I lived in Fiji for nearly seven weeks this summer. I am grateful for this opportunity and will be writing more about it in the weeks to come. For now, here’s a little bit of an introduction.
The program through which I was given this opportunity to travel is one which is designed to foster an international learning experience of accompaniment where seminary students from around the world come see what the forefront of climate change looks like in Oceania. This intense program requires students to re-imagine the term “mission” in the midst of climate change in an area of the world which still bears many effects of the colonialist gospel. Here, many moons ago, Christian missionaries, under the flag of “mission,” introduced western Christianity to indigenous tribes in an effort to Christianize their ways, which shifted a great deal of power into white hands.
It was into this context, that I began my almost seven week journey in Fiji. We spent nearly every waking moment first learning about climate change in the Pacific context and then experiencing Pacific life in villages. This was the best way in which to see the effects of climate change on the lives, homes, and work of Islanders who did very little to contribute to the anthropogenic causes of a warming climate. The program provided a great deal of excitement as well as challenges. The most exciting part of the program was the opportunity to be welcomed into the lives of Fijian people; we were met with a friendly “Bula Vinaka!” and great deal of hospitality, grace, and multifarious stories. The challenges of the trip came in the way of learning to navigate a new culture with respect and without appropriation and/or judgement. Further challenges came in the way of immigration, but that is a story that I will leave for another time. The biggest challenge, by far, was to deal with the grief that came from seeing receding shorelines, salinization of soil, extensive violent storm damage, decreased fishing, shallowing rivers, entire villages being relocated, and altered growing seasons. As a citizen of one of the culprit western nations, my challenge was to hold the shame, grief, and culpability in tension with the work that we all, including Fijians, have ahead of us. This is the point at which I felt most at home in the program: I was able to foster conversation and reflection with the other program participants, our seminary hosts, and Islanders what our roles of responsibility looked like in each of our respective theological, ecclesial, and familial communities.
While this program was difficult and intense, it was still a formative learning experience for me as I combine my biological background and current theological studies, and head into congregational ministry with a focus on creation care praxis. In light of the extensive climate misuse I saw, I plan to continue this climate justice conversation in future ministry as I navigate ecotheology and accountable creation care praxis in congregations.