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Miracles for a missionary

Sikeli Qounadovu
Sunday, January 28, 2018

WHEN the missionaries first arrived in hostile Fiji, they were faced with a lot challenges. Their first great challenge was of course leaving their families and loved ones behind for the long journey to a group of islands where cannibalism was still rife.

Then there was the fear of being butchered. Even the stories they heard sent shivers down their spine, some even had second thoughts whether to make the trip or not.

History teaches us that there were a couple of native missionaries who ensured the success of missionary work.

They were known to be sent to hostile places ahead of the white missionaries. Unfortunately, ever since primary school these missionaries and their stories remained untold.

Maybe, it is about time their stories are heard, maybe it is time to look at the contribution of these great men.

They are the

unsung heroes

Native missionaries such as Paula Havea, Josua Mateinaniu, Weseli Langi, Joeli Keteca and Joeli Bulu were sent ahead to pave the way for white missionaries.

These men did what many dared not do in Fiji at that time. They risked their lives because they knew they were bringing light to a land blanketed by the darkness of heathenism and paganism.

And in as much as we may argue on how they managed to penetrate the then iTaukeis' way of life, there is only one answer, that many Christians believe worked wonders — they were guided and protected by the Heavenly Father, they were comforted by the Holy Spirit and watched over by the angels.

One of these great men was Reverend Joeli Bulu — who faced death threats and even survived a shark attack.

Bulu just refused to die. In fact, his account states that those around him witnessed miracles.

Miracles do happen

"Oh, that beautiful land.

"I want to live in that beautiful land," said Bulu.

When John Garrett wrote the book To Live Among the Stars the title itself were the actual words of the young Tongan, who at 23 years of age, was convinced to accept the new religion — Christianity.

"If the words I heard tonight are true, then these Christians are happy indeed. I will be a Christian too.

"I will lotu (accept Christ as my Saviour) so that I may live among the stars."

Garrettt, explained: "As Bulu looked up at the brightness of the heavens above, he realised how dark and gloomy the Earth was by comparison. His heart longed with a great longing to reach that beautiful land, but when his family heard of it they called the family together to deal with him. They also called in the family's heathen priest.

"Possessed by the evil spirit in him, the heathen priest shook all over at the mention of the Christian way.

"The evil spirit, through the priest shouted, 'Why has he forsaken me? I have kept him; I have preserved him since he was a little boy. Now he wants to leave me'!"

His family wanted to kill him, they planned to club him but he overheard their plan and hid in the bush praying.

Persistent as always Bulu was converted in the 1830s and a year later he was sent to Fiji with

Reverend James Calvert.

According to the book Exodus of the iTaukei: The Wesleyan Church in Fiji — 1848-74 by Andrew Thornley, Richard Lyth trained the first generation of ministers — Bulu, Josua Mateinaniu, Paula Vea and Weseli Lagi.

The book stated Bulu was ordained on August 18, 1850 at Ono-i-Lau by Reverend David Hazelwood.

While in Rewa with Reverend Calvert, he was attacked by a shark.

"He had been playing with a group of boys and a young chief, and then he went swimming in the river nearby where the boys were racing their toy canoes. Suddenly a shark bit him on the thigh, keeping a firm hold with its teeth. Desperately fighting back, Joeli forced it to let go of his thigh, but it took hold of his arm.

"Mustering all his strength, Joeli pushed his hand down the shark's throat, lifted it out of the water, dragged it ashore and dropped it on the sand. Then he collapsed unconscious, but he survived the ordeal and lived many more years serving the Lord," wrote Garrettt.

When the white missionaries could not take the Gospel to Vanua Levu, he was given the task to pave the way. When the Tongan reverend arrived, he was often under attack and threatened, but something happened and, as Garrettt wrote, it changed the natives.

"The villagers made life very difficult for him. They stole his pigs, killed his chickens and spoiled his food gardens. The culprits said, 'When we've spoiled all the property of the Christians, we're going to kill and eat them'."

By this time Garrettt said, the natives had already destroyed more than 20 Christian villages.

"The Fijian method of warfare was to silently creep up and surround the village and then suddenly sound the shell trumpet, gradually moving closer to build fear in the hearts of the villagers. In the early hours of the morning, just before dawn, Joeli and his faithful friends heard the sounds of attack coming in closer, causing them great fear. Joeli was calm.

"Nobody must fight," he instructed them. "Everybody sit down on the grass." They could hear the trumpeters getting closer and the noise of the enemy grew louder and louder.

Suddenly there was a screaming war cry from the enemy tribe as they burst in on the village to massacre the Christians. However, there they were, sitting peacefully on the grass in the centre of the village. They bounded up to the Christians, clubs and spears raised above their heads, ready to strike the defenceless people. But nothing happened!

"They said later, A power took possession of us and we couldn't use our clubs or spears. Our arms just couldn't move. What is this power that Joeli Bulu has over us?"

According to Garrett, the tribal men later presented Joeli with a tabua (whale's tooth) as their matanigasau (traditional request of apology).

"Joeli, you are a true man, we have stolen your pigs, we've killed your chickens, we've spoiled your gardens. We've treated you very badly. But you are a true man and your God is a true God. Take this whale's tooth as a sign of peace between us, and feel free to tell us about your God."

It was recorded that Bulu later trained young men who became evangelists and teachers thus spreading the Gospel further in the interior and western side of Viti Levu.

"He also spent eight years on the island of Ono. Some of the evangelists he trained there were among those who went to New Britain (Papua New Guinea)."

Another miracle

On one occasion, Joeli borrowed a deep-sea canoe from the king to visit a distant island. They ran into a hurricane and the canoe was thrown about in the raging sea.

The sail support was jerked from its place on the bow and fell into the sea.

Tugging and straining, they got it back into place but the men on board were beginning to despair of surviving this storm. They let down the sail and allowed the canoe to run before the wind.

"God, save us! Rescue us from this hurricane!

"Lord of the waves and the storms, have mercy on us and help us!" cried Joeli.

No sooner had he finished praying then the wind suddenly stopped and there was calm. They began to secure the canoe's fastenings where they had been parted.

Garrett then added, "in his later years, Joeli Bulu became a Bible teacher to King Cakobau and his extended family.

"He was a great help to Cakobau in learning about the Christian faith and the younger members of the family loved him dearly. In his last days, they stayed beside him, fanning him and watching over him.

"Joeli experienced many storms of life during his 40 years serving the Lord in Fiji.

"It was the manner in which he faced and dealt with the storms, trusting God to direct and strengthen him that made him such a great man."

Bulu died in May of 1877 and his body is buried next to Reverend John Hunt on the island of Viwa.

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