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Posts Tagged ‘Fiji Islands’


Mention “Fiji” and our imaginations conjure up aquamarine waters, sugar sand beaches, and lush foliage.  Add to the delightful surroundings a slow-paced lifestyle and some of the happiest people on earth (1); it’s easy to understand why many describe the islands as paradise.

But that’s not what John and Hannah Hunt experienced when they traveled to Fiji.  They encountered villagers who cut off the fingers of those caught stealing.  The sick and infirm were strangled to death, and victors of village wars ate their enemies.

The young newlyweds arrived on the island of Rewa in 1839, sent as missionaries by the Methodist mission board of England.  In spite of the obvious danger of living among cannibals, John wrote in his journal, “I feel myself saved from almost all fear though surrounded with men who have scarcely any regard for human life” (2).

Fijian Warriors (1915)


Though still in his twenties, John had been a well-respected preacher in England.  He was able to continue the same kind of work on several Fiji islands. 

The young missionary was quick to learn the language.  Soon he was preaching three sermons on Sunday and teaching throughout the week.  John also established a small medical clinic.  And during spare moments, he continued to study the Fijian language.

After six years of preaching, teaching, and building relationships, John felt led by God to hold a special prayer meeting.  The villagers came. 

He invited them to be set free from the fear and darkness of their violent practices and enjoy a new way of life with Jesus, as well as accept his gift of eternal life.  More than one hundred Fijians accepted that invitation, including the queen of their island.

Not long after, an enemy tribe attacked their village, intent upon killing them all.  But the war party inexplicably fled in fear.  Later these men admitted their plan failed because they suddenly knew the missionaries’ God was stronger than they were.

Not far away lay the island of Mbau, the highest seat of Fiji power.  The ruler, King Thakombau, was called “the butcher of his people.” 

But over time, the king’s respect for John Hunt grew.  When Thakombau’s general of war asked Jesus into his life, the king tried to dissuade him, but did not resort to violence.

 

King Thakombau


Excitement about Jesus spread from island to island, and brutal cannibals became transformed into peaceful, devout Christians.

One evening, as Fijian villagers worshiped, a band of thirty chiefs surrounded their church and threatened to kill everyone inside.  The congregants said and did nothing. 

Finally one of the chiefs entered the door, brandishing his club, but immediately fell to the floor in a swoon.  Other warriors entered, and they too collapsed until all thirty lay helpless.  By morning, every young man of that murderous mob had received Jesus.  

John soon turned his attention to translating the New Testament into the Fijian language.  With the help of others, he strived to express scripture with idioms and terms from Fijian culture.  The volume was published in 1847.

Old Fiji (1860)


John also trained villagers to teach the Bible.  The lectures were compiled into a manual of theology and used for decades.

On December 1, 1847 John wrote to friends in England:  “We can now report upwards of three thousand who attend our ministry and that of our teachers every Lord’s Day.”

During these ten years of ministry in Fiji, five children were born to John and Hannah.  Three are buried there, all before their second birthdays.

At age thirty-six, John succumbed to dysentery.  But according to historian, Rev. Joseph, Nettleton, John had “crowded the work of a lifetime into ten short years” (3).

A page from Christian Herald and Signs of Our Times (1886), honoring the work of John Hunt (top left) and colleague, James Calvert (top right).


The next day, King Thakombau came to pay his respects to the missionary.  He was given a letter, written by John not long before his death, expressing love and including a prayer for the monarch.  Thakombau was deeply moved and later he too came to faith in Jesus.

At the king’s baptism, a most unlikely crowd gathered:  widows of husbands he had killed, relatives of men he had eaten, and adult children who had formerly vowed revenge against Thakombau for the deaths of their fathers. 

God had rescued all of them from the dark power of Satan, had forgiven their sins, and set them all free (Colossians 1:13-14).


In 2012, two hundred years after John Hunt’s birth, Fijians held a grand celebration in honor of the man who had brought happiness to their islands—happiness in Jesus (4).  To this day, most indigenous Fijians are Christian (5).

Notes:

  1. https://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/travel/6-reasons-fiji-is-one-of-the-happiest-places-on-earth
  2. https://lights4god.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/john-hunt/
  3. John Hunt, Missionary and Saint by Rev. Joseph Nettleton, p. 114.
  4. https://www.methodist.org.uk/downloads/wcr-julia-edwards-newsletter-junejuly2012.pdf
  5. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/religion-in-fiji-important-facts-andfigures.html#:~:text=Christianity%20in%20Fiji,Europeans%20than%20Fiji’s%20indigenous%20population.

Additional Sources:

  1. The Life of John Hunt, Missionary to the Cannibals in Fiji by George Stringer Row, 1874. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/AQY9133.0001.001?rgn=main;view=fulltext
  2. “A Missionary Evangelist,” Frank Leslie’s Sunday Magazine, 1877, pp. 266-270. https://books.google.com/booksid=T29MAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA266&dq=Frank=Leslie%27s+pCdUQ6AEwAXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Frank%Leslie’s%20Sunday%20Ma

Art & photo credits: http://www.pxfuel.com; http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.commons.wikimedia.org (3); http://www.heartlight.org

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