*By Dr. Larry R. Hygh, Jr.
History was made when the Rev. Tikiko Namata Lesuma was ordained and elder during the service of ordination at the 169th
session of the California-Nevada Conference. Lesuma is the first Fijian person to be ordained an elder in The United Methodist Church (UMC). "It's very humbling. I feel so blessed and so privileged to be ordained…It's an opportunity to be able to encourage more Fijian folks to come into leadership in our conference, and the broader church," says Lesuma. "It is God's favor and God's grace alone."
Lesuma, 42, who was ordained by San Francisco Episcopal Area Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño (the first Hispanic woman to be elected, and consecrated to the episcopacy in the denomination), grew up in Fiji on the island of Vanua Levu, in the district of Navatu, in the village of Drekeniwai. As he sat on the stage to be ordained, he says he thought about the cloud of witnesses who had gone before him. Lesuma says he was moved to tears as Bishop Carcaño asked those gathered to sing "I Surrender All" during the service. The song was a favorite of his late brother, Silivenusi, who he cites as a spiritual figure and mentor in his life. Lesuma often remembers the words of his brother who challenged him to, "Be faithful in the little, and God will be there for you."
Lesuma, who was baptized, confirmed, and raised Catholic says he first heard a call to ministry at the age of 10 and wanted to become a Catholic priest. "My mom was Catholic because her first husband was Catholic, but my father was Methodist," he says. He and his mother would walk two to three miles for mass, then his dad and siblings would walk to the Methodist church. One day his mom said, "A family that prays together stays together," and they all joined the Methodist Church.
As a young person, Lesuma says he received Christ at an evangelistic crusade. He became a lay speaker in 1992 when he was in high school and preached his first sermon. "I walked miles through the sugar cane fields to preach as a lay speaker." He also served as a youth pastor for a Fijian circuit that included 14 churches with 600 to 700 youth helping to organize rallies and camps. "Never would I have thought that I would be serving in the US," he says.
In the California-Nevada Conference, Lesuma has served St. Luke's UMC in Richmond, Calif., and a two-point charge in the Central Valley, Dos Palos UMC and LeGrand UMC, and was the associate pastor at Temple UMC in San Francisco.
Beginning July 1, Lesuma was appointed to pastor Hope UMC in Sacramento, Calif. The Rev. Schuyler Rhodes, district superintendent for the Sacramento District (who was also the senior pastor at Temple UMC when Lesuma was the associate pastor), says, "I've known Tikiko more than a decade and have been privileged to serve with him in a number of capacities. Celebrating his ordination is a powerful moment in the life of our Fijian communities, and with his leadership a great moment for the whole church." He added, "We are excited Rev. Lesuma steps into a new ministry in Sacramento with power, faith, and commitment."
Lesuma is married to Popua Moa Lesuma (who is Tongan) and they are the parents of a 19-year-old daughter, Katherine, and a 10-year-old son, Joshua. He says they sit together every evening at 8 o'clock and have family prayer. "I love my family, they mean so much to me."
He earned a Bachelor of Theology and Divinity from the Fiji College of Theology and Evangelism. Lesuma immigrated to the United States to attend Asbury Theological Seminary on a scholarship where he graduated from the institution in 2006.
Lesuma says his passion is to help people reignite their inner flame. He also wants to reach out to a younger generation to help them tackle the social problems they are facing. In his current ministry context, he wants to create a worship experience that blends contemporary with the traditional. He also envisions, "having a community hall not only for the church, but to bring kids in from the streets, and counseling for those who need help, so the church will not be complacent, but engaged in the public square."
Lesuma wants to help identify other Fijians in the conference and help them get through the ordination process. On the occasion of his historic ordination he says, "The credit goes to Him (God) alone."
Lesuma thanks his mom (a retired registered nurse) who invested all of her pension to pay for his living expenses while in seminary at Asbury. "My mom remains to be my 'hero' and a spiritual mentor because she loves praying and sits for hours praying...she is a spiritual warrior and a backbone of the Lesuma family...I wish to acknowledge and thank the Lord for both my parents, dad, Manasa Lesuma and mom, Elenoa Lesuma, for their love, prayers, and support for the past 24 years since I began my theological studies." He added, "My mom planted a seed into my call into ministry 24 years ago and it was icing on the cake to have both my parents with me during the ordination service. My parents and I shed tears of joy that night." His younger sister Asenaca traveled from Fiji to be present for the service as well.
*Hygh is director of communications for the California-Nevada Annual Conference which is comprised of 370 congregations in Northern California and Northern Nevada and 72,000 congregants.