One word to sum up the last four months? I would to say “adventure”.
A journey full of bright colors and unexpected shadows…
somehow every experience, relationship, and trial
played a role to create a profound picture,
like a city on a hill,
light for all to see.
1. “Becoming a Fijian to the Fijians.”
I had spent 8 months as the only white man in this village, but now I was returning with two more friends, Reis Yonehiro from Hawaii, and my brother Jackson Coleman from Utah.
Our goal was to move back into the village and do our best to live the same way as the Fijians, then practice the teachings of Jesus. It was difficult to make the adjustment from our fast paced always-entertained 4G western culture, to the island life of slow moving “Fiji-Time”.
Here, there is no such thing as a day-planner. There is no schedule. Everything is oriented around relationships. I was never asked “What is your job or occupation?” Fijians usually ask, “Where is your family?” “Whose house did you stay at today?”
As strange as it sounds I had to learn how to simply sit in a room with a few people, with no distractions or technology, and enjoy each other’s company “talking story” and sipping tea.
We began to train ourselves to live the same way as the natives.
We slept on the floor, ate dinner on the floor, and lounged on the floor. No tables or chairs. No utensils. We ate with our hands. My knees were sore from always sitting indian-style cross-legged on the mats.
We began taking language lessons and baking lessons from the Chief’s wife, Mere. For a stretch of time, each morning we had a routine of eating hot, fresh-out-of-the-oven banana muffins as we practiced rolling our tongues and saying really strange sounding words. It was a lot of fun.
We learned how to spear fish. It took time to gain the breath-holding capacity, patience, and strategy to sneak up close enough to shoot one. For a long time I could only get the really small ones, not even big enough to feed a puppy. Big fish were too smart. If we couldn’t catch fish we had a small dinner. Sometimes on those days we would have tea and crackers for dinner, or a packet of ramen noodles because I couldn’t hit a fish.
Slowly, I started to learn. I remember one of the first times I finally speared a good sized fish all by myself. I came in from the reef so excited to eat a thick meaty fish. I was so hungry. But slowly the people came as I was cooking and I ended up enjoying a small bite of that “meaty” fish. A group of kids and another family enjoyed the small dinner together.
A good sized parrot fish that Jacky snagged.
No one just cooks for themselves. I had to learn this. It was unnatural for me. I had spent my college career cooking for myself, but that did not exist here. In Nabila whenever there is food prepared, it is custom to call out and invite anyone passing by to join you, even if there is little food. If you don’t call, you aren’t a Fijian.
After that experience I made sure not to come in from fishing until I had a couple good ones. The needs of the community became my own. I stopped cooking for myself. Not only was fishing a source of livelihood, it also provided us with a way to serve the other families. Bringing fish and a few loaves of bread became a very meaningful act of service to the families we were seeking to reach. My spear gun was slowly becoming a valuable tool.
In the village, even a bar of butter or a roll of paper towels is a luxury. I’m not joking… its wild. If you want to make a family super happy, just bring a few loaves of bread and some butter from town, and they will be ecstatic. Or if you want to bless the youngsters, just bring a packet of Tang juice and the party is on.
“Living the village life naturally began to teach us
how to live out the “one-anothers” that Jesus talked about.”
Everything is done in community and each person, at each age level, has a clear purpose and task in serving the community. The fathers farm, the kids gather firewood, the mothers cook and clean. This is life, and it works beautifully. There is little pride and showy-ness. Everyone just plays their role.
We learned many tasks like gathering firewood, climbing coconut trees to get the coconut, then using a machete to drink the coconut milk and eat the meat. We learned how to pull kasava in the farm (A potato like root). We learned how to cook everything over the fire. We learned which leaves could be boiled for tea (and it tasted so good). We learned what leaves work for medicine. We learned how to wash our clothes with our hands, and how to pass the time telling stories with each other. These simple tasks began to carry such a sense of fulfillment. We were eating what we prepared, and serving others by the hard work of our hands.
I was so stoked when some of the mothers began to say to me, “Isa Sethy you are like a Fijian now!” The locals have never seen a white person living just like them. They only saw white people as tourists that stayed in nice resorts.
I had so much fun opening a new category in their minds, that not all white people are high maintenance and require air conditioning.
Experiencing this way of life is something I will never forget. It rocked my world as I witnessed a community that exudes great joy and happiness, yet they possess very little. By American standards their way of life is the equivalent to abject poverty. Yet during my stay I began to discover a richness in their lives that goes far beyond money, convenience, and comfort.
I felt as if I was tapping into a part of me that was ancient,
desires that were previously dormant in my heart.
Without being aware of it, something deep inside me
had been longing for this “simplicity” my entire life.
2. The Widow and Orphan Christmas Dinner.
Once we moved into this community, it was time to look for ways to serve the people. In the Bible there is a high priority to take care of the needs of the fatherless children and widows. So as an organization, we decided to make that our highest priority.
Our church community and many people in the village helped as we prepared a traditional honorary dinner for the fatherless and widows during Christmas. We spent time fishing and cutting vegetables. We butchered a cow, did the same with a pig, and then with the chickens. We cooked all the food that is customary for an honorary Fijian Dinner.
We served about 120 chief guests (widows, single mothers, Fatherless kids), giving each child a gift by name. It was a special feast as we celebrated the love of God together.
I was amazed to see the community come around this project to share the love of Jesus Christ to the mothers and children that need love and support. So many villagers stayed up all night and day preparing the meal. It was amazing. I will never forget it.
Click image (orphan Christmas) to see a video of a single mother who struggled with abortion, but now is strengthened by God to serve the community and make a difference.
3. We were asked to move into the heart of the community.
By God’s amazing orchestration, we were invited by the Chief and members of the village to live in a small Fijian grass hut called a “bure house” in the center of the community. Our mission team moved in and began to serve the community around us.
We cooked food and prepared tea in our own home and served the people. Kids from all around came as we played songs on the ukulele and guitar. We shared with them our stash of bubble gum. We were also able to buy school uniforms, stationary, and shoes for the children of single mom homes. It was such a fun time making an impact and being a vessel of love to the families.
Our house became a bright light in the midst of a community where children and family knew they could come and experience love.
4. We had new opportunities to share the love and teachings of Jesus.
After moving into our new village house, new opportunities for ministry opened as the village leaders asked me to preach and share the word of God.
This was a huge breakthrough because in this community, there has never been a white minister allowed to preach in the heart of this particular village. I was so humbled and honored as God was calling me to step into new ground and territory for the gospel.
I preached the gospel before the majority of the village and shared a story that Jesus told.
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a great treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
“Because of the life and witnessed resurrection of Jesus,
The Spirit of God is presenting before you this day a big opportunity.
Turn away from the fading ‘treasures’ of this present world, and follow Jesus.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you have done, anyone can turn. Now is the Time.
You will experience the greatest treasure…
But don’t misunderstand,
It is costly.”
I felt the Holy Spirit empower me as I challenged the people of the village to follow Jesus and experience this new life. I shared how my heart is filled and satisfied by the mysterious love of God. I shared the testimony of how God transformed my life, and led me to leave a life of comfort and wealth in the States to go to the ends of the earth and lead people to know Jesus.
As I spoke, I could feel the weight, mystery, and power of the gospel fall on the people of Nabila.
Learning how to live the Fijian life has been a great adventure and the relationships with the people have truly changed my life.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression, there have been many struggles and trials. There were multiple incidents where I honestly thought our road had come to an end. But as we walked humbly and waited on the Lord, a path was created.
Even when people wronged us, it was an opportunity to live out the words of Jesus, and respond in grace and love. And as the community witnessed our actions, they were compelled toward our message.God’s Spirit is on the move and more people are coming to know and taste what it means to experience God.
When we return we will continue to serve this community, I am so excited to get back and put my hands to the plow.
We will be back in the states for the next 2 months to spend time with our local church, Lifeline Community in Salt lake City Utah, and gear up for our return to Nabila Village.
A big thank you to our friends and family on mission with us!
Thank you to all the friends and family in the U.S. who have decided to sacrifice and partner with our organization to make a difference in Fiji.
To those of you who have given us written letters of encouragement, let us know you are praying for us, sent us short video clips just saying hello, and and have donated to our service projects; I want to say a big Pacific-Ocean-wide “Thank You!”
It means so much to have encouragement and support. Knowing that my friends and family in the States are standing by our side gives us courage in our decision making, and strength when our grip grows tired. I am so greatful for you all. Thank you to our brothers and sisters in Jesus.
Your Brothers in Arms,
The Mission Fiji Team.