The Dog Days of Summer
By: Wes & Jerusha Neal
It is summer in Fiji. That’s right. Christmas and New Year mean heat and humidity in the South Pacific. And it is HOT. We’re grateful for electric fans – and the hand-woven, human-powered fans that Fijians don’t leave home without! (We’re also grateful for a new air-conditioned coffee shop in Nausori. We are happily writing this newsletter in the cool dark of “A’s Cakes and Coffee.”)
But Summer means other things, as well. It means saying goodbye to many dear students and their families as they deploy for the far reaches of the Fijian islands. Many of these students are going to difficult assignments. Often they are going to islands with no electricity or running water. Sometimes they are separated from their children as there are no schools in the remote areas they will serve. This year, a number of students are going to communities that are still rebuilding after Cyclone Winston. One of our graduating ministers will not have a finished home upon his arrival. Pray for these families as they begin their five year commitments alongside these congregations. Many students told Wes that they are packing his trauma healing materials at the top of the first box they will open in their new placements. There is much healing still to be done. We will miss these men and women of God. We entered Davuilevu at the same time as they and saying goodbye is bittersweet. One student told us before he left, “Don’t worry. We’re ready. God sent you here for a reason.” God indeed sent us here: to learn and grow together with these faithful servants.
Just like in the States, summer is a time for weddings. This is a picture of our dear student, Esala, getting married after a 3-year engagement. The traditional wedding attire is made from masi cloth – a soft natural-fiber fabric made from the bark of a mulberry tree. Flooding almost postponed this wedding. The day before, supplies were brought to the hall in canoes. But God provided and Esala didn't need to wait any longer!
Wes has been hard at work during this summer break training facilitators for his trauma-healing classes. He is hopeful that by the time we leave in June, a team of iTaukei and Hindi-speaking trainers can continue the work in his absence. We are grateful to the Bible Society of the South Pacific for translating the material into vernacular languages that are accessible in villages around Fiji.
One church leader who attended the training said in the testimony time afterword, “I wish I had learned this 30 years ago!” Others were moved to tears when they talked about the impact the training would have in their places of ministry – and the impact it had presently in their own hearts. Thanks be to God.
One of our favorite Christmas gifts this year was a painting by a local Fijian artist titled, Follow Me. The painting shows a small family in a boat, rowing against a dark sky. But underneath, in the depths they cannot see, there is abundant life. They are being carried along by oceans of grace…even when they are unaware. In this time of transition for our family, as we enter our final six months of ministry in Fiji, we are grateful for the grace of God that carries us all when we don’t know the way forward. May you feel that grace carrying you today.
We are proud to be your missionaries.
Wes and Jerusha Neal (Advance #3021963 and #3021964)