It would have been easy to make excuses, write off the year, postpone programs, and try again later. Instead, young Adventists in Fiji adapted and pushed on with their planned year of evangelism, resulting in 911 baptisms.
Preparation for the Fiji Mission Youth Evangelism event in May began in 2019. This was the next phase in the planned harvest initiatives of the Trans-Pacific Union Mission (TPUM): 2020 was the year focused on young people. The year started with promise.
In February, more than 1,000 young people from across Fiji met in Cakau Multi-Purpose Hall in Suva for a series of training events. Guest speakers and facilitators, including departmental heads from the South Pacific Division (SPD), TPUM, and the local mission, led World Changer evangelism training. More than 700 young people committed their lives to Jesus as trained lay preachers for the Youth Evangelism campaign in May.
The plans took a substantial turn in March as the COVID-19 pandemic escalated and Fiji recorded its first 18 cases. By the end of March, the nation had shut its borders and locked down for more than three weeks. The Fiji Mission youth department was forced to look for innovative alternatives. An option that emerged was a world church initiative called Hope at Home.
“Shutting down the evangelistic event was not an option,” said Fifita Vatulesi, acting Fiji Mission secretary and former youth director. “We praise the Lord for the global church initiative of Hope at Home.”
Through the Hope at Home initiative, young people led out in online Saturday (Sabbath) programs, including Sabbath School, vespers, Sabbath closing, and, most important, Adventist Youth programs in the afternoons. All these were aired in real-time and live-streamed on Facebook as well as YouTube — every Sabbath for 13 Sabbaths.
“It was encouraging to see young people and their talents emerging during Hope at Home,” Vatulesi said.
Through prayer and consultation, the youth department leaders felt confident that Hope Channel was the best medium to use. Samuela Koro, a young lay evangelist and church planter in the highlands of Namosi, was asked to be the speaker for a three-week evangelistic meeting to be aired on Hope Channel, on the local digital platform known as Walesi, and also on Hope FM 107, in the indigenous iTaukei language.
The series began on May 24 and immediately became a hit, reaching more than 6,000 people across Facebook and YouTube on its first night. As the series continued, views increased as churches remained closed. This resulted in an extension of the series for another week, allowing Koro to dig deeper into God’s Word. By the end of the fourth week, Fiji announced it was COVID-19 free and restrictions eased slowly, allowing churches to open to a maximum of 100 people.
A group of pastors, led by ministerial secretary and evangelism coordinator Sefanaia Turava, conducted Bible studies to answer difficult faith questions asked during the evangelistic series. This continued for two more weeks.
“We praise God for technology and other innovative ways of sharing the gospel during the lockdown,” Turava said. “We also thank God for young lay evangelists like Koro and his mission family — that in a time of global crisis, God’s message of hope was still delivered.”
Turava added that these evangelistic meetings were indeed a reflection of the church’s initiative called Total Membership Involvement.
At the beginning of July, church members celebrated the reopening of churches after 13 weeks and shared the excitement as baptisms were held all over the nation. Youth Evangelism in Fiji recorded one of its highest baptismal counts as 911 people gave their lives to Christ. Even while adhering to national restrictions and social distancing rules, baptisms took place in ceremonies across Fiji. Worship services had to be split into two parts in churches and districts with more than 10 baptismal candidates.
The second phase of the youth harvest would see young people preaching through August and an evangelistic series in Hindi that started on July 5, using a model similar to the May series. More baptisms are expected as sites continue to have Bible studies, leaders said.