Friday, July 17, 2009

The life of a deaconess

from w
I found this article ( via google where aspects of the life of a deaconess is described by one of the women in a conference earlier this year. I think the Fiji deaconesses are the salt of the earth, gentle women, focussed on loving the people in their communities. There are no Pajeros, no sitting at the top of the table with the biggest plates of food. The do 'walk in the mud' to visit the people (is one Bishop living in Labasa mentions!

Jean Mayers reports on the DAP Conference in Fiji
January 19th, 2009

I recently attended Diakonia Asia Pacific (DAP) which this year was held in Fiji. Delegates from various denominations in New Zealand, Australia and Korea attended and the President of World Diakonia federation, Deaconesses Louise Williams presided. This was the first time Fiji has hosted a cross-cultural ecumenical meeting, and 100 Deaconesses from various islands in Fiji attended the Conference.

We were welcomed in a traditional Fijian ceremony, where Louise – as our Leader – was presented with gifts including a traditional cape and kava was drunk. Finally, the women told, through dance, the story of the arrival of the early missionaries in the 19th century.

The guest of the conference was the President of the Methodist Church in Fiji, The Reverend Laisiasa Ratabacaca, who welcomed us on behalf of his Church, and introduced the theme of the Conference, The Cross and the Towel, taken from John 13:1-11 (especially verses 4-5). Reverend Laisiasa expanded on the role of servant ministry; in Fiji there is no word for servant. The closest words are ‘tamata cakacaka’ – literally ‘a workman or a working person’ which are indicative of Diaconal ministry. A bible study later in the day gave us the opportunity to reflect on this address.

In her address, World President Louise focused on – and expounded - the five images of Diakonia:

Washing Feet,
Waiting Tables
Telling the Story
Tending the Door
Bearing the Light. (This last image encouraged us to ‘Get up off our knees, and reach for the Light!’)

During this session, a guided meditation evoked powerful emotions for many of us.

An interesting interpretation of the theme ‘Cross and the Towel’ was given by Reverend Tuikilakila K. Waqairatu, Deputy General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji, in a Bible Study. From being ‘At the Door’ in the Study, we were taken ‘Inside the House’ relating to John 13:1-17. Reverend Waqairatu posed the question; as we are ‘inside the house’, we need to ask ourselves what are the moral/spiritual impediments which we carry that require washing/cleansing?

Bible studies and devotions, sharing of ministry issues in our small groups and in our large group was also part of the programme and we came to know one another well during these sessions.

However, there were plenty of opportunities for us to have some fun! A ‘lovo’, meal prepared and cooked in a traditional way, picnic to Mosquito Island, entertainment from each community, and a tour of the local museum was also part of the itinerary.

A boat ride took us to Bau Island, an important island for Christianity in Fiji. It was here that Missionaries, accompanied by Tongan Christians, first took Christianity to Fiji in 1853; it was received – first by Fijian women, who later converted their menfolk! (We were told that previous missionaries had met with an unfortunate end by being eaten!) The island was a focal point of Fiji, its Chief - Ratu Seru Cakobau – had been the most warlike and feared and Missionaries could not proceed in Fiji until they had paid respects to him.

We were treated to a traditional welcome in the community house, welcomed by the Chief’s great-grandson, and all drank kava together and shared hospitality, followed by a delicious afternoon tea.

A final worship service of communion, on the last day, evoked powerful emotions for many, during the foot-washing ceremony, and proved to be a wonderful opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness.

Throughout the whole week, we were treated to wonderful Fijian hospitality and welcome. Nothing was too much trouble for the Deaconesses in an effort to cater for our every need. They live and work in difficult – and often dangerous – environments, with little or no pay or comforts which we take so much for granted. Yet they were gracious and generous, and displayed a great sense of fun and good humour.

Below is a Tribute I gave to our hosts, on the final day of the Conference:
Nis Bula (Greeting);

Our focus this week has been on feet and on shoes, the covering for our feet. Our feet brought us here from overseas, to attend this Conference. Our feet were often tired and sore; our shoes pinched our feet, we had corns and bunions and blisters from tight shoes. Here in Fiji, at this Conference, we have been encouraged to take off our shoes, to cool our feet, and to feel the ground beneath our feet.

Here we have had the opportunity to walk in another person’s shoes, to hear other people’s stories, and to walk alongside another; we have walked behind one another in a line on our visit to Bau Island on our visit to meet with the Chief.

And here, in this place, our dear Fijian sisters, you have washed our feet, refreshed us and shared your hospitality. For these gifts we give you our thanks.

When our feet are washed, they become wet, and need to be dried with a towel. A towel – a symbol of softness, gentleness – qualities which you have shown to us, as weary travelers, in your ministry of Deaconess in Fiji. Your gentleness has refreshed us, your smiles and songs have recharged our batteries; your sharing and fellowship have energized and renewed us to return to our homes.

So thank you, Fijian Deaconesses, - for your gifts, gifts of food and drink, of hospitality, friendship and song, and for being true examples of discipleship in your service to God. Thank you for washing our feet with the water of kindness and drying them with the towel of gentleness and love.

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