Cliff Bird, Mission Secretary for the Pacific region, and I recently completed a successful solidarity visit with the Nauru Congregational Church (NCC). The visit was meant to provide space for the church to share their story, and for us to clarify and reaffirm CWM’s commitment to accompany this member church in their ministry and mission.
The visit began with a courtesy call on His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Nauru, the Hon. Baron Waqa. The President, who himself is a member and former General Secretary of the NCC, warmly welcomed us to the Republic of Nauru and expressed hope that this visit would serve to strengthen the ties between CWM and the NCC, noting that there have been periods of frustration experienced by NCC in its relationship with CWM.
In a rather positive and upbeat articulation, the President shared his vision for Nauru, which includes climate change mitigation, strengthening of the social infrastructure and better living conditions for the people of Nauru, inclusive of health care and education. President Baron refuted allegations that his government is intolerant, oppressive or insensitive to the needs and plight of refugees being hosted in Nauru. He added that, like elsewhere, Nauru was affected by the ‘fake news’ phenomenon that frames perspectives and taints images. Contrary to the allegations, he shared stories of how the refugees are incorporated and integrated into the life of Nauru. Our visit, which happens on the eve of the Pacific Leaders Forum, scheduled to take place in Nauru, gave us the opportunity to encourage the president to speak about the refugee situation in Nauru, given the contrary perceptions in the public square. President Baron was visibly pleased to have received this visit and was receptive of our offer to pray with him as the hour-long conversation concluded with the exchange of gifts and sentiments of good wishes.
The leadership of the NCC described our visit as timely and expressed gratitude at our taking the time to make it happen. Triggered by remarks made by Cliff that the purpose of our visit was to “come and see”, NCC’s General Secretary, Deacon Peta Gadabu, urged us to take the time to “see and hear” their stories and to walk with them as they try to make sense of their struggle and aspirations to move forward.
The conversation with the Council of NCC was candid, honest and thorough. They shared their challenges, articulated their struggle and invited us to walk with them. Issues of personnel and financial capacity, the absence of organisational structures and processes to support their mission engagement and a strong and vibrant youth ministry were high on their agenda. Noting that the entire church leadership was composed of non-stipendiary workers, who are mostly employees of the Government, the leaders of the Council shared how challenging it is for them to give quality time to the demands of the church. In response, we reiterated our commitment to be in solidarity with them, offered guidance and our commitment – through the regional office, to assist them in exploring ways to develop capacity, establish structures and processes and strengthen their youth ministry.
In addition to the business sessions, we had a great opportunity to tour the beautiful island of Nauru, to see for ourselves some of the positive developments, as well as the negative impact of mining; to appreciate afresh the wonders of creation; and to identify with the narratives of the people of the Republic of Nauru, especially the NCC. Our visit climaxed, appropriately, with a worship service, attended by the President and First Lady, Madame Louisa, where I had the privilege of preaching the sermon. In my sermon, I encouraged the gathered community rise above the doubt, fear and insecurities that paralyse our will and cripple our determination; and, instead, to claim the life-giving, energy-sustaining and hope-restoring gift of the risen Christ as our inspiration for faithful discipleship.
As the Nauru Airlines flight lifted off the airstrip of that beautiful spot on Earth, I reflected on how awesome an experience it was, to have been in the company of sisters and brothers of the CWM family; to receive the generosity and graciousness of their hospitality; and to connect intimately with their story of hope and aspirations for the future. As a mission organisation, CWM is strategically placed to live out its mission of mutual accompaniment, challenging, encouraging and equipping churches to share in God’s mission. I am grateful for the immense privilege, bestowed on me, to be part of this narrative and I pray that my contribution will serve to further the work that defines us and calls forth our commitment and loyalty.
Rev Dr Collin Cowan
CWM General Secretary