There are no Jews in Fiji, sure there are a few transient expats such as myself, rumored to be scattered across the archipelago, but not a community, not a synagogue. Nevertheless, Fijians harbor a certain fascination with the Jewish people, and with Israel. Mysteriously enough, Israeli flags hang sporadically in local windows. This in tern led to a certain fascination which I developed about the role of Judaism in Fijian life. To explore further, I took advantage of an opportunity to celebrate Purim, Fijian style.
The last time I celebrated the holiday Purim, was roughly 15 years ago. As children, we would all dress-up in costumes as characters from the story, and bake hamantashan treats; it’s the secular Jew’s version of Halloween. For the Messianic Fijian Community, the celebration is different, but same same.
On March 8th 2012, I celebrated the Messianic Perspective of Purim (Esther) with the Klesis 24/7 Ministry of Suva, Fiji. The Klesis 24/7 Ministry was started by Minister Barak John and his wife Missy, in December 2000. It is located in a working class neighbourhood of Suva, the capitol of The Fiji Islands. The prayer chapel is on the second floor and there is a day school below that teaches an American Christian curriculum. Minister Barak says he was always interested in the “Hebraic roots” of his faith and eventually got in touch with the Kadesh Ministry in Jerusalem; Then began a long period of repenting and renouncing their past culture. He and his family changed their names, in fact the whole congregation did! Missy told me some members of the congregation had been disowned by their families or ridiculed BUT she reports, Messianic Fijians are nevertheless happy with their new faith and culture.
I was the second Jewish visitor they had hosted. When I entered the service I greeted everyone with the Fijian word “Bula” and was quite surprised to be greeted with “Shalom” in return. Messianic Fijians are big supporters of the Jewish people and of Israel, although they are not actually Jewish themselves. Messianic Fijians believe Yeshua, or Jesus in English, is the Messiah for the Jews and Israel. They read the King James Bible in English, old and new testament. There is a giant Magen David at the front of the chapel on display and Israeli flags waving. The supporters’ dress is casual, slacks and Bula t-shirts, they haven’t reached the costumes stage of Purim yet, the year 2012 was actually their first Purim celebration (talk about timing!). The service began at 7:30pm precisely, with Worship Songs to begin. The songs had a nice melody and the Worship Leader, Isaak plays a mean piano. Personally, I found the spontaneous wailing of a woman at the front a bit much, nevertheless considerably more bearable than the Methodists preaching in my apartment building. During the singing, there stood out a line that to me summarizes their faith nicely “we the gentiles of the earth shall be joined to Yisrael.” By 8:15pm we had reached the time for the reading of the Megilah what they refer to as the Book of Esther. This was particularly enjoyable as it was very interactive. Each person of the congregation (about 100 or so) got up to read a verse, and there was the usual booo-ing and cheering at the mention of key names. After that, at about 9:40pm, Minister Barak was joined by Isaak for “Communion Song,” and bread ripped of a mini challah (!) was passed around with small cups of wine. At 10:00pm the Purim feast was served!
As I reflect upon the evening, I realize the experience had sort of a comforting effect on me. Fiji is the first destination I have been to not to have even the tiniest of local Jewish communities. When confronted with such a reality, I guess you can have one of two reactions, first, forget about your religion and assimilate, or second, get totally weirded-out and leave. For me, celebrating Purim with the Messianic Fijians provided a middle ground, a way to connect to my roots while not feeling completely alone in a land where I was the only one of my culture. There are some things from the Messianic Fijian culture that I will adopt, for one: they add coconut to their Israeli salad, delicious!
The Messianic Fijians hope to build the first Synagogue in Fiji one day. They are also eager to visit the State of Israel. Eliah, the friend who brought me there, hopes to join the Israel Defense Force. If you do get to meet them, you can expect to be greeted with a friendly “shalom” by a very welcoming people.