With Fiji’s Suva-Nausori region coming to a standstill in a sudden lockdown in late-April 2021, Anglican churches across the island nation’s capital region were once again forced to close.
But despite the challenges, Anglicans in Fiji are still working hard to serve their communities in both spiritual and practical ways.
Since April 23, the Fijian Government locked in a strict regime of stay-at-home orders, social distancing and mask wearing, after five community-based Covid infections emerged unsuspected in Fiji’s Suva-Nausori district.
Fiji’s latest lockdown has put added pressure on communities already suffering the fallout of the nation’s lost tourism earnings, and they now have the daily limits of a 6pm-4am curfew and travel ban in place.
The good news for Anglicans is that while in-person church services (and all public gatherings) are banned, there’s plenty of ministry to be done from home.
Services have shifted online in several parishes, while pastoral care is back on the phone and parishioners are making socially-distanced meal deliveries to neighbours struggling to put food on the table.
Still, it’s in parish backyards where one of the highest impact ministries is taking place.
During the Episcopal and Archdeaconry leadership meeting early this year and at the Suva and Ovalau Archdeaconry clergy meeting, Archbishop Fereimi urged Anglican leaders to dig up their backyards and plant gardens to help feed their own people as well as their neighbours.
Vicar General of the Diocese of Polynesia Fr Orisi Vuki, who is based in Fiji’s capital Suva, reports that almost every household in Fiji’s Anglican Church has responded to Archbishop Fereimi Cama’s plea, transforming their compounds, lawns or yards into food-producing gardens.
“In Fiji we can plant food crops that mature for harvest in only four weeks’ time,” says Fr Orisi, “So we have planted every kind of vegetable: cabbage, greens, beans, pumpkins and root vegetables most of which is to share.”
Fr Orisi says it helps that the bishops are taking the backyard initiative to heart,
“Archbishop Fereimi has led by example. In his own yard he has dug a garden and has planted yams and kumara (sweet potato) and other vegetables that now he has been able to harvest and share.”
In Viti Levu West Bishop Gabriel Sharma is encouraging his people to do the same. One of his clergy, Fr Jioji Abonio secured a piece of land for growing crops due to the help of a Muslim friend, Mr Lalla.
Bishop of Vanua Levu Henry Bull is also working to put food of the table of people going without, by going fishing and hunting for wild boar and using the land around his home to grow food for family and neighbours.
While Vanua Levu is not in the lockdown zone, Bishop Henry’s crops are helping people still in recovery and rebuild after January’s Cyclone Ana, which devastated food crops and swept away topsoil causing farmers across the region to start over again.
“In our community and country at the moment we have started to pray and focus on farming within our context and trying to encourage others to do so. To be resilient we believe it is the way to go now.” he wrote.
Posting on Facebook this week, Bishop Henry shared photos of long rows of pak choi cabbage, pumpkins and pineapples from his large-scale garden, that this time will go out to families through a different route,
“First crop of cabbage to be dedicated, and we've decided to give it to a local pastor of another denomination to strengthen ecumenical partnership as we are really the Body of Christ and God's church.”
Vicar General Fr Orisi says parish food-sharing has another benefit for the Government’s lockdown containment strategy,
“We have the problem where some people break the Suva-Nausori Covid travel ban because they are hungry and want to go and gather food. So making sure they can get what they need where they are protects everyone.”
For those tempted to break the rules, Anglicans are making sure everyone knows they can call for an urgent delivery of an essential food item like rice or flour through the Government’s food assistance phoneline.
“The problem was that this time the lockdown came very suddenly, so families weren’t prepared when their only local shops closed. Some were cut off from their way to get food.”
Fr Orisi says it is a worrying time as people with underlying conditions and villagers without local access to medical facilities are in real danger, even with a small Covid alert.
In his Pentecost sermon for the Diocese of Polynesia Facebook Eucharist this Sunday 23 May, Principal of St John’s Theological College in Suva Rev Sione Uluilakepa challenged his congregation not to be like the disciples huddled and worried inside their room.
He exhorted his Facebook flock to think outside themselves, even if they could not physically ‘move out’,
“The Spirit of Pentecost is an outburst of divine energy that sets hearts on fire to change the world.”
“It is a Spirit that is inclusive and community focused: the Spirit of Pentecost speaks of a new community created across the boundaries of language, nationality, tribe, gender, economic prestige or political belief.”
“We are anointed by the Spirit to love and serve; to turn outwards towards our neighbour and act as a beacon of hope in troubled times.”
As the Fiji Covid containment orders look set to continue until mid-June, the Diocese of Polynesia asks us to join them in praying for:
– hearts that are on fire with the Spirit
– all those around the world who are suffering due to Covid-19,
– just peace in the Holy Land,
– and in Polynesia to pray especially for the people of Samoa.