Three churches in Fiji’s Western Division have started what they would have never thought possible — an open bar, but one that sells natural herbal juices to fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Votualevu, Namaka, and Nadi English Seventh-day Adventist churches teamed up to open Bitu Wellness Centre, or “Bitu Bar,” as it is commonly known — a wellness bar in the heart of the nation’s tourism capital, Nadi.
With rapidly increasing rates of NCDs, Fiji is in the midst of a public health crisis that is closely linked to changing lifestyles. The three churches have taken on the responsibility to fight against lifestyle diseases, which have become the number-one killer in the country.
“It is more of [an outreach] center for the community, where people from all walks of life who have decided to take care of their bodies come and learn howto take care of their body, which is the temple of God,” George Kwong, Bitu Bar founder, said. (Kwong is also coordinator for the 10,000 Toes health initiative for the Trans-Pacific Union Mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.)
“It is through the message of health that we are sharing God’s love to our customers, who are secular or members of other Christian denominations,” Kwong said. “It is spreading the message of health, of love, and of compassion to not only believers but non-believers as well.”
The bar serves natural juices from herbs such as goldenseal, mile-a-minute (Asiatic tearthumb), and fruit and vegetables like kumquat, carrot, and celery.
While herbal juice in Fiji has been used for centuries to cure cuts and illnesses, it hasn’t been widely consumed as a means for improving wholistic health. By visiting Bitu Bar, Fijians are encouraged to revisit a more natural, wholistic approach to health.
“With the Bible as our main charter, this joint venture has been a direct result of the church’s pillar of comprehensive health. And why look further than our own backyard, where we find everything that God created for our use?” Kwong said.
“[Seventh-day Adventist Church cofounder] Ellen White also encourages us to find simple remedies all around us. We are seeing these natural remedies [more often], which are now being touted around the globe as superfoods from medical and pharmaceutical experts," he explained.
At the bar, enthusiasts can track their health through various initiatives such as the fat loss program, immune-boosting program, a weekly medical screening, and personalized nutrition. The community is also invited to the premises each Sunday at 6:00 a.m. for two hours of exercise.
Vilisi Yalayala, a registered nurse and midwife at the local hospital, encourages her patients to utilize the bar.
“Now medical practitioners and other professionals are lining up at the bar, which is a positive sign that the Fijian population is serious about their health.”
One customer, Elisapeci Lasekula, found that visiting the bar improved her health and helped reduce the side effects of the traditional medication she was taking for heart problems.
“I lost weight, my job, and my energy for seven years,” Lasekula said. “I was in and out of the hospital without a cure, but I thank God for initiatives such as the Bitu Bar. I am now three weeks into my daily medication, and my health has improved significantly.”
Kwong said the response from the public has been encouraging. Now he is fielding calls from people asking for a registered “health club.” Organizers are also thinking of using people whose health has improved as health ambassadors.
“If other churches would like to open similar bars in their communities, they are welcome to contact us,” Kwong said. “This is not a business but an initiative with genuine intentions to build a better and healthier Fiji.”