Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rev Manasa Lasaro passes away

Ex-church leader dies

Losalini Bolatagici
Wednesday, August 31, 2016  from Fiji Times.

Rev Manasa Lasaro has died in Suva.
His death was announced by church president Reverend Tevita Banivanua yesterday.
Mr Lasaro, who was from Tavea, Lekutu in Bua, died at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital on Monday night.
A former student of Ratu Kadavulevu School in Tailevu, Mr Lasaro served as church president from 1993-1995 and later served in various church departments before his retirement in 2012.
"With his background in sociology and passion for social work and community development, Rev Lasaro's wider ministry can be described as grassroots-based.
"Aside from his national leadership roles, he was involved in the establishment of many social empowerment initiatives, including the early squatter relocation programs in Suva, which resulted in many people being resettled at Narere, Howell Rd and Jittu Estate. Communities, before this, were transferred to the State," Mr Banivanua said.
He said during his time as a lecturer at the Pacific Theological College, Mr Lasaro taught three ministers who would go on to lead the Methodist Church in Fiji.
They included himself, Reverend Ame Tugaue, and the late Reverend Dr Tuikilakila Waqairatu.
Mr Banivanua said Mr Lasaro's legacy continued today with his son, who served in the Saukasa Circuit of the Bau Division.
In 1987, Mr Lasaro led a movement within the church that led to the ousting of then Methodist Church president Reverend Josateki Koroi.
After more than 20 years, a reconciliation ceremony was held in 2013 as the church mapped a new way forward.
Mr Lasaro was survived by his wife, Nanise, three children and grandchildren.
Here is an excellent eulogy about Rev Manasa.
Reverend Manasa Lasaro: A True Servant Leader

A tribute by Reverend Iliesa Naivalu, 
Secretary for Christian Citizenship and Social Services Department, 
Methodist Church in Fiji.

Profile for the late Reverend Manasa Lasaro that has been printed and aired worldwide and the eulogies at the funeral service, may not in any way express the whole facts about a man who tried to stay true to the call of his Master all throughout his ministerial life. Neither any effort from any of us can fully cover the broad spectrum of a man as significant as Reverend Manasa.

For more than 40 years he had committed himself to that call in serving tirelessly for the flocks in local churches and circuits, lecturing in theological training colleges and held leadership roles for the Methodist Church and a government institution.

He was one of the youngest General Secretary and President of the Methodist Church at the age of 46 and 49 respectively.

For those who did not know him, especially certain media outlets and lately the bloggers often referred to him as firebrand, radical, revolutionary, nationalist or even racist. They usually view him from a negative angle with the very limited perspective they had about the man.

But for the thousands who knew and lived closed to him over the years, he was an epitome of a true servant leader (Philippians 2: 5-11), who served tirelessly for the good of all people. His focus was always on the salvation of the souls and that church members live a Christ centered life both in words and deeds. Much of his time was spent in caring for the downtrodden, the under privileged and the outcasts.

His views and actions depicts a life that was well grounded on a daily encounter with the Lord Jesus through his daily reading and studying the Bible accompanied by earnest prayers. His many sermons were always based on the Cross and the cost of carrying that Cross.

Being trained in the United Kingdom with a Master’s Degree in Sociology, he upheld the social stand both of Jesus Christ and John Wesley, which became the mark of his ministerial vocation over the years.

Since the early eighties he worked closely with the Government departments and NGO’s in setting up youth and women’s income generating schemes. He initiated community cooperation on crime prevention among youths which resulted with the lowest crime rate in Nawanawa and Nasinu areas in as many years.

In his six years as General Secretary and President of the Methodist Church, never did he move to the church leader’s residences at Pender Street but opted to live among the people at his own residence in Nawanawa Road, Nasinu.

It is indeed amazing to find a community such as Nawanawa that has been molded by both the vision and work of a single man who had a great influence on the members when they were teenagers in the eighties; when they became parents in the nineties and as of now become grandparents.

Their children and grandchildren have followed their footsteps. Through his regular training and constant supervision of pastoral works for local pastors, church members have been well grounded in the Word of God, taught in the discipline of the church and live out their faith through witnessing while families live a simple life of love and care and become better citizens attaining good education and better employment.

At times, he was found to be at loggerheads with leaders of previous governments. As a church leader he would not accept certain government policies lying down but would counter them with the stand of the Scriptures and the Church. So it was a clash of beliefs and perspectives. State policies are created by men who exixt by the whims of the voters while Christian Ethics is based on the Community of Faith’s belief in a triune God and base their stand on the unchangeable Word of God, the Bible.

He was not against any particular government leader. Beginning from Ratu Mara’s government right to the current government, Rev. Manasa was the prophetic voice of the Methodist Church along with his counterparts from other Mainstream and Evangelical/Pentecostal churches.

He worked closely with Father Kevin Barr because they had the same interests and concerns on the ills of society and fought for social justice. Governments come and governments go, such noble people fight on without bulging an inch from what they accept as God’s foundation for the people’s wellbeing and dignity.

On several occasions he was seen standing with squatters under the rain when heavy machinery moved in to evacuate the settlers. He negotiated with landowners for squatter resettlement in Namadai, Howell Road and Jittu Estate (now known as Lagilagi Housing).

He was a man of great courage. He feared no one but only God. True to his Wesleyan heritage, he usually backed his arguments on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the tradition of the Christian Church and his compassion for fellow human beings.

When questioned in 1989 on what action would he take if the army use their weapons on him, he replied that he was not afraid of guns because some of his relatives died in both World Wars and many Christians have shed their blood on what they believed.

Three times he was thrown to Police and prison cells and once in an army barrack. In 2009, he was asked by presenter Campbell Cooney, from an overseas media whether he will bow down and change his stand after he was being detained in the Army Barrack and the Police Cell, Rev Manasa replied, “We stand by those very high principles, those moral, spiritual and ethical principles that we stood by.”

The late president Rev. Tuikilakila Waqairatu was very restless on his first night in a Military cell in 2009. He couldn’t sleep and after midnight he looked around the room with much anxiety and self-pity for being in such a situation.

Then he looked down at the two other roommates who happened to be sleeping peacefully on the bare floor. They were former presidents, Rev. Tomasi Kanailagi and Rev. Manasa Lasaro who were in their early seventies and late sixties respectively. It was a night of reckoning and encouragement for the young president. But as for Rev. Lasaro, that was quite normal.

Rev. Lasaro was a man of humor who would change a tense situation to a much lighter one. During his detention at Vaturekuka Correctional Block in Labasa in 1989, the Methodist Divisional Superintendent, Macuata, Rev. Jovilisi Duvuloco was the only person allowed by the Police to visit Rev. Manasa Lasaro.

The security was tight as Rev. Jovilisi was being escorted by both the Police and the Correctional Officers. The Commanding Officer Northern at the time sat at the head of the table, while the two men of the robe occupied each side of the table. Discussions were tense because hundreds of ministers, local pastors and also Rev. Manasa Lasaro’s relatives from both Bua and Macuata had already converged in Labasa at the time.

Rev. Duvuloco was trying to get a message from Rev. Manasa to be conveyed to those outside and those at Church headquarters in Suva but realised it was difficult because of the presence of the Prison Commanding Officer Northern in the room.

To the other two men’s surprises, Rev Manasa abruptly ended the discussion and requested the CO Northern to offer a prayer. Rev. Jovilisi wondered as why a spiritual task as important as a prayer was given to the Commanding Officer Prison and not to him. As chief shepherd in the North at the time, Rev. Jovilisi believed it was only appropriate that he should pray for Rev Manasa in that dire situation.

While the CO was sweating trying to offer a sound prayer in the hearing of the two high ranking church ministers, he wasn’t aware that Rev. Manasa had secretly passed a piece of paper under the table to Rev. Jovilisi. The piece of paper contained his instructions to the hundreds of people who had waited patiently around Labasa and the thousands who were waiting in Suva.

Until today, after the passing of both ministers, I wonder whether the CO Northern at the time ever knew of leaked information that had been transmitted through the gates of his prison on that day. Even to the more than 20 police officers who guarded the vicinity knew nothing about it. In such situations, Rev Manasa’s short stint with the Fiji Police Force became handy.

He once was invited to be a guest for a Methodist Church function in the interior of Cakaudrove. Church members in that area were waiting to accord him a traditional ceremony of welcome. They were not awqare that Rev. Manasa had stopped at a Catholic village where he had linkages and invited some elders to get into the front and passenger seats of his twin cab. He moved to the back with other elders as they travelled up to their destination.

On their arrival, the Methodist members moved closer towards the vehicle to perform the ceremony of welcome. They were taken aback and felt embarrassed when they could not see the chief guest, the two front seats were fully occupied by Catholics who had coloured shirts instead of ministerial or church attire.

The event turned into an exchange of vulgar languages as the two villages were ‘tauvus,’ all to the laughter of their chief guest who was lying flat with the others at the back of the vehicle. The hosts then turned their anger to Rev. Manasa as why he brought the Catholics who would only spoil their function. The meeting began two hours behind schedule as the two parties revel on their traditional connections especially when Rev. Manasa was related to both sides. Well that was typical of Talatala Manasa.

To the thousands of church members at Nawanawa Church, Nasinu Circuit and the whole Davuilevu Division, Rev. Manasa was seen as a father, a local pastor, a church elder, a leader of the people and a statesman. But all in all, he was a friend to all ages as he was well acquainted with almost all members of the more than ten churches in the Division.

I attended the annual general meeting of the Davuilevu Division last May as a representative of the Church’s head office and I was struck by the respect members of the Division accorded him and his beloved wife Nanise.

In his 20 years in the Church office, he was liked by all staff as he had personal attachment to them all. He was a man with a great heart who was fond of giving and not receiving, and even giving beyond his means.

Rev. Manasa had a wide linkage in the Vanuas of Bua, Macuata and Cakaudrove. He knew almost all his kinship and for everyone from the three Provinces I met in the office was related to Rev. Manasa one way or another.

He was a visionary and a leader. He was the backbone in the construction of one of the biggest churches in Fiji, the Ratu Kadavulevu School Chapel in Tailevu and the first ever Methodist disable-friendly church, the Nawanawa Methodist Church in Nasinu which also houses a library and a multipurpose hall.

In the past 30years, he was always busy reading and writing both during his working days and after he retired; Library staff at Pacific Theological College would give witness to this and those who visited his home at any time of the day during his retirement would always find him in his library.

He strongly supported ministerial development through higher education. But he also warned ministers to be mindful of the Divine Call to be true servants of God in serving the spiritual needs of the church members. Giving illustration to big empty churches in the western world where they have ministers with masters and doctoral degrees, he would challenge the Methodist ministers in Fiji as what is the purpose of having higher and colourful academic attires when they are not able to fill the empty pews in their local churches.

Something about Rev. Manasa was that he never stood up to defend himself. He would just voice his belief or to defend the stand of the Church in any issue and that’s about it. Damaging words hurled upon him from the media and those who opposed him, even from some of his own ministerial peers sadly fell on deaf ears.

Rev. Manasa had a very big heart, too big to be resentful of anyone who may have hurt him. He loved all people both young and old. He silently accepted all that happened to him when he was thrown to police and prison cells or at the army barracks because he knew that was part of his call into the Ministry of God. Vengeance is God’s not his.

He found the world to be too small and one’s lifetime to be too short to harbour hatred for fellow human. Towards his departure he was at peace with himself and all those around him knowing that he had done his part in life.

For I am already being poured out like a drinking offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous Judge will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).

To Radini Talatala Nani the children and grandchildren, we give praise to God for such a jolly good man, a loving father and grandfather and a gift to our nation. Thank you all for your courage and humility all over the years. May our ever gracious Lord give you peace and blessings as we celebrate the passing of such a faithful man of God.

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