Here are some reflections from Graeme Mitchell on the recent Golden Oldies mission encounter in Fiji. The full article, along with many photos, can be read by clicking here.
Farewell Fiji, again.
“Many Fijians have so little, but they have given us so much, to make us feel welcome and part of their families”
“I feel so humbled and inspired from this mission”
These phrases summarise many of the team’s observations of their days visiting and contributing to mission projects around Suva.
The Mission commenced with many residents from Archer, families, friends, supporter groups, churches, previous Golden Oldies members contributing to the mission with donated equipment and materials; donations to purchase specialist equipment to take; and commitments to pray for the mission.
We purchased medical equipment and supplies, laptops, kitchen utensils, guitars, received donated carpentry tools, sports uniforms, childrens bible stories, bibles, school stationery, scientific calculators, teaching instruction manuals on core cirriculum subjects, family packs of childrens books and towels-soaps-toothbrushes, sheets, towels, pillow cases, tea towels, and other items that came to a total of 150kg of excess baggage.
Fiji Airways in their generosity heard about the mission to suppport the people of Fiji and offered to donate the full 150kg of space ‘free of charge’. That has never occurred before, and we were very appreciative of their sponsorship to bring all these treasures to their Fijian people.
We landed in Nadi, Fiji and all 21 boxes of excess freight thankfully were claimed off the conveyor belt, with only 40-minutes to find our ‘ground courier’ who was going to drive all the freight to Suva, 5-hours away. But, there was Customs to get through. We were required to have an Import certificate, Customs broker and pay import tax! An official Customs Officer opened the first box (50 children’s books) and started asking how much each book was valued at. Time was ticking on. 30-minutes before we had to check-in for our domestic flight to Suva. He asked about what we were doing, requiring a description of each box, then suddenly said ‘oh away you go, no charge this time’ There’s a saying in Fiji that says ‘God is good…All the time…God is good’ How very true that was at that moment with the many prayers of people supporting the mission.
Rushing through the terminal, we met our driver, crammed all 21 boxes into his car, and he headed for Suva. We met him at the Bible College 4-hours later! His car must’ve had wings!!
This event was the beginning of many little miracles that we encountered every day of this mission, as we saw God’s presence touch the hearts of people we met.
Bible College Home
The Bible College near completion, after its significant development
The team returned to their ‘spiritual home’ again this year at the St Johns Bible College, after the College has been going through a major redevelopment over the past 2-years. Although not quite completed, the GOM team were the first ‘guests’ to be allowed to stay at the newly expanded College. Some slept in the yet to be completed Cafeteria, to ensure all the team could remain on the campus. The Chambers extended family showered the team in their love, wonderful hospitality and care, with the team being so appreciative, as every other team has felt in previous years. A sanctuary for a tired team as they returned to the college each evening.
Villages become families
The Villages welcomed the team, more as returning friends than visitors or strangers. The benefit of returning each year building trust, and renewing friendships was evident through the continued ‘talanoa’ (conversations) we had.
Arriving one evening to a squatter village on a hillside outside Suva, the village had prepared a makeshift shelter with tarps draped over the bamboo poles protecting us from the monsoon downpour we were encountering. This was the meeting room for that evenings event. From a kava ceremony, to formal introductions, to lovu-cooked food, to children dancing, and then engaging with Golden Oldies to dance under the stars on rain-soaked spongy grass, this became the model for many of the team visits to other squatter settlements we visited.
But there is a serious side to all this, as well as gifting some of the supplies we had brought with us, we wanted to further the partnership to build village well-being and offer spiritual encouragement.
One of the main projects significantly advanced was the ‘mud-brick’ vision.
To establish training in brick-making and carpentry skills, to then build affordable cyclone-proof housing and church buildings for these squatter villages. In addition to this is the expectation to sell bricks as another money source alongside their fish and veges currenlty sold at the road side.
Roger and Thomas, along with Alfred from Fiji, spent all week meeting church and village leaders, developing, revising, then revising their plans that could make the project genuinely feasible. At weeks end, they announced their much anticipated proposal.
A Project Manager is being employed by Golden Oldies to oversee the establishment and development of the making of mud bricks in 3 villages, one on the other main island of Vanua Levu. They are importing 2-new mud brick machines from China to compliment the one already about to start operation in making bricks. The first bricks made are going to complete a demonstration affordable home, a new Sunday school and extension to a church.
Building materials are scarce and expensive in Fiji , and being the first to offer this alternative cheaper mud-brick to expensive cement-bricks could help take the squatter villages out of poverty and overseas aid dependency, to offer these village-churches some greater self-determination and regular employment for their men folk.
The next 6-months will be a very interesting time for all involved, and something the Golden Oldies are very proud of supporting through fundraising for the seed money needed, technical and operational support as partners in the project.
Crafts expansion and diversification
One remote squatter village we visit relies solely on sales from its minute crops and fishing. The men row for 1.5-hours through mangrove creeks to the ocean, then another 5km out to sea to catch their fish, then return on the incoming tide with their catch. Sadly they are noting a reduced quantity of fish available, and with the sea levels notably rising as they share their concerns for their survival. Furthermore, on their village border demand for new housing is bringing the bulldozers alarmingly closer to invade their village lifestyle of decades. With all that doom and gloom, they challenged us! Get on with what you have and continue to innovate. Last year the team saw them experimenting with making grass brooms to sell. They had made two. And by the end of that mission they had made another 10 and delivered them before the team departed.
This year, they were prepared for the GOM teams arrival, and it was beyond our wildest dreams. They had diversified to make a range of crafts to sell. By the end of this visit they couldn’t believe they had sold everything, amazed and proud of their efforts. The value of their morning sales was equivalent to 5-months of selling fish and veges at the road side stall!
Visiting this village every year by the Golden Oldies has brought deepening friendships and some measure of new hope for the diversification of their micro-businesses.
To read the rest of this article and to see the many photos, click here.