper they entrench themselves, the deeper the trauma and negative effects and the longer it will take to resolve them.

We need to commit to transforming conflicts in our lives. We need to support the peacemakers and peacebuilders in our communities.

May the rest of your week be blessed with simplicity, serenity and spontaneity and the courage to transformation whatever conflict you face.

"Be still, stand in love, pay attention"

* Reverend J.S. Bhagwan is a member of the Faculty at Davuilevu Theological College and the Associate Minister of Dudley Methodist Circuit in Suva.

This article is the sole opinion of Rev. J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email: padrejames@gmail.com