Thank God it's Thursday
By: Wes Neal
Most days in Fiji this year have been filled with the gentle chaos of a new school year, sweaty weather, and nothing seeming to work quite right. But this last Thursday was different. This last Thursday the reason God has called us here was plain as the red and pink ginger flowers that grow outside our front door.
That morning, I made a trip to the Women’s Prison in Suva to observe a session of a Trauma Healing workshop being conducted for women serving life sentences. I have been working since last February to introduce a Bible-based approach to healing trauma in Fiji by helping to lead Healing Groups and coordinating a Leaders’ Training last September. This Thursday, I saw that work bear fruit in a beautiful way.
The day of my visit, two leaders from last September’s training group were conducting a session on Grief, with a group exercise in writing laments. From the start the focus of the women was complete. “What is grief?” the leaders asked, writing group answers on a white board. “What happens when we grieve?” they continued, and then the clincher “What have you lost in coming to prison?” The women in the group started to tell stories of children born in prison and then sent away at age two to live with relatives. They told stories of anger and resentment toward God. But they also told stories of how they had found a way to thank God for prison because it was only here that they had come to know a Savior.
One of the leaders led the women gently into a reading of Psalm 13, a lament psalm which seemed to speak the heart of many of the women. Then they gave each woman paper and pen and invited them to write their own lament to God. At first the room was quiet as the women poured their complaints and sorrow onto the page, but then one woman in a soft voice began to sing “The Power of Your Love”. One by one the others joined in, writing a lament while singing “and as I wait, I’ll rise up like the eagle, and I will soar with You, Your Spirit leads me on, in the power of your love.”
As if that was not enough for one day, I made my way back that afternoon for two meetings on campus where the report of the Curriculum Review that Jerusha has been working on were to be presented to the faculty, students, and to our whole campus community. If that last phrase makes you think that the “Thank God Thursday” had ended about noon, let me explain further.
In Fiji, one of our learning curves has been to value community as much as people here do. This has especially been a challenge in leading a curriculum review. It has taken months of pastoral conversations and gentle listening. It has taken hours of writing reports and then having them taken apart to be written again. It has taken hundreds of phone calls and messages and invitation after invitation to participate.
My point is, this Thursday afternoon, after months of doing such thankless work, the review document that Jerusha has been working on since July was finally shared with the whole community for their approval. It is not a timid document. It highlights the importance of theological education for everyone, not just pastors. It calls for some needed changes at the school and clear accountability. It speaks prophetically and with the honest wisdom of all those whose work is reflected in the document. And yet, when it was presented, the response of the room was powerful. The students asked some appreciative questions and then closed with a full-throated hymn. The faculty were all smiles that we had come this far. “Not for at least 10 years” they would say when I asked them when the last review had been completed, “something always prevented us from finishing.”
And in the center of all this, looking a little tired and with a sore back is Jerusha - having done more to build trust in the community and the church here than she would likely admit.
It was a strange pairing – the women’s prison and a community report on curriculum – but both underlined our growing testimony of trust. Some trust God’s power even though bars stand between them and the world outside. Others trust that God can revive a people through patience and gentleness and self-control. And we are learning to trust God on the slow and sweaty days as much as we do on days like last Thursday.
Thank you for your support which makes our work here possible. We are proud to be your missionaries.