Having spent a week scuba diving off the island of Kadavu, I returned to Semo village on a Sunday to find Joana in bed with a broken leg.  Without the funds for proper medical care, Joana’s leg had been ‘put in place’ by men from the local village then wrapped with meager cloth.  She was in intense pain, yet she insisted on fixing me lunch despite my pleas for her to stay in bed.

While I ate Joana gathered some formal clothes for me to wear to church.  She presented me with a navy blue sulu (sarong),  a white button-up shirt, and a crimson red tie.  To my embarrassment and much to his delight, Chuba’s elderly father had to assist me with my tie.  In that moment, it truly seemed I was living a dream with a an old Fijian man, so round he could hardly stand, bellowing his deep, growling laugh and mumbling his usual mix of English and Fijian while he fastened a tie around my neck.  Through it all, a dozen villagers looked on through open windows and doorways as the foreigner was prepared in proper dress.  From the delight that showed on their faces, I could tell that the experience of dressing a white American for church would be as memorable for them as it would be for me.

It had been years since I set foot inside a church, but I played the part well.  Joana handed me an old Bible and together with my two “brothers”, David and Macca, I walked between the homes of the village while eyes peered at my from all directions.  I could hear whispers and laughter as I passed and I could only return their smiles with my own, knowing that the gossip was all good natured.

We were some of the first ones seated so I opened the Bible and began searching for a passage to read, in case I was asked to speak.  I tried to look engrossed in my reading, but I could feel the glaring eyes of each new person that entered the church and almost read the thoughts that passed through their mind. The church was filling up quickly and I was finding great amusement in the different reactions that passed my way.  Some were so absorbed in the church that they barely seemed to notice me there;  but the rest were all fighting for my attention.  Smiles beamed at me from all over the room and hushed whispers surrounded me in every direction.  I pretended not to notice, but it was clear that my presence had clearly consumed the attention of the church.

When the pastor finally arrived, the church was nearly full.  The choir began the service with a chorus of hymns, followed by an incredibly long-winded Fijian prayer which had me peeping to see if all eyes were still closed.  Then, Chuba’s father spoke to me directly from the pulpit and apparently asked me to speak a few words.  Yet, his mix of Fijian and English was so impossible to understand that I only sat and smiled in return.

Then the pastor took the stage and he also addressed me.  He thanked me for joining the congregation, then apologized that the sermon would be in Fijian; nevertheless, he hoped that the message would transcend the language barrier between us.  Through the first hour,  I struggled just to pay attention.  Though he spoke with incredible passion and intensity, I simply could not understand a word.  When the sermon dragged into the second and third hours, I struggled to stay awake.  I was exhausted and hours of unintelligible preaching was dragging my eyelids down.  Occasionally, I would find myself nodding asleep and then awakening abruptly to find others giggling at the sleeping stranger in their church.

Near the end of the service, the choir group split and the pastor asked me to follow the youth.  We entered a nearby home and began the youth choir’s final rehearsal.  Obviously they had been working on this one for quite some time because the director became very frustrated with their mistakes.  But once he was content, we re-entered the church and along with the rest of the choir, I took my place on the pulpit.  I tried to hide in the back, but towering above the rest of the group, it was impossible to go unnoticed.  At first, I could only stand and smile, but once I had learned the chorus, I felt confident enough to join the choir in song. When my lips opened, I thought the entire church might began to roar and cheer.  A wave of joy swept over the crowd, their approval evident in the smiles that covered each of their faces.  Though I had never been quite comfortable in the limelight, I embraced my role with a newfound confidence, suddenly feeling as if a barrier had dissolved between us.  Though our language, culture and customs were completely foreign to each other, the bond we felt was one of genuine family and friends.  And in that moment, I realized I had truly found a home on the other side of the world.

2 comments so far

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  1. Well done Kyle. It is quite amazing when, during a lifetime of exposure to the superficial world we live in, we experience deep sincerity. When the overwhelmingness of those feelings wash over us it really makes us wonder if they are just human emotions on a high or if there is something higher that we momentarily touched on. I prefer to think of it as the latter. Our preoccupation with stuff, self and/or career in western civilization really makes it difficult to transcend beyond our perception of reality to the higher plane of peacefulness, contentment and love. It is quite a startling revelation when we discover how powerful the quiet heartfelt moments can be to our inner souls. I wish I would live my life the way my comment may indicate I do, alas I do not. I seek the connection of peace in quiet times away from the hectic world but I have not found the strength (yet) to surrender to it fully enough so as to bring it into the world with me.
    Some of my quiet times are when wandering my locale with camera in hand enjoying earths natural splendours and trying to see more than the average eye might. I enjoy your more global travels and excellent photographs which I follow on facebook and thank you for sharing. You are an inspiration.

  2. Thanks so much for your eloquent and well-spoken response. I really appreciate you sharing and I couldn’t have said it better myself. You captured the same feeling I experienced when this was written nearly ten years ago and also the feelings I have today as I read it again. I greatly appreciate your kind words and thank you for your appreciation of my work. Wishin you all the best.