Shaken but not destroyed

ON a hilltop, it sits overlooking the magnificient Koro Sea and Vanua Levu in the distance.

It stands all alone exposed to the sun, rain and the wind that blows from all directions. There is nothing to protect it from the wrath of the forces of nature. But for 33 years, it has stood majestically unscathed, withstanding the test of time and all forces of nature unleashed in the past three decades.

On February 20, 2016 Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc across the Fiji Group, Koro Island being the worse affected, with about 1000 houses destroyed, about 80 per cent of homes on Koro.

Carissa Wills-Demello, a Peace Corps volunteer and community health empowerment Facilitator who had served at Nabasovi since 2014, wrote on the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs website: “Cyclone Winston has impacted human and environmental health.

“Reef fish populations, a historic staple, are suffering and fishing strains this supply further while damaging the reef.

“The cyclone resulted in 100 per cent crop loss, robbing villagers of food and the sole source of income.”

Yet despite the powerful winds, torrential rain and lightning strike on a hilltop the Vatulele Methodist Church stood it’s ground, standing majestically withstanding all that came its way.

The church was one of only two churches on the island of Koro to survive the forces of Mother Nature.

“I believe it was through God and God alone that the church was protected,” said church steward Usaia Nauli.

At Vatulele Village the monster cyclone destroyed 46 homes, it threatened the lives of the villagers many running to the church for refuge. It left behind a trail of destruction that some today still talk about its ferocity and the day they came face to face with fear.

Today the Methodist Church stands as a reminder of their safe haven, a symbol of salvation and a place where they return to renew their covenant with the Giver of Life.

In the early 1980s, the village elders decided it was time to build a bigger church to cater for the growing population.

“The foreman was an uncle of mine from the Yavusa o Mata ni Mudu. Before the construction he told us, this would be the last church he was building on the island of Koro.

“We did everything he wanted with everyone helped out, when work was completed he retired and put his hammer down.

“So our village elders then decided to challenge each other to a bale of yaqona and that’s what they did. There was only a few of them but they were strong men. They walked the talk and each of them provided a bale each to start the construction of their church,” said Vatiliai Dulaki, who was the village headman at that time.

According to church records provided by the steward, on July 18 1981 the first shipment of supplies arrived on board the government vessel Katavatu. Mr Nauli said, earlier the villagers had cleared the area where the church was going to sit.

On July 21, of the same year Reverend Inia Saranuku of Koro Methodist Circuit blessed the vakasobuduru, the construction when the first post of the church was planted to the ground.

Six days later and from 11am to 12 midnight the villagers worked tirelessly and completed laying the foundation of their new church.

The first phase of work was done on August 12, 1981.

The village men had to till the land again to look for money to fund the construction of the church.

“This church was completed through the sweat of our elders who tilled the land whole-heartedly and gave generously what they have for the construction of the church.

“They performed their duties with all honesty, there was not many of them but they were united. They looked after each other and ensured no one was left out or anyone lacked anything,” said Mr Dulaki.

Mr Dulaki added there were times there were differences but everything was solved amicably.

“We had a group who left the village for work, but the money was not directed to the church, so the village elders thought it be best that we get everything from our land.

“There was a time we planted peanuts and sold it in the village as a means to fundraise and purchasing of the supplies for the church. A time when we had a lot of money in our account and there was a call to change the committee and to divert the use of the money for other purposes, this is the time I told them if they do that I will stand down from my position as village headman because I know that money was intended for the church.

“I was glad that we were able to solve everything amicably,” said Mr Dulaki

Four years later and after a few stops and only two main fundraising drives in recorded history and the church was completed.

“This church is a symbol of our unity, and just how far communal living can take us and what great things we can achieve. God protected that church because it was built with honesty, respect and love for all,” added Mr Dulaki.

Timeline

1981

July 18 ? arrival of the first shipment of church supplies from the government vessel Katavatu

July 21 ? Vakasobuduru and blessing by Reverend Inia Saranuku (minister for the Koro Methodist Circuit)

July 27 ? completion of the church foundation

August 12 ? Phase 1 is completed

October 21 ? Phase 2 begins

December 4 ? Phase 2 ends

1982

May 16 ? Arrival of the second delivery of the building supplies on the Tui Levuka.

July 5 ? Phase 3 begins

August 15 ? Roofing

September 4 ? Phase 3 ends

November 1 ? Phase 4 begins

November 20 ? Phase 4 ends, construction halted.

1983

June 24 ? Fundraising drive, each mataqali (clan) to give $250, $987 was collected.

November 1 ? Phase 5; completed the floor.

1985

March 15 ? another fundraising drive, $3446.46 was collected.

June 31 ? the foreman and carpenters put the final touches for the completion of the church.

July 18 ? A solevu (feast) was done for the foreman and the carpenters for the work done. They are Atunaisa Qaranivalu, Waisea Nacika, Waisake, Atunaisa and Volau.

December 13 ? the Vatulele Methodist Church was blessed and still stands today.

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