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The birth of Christianity at their home

Siteri Sauvakacolo
Sunday, November 05, 2017

ACCOUNTS of when Christianity first came to our shores have been retold in so many ways; stories, song and dance.

Some through the books we read, some of it we heard during our primary school days when missionaries William Cross and David Cargill first settled into Fiji from Tonga while others may have been told in one of our so-called after dinner family conversations and those we may have heard from our own grandparents.

It is interesting to note, though, that the birth of Christianity on our shores has changed people in so many ways.

The natives of this land, the Taukei, were well known for cannibalism, however, Christianity took its course and spread through Fiji, managed to overcome this practice and changed people's views and lives for good.

On the outskirts of Lautoka City lies a quiet and peaceful settlement named Tomuka.

I was invited to be part of the settlement's church celebration of 182 years of Christianity in Fiji a few weeks back.

Any visitor to Tomuka will be taken with the beauty of the place and the fact that despite it being a small place, you will definitely go past two churches named Valenilotu e Tomuka and Tukuvuci belonging to the Tomuka Circuit and Namoli Division.

After a few interesting conversations with Reverend Timoci Waqalevu, I was given a few print-outs of copies of the history of when these two churches started and what had actually inspired early Tomuka settlers to start off a church at the place they have called home.

Tomuka traditionally belong to the Yavusa Vidilo of Namoli, a beautiful village which greets visitors to and from Lautoka City.

History states Tomuka settlement was started in 1962 by sisters Ema Savere and Anaseini Nasoko from the Yavusa Vidilo.

Ema then married a man from Nailaga, Ba and they had 12 children while Anaseini married a man from Tavewa, Bua and they had 10 children.

By the 1960s, Christianity was a way of life in the country and had gained popularity not only in Taukei villages but in many other parts of Fiji including urban centres.

These two sisters, their husbands and their children were the original settlers of Tomuka. They felt the need for a church where they could all worship God on Sunday and thank Him for their blessings throughout the week.

The next family to join them was the McGoon family which had maternal links to Namoli Village. They were then joined by Joji Tavanavanua and his family from the Tokatoka Navitua also of Namoli Village.

It was in the Easter of 1963, that those settlers started the Tomuka Methodist Church when they were joined by other family members from Namoli who had to live on their own mataqali land.

The first church to be constructed at Tomuka two years later was on a hill which was blessed by the late Reverend Sakeasi Salababa overlooking the beauty of Lautoka and was a place they termed as the right site for worshipping and honouring God's glory.

Unfortunately in 1972, the building was fully damaged and blown away by Hurricane Bebe which also wreacked havoc in parts of the country.

This was when those from the Tokatoka Navitua gave a piece of their land for the church to be built on. This church is one of those buildings you will not miss while going to Tomuka.

Since then, the Christian torch has never been extinguished and continues to enrich the lives of many people who live there and has even been passed down from generation to generation.

On October 12, a sunny Thursday morning, the settlement was a sea of white. While other people had gone about their daily work routine, at Tomuka, people took a day off from work in respect of their religion to celebrate the 182 years of Christianity in Fiji.

It may have not been the case for other churches in Fiji but for these church members, it was a moment at which tears flowed and their Christian ties renewed as they shared the importance of Christianity and how it had been part of their journey which began right from their forefathers.

Mr Waqalevu shared the significance of observing this important day and it being made known to the younger generation of Tomuka.

"We may just be a small church but the message shared in this church every Sunday and not just today is what strengthens us as a community every day," Mr Waqalevu said.

"This is why it is important for us to celebrate this day because we have been through a lot in life but our Christian faith has allowed us to conquer every journey with faith.

"We are celebrating this day to let these young people know that we have come a long way, and being Christians has even helped us master every journey with courage."

Tears flowed as Anasa Vuniivi, 73 of Bukuya, Ba recalled the early days during which they had started the church at Tomuka.

He was just a young fresh school leaver and had just started enjoying his teenage days when they started building the church at Tomuka.

Anasa said they had come a long way, from worshipping under a mango tree to constructing their own church and this was where they had discovered the importance of honouring God's glory and letting Him be the guide and light each step of their journey.

He said celebrating this special day was an important and emotional one for him being the only survivor from those days when the Tomuka church was initially built.

Many may wonder why the congregation of the small church wanted to celebrate this day in such a big way.

According to Mr Waqalevu, the 182nd year of celebrating the Christian life in Fiji will never return and for the Tomuka congregation, it is not just about celebrating but also about letting their young generation understand the importance of Christianity in their lives.

"It started way back from their forefathers and to date, the Christian torch still burns freely and strongly in the Tomuka community. Without it, our people will not be successful as they are today."

* Next week we will take you to Castaway Island.

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