In the beginning
Visiting Education Sponsor Children in Jitu (one of the poorest, most densely populated slums in Suva)
Little did I know that answering that call would set in motion a chain of events that would see me getting off a plane twelve weeks later at Nadi airport
I am exhausted! The kind of exhaustion that comes from sleep deprivation rather than trying to cram too much into the day – the kind of exhaustion you feel in your thighs rather than your eyes. It’s 11:30 am; I returned home at 9:30 am this morning with a car full of kids from the Breakfast Feeding Program our local church runs. I have spent the last three weeks planning and all day yesterday preparing Christmas parcels for the twenty or so (mostly) homeless men who would come for breakfast this morning. We had a great time, the men were physically and spiritually fed and were blessed with Christmas gifts. Two men received Christ for the first time; our pastor asked me to lead the salvation prayer, which was tough seeing that the whole message was given in Fijian (of which I speak only the essentials). Now for the first day all week I have nothing that needs doing immediately and so I could go back to bed for an hour.
Except now I can’t sleep. “Are the children giving you grief?,” you ask. “Is that why you can’t sleep?” No, it’s not the children, it’s the kid – the tiny goat my husband brought home from the West on Monday. We call her Lilly (which goes against my rule of not giving animals people names or vice versa – the children didn’t understand and it was better than calling her Vindaloo!). She is young and I think she misses her herd so she bleats a lot, and it’s loud for a little goat.
I am Rowena, my husband Timothy and I are the Directors of Bringing Hope Ministries International in the Fiji Islands, which is a small (but growing) family-run ministry based in Suva.
I want to tell you a little of our story. It might surprise you that the ‘Tim and Rowie Hope’ story is very different from the ‘Bringing Hope International’ story. If you had told me in January 2012 that I would, with seven weeks planning, pick my family up and move to Fiji, or that it would seem perfectly normal to receive a text from my husband asking if I would like our friend to repay the small debt he owed us in cash or in freshly caught fish, I would have dismissed the idea, checked your temperature and maybe referred you to the local mental health professional. If you knew us for even a minute you would have known that our hearts belonged to Indonesia – not Fiji. Not only was I dismissive of the idea, I was opposed to it!
The whole story starts about nine years ago when both Tim and I began making regular mission trips to Thailand and then Indonesia with our then local church. We belonged to a very mission-focused church and our heart for mission had begun to grow, until one Sunday evening service we both found ourselves responding from different sides of the room to an altar call for those with a passion to work in ministry overseas. We met at the front of the church and realised what had been quietly happening in our hearts was starting to bubble over. No one was more surprised than our pastor. His question to us was: “So, where are you two headed?” Tim and I looked at each other and shrugged. We didn’t know, we just knew that we would go, and the sooner the better.
Slowly, little by little, we felt the call to Indonesia. We fell in love with the place, the people and the work. Over the next six years we made all the right moves, we met all the right connections, financed all the right projects, we prayed and dreamed and planned … and at every turn the doors were closed. Things would start to open up, we would get excited and then … nothing. People who had made promises would not return our emails, or ignored our calls; people we trusted believed gossip, or stood directly in the path and our lives would seem once again in a holding pattern. We were moving forward in lots of areas: I was pursuing a nursing career, Tim was at Bible College, and successful in the business sector. We had two beautiful children (Abigail and Miriam), we moved states and bought a house and we were involved in various ministries with our local church, but we were broken-hearted, disillusioned and sad and so disappointed about the call of God.
It wasn’t long before I began a quiet process of disengaging from the call. I began focusing on a career in Nursing: I went back to uni to do a Masters, and I started looking for opportunity for promotion. I decided that if God wanted us in ministry, he would make it happen and there was little I could do to help. I decided that I couldn’t trust the Church (an assumption that I know was terribly wrong) and it was not going to govern my happiness! The truth is that it was just too painful to stay on that roller-coaster. What was worse, though, was watching my husband struggle with the disappointment; it was relentless and exhausting. Then one day towards the end of 2012 (after a particularly tough few weeks) he came to me and said he was done – done with trying to make it happen, done with local church, done with ministry, done with leadership. He would keep his personal walk with God and go to church on Sunday, but that was all. He was heart-broken, and I was scared. I called in reinforcements (his Dad) and even he didn’t know how to fix this. I just had to go back to my preset; trust God. People may fail but He will not!
Enter Bringing Hope International …
Tim’s parents, Rev. Bryan and Lynda Hope, had visited Fiji in 2007 as part of a mission trip with their local church. They immediately fell in love with the place and the people and the lifestyle. They were so moved by the need that they saw in Fiji that they set up a program to link Australian sponsors with local families to pay for the school fees, uniforms and books. Eventually that program grew and they needed to move to Suva to facilitate it effectively. After being in Fiji for some time working with local pastors, it became obvious that there were lots of small (mostly independent) churches operating with pastors who had little or no training. They felt led to create an opportunity for these pastors to receive high-quality Bible training; thus Faith Bible School was born. Faith Bible School launched in 2012 – it ran for three months and graduated 39 students (and 21 in 2013). Rev. Bryan and Lynda (with more than thirty years of ministry experience with the Salvation Army and then various independent churches) taught many of the courses themselves along with many others from across the world. For many of the Fijian pastors who had been brought up on a steady diet of a harsh gospel with a mean and strict God, the gospel of grace that was now brought to them changed their lives forever and continues to impact their churches.
Early one morning in February 2013, I got a call from my mother-in-law. She too is an experienced Registered Nurse, but she was worried. I could hear it as soon as I answered the phone. She was looking for a second opinion about my father-in-law on a serious health issue. We agreed that he needed to come home immediately. They were on the plane the next day for treatment and home at our place in Brisbane two weeks later. Little did I know that answering that call would set in motion a chain of events that would see me getting off a plane twelve weeks later at Nadi airport at 4.00am on 1May 2013, with my husband, four suitcases, two children, Tim’s mother and my brother-in-law for what would become the biggest adventure of our lives so far – to continue and expand the work of Bringing Hope Ministries and Faith Bible School here in Fiji.
I have learnt so much in the past twelve months, in areas I never expected, let alone felt prepared for. The same God who called me all those years ago, walked with me through the heartbreak and the process, through a few fires, and through all kinds of stretches. I am constantly reminded of Proverbs 16:9: “In his heart a man plans his path but God determines the steps.” In the months that followed our arrival it became clear that although what was established was to continue, God was doing a new thing as well. The longer we stay, the clearer the mandate becomes: release the captives, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, lift up the oppressed. I hope you will continue to join me on this adventure. It is impossible to tell you our whole story in a few pages, but I hope to inspire you to trust God (He never fails), expect the unexpected and go with God’s plan: it’s always a better one.
Photos: © Timothy and Rowena Hope