Fiji stories, Labasa, South Pacific culture, family, migration, Australia/Fiji relationship
Monday, November 12, 2012
Farewell to Rev Naivalu in Melbourne
At the weekend there were two functions to farewell Rev Iliesa Naivalu who has been the parish minister to the Fijian congregation that meets at Chadstone St Marks Uniting Church. He has been a faithful intelligent minister, much loved who has contributed to the life of the Fijian people who have migrated to Australia in recent years. He has a gentle demeanour but can be passionate in the pulpit! A choir came down in a bus from Sydney to join in the progrrams. Best wishes to the Rev Iliesa, his wife and family as they journey back to Suva to take up an appointment with the Methodist Church in Fiji.
Thanks Neitani for the photos - many more on his facebook posting.
Here is his story as recorded in the Fiji Times a few years ago:
Reverend Iliesa Naivalu always had the feeling that he had been pre-ordained by God to do his work on earth
PEOPLE who knew him from his homeland in the Yasawa group of islands would never have guessed in a million years that Iliesa Naivalu would one day be a man of god and dedicate his life to the church and the people.
Reverend Iliesa Naivalu, the assistant secretary for Christian citizenship and social services with the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, admits he did not dream he would end up in church.
The island boy was born 53 years ago at Lautoka Hospital and lived briefly with his parents at Viseisei Village in Vuda, outside Lautoka where his mother came from.
Then, he says, an unfortunate tragedy happened and he had to go to the island.
"Something happened in my family and we were sent to live with my grandparents on the island," he said.
"My mother died and my father was sent to prison."
Mr Naivalu and his sister went to live with their grandparents at Yalobi Village on the island of Waya.
"Looking back, I think the tragedy, when it happened, was good for me in a way because I was sent to live with my grandfather who was from the chiefly clan on the island.
"Living with my grandparents was good because I was brought up in a cultural upbringing and my grandparents were very religious people but I had no intention of joining the church."
He attended Ratu Naivalu Memorial School from Class One to Eight and later enrolled at the Lautoka Muslim High School.
"It was hard for me to live with my grandparents because when they got sick we had to move to other relatives and it was hard for us."
Naivalu's primary school days had some very interesting and funny stories.
One he remembers well is about the first time he went to Lautoka by boat.
"I sat for my Class Eight exam and because we did not have exams in our school on the island we had to go to Lautoka Muslim Primary School where we sat our Secondary Entrance," Mr Naivalu said.
"We had to travel nine hours from the island to the mainland by boat.
"We had to stop for the night at Vomo Island where, instead of studying, we fished the whole night and by the time we finished part of what we had learnt was forgotten.
"One of the big problems we faced when we reached the mainland and went to Lautoka was the sights we saw for the first time.
"Coming from an island to a big city like Lautoka for the first time was a huge thing for most of us and you should have seen our faces and eyes when we saw cars for the first time. There were so many cars and so many people of different races and colours and it was almost too much for us."
Such was the impact of the first impressions, Mr Naivalu and his class had a hard time concentrating on the mission at hand which was to pass their Secondary Entrance exam.
"It was the first time for us to see the sugar mill, so many people and cars, Chinese people, Indians and Europeans," he said.
"The Lautoka Muslim Primary School is located right next to the main street in Lautoka town and there are always cars and sugar trains going past the school.
"When we went for exams, we sat in the classroom and continued to look at the cars that went by and when the locomotive train hooted its horn we were the first ones to look outside.
"By the time we had our fill of the cars and the people and actually paid any attention to our exam paper, the supervisor had declared the exams closed and we all failed."
But the Ministry of Education changed its way of conducting the exams and the students from Yasawa were given another chance at the exams and they passed.
When he passed his exam, Naivalu wanted to go to Lelean Memorial School but by chance, he was given a place at Lautoka Muslim.
"I was always in the library reading politics and because my uncle was a member of the Alliance Party I became one of the young party members and whenever there was a rally for the party, I used to go with them.
"I studied all the political leaders around the world and knew all the ministers in all the countries."
Despite being a bookworm and having an interest in reading, Naivalu did not pass his Fiji Junior Certificate Examination but was given the chance to continue to Form Five.
"But I got lost in Form Five because I was never at school."I joined the wrong crowd and started missing school. "I became a frequent visitor at the local night clubs."
Since his fees was paid by the people back on the island, Naivalu said some villagers started asking questions when they saw his marks or lack of it.
Then the people back in the village were told the truth that the child they had high hopes for to take their name up the academic ladder, had not been going to school but to the dance halls and he was told to return to the island.
How he got the call from above
REVEREND Iliesa Naivalu says he was called to do the work of God when he was reading the Bible.
It was a Saturday morning and he was sitting and reading Jeremiah chapter one when he felt he was not reading the verse but someone was actually speaking the words to him.
"My call came that Saturday morning and I felt a presence like something heavy seemed to settle on me," he said.
"It was the call of Jeremiah who seemed to tell me "today, I call you to be my shepherd" and before I knew what was happening I was kneeling on the floor and crying."
Mr Naivalu said that was when he realised God had chosen a path for him and it was the time for him to heed the call.
His work with the Methodist Church started as a preacher and his family, which included his wife and two children, started living on an income of $40 a fortnight.
"When I was working for The Fiji Times and getting paid more than that, there was always a sense of loss or longing in our family and we were never happy with what we had," Mr Naivalu said.
"But since I joined the church, even that small amount of money seemed like so much for us and we were never hungry or complained about not having enough to eat."
Mr Naivalu's work with the church includes counselling people who are distraught and have tried to commit suicide and other issues and he says it is the best part of his life.
"I have the chance to listen to people and help them make their lives right," he said.
People line up in his office everyday for his counselling and he loves to listen to their problems and advise them how to improve their lives by being in the presence of God.
TEN things about Reverend Iliesa Naivalu that not many people know.
Favourite food is moca with fish in lolo (miti).
His favourite drink is water.
He likes to read all religious books and books on politics.
He had a pet turtle when he was working with The Fiji Times. The turtle's name was Waya, after his home island.
His favourite quote is "Do unto others what you want others to do to you".
His hobbies include reading and we can say that he is a bookworm.
He dislikes people who lie and cause problems for others.
His inspiration comes from the Bible.
The person he would like to meet the most is Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.
His advice to other people: Make the world a better place to live in.
From High Court to the newsroom
BACK in the village, Iliesa Naivalu saw how hard boys his age had to work and realised he was not the type to handle manual labour because of his size.
"I was a very skinny boy and I could not do any hard work," he said.
"When I saw the boys cutting trees and planting cassava in the village, I decided that I had to do something or I would not be able to survive."
Mr Naivalu said during his days at secondary school in Lautoka he would "bluff getting sick" and go down to the Lautoka Hospital and sit around.
But one thing that caught his fascination were the court translators and he used to sit there and pray silently for God to give him a job like that.
"I remember this because I wrote a letter to the Chief Justice, who was Sir Clifford Grant at that time, for him to give me a job as a court translator," he said.
"Although the normal procedure for this was for a vacancy to come out in the daily newspapers and then we were supposed to apply but because I was getting restless I applied directly."
Mr Naivalu applied and was called for an interview but was told his grades were so poor and was asked to go back to the island.
To his surprise, a week later, another letter came for him, asking him to take up the position of court translator at the Supreme Court in Suva.
His joy knew no bounds as he made his way to the even bigger city of Suva with only one sulu and a white shirt.
"Suva was very new to me and I was very bad because I was attracted to the night clubs in the city and I would be there everyday and come back to work with a hangover the next morning," he said. "Sometimes when I did translation work in the Supreme Court, the accused would have a swollen eye and I would also have a swollen eye after a drinking party gone wrong.
"I was then told the court did not have a place for me and I was given my termination letter and fired from the government."I then applied to The Fiji Times and was hired as a reporter and photographer for the vernacular publication Nai Lalakai in 1982.
"Work at The Fiji Times was tough because the pay was low but I was very good at issues affecting the Fijian people and I enjoyed the work.
"Our editor was Master Vijendra Kumar and he was a nice man. When I was steady on my foot, I got married in 1986 and today I have four children and a happy family."
Babasiga (pronounced bambasinga) is the dry land of Macuata in northern Fiji - our place in the sun in Fiji. Peceli is from Fiji from the village is Vatuadova and the beach is Nukutatava. Peceli Ratawa passed away on 27th December 2015 so this is Wendy's blog now. Wendy is an Australian and today live in Geelong, Australia.