Voices Raised in Song Cross Barriers
“We didn’t realize that they were this good.” “We will have to invite them back here again so that more people can be informed and attend.” These were some of the reactions of the Indo- Fijian Catholics in Naleba, Fiji, at the end of a recent evening of evangelization and hymn singing.
The group that amazed them was a group of Fijian Methodists from Korowiri, Labasa, that played Indian instruments (harmonium, drums and more). One of the best of these singers was an eight-year-old Fijian boy who played the harmonium and sang like an expert.
The Methodist group is led by a lay preacher named Apakuki who preaches very well in Hindi. He has been evangelizing among the Indo-Fijian people throughout Fiji for many years, and his singing group, of which he is also one of the leaders, is a great attraction because of the sessions they organize. I had heard this group sing and preach in Vunivau, Labasa, a few months earlier at an evangelization program organized by the Methodists there. I was very impressed by the excellence of the singing and by the way that Apakuki could give fitting examples of Indo-Fijian thinking and behavior in his preaching. He had the listeners smiling and laughing at some of his expressions which captured Indo-Fijian attitudes so well.
At that time, I was also encouraging the Indo-Fijian Catholic community in Naleba to learn Fijian hymns and sing at least one at every Sunday worship service. This was something we used to do years ago but had lapsed recently. Even though only two or three indigenous Fijians attend Hindi Mass at Naleba, the second reading is always read in Fijian and Fijian prayers of the faithful are encouraged. To have one or two Fijian hymns as well would assure them of their belonging to the community and would connect the Naleba Catholics with the majority indigenous Catholics of Fiji.
Persuading the Community
I suggested inviting the Methodist group to Naleba for a joint evangelization evening to which people of all races and religions would be invited. The Catholic community was a little hesitant at first, not wanting to give the impression that all Christian Churches are the same.
I explained that the topic for preaching would be understanding and respect between all races in Fiji for the sake of peace and progress in the country. They saw then that Fijians singing Hindi hymns would be a living example of this, and they agreed to host the session. The Indo-Fijian Catholics also came together to practice two Fijian hymns which they would sing on that night.
On Friday July 23, 2010, I picked up some of the members of the Methodist group at their home and loaded their sound system and instruments into the van. The other members of the group and some supporters traveled to Naleba in a
mini-van. The shed was full of both Indo-Fijians and Fijians from the area. Most of those present were Christian but some Hindus and Muslims were there too.
The local Naleba group began with a Hindi and Fijian hymn. Then the Korowiri group sang two hymns in Hindi. Apakuki asked one of the Indian women to read Ephesians 2:14-16, and then he preached on that text. He emphasized St. Paul’s
idea that we must put on Christ, and then we must live a completely new life, different from the natural group instincts which divide us.
After his preaching, the listeners were invited to go for healing prayer if they had any needs. Two groups prayed in Hindi—one for men and one for women. The third prayed in the Fijian language. Each group was in a separate room nearby.
After some more hymns, Fr. Frank Hoare, assistant priest at Naleba and Labasa, preached on the parable of the Good Samaritan, Lk. 10:25-37. Here Jesus pointed out that, while we might think our community superior to others, a person of another community might be a more genuine witness to God’s compassion and might show us the way to eternal life. This warning alerts us to be open to God speaking to us through people of other races and religions.
The Korowiri group’s example of crossing barriers of language and culture was pointed out a number of times that evening and the Indo-Fijians had to admit that they had not made a similar effort. In her statement of thanks, Mrs. Deo said, to laughter, that she could speak Fijian—two words of it i.e. bula (hello) and vinaka (thanks). But she added that the night’s program had shown how an effort must be made to understand other languages and cultures.
Even when the formal program, which lasted almost two hours, finished, the singers, especially the Fijians, continued to thrill the crowd with different styles of Hindi hymns.
No one seemed to want to go home, and it was with difficulty that I managed to convince the people traveling with me to finally leave at 11:00 p.m. Food was provided for the Korowiri visitors, and tea and refreshments were offered to all who attended. It was the first time that our Catholics had experienced something like this. We must repeat it again soon, and I feel sure an even bigger crowd will be in attendance.
Fr. Frank Hoare lives and works in Fiji.
The article originally appears in the February 2011 issue of Columban Mission.