We have a very sad story to report. Asena, a deaf teacher aide at GSD last year, and newly married, gave birth on January 22nd to a beautiful baby boy named Robert. After a C-section delivery, Asena was discharged from the hospital, but experienced a lot of pain, and was readmitted. Doctors treated her a few days later for an infection, which by then had spread, and sadly, she passed away on January 30th. She was just 25 years old.
On Saturday morning, when the Christian Fellowship for the Deaf (CFD) held a farewell breakfast for Jim and I at Suva Street Chapel, all were surprised to see Jale (Charlie), Asena’s husband, walk in with his mother and newborn son. They had come to join in farewelling us.
Tomasi led the event, and masterfully combined our farewell with beautiful words of encouragement and comfort for Jale, assuring him of support from his CFD family, and praying for God’s comfort in his time of grief. It was a beautiful time of fellowship, and God’s Spirit was clearly felt as we met together, with both laughter and tears. The funeral will be held on Wednesday in Lami, where Jale will say his final good-bye to Asena, and we will say our good-byes to our wonderful family here in Fiji, as we head back to the states. The folks here have been such a blessing to us, as we’ve shared life together, in both times of joy and sorrow over the past 18 years. We will miss everyone for sure, but hope to be back for occasional visits. Please pray for Jale and his family, especially his newborn son, and the entire deaf community, as they grieve the loss of Asena. Thank you CFD, for a great day, and for your lovely gift. And a special thanks to Tomasi, Tully, and Mesake for your faithful leadership among the adult deaf. Keep up the good work!!
We will always “thank God every time we remember you” (Philippians 1:3), and we pray that you will always love God and choose to follow in His path for your life. Many Blessings!!
January is a time of new beginnings. GSD is no exception. With the arrival of January, comes the beginning of another new school year, and we’re off to great start!
In February, Jim and I will be handing over the leadership baton to Russell Neate, the new ministry director from Christchurch, NZ, and his wife Sue; a new beginning for them as well, and we look forward to all that God has in store for the ministry through them.
We also have a deaf couple, both university graduates and teachers of the deaf from Nigeria, beginning a new life here in Fiji with their two young daughters. They will be arriving soon, all leaving their homeland and flying for the first time. They will be living in our main hostel, while teaching at GSD.
Kuini, called ‘My Queen’ by Jim, is deaf. She completed her high school program last year while living in our hostel, and will begin her first job on staff at GSD, as a teacher aide in Class 3.
And finally, Joneti Rokotuibau, former teacher at GSD and sign language interpreter, also begins a new career as Curriculum Director this year, replacing Marilyn. She is already doing a great job working with the teachers, and enjoys her new position.
Our hostel staff remains the same, under the leadership of Tema
Toaisi, with her husband Tony and young son Temnik. All the hostel staff are dedicated, wonderful “parents” who daily love and care for the kids who have had to leave their families, in order to receive an education. We have a great staff this year, both at school and in our three hostels. As the song goes, that the kids love to sing and sign, “We are one big happy family!”
The ministry here is all about the kids--- so let me tell you about a few of them. We have five new ones so far, beginning school with us for the first time this year---three Kindergarteners, and one new student each in Class 2 and Class 4. Two more are coming soon, when passports, visas, and flights are worked out--- a 5 year old from Tonga and an 11 year old from Vanuatu. And more to come, I’m sure, as we continue to find them. Two young hearing girls have also joined our Kindergarten class this year. They are Sitiri (left in photo), sister of Class 1 student Gloria (right in photo), and cousin Nes (center), who lives with the family. They were enrolled at GSD because Gloria’s parents wanted them to learn sign language, to better communicate with Gloria. They love school, and after only 2 weeks, have picked up quite a few signs. And now for one last story, which is why we do what we do here. Amelia, age 10, is a delightful, well behaved, good student. She came to us this year from a local hearing school. Her Dad would drop her off everyday, and she would always, respectfully, do what her teacher told her to do. But she was not happy. Instead of doing school work along with her classmates, she was told to sweep the floors, dust shelves, and wash the windows. When her dad picked her up after school, she would run to him, greet him with a hug, and then burst into tears. I read her school reports; she had failing marks in almost every subject. The teacher comment on one of her reports read, “Needs to improve her listening skills”. Hmm! Her parents heard about GSD, and enrolled her. Amelia now wears a big smile, loves school, and has many deaf friends. Her teacher reports that she is doing well in class, and is learning sign language. She greets me every morning with a grateful hug! Her story is the story of many deaf in Fiji who struggle in schools where they are marginalized. They usually do not continue their education, though many are very bright. Our goal is to find them, and give them an opportunity for an education in a Christian deaf community. They are great kids, with so much potential!!
The deaf ministry brings us into contact with many interesting people. This is a story about a guy named David, whom I met on my walk along the harbor in Fiji after work one day.
David sits on the same bench everyday in front of the Holiday Inn, in downtown Suva. I would often pass by him on my walks. Sometimes he’d be asleep on the bench. One day, I stopped and said hello, and asked his name. He told me his name was David, and we began to have simple conversations each time I walked. The bench is David’s home. I asked if he had any family, and he said that he had, but he never sees them. He’s been on his own, living on the streets, since he was a very young boy. If I were to guess, I’d say he’s probably in his mid-fifties now. David was friendly and polite. Unlike most of the homeless in Suva, he never once asked for money. Maybe that’s what I liked about him. I told him he had a good Biblical name, and he said that he knew the story of David in the Bible.
David keeps his belongings next to him on his bench, covered with clear plastic--- a couple of newspapers, a change or two of clothes, some salt and pepper shakers, a few empty containers, and a bottle of orange Fanta could be seen through the clear plastic. He also had a larger piece of plastic that he put over his body when it was raining----and it had been raining heavily, almost daily, for the 6 weeks we were in Fiji! David wore a stocking cap and a light, somewhat soiled jacket. He also had an umbrella that protected him from both the rain and the hot tropical sun of Fiji.
One Sunday after church, Jim and I had lunch at the Holiday Inn, so I bought David a club sandwich, and delivered it to his bench. He thanked me, but told me he really didn’t need anything-- but when I left the sandwich with him and walked away, I turned to see him eating hungrily. After that, I made small lunches and carried them on my walks. David always accepted the food, adding a grateful “God Bless You” as I left.For quite a few days I didn’t walk, because of the heavy rain. I thought of David, as I climbed into my warm bed at night, listening to the rain outside. The next morning there was no school because of election day in Fiji. Jim and I went out to do some errands and have lunch. It was raining heavily again that day, so I ordered another meal for David. When I delivered it, he was asleep under his plastic in the rain. I woke him, and again he said he needed nothing, but thanked me. We had just finished printing some pamphlets for the Fiji Deaf Ministry, telling of God’s love and desire for relationship with all people. I slipped one in with his lunch. I’m not usually a fan of most Christian tracts--- but I wanted David to know that he was loved and cared about by his Creator. I still don’t know David’s story, but I think about him often, and pray for him.
David is a reminder to me of how blessed I am, and how much I take for granted. The Davids of this world teach us to be grateful for all that we have----especially the little things we so easily take for granted! In his poverty, David expressed gratitude for his bench and his piece of plastic. He told me that he chose the bench by the Holiday Inn because the employees spray for mosquitoes there each night; something for which he was especially thankful! And as I was leaving, he even asked God to bless me— a stranger who brought him an occasional sandwich. I felt that I was the one on the receiving end in this story, and was blessed by David.
Later, on another walk one day, I heard running footsteps close behind me. I clutched my purse a bit tighter, having been robbed twice while walking in Fiji. Then I felt a tap on the shoulder, and was frightened, until I turned around and saw Ilitai--- one of our former students, with a big smile on his face. He had run quite a distance to catch up to me, and was out of breath.
Not all of the stories here are success stories. Ilitai, now 24, came to us at age 7, to live in the hostel. He was a bright boy, with a very sad home life. His mom was on drugs, and had lived with several different partners over the years. Ilitai was the oldest of two brothers, both born deaf. They both grew up in our hostels, having been pretty much abandoned by their mother.
Viliame, the younger brother, used to run away from the hostel from time to time, trying to find his mother. But when he arrived at his house one day, he discovered that his mother had moved, and he never saw her again.
Both boys were well loved in the hostels, but as I look back, they also experienced losses there. Volunteers would come, to whom the boys became attached and grew to love ---- but they always left.
Eventually, both boys came of age, and left both hostel and school. They were not particularly close as brothers, and seldom saw one another. Both lived on the streets, stealing to survive. Ilitai even broke into our home one day, taking money and a computer. He was seen and reported by another student. Both boys would show up at an occasional deaf camp, or come around school once in awhile, but they would always leave again, and go back to the streets. I was reminded of a line in a Brooks Williams song--- “Even a bad life, is still a life that you know”. Both boys kept returning to life on the streets.
As we talked that day, Ilitai. wanted to know all about our family. He had developed a strong connection with all of our adult children over the years, when they visited Fiji. I told him that we all still loved and cared about him. I gave him some money for a meal, and invited him to come to church with us on Sunday, where he would see some deaf friends. He agreed to come, and we chose a meeting place, where we could pick him up. But on Sunday it was again raining heavily, and he was a no show. I still think of him often. That same week in November was his 24th birthday. I’m not sure he even knew it. We celebrated birthdays in the hostel monthly, but not on the actual date. In our meeting on the street, there was a lot lot of warmth, and I know Ilitai felt loved. He gave me a hug as we parted. My prayer is that one day he will know the love of God that he learned about in school. God’s love transforms. I trust that in time, Ilitai will experience that transforming love. Please pray for both David and Ilitai if you think of them.
What an exciting week we’ve had here in Fiji! Despite heavy rain and cooler weather, the National Special Games were held here in Suva on October 18th and 19that the National Stadium. Students from all over Fiji competed, and had a great time!
After two days of games, a social was held on Friday night, with each school performing entertainment ‘items’, and everyone dressed in their school’s ‘kalavata’. It was a very special night indeed!
Then on Tuesday, we took our school banner and stood (in the rain!) at the gate of Borron House, to greet Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan when their motorcade arrived. We
lined both sides of the street, and received a big wave from the prince through the car window! Our two deaf British volunteers made a special sign for the occasion! A
day to be remembered, for sure!
Rain, Rain, Go Away!
The entrance to Gospel School for the Deaf is a mud pit, after several weeks of continuous heavy rain! We’re hoping for the imminent return of Fiji’s tropical sunshine! Yes, a new driveway is sorely needed! But the first priority at the moment is replacing the school septic tank; a rather expensive project, for which funds are needed.
But the good news is that we have two new vehicles for the ministry! The Japanese Embassy donated a badly needed new bus, and the Chinese Embassy also donated a new yellow van. In August, a nice new bus port was built to house the vehicles.
Some other news is that we have three new volunteers this term. Olivia, pictured on the left with Class 3 student Peter, is from Australia. Her family is spending this year in Fiji, volunteering at Homes of Hope, a home for unwed mothers. Olivia and her parents are strong Christians, dedicated to serving those in need. Olivia is interested in becoming a teacher of the deaf in the future. She volunteers two days a week, tutoring students in math. Olivia has picked up Fijian sign language quickly, and communicates well with the kids. We also have two volunteers from England, Melissa (L) and Kirsty (R), who are deaf. Both attended the same oral deaf program in England. They are also both university graduates. Melissa is skilled in surface pattern design, working with ceramics, enamel and glass. She did a project with students in Tomasi’s class, studying Ancient Cultures. They made life size pictures of themselves wearing Roman clothing, as part of their unit of study on the Roman Empire. Kirsty is skilled at needlework, fashion, and textile art.) She will be teaching some embroidery to the students. Both women are helping out in the hostels as well as in the school.
We also had a visit second term from a group from Australia called Live and Learn, whose focus was teaching good health through hand washing. They also repaired many of our outside taps. Students enjoyed painting a mural about hand washing on the outside wall by the taps.
Joshua’s class this year studied different environments, and particularly enjoyed learning about the Polar Regions---- a ‘cool’ topic for kids living in the tropics! Students learned about icebergs, global warming, and caring for the environment, along with their study of Arctic animals. The adventures of Lars the Polar Bear were favorite stories for reading! Students had fun turning their classroom into a winter wonderland.
Jim and I were warmly welcomed back to Fiji a few weeks ago by students and staff in all three hostels. Students made a ‘welcome back’ banner with Teacher Tomasi, and the staff put on a wonderful Fijian feast for us. It was a special night! The deaf have a song that they like to sing often. (Yes, the deaf DO like to sing!!) The song begins with the words: “We are one big happy family---God’s family”. This wonderful community has certainly become a close family for us over the years!
As most of you probably know by now, Jim and I will be stepping down at the end of this year, after 18 years of directing the Fiji Deaf Ministry. We are excited to introduce the couple chosen by the Harland Trust Board to replace us! They are Russell and Sue Neate, from Christchurch, New Zealand.
The Board, at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) last April, unanimously
voted Russell in as the new Fiji Deaf Ministry Director. Actually, the Board was just affirming what Russell and Sue have already been doing. They both have been actively involved in the ministry since 2014, working tirelessly on a variety of committees and ministry projects, all while keeping up with a growing family and work at home in NZ. The Neates have two grown children, a son and a daughter, both living in Christchurch. They have five grandchildren (three boys and two girls), ranging in age from eight months to twelve years.
Russell and Sue’s home church is Bryndwr Chapel, where they first met Vivienne Harland, ministry founder, about thirty six years ago. Vivienne attended Bryndwr Chapel with her husband Geoff and their two daughters, Ruth and Pauline. It was
at that time that Russell and Sue got to know Vivienne and her family, and interest in the Fiji Deaf Ministry began to develop.
Russell and Sue have been involved at Bryndwr Chapel over many years, teaching Sunday School and leading other kids programs, as well as a young adults group.
Russell and Sue first visited Vivienne Harland in Fiji twelve years ago, to see the deaf ministry first hand. They have since visited twelve times, and Fiji has become their second home. Vivienne passed away in 2009. Russell was then appointed to The Harland Trust Board in 2014, where he has enjoyed reconnecting with Vivienne’s daughter Ruth, also a Board member.
Russell’s career of almost forty years was spent in New Zealand, working for the same power utility company in IT and related systems. He will be retiring at the end of this year. Sue has a background in office administration and accounts.
Words that come to mind when describing both Russell and Sue are humility and hard work. They are faithful and caring Christians, seeking to honor God in all that they do. They are already well known, well loved, and well respected in Fiji. Russell is an excellent Bible teacher, and often preaches at Suva St. Chapel on his visits to Fiji. He and Sue also lead devotions in the hostels while here.
Russell and his committee have worked diligently over the past couple of years, putting detailed plans together for the building of a new hostel. Russell met with each staff member to obtain his/her input for consideration in the final plans.
Russell and Sue also recently organized a mission trip for a large number of volunteers from their chapel, to visit Fiji this past July. The trip was a huge success, with much accomplished, and new relationships formed!
Russell is a ‘fix it’ man, and on every trip to Fiji can be seen with tools in hand, making needed repairs. Sue always brings along a variety of craft ideas and games for the children, plus some new recipes for the hostel staff to try out. Both Sue and Russell are currently taking sign language classes, in order to communicate effectively with the deaf. Please pray for them, as they take over the leadership of the Fiji Deaf Ministry in 2019. We are so grateful for their willingness to serve, and thank God for leading them to Fiji!
Vivienne Harland, the visionary founder of the Gospel School for the Deaf, lived in Christchurch, New Zealand, for a number of years and Bryndwr Chapel was her home church. A team from there, led by Brad and Vanessa Anderson, recently visited the school and hostels. The trip idea started over 12 months ago when a Bryndwr Chapel Sunday School class Skyped with one of the Sunday School classes for deaf kids in Suva. This immediately sparked interest in one of the Bryndwr students who wanted to go to Fiji to visit the Gospel School and the hostels. The news spread, and soon after we asked for any other interested people to register, with the hope that a small team might go to Fiji and support and encourage the staff and deaf children. God had bigger plans – we had 20+ people register and plans quickly gained momentum. The final team numbered 19 and the trip booked for 7-14 July 2018. The diverse team brought a variety of skills and God provided tasks for each:
- a doctor did medical exams of all the children and staff
- mechanics serviced the vans and did some repair work
- building and maintenance people built concrete steps around
the Senior Girls hostel to eliminate the slippery slopes
- young people put on a daily children’s programme at
the Gospel School for the Deaf
- young ladies came and did a sewing project with the senior
- an occupational therapist worked with some of the students
Because of the large team, there were people to take devotions,
make play dough for the children, help the staff with their chores, do face painting and beaded-bracelet-making with the children after school, as well as help with homework. Highlights of the trip were the shared meals - one where the Bryndwr team prepared a New Zealand themed meal for the children and staff, and the other a lovo, put on by the staff – we really enjoyed the food and helping with the preparation. The team was truly blessed by the trip and we hope we blessed the staff and children with our visit too. God provided great weather for the building team and a very special trip that will last in our hearts forever.
A big thank you to all who participated in the ninth annual Fiji Deaf Hope Golf Tournament, held at The North Kingstown Golf Course on Monday 6th August. It was a huge success! We had 45 players, many of whom have supported the event since the beginning. Their generosity was overwhelming! Jim’s sister Agnes did another fantastic job of organizing the event, along with her team of workers.
Sadly, Agnes’s and Jim’s sister Annie, a faithful supporter and hard worker, passed away just a week before the tournament. The family honored her with a photo sign at the first tee. There were lots of prizes at the tournament, along with a meal of corn, ribs, chicken, beans, cole slaw, salad, and cake. It was a great day, and a lot of support was raised for the deaf of Fiji. Again, thanks to all who helped and participated, and special thanks to Agnes, for her tireless work on behalf of the Fiji Deaf Ministry!
Despite the arrivial of Hurricane Josie in the South Pacific, we had a nice Easter week here Fiji. Palm Sunday began the week, with Children’s Sunday. The children dress in white, perform mimes and songs, and recite memorized Bible verses. The church was packed, and from youngest to oldest, the kids did a super job!
On Thursday, former teacher Tina Mareu, with her family, performed a beautiful mime and song in sign, as part of our school Easter service. Her husband Jale delivered a very moving message on Abraham’s obedience and trust in God; his willingness to sacrifice his beloved, only son, as God did in sending Jesus.
Mesake was the first young deaf boy found by Vivienne Harland when she began the deaf ministry here. He now has a beautiful family of his own----with NINE children!! They are all beautiful, and very talented! “Beautiful on the inside, as well as the outside,” as my father would say. We loved watching them working together in leadership, encouraging and serving in so many ways. The children (ages 2 to 21) are all hearing, and the older ones are excellent interpreters as well. Sign language was their first language, but they are fluent in English and Fijian as well. It was a joy to be with them! Mesake works in Suva during the week as a carpenter, and leads a deaf adult Bible study. He also helps out in our hostels at night during the week. He and his family organized the camp program and prepared most of the meals. The family teamwork was most impressive!
In my last blog, I told a story about how God used a wrong turn in the road to change the life of a young deaf teenager.
Here’s another story about a very special couple that we’ve come to know and love, whom God has used tremendously to help the Fiji Deaf Ministry. We met because of an overbooked hotel.
Sam and Christine Tawake-Bachofner run a beautiful resort on the island of Beqa (pronounced Ben-ga), in the village of Lawaki. After working in Fiji for some time, Jim and I felt the need to get away for a day or two. We looked online, and enquired about a place on the nearby island of Beqa. Unfortunately, or rather fortunately as it turned out, that place was fully booked and could not take us. The manager suggested we try Lawaki Beach House, a small resort a little further along the coast on the island. It was there that we met Sam and Christine.
Sam is a Fijian, from Lawaki, and his wife Christine is from Switzerland. They have run their small resort for about 15 years now. It’s a simple, unspoiled place with lots of natural beauty. It has 4 small bures, a backpacker dorm, and an outdoor covered dining area, all right on the beach. The reef snorkeling is the best, with crystal clear water, and lots of brightly colored fish , sea cucumbers, sea turtles, and coral. There are other activities too, like kayaking, deep sea diving, a relaxing massage, or a visit to the village. Sam and Christine were warm and welcoming, and treated us royally. We could watch the sunset over the ocean from our porch, and listen to the sound of the waves in our bure at night. Everything we ate on our visits to the island was either grown there, or caught in the sea that day. The bread was home made, the eggs free range, and tropical fruits and vegetables all freshly picked. This place was definitely a little piece of heaven! We’ve returned several times since that first visit, and have taken many of our volunteers there.
As we talked, she told us her dream was to become a teacher, but she couldn’t afford university fees. Jim offered her a job in our hostel, where she could learn sign language, and offered that the ministry would help out with school fees. Christine came the next year, learned sign language quickly, and graduated from university with high honors. She is an excellent teacher, and sought after as a sign language interpreter. She also teaches Sunday School to the deaf, and is the youth group leader in her church. (Her aunt now refers to Jim as ‘Head Hunter’, for stealing one of her more promising waitresses!)
Another couple, Marita and Matt from England, also vacationed at Lawaki. They were running treks thoughout Fiji (Talenoa Treks). They got into conversation with Sam and Christine about a village they had visited on one of their treks. It was Nabutautau, the village where Missionary Thomas Baker had been cooked alive and eaten by the villagers, for touching the head of the village chief, back in the days of cannibalism, before Christianity came to the islands. Marita and Matt mentioned that they had met a young 6 year old deaf boy in that village, named Sailosi. Their heart went out to him, as he was the only kid in the village not in school. Sam and Christine told them about Gospel School for the Deaf, and gave
them our contact. Matt and Marita not only brought Sailosi to GSD, but paid to sponsor him as well. This year, Marica and Sailosi are beginning their 5th year at GSD. They both love school, and now have a wonderful deaf community of friends here.
God used a vacation get away to bring us two young deaf students and an extremely talented and hard working teacher. In addition, we have made two wonderful friends who have been a big support to the Fiji Deaf Ministry!!
Yes, Lawaki is a very beautiful and special place! Thank you Sam and Christine!
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