The Other Side of the Postcard

This summer I went on a mission trip to Fiji with Island Encounters, hoping to serve, meet new people, and experience their culture. But I didn’t expect to come home carrying a truth that would change my life.

My first impression of Fiji was breathtaking. As I walked out of the airport, the sun was rising slowly, casting a golden haze. Tropical flowers and palm trees were planted along the road, and there were dark mountains in the distance. This was paradise.

After a few minutes on the road, however, the scene began to change. We passed shops and houses and began to see field after field of sugarcane plants. I realized Fiji wasn’t just a stunning tourist attraction. This—the miles of sugarcane fields dotted with small tin-paneled houses—was the real Fiji.

Culturally, Fiji is split between two people groups: Indians and native Fijians. They both have their own traditions and religions. The Indian population practices Hinduism and Islam, and the native Fijians are nominal Christians. Thus, Christianity in Fiji is often a religion; many don’t actually know what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This mesh between these two fascinating and unique cultures makes Fiji the diverse nation it is today.

We jumped into the Fijian lifestyle, spending many hours out in the fields of Island Encounters Oasis Farm. We dug holes for planting, watered crops, and harvested vegetables. Yet the work wasn’t the focal point. The goal, the heart behind the work; reaching out to people.

I can still remember what Anthony, a staff member with Island Encounters, said one morning after returning from the neighbor’s farm. He explained that their neighbor was sick and couldn’t care for his animals so Anthony wanted to bring him a truck-load of grass for feed.

With many extra hands to help, it only took part of a morning to cut and deliver the grass. A few hours of slashing the long, wild grasses provided Anthony the opportunity to show Jesus’ love to his neighbor, who is of a different religion. This taught me the importance of showing steadfast love in the long-term.

Working with Island Encounters children’s ministry also showed me this truth. Each day, we led kids’ clubs in the churches, villages, and schools. Meeting the children and teaching them about Jesus was a precious part of my trip. We were able to contribute a small part to the long-term children’s ministry Island Encounters is strongly establishing in Fiji. They are expanding their kids’ club ministry and seeing children come to accept Jesus as their personal Savior.

Life is about living diligently in the love God has for all people. It’s not about the tasks, it’s about the relationships. The culture in Fiji is relationship-centered. As I was digging one afternoon, I turned to Seth, who is from Fiji, and started a conversation. I was surprised to see him put down his shovel and give his full attention to me. This simple act meant a lot.

Learning this way of doing community was the dawn of a new way of doing life. I realized my focus point should have been on relationships all along. When my heart is set on that, I can live generously in the everyday moments. By observing their culture, I glimpsed the real Fiji—the other side of the postcard. Fiji is sunshine, dirt roads, bare feet, deep laughter, and good food. Fiji is getting up with the sunrise each morning and sharing the day with others… the work, sweat, teasing, conversations, and life.

Life in Fiji means being together, entering in, investing, empowering, and challenging. It means loving generously, sharing humbly. Diving in deeper than the surface and being as diligent and committed as every sunrise.

I thank God for this opportunity. Learning from the Fijian culture has given me new meaning in life, a refocused vision and altered priorities. This can happen when people enter in and connect with others. When they expand their horizons and jump into the global Kingdom of God. When they empty themselves and fill others with the selfless love only God provides. And it can be life-changing.

Thank you to Alyssa, a mission teams participant, for sharing her experience this summer.

The Pittmans are the founders and co-directors of Island Encounters. Ray and Laura first came to Fiji in 2001, and have been working in community development and student ministry in Fiji since that time. Their 3 daughters Eden, Elani and Isla were all born in Fiji, and the family has been blessed with dual USA/Fiji citizenship. The Pittmans have a heart for the poor and lost, and a heart to equip missions-minded young people to go out into the world. They often have several missions interns staying with them, and enjoy opening their home to guests. They love people, photography, and stories. Learn more about their ministry here.

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