“To build life-affirming communities in Oceania there is need for a life-oriented vision. Re-vis[ion]ing demands two tasks: to revise and to re-vision! The need for re-visioning is grounded on the fact that Christianity in general, and our Pacific churches in particular, are spending precious time, energy and resources on upkeeping and embracing an imperial brand of Christianity and not the transformative movement Jesus promoted and died for”, opined Rev. Dr. Nasili Vakauta, a noted Biblical Scholar from the region and Principal of Trinity Theological College in Auckland.
In redefining context, he strongly argued to rename Pacific Region as Oceania Region as the term ‘Pacific’ portrays as part of the world as tiny islands located in a vast sea, ‘islands in the sea,’ ‘Oceania’ refers to ‘a sea of islands.’ The former defines the region in terms of small land-space; the latter gives a broader picture based on the huge ocean-space that the region have. “The term Oceania is used because very often when the word Pacific is mentioned, most people (especially those from outside our region) think of the Pacific west coast of the United States or Asia. In fact, the terms Asia-Pacific and Pacific Rim always portray our ‘sea of islands’ as an appendage to Asia”.
He continued that Oceania is home to thousands of islands, millions of people, numerous cultures and languages, diverse world views, belief and value systems that have existed for thousands of years. Oceania has rich cultural resources that should no longer be ignored when it comes to the discourse on theology, missiology, ecclesiology, and so forth. He said: “Oceania is more than just a geographical reference; it is about us, ‘the peoples of the sea.’ Wherever we are, Oceania is there as well. In that sense, Oceania defies borders and transcends boundaries constructed by colonizers; such constructions are colonial illusions. Oceania as an enlarged view of the region counters the kind of stereotypes that breed isolation and alienation, smallness and peripherality”. He suggested that this enlarged view is life-affirming.
He offered a concept of fale-‘o-kāinga for consideration. The Tongan word fale-‘o-kāinga is a combination of two words fale and kāinga. The word fale generally refers to a house or a dwelling place. It refers to groups like families, communities, and churches, with common interests and a shared sense of belonging, and are united by their responsibility and commitment to each other.
Fale is a space that is managed and maintained by a cultural network of relation and exchange we call kāinga. Kāinga basically refers to kindred, but it also indicates that which is relevant, applicable, and well connected. At the heart of the kāinga network is a core value characteristic of Oceanic cultures: reciprocity (Tongan, tauhi vā; Samoan, teu le vā). The word vā means ‘space that connects’; tauhi vā is about respecting that space. Tauhi vā elevates distribution above consumption; sharing above accumulation; peaceful co-existence above domination; unity above divisions; communal well-being above individualistic interests.
To ensure sustainability within the fale-‘o-kāinga, he suggested six principles namely, Faka’apa’apa meaning each member in the fale-‘o-kāinga must show unreserved respect for each other, Fakapotopoto calls for a wise management of resources, Femolimoli’i advocates sharing what one has no matter how small it is, Fua kavenga is about fulfilling one’s duties and obligations to families, neighbours and to those within the kāinga network, Mateaki to show that everyone is committed to kāinga and cares about the wellbeing of the whole household, loto-tō promotes humility, and acknowledges the fact that we do not know everything, we are not better than others, and we are not always right.
In his presentation on socio, economic and political situation of Pacific Island Countries(PIC), Prof. Vijay Naidu, Director of Development Studies and former Acting Vice Chancellor of University of South Pacific said that colonialism has made islanders dependent on metropolitan countries and producers of commodities that they do not consume, consumers of products that they do not produce. Unequal exchange reinforced their dependence. Social inequality has increased tremendously over the last 30 years. It is not surprising therefore that the proportion of island people in poverty range from 20% (Cook Islands) to over 60% (Kiribati).
He continued saying that with an increase in urban squatter settlements, rising youth unemployment, poor education, rising inequality, and islands impacted by climate change, life is becoming worse for many islanders. The mixed record of the Pacific Islands in relation to the MDGs would appear to endorse this. Social problems linked with unemployment and poverty have emerged in many PICs. These include substance abuse (alcohol, marijuana and hard drugs), crime and deviance, sexual abuse and rape, violence against women and children. Vulnerable persons such as the elderly, chronically ill, persons with disability, the unemployed, and women are heavily reliant on family and community support which is generally not adequate. Formal social protection is either limited or non-existent.
He argued that the commanding heights of Pacific island economies are controlled by foreign multi-national corporations, and to some extent by the state (government). The environmental and social harm caused by the open-cast copper mine in Bougainville resulted in a civil war and embargo of the island that resulted in some 15,000 to 20,000 deaths. The OkTedi mine has been an environmental disaster. In the Indonesian-occupied West Papua, the Grasberg mine, which is owned by the American Freeport-McMoRan, is the world’s largest open-pit gold mine and third largest copper mine. In spite of protests by indigenous people that the mountains being reduced to graters are sacred to them, the Indonesia military and government have given the company pretty much free rein. Protestors have been periodically detained, shot and killed. Logging in the Solomon Islands has been extremely poorly managed, and very little value added to the country’s economy.
He also mentioned that sources of radio-active pollution in the region have come from nuclear tests conducted by the British and the French. Altogether 315 nuclear bomb tests were held across the region from the 1950s to the 1990s. The US tested a further 25 nuclear devices on Christmas Islands and 11 on Johnston Atoll. The UK did 12 atmospheric nuclear tests at Monte Bello Islands, Maralinga, and Emu Fields, and a further 9 atomic and hydrogen bomb tests on Malden and Christmas Islands. Over 30 years the French conducted 193 atmospheric and underground tests on Moruroa and Fangataufa in French Polynesia.
He named the West Papuan Struggle for Liberation as struggle against neo colonial forces. Indonesia occupied West Papua during its struggle for independence against the Dutch in 1963. In 1969, following what has been called the UN’s ‘act of free choice’, characterized as the ‘act of no choice’ Indonesia tightened its grip over the west half of the island of Papua New Guinea (PNG) . Since then there has been a struggle by West Papuans for self – determination which has been by brutal force. Thousands have been detained and tortured, and scores of others have been killed. It is estimated that more than half million West Papuans have been killed. This has been called a genocide of indigenous West Papuans. Foreign multi-nationals have been given logging, fisheries and mining licenses, and in a typical colonial fashion, the revenue generated has gone out of West Papua to Jakarta.
Rev. Dr. Upolu Vaai, Head of Department, Theology and Ethics in Pacific Theological College, Suva enriched the participants by two very challenging Bible Studies, namely Hope in the Economy of Life based on Genesis 11:1-9 and Economy of the one and Hope made of Blood based on Genesis 4:1-10. He explained the Economy of the one and how Nimrod reignited that to build the Tower. By comparing Economy of Life and Economy of One he argued that God of Life is inviting the Pacific churches to collapse the other and build life affirming communities. Giving examples of Grasberg Mine in west Papua, Solwara1 (Deep Sea Bed Mining) in PNG and Solwara 2 in Tonga, deforestation in Solomon Islands, he cautioned that the Pacific community need to take seriously both “colonialism out there” and “colonialism in here”. He invited the participants to destroy all “Tower Power” and build Economy of Life.
Ms. Veronica Chua, CWM Deputy General Secretary for Finance and Administration, informed the participants about the different Programmes and Projects as well as its organisational commitment to accompany member churches to fulfil their mission in the context of Empire. Each church presented their Stories of accomplishments, failures, struggles and challenges. It was a time to celebrate as well as learning from each other’s experiences. Rev. Francois Pihaate, General Secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches led the Inaugural Worship.
The participants took part in workshops identifying their emerging context of mission, as well as how they are planning to address some of them. In the Plenary Session, they identified Deep Sea Mining, Global Warming and Climate Change, Nuclear Test, Freedom of West Papua, Youth Unemployment as the emerging Missional Issues.
Rev. Vavatau Taufoa, General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church in Samoa led the Thanksgiving Service of 40th Anniversary of CWM at the Samoan Church in Suva. Rev. Tafue Lusama, Director of CWM, challenged the Pacific churches to meaningfully engage in God’s mission in the present context. Local congregation members, leaders of the different denominational churches in Fiji, and the Pacific Theological College (PTC) community were present in this Service. The programme concluded with a Pacific Cultural Expression and a sumptuous Dinner prepared by the PTC community.
The MMF concluded with the commitment “to build churches and communities as diverse people with different ideas, cultures, interests and beliefs as a kāinga who inhabit one fale, and because we cannot isolate ourselves from each other, we must learn somehow to live – respectfully, wisely, responsibly, sincerely, humbly, and freely – together in peace”.