Fiji Time: 3:27 PM on Monday 25 May

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Fijians reach out in Africa

Sulueti Dogolau
Monday, May 06, 2013

BASED on the principle of a church that loves to share, the Christian Mission Fellowship International (CMFI) has extended its services, sending missionaries to some of the most challenging environments of the world.

Over the years, the Kinoya-based church has been sending workers and pastors to about 100 countries — spreading the word of God and message of love and hope — and gaining recognition for its commitment to the unreached, the forgotten and the forsaken.

Geared with a passion to share, these men and women of God have braved mountainous terrains, tracked through deserts and lived on a diet of bush geckos and leaves to be part of those they have chosen to share their lives with.

In East Africa, Oni Masiamete, Sakaraia Mataka and Paula Delaibau with their families have come to love and live alongside the nomadic tribes of the Turkana, the Ndorobo and Kalenjeans of Kenya, the Wasi and the Masai of Tanzania, the Batwa pygmies of Rwanda, the West Pokot on the borders of Uganda and the Betsimisarak, the Stymehity and Vezo tribes of Madagascar.

Through the church, boreholes and water boosters are now available to the once nomadic tribes who have settled and established their homes and families around the water sources.

Mr Mataka has been living in Kenya with his wife and three young children for more than four years.

Sharing his experience, he recalled the day one of the elders of the Turkana tribe, known only as Mama, tasted clean drinking water for the first time — at the age of 82.

He said the joy of seeing Mama swallow her first drink of clean clear water was beyond description.

"In Fiji we take for granted the fresh water that is in abundance in our land and when I see an old Mama in her eighties swallow her first drink of clean, clear water, what else could I do but cry," Mr Mataka said.

"We are so fortunate in Fiji that God has blessed us with an abundant supply of water, a necessity of life but here in the arid deserts of Kenya, water is a luxury.

"The Turkana are born in these conditions and their lives revolve around a nomadic existence where they are always in search of food and water.

"The boreholes and water boosters have somewhat changed that. A few of the tribes have now learnt to settle around these 'water places."

Mr Masiamete has been living among the Wasi and the Masai tribes for about 10 years. He speaks their language fluently and has two children who were born in Dar es salam in Tanzania.

A few years back, they came to Fiji for a break but two days later, the children cried, pleading with their dad to take them back home in Dar es salam.

Mr Masiamete travels the length and breadth of the East African region visiting CMFI workers to encourage them and administer support.

The pastors, with the assistance of the Fijian workers living with the nomadic tribes, have brought about changes in the region. Today, the once barren landscape of the arid desert land is changing with farms springing up and construction of schools.

When school stationery was distributed among the Turkana children, a grandmother walked up to receive a pack of stationery on behalf of her grandchild. It was the first time free gifts of books and pencils were distributed to them, which up until that moment, were a foreign commodity.

The workers are also instrumental in ensuring that tribes that were once threatened with extinction as a result of civil war and political upheaval are now finding stability in settlements in Rwanda and Kenya.

Sekove Biauniceva and his wife, Unaisi, are now back in Fiji. They spent a few years in Rwanda sharing with the Batwa Pygmies and helping them build new homes.

"It is a great blessing to see the pygmies have a roof over their heads and a place to call home after living as nomads for many years, moving from place to place," Mr Biauniceva said.

"The smiles on their faces and the sounds of their laughter are really heartbreaking."

Members of the Ndorobo tribe of Kenya, who were scattered around Africa after years of civil unrest, are now returning to their homes and tribal lands.

The dense forests of Madagascar continue to present a challenge for CMFI missionary Paula Delaibau. He can only reach the forest dwellers of Betsimisarak, Stymehity and Vezo by helicopter or by boat.

"Transportation is a great challenge in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. The only way to get to the forest dwellers is by helicopter or by boat and through the rugged terrain I sometimes use a 4WD vehicle," Mr Delaibau said.

"At the end of the day, the people draw a lot of comfort from our visits and our interest in them. The smiles on their faces are worth every effort."

Most of those visited are illiterate and solar powered audio Bibles in the Malagasy language are distributed and used to ensure that the forest tribes have an opportunity to hear the word of God, he said.

Mr Delaibau and his young family have been in Madagascar for four years now and he speaks the language fluently.

He was in Fiji to attend the 23rd annual CMFI conference and will return home this week.

In another part of the world, CMFI workers and missionaries Susu Cinavou and Nanise Gaunavinaka, Ms Cinavou, now a widow, continues the work left by her husband, a pastor who died in the mission field.

They spend their days in one of the Asian countries reaching out to the city's rubbish dump dwellers who scavenge for a living and waiting in anticipation for the next rubbish truck.

The scavengers live on the edge of the rubbish dump sites in shelters built from scraps of cardboard and rags from the dump, she said.

"The stench of the rubbish dumps is overwhelming and for any visitor, it can become unbearable but we have made a commitment and this is where we now live alongside our new found families," Ms Cinavou said.

"You need to have the heart and right attitude to be able to love and live with the forgotten and the forsaken like these people in the rubbish dumps.

"It is the power of God that keeps one committed to walking that extra mile and loving our new found families here.

"A familiar site is of children as young as two-year-old walking the dump sites looking for food and when a child dies, the body is just thrown into the pile of trash. The cycle of poverty continues in the rubbish dump, as one dies, another is born," she said.

On the Pacific front, CMFI workers defied odds to reach out to the indigenous people in the highlands of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

The hill tribe of Lakenakenai in the upper reaches of Espiritu Santo had never tasted any other food other than their diet of wild geckos, plantains and wild boar.

In 2008, missionaries Simione Gusuivalu and Inoke Veibataki took a grueling three nights and two days trek through rugged terrain, crossing a river 57 times to get to the tribe in Lakenakenai, a place where there is no telecommunication reception and the only road to civilisation is tracing your footprints back the way you came.

Mr Gusuivalu said it took guts and determination and a solid foundation of faith in God to complete the journey.

"You need to have a passion for the forgotten tribes like these highland people of Lakenakenai to brave the rugged terrain and reach them."

Mr Veibataki says his interaction with the people of Lakenakenai has changed him.

"Being with them has changed my whole perspective in life," Mr Veibataki said.

Today, there is a school in Lakenakenai and the children now wear uniforms to school with proper writing tools and stationery. A similar story is found with the Aqealuma tribe of Papua New Guinea.

When CMFI missionaries found them, the only clothes on their body were grass skirts and nothing else. They now have learnt to wear clothes and appreciate their new-found apparel.

The workers lived with them over the years and had come to love them as their own kinsmen, teaching them how to read and write and how to wear clothes.

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