It is Monday, Oct. 17. Bishop Warner H. Brown, Jr. and 25 others are on a connectional United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM) trip to Fiji. Christopher Klein writes:
The sweet sound of soft song enfolds us from behind – honored, as we always are, with the first row. We await the start of morning service back at Centenary. This "Lotu" is for the office staff and nearby ministers. The men and women now sing in call and response. It will be another full day ….
The trip had begun four days earlier, on Oct. 13. For the 12 members of the delegation who were born in Fiji, it meant reunion with loved ones and an opportunity to serve as ambassadors of Cal-Nevada congregations to the families and churches "back home." For the delegation as a whole, there were other objectives: to strengthen the alliance between the California-Nevada Annual Conference and the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma, and to deliver gifts to churches, schools, families, and friends suffering in the current economy.
"Three of us who visited Fiji in 2010 carried 15 pieces of luggage between us," Klein wrote. "Air Pacific has now increased its excess baggage fee (to $7 per kilo!), but we have still checked in with many fat bags and excess boxes."
As it turned out, they were fortunate to be able to check in at all. As the delegation waited in Los Angeles to board its plane to Fiji, Klein blogged, "Bishop Brown has already earned his keep and then some: two hours at the airline counter and on the phone straightening out a snafu in our ticketing; half of us could not be found in the airline's computer system – and this 747 is going to be full!"
On arrival in Fiji, the group was taken to the home of the Nadi Fijian Circuit, presided over by Rev. Laisiasa Ratabacaca, for a period of rest, followed by a briefing and schedule overview. There followed a "sevu sevu" welcoming ceremony, "complete with kava, presentation of the whale's tooth (tabua) and other gifts, and prayer;" breakfast; and then a bus trip to Suva – about three hours away along the south coast – where they would stay.
On Sunday, Oct. 16, Bishop Brown and each of the pastors on the trip preached at a different church's 10 a.m. worship service, then at 3 p.m. a joint service and official welcome took place at Centenary UMC, the "cathedral" of Suva.
On Oct. 17, 16 members of the delegation were received in the prime minister's office. The prime minister was traveling to Geneva, so the group was met by Permanent Secretary Pio Tikoduadua. "His words of welcome are gracious and detailed. Suva Suva is performed by Lekima, Bishop Brown converses formally with the PS, and more casual conversation follows," Klein writes. "The PS is curious about who we are. At his request, each pastor introduces him/herself – and he notes that in 2004 he studied in Monterey for six months, getting his Master's Degree, and he attended services at San Rafael and elsewhere, plus the Fiji Day celebrations."
The delegation was able to meet with Fiji's President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau and First Lady Ade Koila Nailatikau (the titles are chiefly honorary, Klein explains), in the President's office; and Bishop Brown and the clergy were allowed to visit the American Embassy.
The days were filled with worship services; ceremonial events; visits to schools, churches, a Methodist Lay Training Center, an orphanage, a farm, various communities, and the islands Bau and Naviti; discussions with church leaders and public officials; and interfaith connections.
On Oct. 25, a change in weather, from cool and dry to hot and humid, signaled an end to the trip.
Bishop Brown leads a meeting to describe our schedule for the day, get impressions, and discuss especially the future. We learn that high-level sources he has met with on the side have all been very positive about our visit, saying that it has been well timed to help catalyze movement forward for the Church and Government. We now can work through a mutual cooperation agreement with the Church. We now can start to evaluate in detail how we might participate in and hold up some of the major projects and initiatives that the Church has been defining for its future.
Chris Klein has written about the trip in glorious, poetic detail, punctuating his evocative prose with a travelogue of photos, at www.calnevumcfiji2011.wordpress.com. Please read it (drink it in!) in its entirety.
Eventually, Klein says, he will post a complete set of higher-resolution photos at www.calnevumcfiji2011.shutterfly.com, though the task of cataloguing and uploading them is likely to take 2-3 weeks.
The Rev. Michael Love sent back photos of the trip, also, which were posted to the First UMC of Palo Alto website at www.firstpaloalto.com.
Members of the California-Nevada Delegation to Fiji: From the Conference – Bishop Warner Brown, Minnie Brown, and the Rev. Linda Caldwell; from Centennial UMC in Sacramento – the Rev. Linda Loessberg-Zahl, Laitia Kurucake, and Virisila Batiratu; from Florin UMC in Sacramento – the Rev. Wilson DeOcera and Semisi Toganara; from First UMC of Palo Alto – the Rev. Michael Love and Lepani Verebasaga; from First UMC of San Rafael – the Rev. Liza Klein, Christopher Klein, Alena Vunakace, and Julie Hutchison; from First UMC of Santa Rosa – the Rev. Greg Bergquist, Lekima Banuve , Sekope Tauyavu, and Isimeli Radrodro; from Hayward UMC – the Rev. Elmar DeOcera; from First UMC of Petaluma – the Rev. Amy Beth Durward; from Temple UMC in San Francisco – the Rev. Schuyler Rhodes, Tikiko Lesuma, and Emma Rhodes; and from Trinity UMC in Mountain View – the Rev. Anne Schlesinger, Luke Vakaliwaliwa, and Ruci Vakaliwaliwa.