Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Wesley's Legacy

The editorial in Monday's (24/5/10) Fiji Times on the founder of Methodism, John Wesley commemorated Reverend Wesley's spiritual conversion and challenged Methodists of Fiji to recommit themselves not only to Wesley's spiritual teachings but also to putting them through, "caring for the poor and helping the downtrodden in society".

In 1772 John Wesley addressed a letter to the editor of Lloyd's Evening Post regarding the causes of and cures for high unemployment, food shortages and dismal economic conditions.

Wesley, who was 69 at the time, began the letter by asking, "Why are thousands of people starving-perishing for want, in every part of England?"

In describing the situation in London at the time Wesley wrote, "I have known those who could only afford to eat a little coarse food every other day. I have known one picking up stinking sprats from a dunghill, and carrying them home for herself and her children. I have known another gathering the bones, which the dogs had left in the streets, and making broth of them, to prolong a wretched life."

The founder of the Methodist Movement then went on to frankly point out the impact of poor land use and farming practices by landowners, the use of wheat and grain for alcohol rather than food production, high taxation and the increasing national debt as the root causes of the economic and social problems facing 18th Century England.

John Wesley believed that most of the economic problems of the day were caused by a growing disparity between the rich and the poor.

Wesley felt the cure was to repress "luxury, either by example, by laws, or both."

He asked legislators to establish laws that would prohibit the distillation of alcohol.

While he lamented high taxes upon the poor and middle class, he called for additional taxes on luxury items such as horses and carriages.

He suggested people be taxed on what they purchased rather than upon what they earned. Basically this was a call for higher taxes upon the wealthy and laws that would prohibit the wasting of natural products.

While he attempted to prick the consciences of the readers of Lloyd's Evening Post, Wesley did not publicise his personal actions, he organised groups of Methodists to visit the London workhouses where poor people were housed and employed. The groups also provided worship services for the inmates, most of whom were children and elderly persons.

Leading by example, Wesley also pushed for less reliance upon pharmaceuticals, experimented with alternative health practices (herbal and traditional medicines), he rose each morning at 4 o'clock and relied heavily on an active lifestyle. He lived to age 88.

Methodists under Wesley's direction became leaders in many social justice issues of the day including prison reform and abolitionism movements.

In his seminal work in support of the abolition of slavery, Thoughts Upon Slavery, Wesley wrote,

"If, therefore, you have any regard to justice, (to say nothing of mercy, nor the revealed law of God,) render unto all their due. Give liberty to whom liberty is due, that is, to every child of man, to every partaker of human nature. Let none serve you but by his own act and deed, by his own voluntary choice. Away with all whips, all chains, all compulsion! Be gentle toward all men; and see that you invariably do unto every one as you would he should do unto you."

His concluding prayer in Thoughts Upon Slavery can also be read in light of the many oppressive structures in the world today. It is a cry for justice:

"O thou God of love, thou who art loving to every man, and whose mercy is over all thy works; thou who art the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and who art rich in mercy unto all; thou who hast mingled of one blood all the nations upon earth; have compassion upon these outcasts of men, who are trodden down as dung upon the earth! Arise, and help these that have no helper, whose blood is spilt upon the ground like water! Are not these also the work of thine own hands, the purchase of thy Son's blood? Stir them up to cry unto thee in the land of their captivity; and let their complaint come up before thee; let it enter into thy ears! Make even those that lead them away captive to pity them, and turn their captivity as the rivers in the south. O burst thou all their chains in sunder; more especially the chains of their sins! Thou Saviour of all, make them free, that they may be free indeed!"

The legacy of John Wesley is spiritual piety, practical Christian love, typified by mission to the poor and marginalised through education, health services, and other social welfare programmes including building houses for the homeless. It is a legacy of speaking truth to power, of calling for justice, mercy and compassion.

Some months ago I was sent an email which read: Leave a legacy that says you Loved God; you took good care of your family; you were kind and generous; you were a true friend; you kept your word; you encouraged others; you had a great attitude; you helped those in need; and that you lived true to your faith.

What will our legacies for future generations be? May the rest of you week be blessed with light, love, peace and the courage to speak the truth in love.

* 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 Mr J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with. Email:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Stigma Kills

Published in The Fiji Times on Wednesday May 19th, 2010

"Stigma is unacceptable, because stigma kills." These were the words of the Governor General of Papua New Guinea, Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, two weeks ago, as he launched the Papua New Guinea Christian Leader's Alliance on HIV and AIDS. In his keynote address, Sir Paulias said the launch and the signing of the statement of commitment was a historic event of great magnitude. Sir Paul commended the church leaders for taking the "bold, strong and courageous steps needed against a formidable adversary such as HIV and AIDS." He called on the churches to be the voice of the voiceless and mirrors of God's mercy, saying that the Christian Leaders Alliance was, "a powerful change agent" in removing the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS.

I was fortunate to be present at the launch of the Alliance and the signing of by Church leaders from 19 Christian denominations in Papua New Guinea of a commitment to fully engaging in the response to the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Papua New Guinea. The statement by the Church leaders gives a number of commitments on addressing the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS in Papua New Guinea; on providing practical and compassionate pastoral care to people living with HIV and AIDS and on strengthening existing partnerships with both organizations and groups already responding to the HIV and AIDS pandemic in Papua New Guinea including working with religious communities to disseminate accurate information relating to

HIV and AIDS in the areas of prevention, treatment, care and support of people.

The commitment also included, "speaking publicly at every opportunity, particularly from our pulpits, on HIV/AIDS, especially affirming the God-given dignity of all persons, and their right to life, to security, health care and general acceptance, respect, care and love."

A representative of People Living with HIV and AIDS, Peter Momo, shared his story, highlighting the importance of loving care for people living with HIV and AIDS. Mr Momo said more people who were HIV positive would go public with their status if they were encouraged by the care received in their communities. He challenged church leaders to join their congregations in caring for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea, Archbishop John Ribate, who chaired the reference group on the PNG Christian Leaders Alliance on HIV and AIDS said that the churches call to action on HIV and AIDS came from the understanding that no human situation can be considered outside the realm of communities of faith. He added that in Papua New Guinea, Christian communities were the best people to teach people how to prevent the spread of HIV. Speaking on behalf of the members of the Alliance, Archbishop Ribat said, "We pledge to do more. We will spare no effort to break the silence on HIV and AIDS."

There is no doubt that the work that the PNG Christian Leaders' Alliance on HIV and AIDS is a milestone in the Pacific response to the epidemic and an inspirational example as to how churches of different denominations and indeed all religious groups can work together on a life and death issue that affects every community.

However, statement by Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane, the sharing by Peter Momo and the pledge made on behalf of the Alliance by Archbishop John Ribat, remind us also that stigma and discrimination results in silence, which culminates in ignorance and continues to further stigma and discrimination in a vicious cycle.

Most of us fear rejection. In fact many of us go out of our way to do things or behave in a manner that will prevent our rejection by our friends, family and community. Often this means lying. We lie to others and eventually we lie to ourselves. This can be as simple as lying about our age and our weight, but it also goes far, far deeper as we feel the situation warrants. When we live a life of fear, we do not live at all. When the truth is absent from our lives, it is very difficult for love to be present.

Monday, May 17, was International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. The UNAIDS executive director Mr Michel SidibÚ, in his statement for this occasion wrote,

"Change is happening: From hate to harmony - From exclusion to inclusion - From stigma to dignity. But not everywhere. Today, nearly 80 countries still have laws prohibiting same-sex behavior. These laws block access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. I call on all governments to create social and legal environments that ensure respect for human rights. UNAIDS has made protecting and providing HIV services to men who have sex with men and transgender people as a priority area.

"It is my hope that through our collective efforts, we can make homophobia and transphobia history."

A few weeks ago I received an email in response to this column from a man who has struggled to come to terms with his sexual identity because of fear of stigma and discrimination.

He wrote: "My journey as a gay man has been a long and painful one. For the past three years I have been under treatment for clinical depression, on anti-depressant medication and seeing a psychologist. The underlying reason for my depression was that I was not comfortable with my sexuality and hated myself for being gay. Living in a homophobic, conservative country as Fiji did not help the situation. In mid 2009 I finally came to terms with myself and broke the heavy shackles of depression. I came out to my family and friends and have been accepted with open arms and support. I have been lucky but I know others in Fiji have not been. I realise I'm not alone in the world but I do not want anyone else to go through what I did. No one should go through my pain and the world should embrace us with open arms."

May 17, 2010 is the International Day Against Homophobia. This date was chosen because this is the day homosexuality was removed from the International Classification of Diseases from the World Health Organisation on May 17, 1992. The International Day Against Homophobia belongs to no one individual. It's about all people hoping for a prejudice-free world that can provide a place at the table for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. Inspired by all world theme-days, the day set aside to fight homophobia needs to be appropriated by all of those actively involved in civil society: gay and lesbian community organisations, those organisations focusing on other types of sexual diversity, unions, employers, private businesses, governments, public administration, professional associations, religious groups and all individuals seeking equality.

As I sat in the Raiwai Church on Sunday for the candlelight memorial for those from Fiji, the Pacific and around the world who have died as a result of HIV and AIDS, I thought of the many that died alone because they feared telling someone of their HIV status. So many of us in this world suffer from some sort of stigma and discrimination because of our ethnicity, status, gender, age, upbringing and sexual orientation.

I am reminded that the Christ broke the taboos of His day and reached out in healing and love to those considered unclean and outcast and that we who consider ourselves His Body are called to continue that which he began.

Each human being has the capacity to be an agent of transformation in this world. To transform our fear into love, transform our discrimination, stigmatization and rejection of all people into acceptance, compassion and loving care; to transform our ignorance, our division and our indifference into wisdom, unity and purpose. In doing so, we will turn darkness into light, death into life and despair into hope.

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the strength, courage and wisdom to transform the world, one person at a time.

* 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 Mr J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with.

Young people encounter Christian Unity

Published in The Fiji Times, Wednesday May 12th, 2010

'Unity' is perhaps the most important, yet often the most elusive, objective in any community. I remember as a young boy on school-holiday visits to Suva from Lautoka riding past the Public Employees Union building on Edinburgh Drive. The image of two shaking hands and the words "United we stand, Divided we fall," were indelibly imprinted in my memory. Yet our self-interest or selfishness often outweighs our recognition that the needs of the many are more important than the wants of the few.

I was in Papua New Guinea recently and was watching the local television news as someone was being interviewed on a submission on human rights. The person was trying to explain to the interviewer the importance of communal rights as understood in the cultures of Papua New Guinea in relation to individual rights as understood in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To me, the point that came across was that our individual rights are the base minimum, while our communal rights or perhaps responsibilities to each other are the ideal.

Unity in our diverse society is always going to be a difficult task given that many community leaders have their own agendas and that for many, one's identity focuses on that which marks us as different rather than as the same. Even on the divisive issue of religion, we often tend to identify our selves by denomination than faith. In a country like Fiji, with a high percentage of professing Christians, there are many Christian denominations whose relationships with each other range from fellowship and working together through recognised commonalities, to casual or uneasy relationships, ignorance or outright criticism and condemnation. It seems some leaders of faith communities are more interested in the issue of "sheep-stealing" (proselytising) than finding common ground to work together.

It would seem that in the household of God, each family member keeps his or her room locked and tries to entice other members of the household to move into that room.

A few weeks ago, about 24 young men and women from churches and Christian groups from around met in Suva for a weeklong encounter with some of the pioneers of the ecumenical movement in the Pacific: Archbishop Sir Ellison Pogo, of the Anglican Church of Melanesia; former president of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, Reverend Dr Ilaitia Sevati Tuwere, past-General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches, Mrs Lorine Tevi; and the Citizen's Constitutional Forum's Reverend Akuila Yabaki.

The initiative of the Pacific Conference of Churches was to bring these young people together to listen, discern, learn from and celebrate with the ecumenical pioneers the foundation and years of progress of the ecumenical movement in Oceania - its history, vision, the calls and actions that were made since its formation in Malua, Western Samoa in 1961 and the challenges it faced over the years. Many of these young people had never heard the word "ecumenism". After those five days together, I doubt they will ever forget it.

At the end of their ecumenical encounter, the young people issued a communiquÚ which will be presented to the Pacific Church Leaders meeting in August in Aotearoa / New Zealand. The communiquÚ expressed, "the pain of division in particular, the pain of not being able to break bread together, fellowship as often as we can and to share the word of God together; as well as the failure to recognise the gift of unity that God has given and to take responsibility of the call to visibly express this unity."

It also expressed concern at the failure of churches, "to speak with one voice and carry out its prophetic witness on the most fundamental issue of our time, namely the declining respect for and valuing of life - both human and natural - in the household of God, which has resulted in the deepening level of poverty and injustice, violence in its various forms, bad governance and corruption, the indignity with regard to how we treat those who are different from us, and the devastating impacts of climate change resulting from our human greed and mistaken view of development."

The young ecumenists shared their view of the household of God from a Christian perspective and affirmed that ecumenism means the "one household or the Oikos of God and it includes the human family and all created things in our seas, lands and skies and affirming that we are impelled, with our variety of gifts and contributions, to continue to build the "household of God." Understanding that Christian unity, "means unity in diversity and that the differences among our Churches in Oceania and the diversity of our Christian faith traditions enhance, enrich and strengthen our Christian unity," the young Christian men and women of the "liquid continent" affirmed that this unity, "deepens our understanding of God, moves us to appreciate the uniqueness of our own church traditions, and help us to embrace our humble state in the vastness of God's creation."

As they agreed that diversity and difference has a real place in our Christian unity, and that these are not tragic but invitations for us to appreciate our uniqueness and to recognise the dignity of those who are different and that of the created world, they also acknowledged the "failure to recognise and deeply appreciate that we all belong to the one household or the "Oikos" of God that includes women and men of other religious faiths and the natural world and all it contains."

The communiquÚ calls the churches of the Pacific to re-engage with each other through the establishment of a commission to articulate and develop a fresh approach to dialogue on the three things that divide churches, namely Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM). It also called churches to maintain a shared history of the churches and ecumenical movement; develop a mentoring and accompaniment program in ecumenical formation and learning at the national and regional levels so that ecumenism is better understood by church leaders and among the young and the old and develop a network of young ecumenists where ecumenism can be nurtured and celebrated, and where issues of moral concern to the churches are discussed and action taken.

The desire for faith to be expressed in society was also expressed as the young ecumenists called for political leaders to be encouraged to share the belief that, "in the one household of God, no one is excluded;" to take leadership in "redefining our oceanic identity where our diversity and differences are deeply appreciated and where our commonalities are held up in a world that threatens to make us the same" as well as "redefining development and what it means in view of the fact that poverty, economic injustices, violence in its various forms, and incidences of corruption and bad governance are increasing in our island countries".

The key to this lies in helping people understand ecumenism or the concept of the "household of God" from childhood to adulthood, to enhance a deeper appreciation of ecumenism and the re-establishment of chaplaincies for students in tertiary institutions at the national and regional levels with intensive ecumenical learning programs with them. For this to take place, the youth requested that important ecumenical documents be written and translated into local languages.

This communiquÚ is a bold statement by young men and women of the region who, having experienced what is possible through claiming a place in the "household of God," are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to this "household". In non-theological terms they have experienced the practical potential of unity in diversity. Their call is not just for churches but for all to heed. It is a call for inclusion, respect and tolerance. Above all, it is a call for love and understanding of each other.

May the rest of your week be blessed with the recognition that we all have an equal place in the "household of God".

* 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 Reverend J.S. Bhagwan and not of this newspaper or any organisation that he is affiliated with.

* Email:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Get On Your Bike

Published in the Fiji Times on Tuesday 4th May, 2010

When I was growing up in Lautoka, I was fortunate to have a bicycle. In fact I had two, although not at the same time. I remember progressing from training wheels with my father holding on, to riding on my own with two wheels. Then as I got bigger and my older sister complained about my riding around town with her bicycle (which had a basket and was therefore handy for carrying around the things boys in Lautoka like to carry around, especially fireworks at Diwali time), my smaller bicycle was recycled into the extended family and I went with my parents to buy a new red Steelmaster 3-speed (my age is now showing) bicycle.

It wasn’t cheap so my father was determined to make sure that I appreciated the gift. I had to ride it home, and anyone who has ridden a brand new bicycle will understand how hard it was to pedal. This difficulty was compounded by the fact that I did not understand how the gears worked and that even though I was too big for my old bike, I was too short for my new bike and so had to either stand and pedal or sit painfully on the crossbar.

It took me some time to grow into this bicycle, both in terms of height to sit properly and in terms of strength to pedal consistently and use the handbrakes. But eventually once I mastered the Steelmaster, it opened up a new world for me. By Class 5 I was allowed to cycle the short distance from our government quarters opposite Churchill Park, to Drasa Avenue School. That included a roundabout and a very steep (for Class 5) hill, the summit on which was my school. Off course that meant that riding home afterschool was fast and furious. I would cycle to visit my mother at work and hire VHS tapes from the video shop across the road from her workplace, to the post office to check the mailbox, to town to pick up small items from the shop or when I was feeling adventurous and energetic, cycle up to the Lautoka Hospital to visit father. There were many adventures had on two wheels.

In Suva, I did try to cycle to work a few times, but the hours and conditions of work in radio and then television meant that cycling downhill to work for a breakfast show and struggling uphill after a grog session or any other session, especially without a light put an end to this attempt. A few years later I tried again with some success. But time was not on my side in terms of choices of bicycle and car for transport and I have always preferred swimming to cycling for any attempt at fitness.

Then on Saturday, I found myself saying a prayer, not just for myself but for His Excellency the President of Fiji and other amateur cyclists at the starting line for the two-wheeled launch of LifeCycle Fiji. Then following Ratu Epeli’s lead, going for a short ride around central Suva. It’s true what they say about riding a bicycle – you never remember exactly what it’s like until you get on and start pedalling and balancing. His Excellency set a good pace and even wearing a sulu-vakataga, I was able to keep up without embarrassing either myself or any spectators. However, as much as I enjoyed the uniqueness of the event, the launch of LifeCycleFiji marks an important milestone in the areas of health and vitality, energy and quality of life for Fiji Islanders.

According to The Sunday Times, “the Life Cycle Fiji Initiative (LCFI) is a joint initiative of the Department of Energy (DOE) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Oceania to promote the use of non-motorised vehicles as a mode of transport and also to reduce Fiji's fuel bill amongst many other positive social, environmental and economical benefits.”

Cyclists live 10-15 years longer than those that do nothing. According to anecdotal evidence from Cuba, when bicycles were promoted as a viable transport option, in the first five years, those who rode an average of 15minutes a day, added 5 years onto their lives.

Apart from the fitness aspect, the bicycle is the bicycle is the most efficient machine known. On a bike you use the same energy as walking but go 5 times faster. On a bicycle you use up less energy than a car consumes just to power its lighting system for the same distance.

Dominic Sansom and other enthusiasts have been working on reintroducing a cycling culture (introducing in most countries) in the Pacific and are working, “towards creating better conditions for those that want to cycle for transport and pleasure. We would like to see more people cycling for their health, for the environments, to work and school and just because it's great fun.”

While safety is always an issue, the Land Transport Authority is a valuable partner in this initiative. The cost of bicycles could be greatly reduced, and a new niche industry created, if the main frame of the bicycle was to be manufactured here.

With no pollution, no impact on the environment and, “No negatives to cycling,” according to Sansom and the advocates of LifeCycleFiji, cycling is not only fun but the use of what has been voted as one inventions of the millennium, can also save time. Two hours spent in the Nausori to Suva corridor could be reduced to 40 minutes for those who “bike it”. It is about 15minutes from Lami to Suva. And these are areas with hills. Imagine the ease of transport in flat areas of Nadi, Ba and my favourite cycling city, Lautoka.

I hope to join in their Saturday 7am easy rides as soon as I find a good pair of shorts. Cycling in a sulu, while brave, may cause some accidents on the road.

For more information send an email to or visit!/group.php?gid=112726728739464&v=wall&ref=ss

Cycle for fun. Cycle to work and school. Cycle as transport. Cycle for the environment. Cycle for your life.

May the rest of your week be blessed with life, love, peace and the realisation that the revolution starts with one turn of the pedal.

Rev. 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: