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.
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.”