12-30 April 1998
The trip to Adelaide was exciting, tiring and worthwhile. Imagine driving across most parts of New South Wales and back--we covered 4303 kms within four days. The return trip was longer because we took an indirect route following a central north westerly direction towards Armidale.
Why to Adelaide? It was in one way, fulfilling a long-term plan invitation to my family while we were in Sydney with Wesley Mission. Douglas Steven (from Motusa) whom we had met at one time indicated that should we come over to Adelaide, we would be welcome at his home. We couldn't do it during our time in Sydney. The opportunity, however, came this time when I was invited to attend the Regional Evangelism Conference for Australasia. This included Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Island churches, particularly the Methodist churches in these areas. The Methodist church in Australia had united with some Presbyterian and some Congregational churches to form the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977. We still have our Methodist traditional connections to revive during this time together.
The conference was held for nine days during the school holidays at the former Methodist Ladies College, now the Annesley College, close to the centre of the city of Adelaide. It was sponsored jointly by the World Methodist Evangelism Institute of the World Methodist Council in Atlanta, USA, and the United Church in Australia. The theme of the conference was "Jesus Christ the Heart and Soul of Evangelism" We had wonderful speakers like Sir Alan Walker, (former President of the World Methodist Council, and a great World Evangelist), Dr Chris Walker, Principal of Parkins Wesley College, South Australia (son of Sir Alan and Lady Winifred Walker), Dr Eddie Fox, present Director of the World Evangelism Institute, and others. Rev John Mavor, President of the Uniting Church in Australia opened the conference.
We left our home in Rylstone (where I serve as a Uniting Church minister) after our Parish Easter Sunrise Service at 6.00 am, following a hot "cuppa" and Easter buns. We said goodbye to members of the Parish and set off towards Adelaide via Bathurst. It was a long way but time flew by with excitement as we entered south-west NSW observing each town, settlement, the landscape, type of farming areas and land use. We saw the contrast between the mountainous and flat land of NSW. What would fascinate a Rotuman most would be the huge central plains of this part of Australia. All of a sudden we saw no houses, no hills or trees, except fences on both sides of the road and cars with lights on coming towards us for miles and miles and passing us by between hours. One could be a lonely traveller in this part of the highway.
A heavy stormy rain caught us on the way and took away the already empty view around and in front of us. More singing of gospel songs, fara songs, story-telling and watching for oncoming traffic and speed signs kept us awake. Suddenly, in the midst of this heavy rain in front of us, on the middle of the road was a huge herd of cattle--tame, looking hungry and thirsty. They showed signs of the effect of the ongoing drought in West NSW for months. The heavy shower was indeed a blessing! The storm cleared and it was just horizon around for almost three hours. My wife Emeli and our daughter Makereta invented a new side to our conversation. They said "it's like sailing on a boat from Suva to Rotuma, nothing around except a clear and flat horizon!" And as we got closer to places where we could from a long distance see houses, trees, and hills and they said, "ma hanis'ia , ta'ma se muri 'e Oinafa ma Noa'toa, ne hanhapa te Faguta". As we drove further, they continued "igke'itake ta'ma se Hapmafau, Motusa ma Losa, 'e fa' ne Solroroa ma Itumuta". And with all the excitement, they yelled out "ta'a!, ka tei Malhaha ma Lopta, Tua'koi, Hapmak ma Kalvaka --- oh! Tae, te'i". It sounded to me as though they were missing the white sand and the palm trees, etc. My family kept me well alert throughout the way telling stories, singing and kept the drinks and snacks going. They piloted us well throughout until we arrived at Mildura, a town at the border of NSW, Victoria and South Australia where we stopped for the night. It was a good time for prayer, food and sleep!
It was a wonderful moment to meet Onisimo Hanfakaga of Malhaha and his loving wife, Betty of South Australia on Monday April 13th at their beautiful home named 'Hanisi'. I last met Onisimo in Fiji about forty years ago. It was a happy time of meeting each other sharing and speaking in Rotuman about the happenings gone by, and life here with us today. Betty looked after us so well in the Rotuman and Aussie way to which we had been grateful. Both Oni and Betty helped make our first trip to Adelaide one we will remember! We ministered to each other in sharing our stories, jokes; touching base with faith and church. They still serve God in their local church and both send their hanisi to everyone!
I was a fascilitator for a Wesley Group throughout the Conference (no rest!) helping us to get closer to each other and strengthen the bond of sharing and working together. These Wesley groups helped the entire Conference focus itself in linking the task of affirming that we are all working together for Christ. The group decided to set aside each Friday for prayer and fasting and keeping in mind the needs of the church and the world around us, and my family is joining me every Friday to pray and fast. I believe all the delegates at the Conference are doing this. To Brigadier Jiorje Konrote and our folks in Lebanon and Sinai, please be rest assured for you are all in our prayers every Friday. Perhaps, our readers too can join us wherever you are, USA, Canada, Hawaii, UK, NZ, Fiji, Rotuma, Australia, anywhere! Many Rotumans know how to pray and the help we receive through prayer. We are all scattered across the world , and it may be too expensive to visit each other or even to ring, but prayer can be said wherever we are. We may ask you to join us, if you are already doing it please let us know.
On Sunday April 19th, I was asked to preach at one of the city churches called Croydon Park Parish. My family and some of the Pacific Island delegates in Australia and from the Pacific accompanied me and gave me support. They were Rev Lat Moama (Tongan, from Canberra), Rev Lalomilo Lima (Samoan, from Queensland) married to a cousin Deaconess Terani and rev Ili Vunisuwai, Assistant Director of Evangelism, Methodist Church in Fiji. Latu read the Scriptures, Lalomilo and Ili gave talks about their work and places of ministry, my wife Emeli and daughter Makerata gave a lovely duet of the well known song "Down from His Glory." And of course our brother Onisimo Hanfakaga who looked after us in Adelaide. He took my family to church in his car that morning , and talked about Rotuma and his life in South Australia.
One could imagine that it was just like a Pacific island outrigger setting sail on mission to our friends in Adelaide that morning. It was pouring rain but our hearts were warmed with God's spirit in sharing the good news of God with each other.
We returned home refreshed, and filled with even more excitement to face an even longer trip to Rylstone. The way was twice as long as we diverted across NSW towards the north-westerly direction to Armidale where we spent Sunday at church with our daughter Makereta, who is studying at the University of New England doing a second year Bachelor of Agricultural Economics. My wife, Emeli and I continued on our last lap towards home on Tuesday through to Tamworth. Our main aim was to visit the local churches. We thank all who are part of these congregations in very isolated areas of Australia for meeting and talking with us. There is much yet to be done. You can be part of us in helping take the news of God in this part of the world, and throughout other places of the world where our Rotuman people live and work. Please share your prayers with us!
May God help and prosper you in all that you do. Fu'uomus ma hanis ne'os'Aitu. Fekau Fesaitu, Emeli ma Makereta Marseu, 74 Mudgee Street, Rylstone, NSW, 2849.