During his two-day visit to the South Pacific country of Fiji, Pastor Jan Paulsen, president of the Seventh-day Adventist world church, urged the necessity of reconciliation, an issue high on the nation’s public agenda. “The reconciliation process is a sacred ministry,” he said. It is a process “that involves understanding and compromise, and forgoes everything for the good of society. That’s the only way forward.”
Last year, Fiji was thrown into a violent confrontation between members of the country’s two main ethnic groups, indigenous Fijians and Indians, in the wake of a coup staged by George Speight.
Speight, a former member of the Adventist church, received support for his political stance from some Adventist Church members as well as other Fijian Christian nationalists. They aimed to reestablish Fiji along lines that would guarantee indigenous political dominance. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Fiji spoke out against the methods used by Speight and his supporters, which included hostage-taking. Church leaders in Fiji confirmed that some coup participants, though brought up as church members, were not practicing, “regular, good-standing members” of the church.
Addressing a gathering of more than 3,000 believers in Suva, the country’s capital, Paulsen touched on the issue of reconciliation and the use of peaceful means in resolving issues in the society. “Christians must not use methods of violent people,” he said. “You cannot wait for the return of the Lord and be violent. Violence does not belong in the Adventist family.”
“The Lord wants you to be peacemakers in Fijian society today,” Paulsen told church members, many of whom had traveled five or more hours to meet the Adventist Church president.
Arriving in Suva on February 26, Paulsen received a traditional “whale-tooth welcome.” A similar, solemn ceremony took place on the island of Vanualevu in the presence of the paramount chief of the Macuata region, Ratu Epeli Katonivualiku, a Seventh-day Adventist.
“We are honored to have our church leader come and visit us,” said a tribal elder in an emotional welcome speech. “For us, this is a historic moment. Never before has a world leader of our church come to visit our island.”
More than 800 believers from the island, the second largest of the Fiji republic, gathered in the town of Labasa and listened in the pouring rain as Paulsen spoke. “Let the people around you know Seventh-day Adventists as honorable, upright, and peace-loving,” he said.
The more than 20,000 Adventists of Fiji are celebrating 110 years since the first Adventist missionary came to Fiji. Today, the church operates several schools throughout the country, including Fulton College, which offers programs in theology, education, business, and information technology. A library, which will hold 15,000 volumes, is currently under construction at the college.
“Our country is fortunate to have churches such as yours operating educational institutions,” said Fiji President Ratu Josefa Iloilo. “You offer the quality we need.” The church should pray and continue to help the reconciliation process succeed, Iloilo said during Paulsen’s courtesy visit to Government House.
On the way from Papua New Guinea to Fiji, the Adventist Church president met with the Adventist faith community in Melbourne, Australia. On Sabbath, February 24, people crowded into the 2,500-seat Dallas Brooks Hall, which was too small to hold everyone who came for the meeting.
Prior to his departure from Suva, Paulsen is expected to meet with the Prime Minister of Fiji, Laisena Qarase. On Wednesday, February 28, Paulsen will continue to French Polynesia, the last leg of his five-country visit to the South Pacific.