Students at GSD are blessed with many international visitors. One special visitor, Matthew Adedeji (center in photo), came with two friends from England to run our annual Easter Camp. Matthew, originally from Nigeria, was one of the original founders of GSD, along with Vivienne Harland, back in 1999. He headed the school for three years, before moving to England, where he founded Evangelical Mission To The Deaf. This was his third visit to Fiji.
Tina and Bryan (pictured with Matthew), also work with EMTTD. Tina served as song leader, and Bryan was the MC at camp. All three are deaf. Matthew, a humble and gentle man, lost his hearing at age 7. From a Muslim family in Nigeria, Matthew became a Christian at age 16, through Andrew Foster, who founded 35 schools for the deaf in Africa. Andrew was the first black deaf man to graduate from Gallaudet University in Washington, DC. He was a mentor to Matthew, and also baptized him. Matthew is passionate about his faith. He was the key speaker at the camp, and drew a large crowd of over 70 deaf students and adults. Matthew has a heart for God, and for helping the deaf. At camp, the deaf attended seminars, participated in discussion groups, and enjoyed playing rugby and volleyball. The theme of the camp was ‘The Power of the Cross’, based on Matthew 27. Below is a photo of the campers, after attending Easter Sunday services.
In addition to our visitors from England, we also had Russell and Sue Neate, John and Cheryl Wood, and Ruth Harland Marshall with son Peter, all from New Zealand, along with Ruth’s cousin Sylvia Sayles from France. They all led in some Bible teaching at the hostels, along with some crafts. Children in the main hostel made a beautiful ocean wall hanging. All of the girls in both hostels were given new summer dresses, sewn by friends and supporters in New Zealand. A few of the girls are pictured here, wearing their new dresses.
The New Zealanders were all here to attend the Annual General Meeting, held at Coral Coast Christian Center, at beautiful Pacific Harbor in Deuba. Joining them this year was Dr. Rick Clarkson, from Rhode Island, USA. Rick worked for 29 years at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf in America, with Jim and Marilyn, and later became Headmaster of West Bay Christian Academy for 12 years. He is perhaps best known by students for his magic tricks, which were a big hit at GSD, both in the school and in the hostels. He kept everyone spellbound! Rick was voted in as trustee at the annual meeting, along with Hostel Director, Tema Toaisi.
Russell showed plans for a new hostel to all the staff, in both school and hostels, and everyone had opportunity to give their ideas for the new building. At the annual meeting, trustees also had their input. The three days of meetings were productive, and it was a good time of fellowship as well.
Prayers appreciated for the upcoming Annual General Meeting of the Board, Easter Camp, and safety for the students as they go back to their villages for the school break. Also, prayer for the planning and building of our new hostel, and for a new leadership team as we transition into the future.
In our 16 years in Fiji, it has been rewarding to see deaf youngsters go through our program, then on to high school or vocational programs with interpreters, and settle into careers. Several have come back to GSD to work as teachers or school staff, hostel workers, and adult deaf ministry and youth leaders. Others have gone on to work in hotels or bakeries, or work in graphic design, child care, or computers, and a few have gone on to university. God has richly blessed, through the faithfulness of our many sponsors, prayer partners, volunteers, churches and assemblies, embassies, rotary club, and individual donors. We are grateful to all who continue to help in so many ways.
Jim started the new year off with a Bible teaching for faculty and staff, followed by a workshop on unity. All had a bit of fun with an ice breaker, where everyone paired up, and asked each other some prepared questions to help them get to know each other better. They then had to introduce their partner to the entire group. The workshop was a great success, with great spirit in the room. Our verse for the year is Psalm 133:1: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in unity.”
The result of their planning was an amazing event for the children! The men worked hard cooking the lovo feast. Kuini’s dad allowed no tasting ahead of time, as the food came off the hot rocks, and palm leaves were unwrapped. He said that’s the way he was brought up; the feast was for the guests, and no sampling was allowed until all was on the table. And an amazing feast it was, complete with chicken, rice, dalo, fish,
rho rho, ota, and a host of other traditional foods, with fresh pineapple, watermelon, and ice cream for dessert. Specific foods were brought in from different islands----the ota from Beqa (they say it’s the best!) They know their foods here!! For the program, we enjoyed short speeches, traditional dances for entertainment, some Christmas caroling, and a gift exchange for the children. There was time to mingle, and get to know one another during and after the meal.
As the party ended, all the parents got together again, to elect officers and plan for additional meetings to help support their children in the hostels. Kuini’s dad suggested they start a garden at the Junior boys hostel, to help the boys grow some of their own food. He offered to bring dalo plants to the next meeting, to get them started. Tavaita’s uncle was chosen to head up the parent group as president for next year. Ema’s mom will be the treasurer, and Elena’s mom the secretary.
Most of the parents had never met before the meetings, and began developing friendships, and sharing stories about their children. Merekarita’s dad was in tears as he shared with another parent how amazed he was at the change he had seen in his daughter after just one year in school. Another parent closed the program in prayer, thanking God for Gospel School for the Deaf, and the opportunities that were now available in Fiji for his son.
We were blessed by the gratitude of these parents, and their enthusiastic desire to support their children in school. That has not always been the case. We have had parent meetings at school in the past, but they were sporadically attended. But thanks to Tema, who actually involved the parents in planning an event together, the group is now off and running, taking seriously their role of supporting both school and hostels. Vinaka vaka levu, both to Tema and these wonderful parents!
Liti later made a second visit to the village with me, so I could talk more about the school with the family, and meet Joseph, their deaf son.
And if you’ll allow me to digress a bit, I’d like to tell you a little about Liti. She’s from the town of Nausori,
which is about a one and a half hour bus ride from the main hostel. She wakes up every weekday morning at 3, to cook her roti for the day and make her husband’s lunch. She then rushes off to catch the 5:30 bus to Suva, arriving around 7. At the hostel, she helps make the lunches, and also helps get the children off to school. Then, after the morning staff devotions and hostel meeting, she starts right in, preparing the evening meal for 50 some people. After a full day of work, she leaves the hostel at 4:30 and walks to catch the 5 o’clock bus back to Nausori, usually arriving around 7. Occasionally her husband, a cab driver, is in the area, and surprises her by swinging by to give her a lift home in his cab, which cuts her travel time quite a bit. Once at home, she’s back in the kitchen again, preparing the evening meal there. She tries to be in bed before 9, so she can get up again at 3. (I’m tired just writing about her day!) But Liti loves her job, loves the children, loves to cook, and always has a smile for everyone. I’ve never once heard her complain. I think she’s amazing!! And according to all reports, she’s a very good cook, too!! We’re thankful to have her on staff!
In addition to Joseph, we’ve also signed on 3 more deaf kids: Gloria, Joshua, and Penieli, all five years old---and each with his/her own story---to be told at another time. We also heard recently that one of our present students has a 3 year old brother who is also deaf. We’re excited to be finding children at younger ages now, in order to give them a better start in school. Our ‘child find’ teams will be going out to other islands over the holidays, and should be bringing back more deaf children. We’ll keep you posted on that!
Their insights were excellent, and the whole process was informative and very helpful. But mostly, everyone just enjoyed the opportunity to get to know these humble, gracious, and wise people! The hostel staff put on a great meal, which was well prayed for by four different students! (All wanted a turn!) I always love watching the kids pray their own thoughts in sign. The kids did some ‘items’ for entertainment, led by Kendra, our volunteer from America. Please keep John in your prayers, as he begins radiation treatment for prostate cancer when he returns to New Zealand.
The end of the year brought many challenges as well. Our Kiribati students became overstayers-----which means their visas would not be renewed, and they would not be allowed back into the country for the next school year. Also, food prices skyrocket after Hurricane Winston, and we had a significant cut in government funding. Thus, we finished the year with a lot of debt. We worried over how we would pay our teachers, and had a few sleepless nights. Jim’s favorite Bible verse is I Peter 5:7: “Cast all your worries on God, because He cares for you.” Sometimes we forget to do that, and attempt to work things out in our own strength. And even when we do remember, there are no guarantees that things will always work out as we wish. The circumstances may not change, but somehow WE are changed. And peace does come. These are lessons in trust.
The story does have a happy ending. Jim went to immigration, and managed to persuade the immigration officer to renew the visas, with a minimal penalty fee. Donations also began to come in, making it possible to meet the payroll, and pay off a portion of the debt.
We continue to grow, and recently signed on four new kindergarteners. We also have teams going out to Savusavu, on the next largest island, and to the island of Koro, to find deaf children and bring them to school. Most of these families are unable to pay school and hostel fees, but we never turn anyone away. We are grateful for those who support this ministry by sponsoring children, or giving to the general fund. We’re thankful too, for those who contribute in other ways, by volunteering time. An Indian family here in Suva volunteers by cooking the main meal for all of our hostels every Sunday---a wonderful gift! And farmers often donate produce, or fish. We are grateful to God for so many who have helped in so many ways throughout the year.
We also ask for prayer for the students as they go home to their villages. Many of the young deaf girls here are targets for abuse in their villages, because they do not speak. Please pray for their protection. We are also in need of one more teacher for next year, and someone to come alongside, and take over the ministry here in Fiji. Vinaka Vaka Levu!
Jim and Marilyn
We’re back in Fiji once again, catching up with things here.
On Saturday, Hostel Director Tema invited Jim and I to a parent meeting that she had organized, to help plan the end of the year ‘break up’ party for all the hostels. Students will soon be going home to their families for the summer holidays at the end of November. For most of the parents, the meeting was their first time coming together with other parents of deaf children. Several came from far away remote villages, and had to spend the night in Suva in order to attend the meeting.
For me, it was encouraging to see these folks coming together with the common goal of supporting their deaf children; and also to see their excitement in taking part in planning this event.
The group decided to put on a lovo. Lovo is the typical Fijian meal for any celebratory event. Food is wrapped in palm leaves and slow cooked underground on hot rocks. One parent volunteered to supply fish for the lovo, another offered chickens, and another the vegetables. It was decided that students would provide the entertainment by performing dances known as ‘mekes’ here in Fiji.
There was a wonderful spirit of cooperation and fun in the room, as plans unfolded. Parents also expressed a desire to learn sign language, so Mela, one of our hostel staff workers, taught the group some family signs. The group agreed that they would like to have a formal parent organization, to support both school and hostels.
After the meeting, parents enjoyed some delicious refreshments, including home made cakes and pies made by Mere, leader of our main hostel, who loves to bake. You might recall a former blog I wrote on Mere. She is the aunty of Apenisa, one of our junior boys. Mere brought him to live in the hostel several years ago, and planned to stay with him for a few days until he was settled in. But she enjoyed helping out so much in the hostel, that she never left, and we hired her! She has learned sign language now, and is in charge of the main hostel, doing a fantastic job!
The children, of course, were thrilled by an unexpected visit from family. However, as the meeting came to a close, and parents once again had to say good bye to their children, the tears began to flow. How difficult it is for these parents to give up their young children for the school year, in order for them to receive an education. The sacrifice is tremendous! But Mere, in her timely wisdom, brought out the remaining treats from the meeting, and one by one, those famous Fijian smiles began to reappear on the faces of the children!
Kendra is a volunteer from Rhode Island. She is active in working with youth in her church, and she loves kids. She heard about the deaf ministry from a former volunteer, Lindsey Drew, and wanted to come. She even learned a bit of sign language before making the trip. Jim and I met up with her in the LA airport, and traveled the rest of the way together.
At the parent meeting on Saturday, Kendra kept everyone entertained outside with a rugby ball. She’s off to a great start!
Here’s the gang at the end of the school day. Term 2 just ended, with an all school celebration of the Olympic Games as part of Class 4’s study of Ancient Greece.
And “Vinaka Vaka Levu” (a very big thank you) to all, for the variety of ways you have contributed, to help deaf children receive an education and grow in their relationship with God.
The prophet Isaiah tells us (Isaiah 55:8-9) that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways. We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps (Proverbs 16:9)
Jim and I arrived in Fiji a week ago. Our reason for coming was to meet Malcolm and Ellen Noble, a couple from New Zealand who had volunteered to lead a week of Sunday School teacher training workshops for our deaf teachers. Ruth Harland Marshall, who arranged the workshops, was also coming, along with her son Jack. That was OUR plan.
Jim and I arrived in Fiji a week before the workshops were to begin. Then, just hours after arriving, we received some sad news that Serevi Rokotuibau, one of the key deaf ministry leaders here in Fiji, had passed away that morning at the age of 36. He apparently died from a severe infection on his leg, for which he resisted treatment until it was too late.
Serevi was a teacher at the Hilton Special School here in Suva for many years, and was
also a leader in the Fiji Deaf Ministry from the beginning. He taught Bible classes to deaf adults and older students who met together on Sunday afternoons at GSD. Serevi later
moved to Lautoka, on the other side of the island, where he was involved in leadership in the deaf community there. He also traveled extensively to many places, including Australia and Japan, studying, attending and giving workshops, and advocating for the deaf. Serevi was a big man in size, but was known more for his big heart! He always wore a big smile, and made others feel loved and special. Deaf and hearing leaders alike always went to him first for advice and counsel, when making decisions. His funeral was attended by many leaders in special education, along with deaf students from all over Fiji, as well as family and friends. Forty GSD students, teachers, and staff traveled by bus to his village, Sawakasa in Tailevu, to attend the funeral on Saturday. All were warmly welcomed into the village, where we gave thanks and celebrated his life in the village church, and enjoyed the traditional Fijian lovo feast after the burial. Serevi had a heart for God, and for the deaf of Fiji, and accomplished a great deal in his short life. He will be sorely missed.
The Nobles arrived from New Zealand on Friday afternoon, and we enjoyed getting to know them over a nice meal Friday night, before attending Serevi’s funeral on Saturday. (Malcolm and Ellen, left in photo, Ruth Harland Marshall (right), myself, Ruth’s son Jack, and Jim)
Ellen has been involved in editing Sunday School materials for Pacific Island cultures. The materials are also designed for students with lower reading levels. Ellen gives teacher training workshops, and for eleven years did translation work in Indonesia. She and Malcolm were contacted by Ruth Harland, and volunteered to come to Fiji to train our deaf teachers in using the Sunday School materials.
But again, that was OUR plan. When we arrived back in Suva after the funeral on Saturday, we learned that Malcolm (age 81) had experienced some chest pain, and had gone to the Suva Private Hospital, where he was checked, received medication, and sent back to the hotel. When the pain came back, he made a second visit to the hospital early Sunday morning, and again came back to the hotel, with a diagnosis of “stable angina”. But sadly, he had a heart attack later Sunday afternoon, and passed away in his hotel room with his wife by his side.
Thankfully, all of us were together in the same hotel in Suva, so we were there to help and support Ellen. Their son Tim arrived from New Zealand on Monday.
Please keep the Nobles, as well as the deaf community and Serevi’s family in your prayers during this difficult time. They are people of deep faith, whose confidence and trust is in God, in both the good and difficult times.
I am reminded of a sermon given by Russell Neate, a board member, at our last AGM meeting in April. It came from a plaque on the wall of the younger boys hostel that reads:
Look back, and thank God. Look around, and serve God. Look forward, and trust God.
Ellen is doing exactly that, here in Fiji, even in the midst of her sorrow. She still plans to do one of her workshops before leaving.
Sunday night, she quoted Jeremiah 29:11 as she said good-bye to her husband at the hospital:
“I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” And then she added a prayer of thanks to God for His promise, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”(Hebrews 13:5)
No, His ways are not always our ways. God is infinite, we are finite, and life contains much mystery. But by faith, we trust God with our future. His promises are sure, and His love is everlasting, no matter what the circumstances. When our outer world seems to be falling apart, we can have inner peace when we trust in Him. Proverbs 3:5-6 admonishes us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.”
The first term of the school year (January through April) has ended, and second term is well under way. The two week school vacation was shortened a bit, because of missed school days during Cyclone Winston---- the worst in Fiji’s history. Food boxes are being sent by GSD to Koro Island, where two of our families lost their homes. Thankfully, our school and hostels in Suva were not affected----we only experienced high winds and heavy rains, and minor debris from falling branches.
Jim and I left Fiji in April this year, just before the end of first term. Our only daughter Erin was married to Garth Altringer in May, over the Memorial Day weekend. It was a beautiful family celebration at Castle Hill in Newport, Rhode Island, with perfect weather. Brothers Brendan and Ryan, Ryan’s wife Mary, and their daughter Annaliese made up the wedding party, along with Erin’s close friend Rachel from college days. Peter Blackwell, Erin’s uncle and elder at Bethany Gospel Chapel in Swansea, MA, performed the ceremony. Erin and Garth now live in Berkeley, CA.
It was a productive time, with decisions made to go forward with the building of a new hostel on the land currently owned by the Gospel Trust, from whom we have been renting this house for our junior boys.
Dr. Peter Blackwell, former head of the RI School for the Deaf, was also chosen as educational consultant at the meeting. His curriculum has become a model for education in Fiji.
The AGM ended with a Sunday worship service, where Russell based his message on a plaque he saw on the wall of the main hostel: Look back, and thank God; look forward, and trust God; look around, and serve God. A simple, yet powerful message---- and great way to live.
When you think of us, please pray:
---for educational and spiritual growth of our students and staff
---for unschooled deaf in the villages, that they would be reached
---for the building of the new hostel
---for the right person to take over as director of the deaf ministry
We are so thankful to God for the many ways He has blessed the work here in Fiji, through those who support and pray for us regularly. God continues to bless through the faithful partnership of others.
Jim and I plan to return to Fiji in July for a few weeks, and then again in October. 3
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