Sunday Church Services in Suva, Fiji

Going to church in Fiji was a highlight of our Transpacific cruise to Australia.  Fiji is a predominantly Christian country, and the first missionaries were the Methodists. We had read about the unique and lovely experience of attending church in Fiji, and so I did a bit of research. I found the Facebook page for the Centenary Methodist Church which is close to the port and contacted them.  I received an immediate welcoming reply: “Bula, Donna!” with a request to know more about us.  I informed the cruise critic group and a group of Christians we had met onboard the Explorer of the Seas about the invitation.

Centenary Methodist Church in Suva, Fiji

 

Our group of about twenty walked off the ship together and easily found our way to the church which was about a ten-minute walk. Some church members were waiting at the stairs of the church for us and greeted us warmly. They had reserved the front pews for our group. 

Many of us had purchased school supplies and backpacks to offer as a gift to the church’s children, and these were placed on an altar table near the front. 

We had a chance to meet several groups of parishioners before the service, and they were very hospitable.

  

A Lali (ceremonial slit drum) announced the beginning of the service.  It functions as a church bell. At this time, the church was filled with the local parishioners and some other visitors.

Our gifts and the congregation’s offerings were formally accepted and blessed. Our fellowship group was introduced and welcomed by the pastor at the beginning of the service which was conducted in their native Fijian.

Many members shared their hymn books with us, and fortunately, the language is rather phonetic and easy to follow.

This particular Sunday was Youth Sunday, and the children mostly sat together with their teachers, and the “Youth” (who appeared to be ages 18-35) were seated in the front and did most of the singing and teaching.  The young women wore white dresses, and many had traditional Fijian hairstyles. Their worship was without instruments, and their voices were lovely, like angels singing, often in four-part harmony. 

The congregation is very traditional and conservative in their style of worship and dress.  The women wore their finest outfits, and the men wore a dark sulu (skirts), a white dress shirt, a tie, and a suit jacket. 

After the service, a curtain was drawn to allow the youth to prepare for a drama. While we could not understand the words, it was obvious the drama was about judgment day and began with the introduction of various types of characters: the humble, the arrogant, the unbeliever, and finally the man who begged crumbs that fell from the table of the rich man.

 

When the poor man died, he was placed on a stretcher that accidentally fell apart, but the performers improvised and just carried him out the front door. The children howled with laughter. The men returned with his coffin.

 

The judgment scene was quite hilarious and tragic at the same time. The Devil, dressed in blackface and clothing, beckoned those to be judged to join him. Two angels guided the judged to their destiny.  Those who went to hell were sent to a smoky area of fire. The congregation, especially the children, loved the drama, and we also found it entertaining.

Visitors can attend the Sunday services at 10:00, but I am so pleased that we were anticipated and especially welcomed because of my prior contact.  The entire service lasted about three hours and the Christian Fijian’s hospitality was warm and friendly.

Besides the lovely singing and sincere worship, I was impressed how reverent the Fijians are about their faith. The island is mostly Christian and has been so since about 1860 when most of the people were converted.

The military takeover relaxed some of the Sunday blue laws, but much of the city is closed on Sundays. It is only recently that some stores and the museum are open after church services and then only when a ship is in port.  Most of those in Suva attend services on Sunday.  Their desire to hold on to tradition is admirable.

We had lunch and walked around a few open shops (Jack’s is one of the largest) before taking a taxi (about $3 USD.) to the Suva Museum.  There are many interesting displays about Fiji’s history and culture, and they don’t hide the fact that cannibalism is part of Fiji’s past. Fiji was referred to as the Cannibal Islands in the late 1700-early 1800’s with good reason.  Sailors were terrified at the possibility of being shipwrecked in the area. The early missionaries left journals and stories about their eyewitness accounts. The last missionary was eaten  in 1863. This practice of devouring one’s enemy had more to do with power and humiliation than anything else.  What is remarkable is that Fiji as a culture seems to be traveling in a positive but opposite trajectory compared to many people from western nations who seem to be shedding their moral principles.

A Miss Fiji Beauty Contest was taking place outside of the museum. The young ladies were in their traditional dress, and a festival was also going on.

 

 

 

 

 

We walked back to the ship and stopped in a park to rest. There were some homeless people who target the tourists, but they were not aggressive.

The day was delightful and a unique cultural and spiritual experience, and the Fijians were hospitable and gracious.

 

 

The Founding Mother of Harvard: Lucy Winthrop Downing, A Puritan Lady of Influence

Lucy Winthrop was a woman who knew how to get things done in the male-dominated world of the English Puritans. She was born into the aristocratic society of her parents, Sir Adam Winthrop, Lord of the manor of Groton and Anne Browne on January 9, 1601. History remembers her colorful letters and strong, sparkling personality, but Lucy’s most important accomplishment might be her influence in the founding of Harvard.

Lucy married Emanuel Downing, a barrister of the Inner Temple in 1622. She was a pious Puritan, but still enjoyed the life of a lady during her years in London. Lucy’s surviving letters and actions made her priorities clear: her eldest son George was her most important child. His education and career reigned supreme in her life, and she probably rivaled the most determined helicopter mom of the 21st century. Unfortunately, Lucy lived to see her folly and learned that with favoritism came its sister ‘Regret’.

Sir George Downing

The serious and staunch Puritans lamented the tarnished moral state of colleges in England during the 1630’s. The well-educated who wished to follow their families and colleagues to the Massachusetts Bay Colony were presented with a dilemma. New England had no college, but the English universities were rife with “raucous behaviors and frivolities.”

There were no suitable institutes of higher learning for the Puritans on either continent, but Lucy was not about to allow this obstacle prevent her family’s immigration to the Americas. Lucy began a campaign to encourage the founding of a college in New England for her most esteemed son George. Her cherished brother, John Winthrop, was the first governor of the colony and surely had significant influence.

Governor John Winthrop

Winthrop had written many letters to the Downings encouraging them to immigrate. Emanuel represented the Massachusetts Bay Colony before the Privy Council in London on behalf of the colony, and so had knowledge about the opportunities and risks concerning a move to America. Lucy wrote to John about the fearful stories she had heard about life in the colonies: “…many good people here and some that understand New England reasonable well, both by sight and relations of friends, that are able to judge, they do much fear the country cannot afford subsistence for many people, and that if you were not supplied of incomes from hence, you lives would be very miserable…” A skilled negotiator such as Lucy Downing knew she should not appear overly optimistic about such a huge endeavor as a move to the Americas.

In the summer of 1636, John Winthrop increased his efforts for the Downings to join him and his family in New England. Lucy had the keen sense that her influential brother could remove the one barrier that kept them from moving. She wrote a letter to John. “George (her son) and his father comply more cordially for New England; but poor boy, I fear that journey would not be so prosperous for him as I could wish in respect that you have no societies…for the education of youths in learning; It would make me go far nimbler to New England if God should call me to it than otherwise I should, and I believe a college would put no small life into the plantation.” Lucy wanted a college for George!

It cannot be a mere coincidence that in late October 1636 the General Court of Massachusetts agreed to allot £400 to establish a school or college in Newtown, which would later be called Cambridge. The legislature and learned Puritans were fearful “to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.” John Winthrop, as the highly esteemed founder and governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, must have exerted significant influence on behalf of the Downings who had already invested in land and livestock in the colony.

Statue of John Harvard

John Harvard considered one of the founders of Harvard, bequeathed the infant seminary £780 and 400 scholarly books from his library upon his death in 1638. The grateful legislature named the new school “Harvard.” Since Harvard had already been founded two years prior to this gift, John Harvard was not truly a founder but a generous benefactor. Lucy persistence and pressure on the importance of a college in the new colony had to be more than a matter of chance. No other individual’s names are attached to the impetuous to build the colony’s first institute of higher learning. The decision came from the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, of which John Winthrop was a member.

With the news of suitable educational opportunities in New England, the Downings set sail on the Thomas and Francis in 1638. As educated Puritans, they were impressed with the learned and pious men already in the Massachusetts Bay Colony but were likely concerned about the deprivations of colonial life. The Downings left behind their stately London home and summer residence filled with maids and the luxuries expected by the elite for the more primitive accommodations and treacheries in the new colony.

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The Downing’s House on Essex Street in New England

The Downing family lived with Lucy’s brother John until they erected a house on three hundred acres of land in what is now Peabody. They called this plantation “Groton” after Lucy’s English manor. In the summer of 1645, the chimney caught fire while the entire family was away, and the entire house was destroyed. The family moved to a house on Essex Street where they lived until the Lucy and Emanuel returned to England in 1656. Emanuel received an appointment as Clerk of Council of State in Scotland, and they remained there until his death in 1660.

George Downing was a member of the first graduating class from Harvard in 1642 and was second in his class. He was offered a position as Harvard’s first tutor, which was then a prestigious honor. In 1645, he went to Barbados as a chaplain to Sir John Okey’s regiment. It appears he forgot most of his spiritual training after that assignment.

Lucy moved to London after her husband’s death, likely assured she would reap the benefits as the mother of Sir George Downing who was enjoying the protection and privileges from the royal court. Sadly, George treated his mother no better than he did many others. Lucy lived out the rest of her years under the alleged neglect of her most esteemed son. Desperate, she wrote letters to relatives to ask their assistance in petitioning George to increase her allowance as she “suffered in her old age for the necessities of life.”

“I am now at £10 a year for my chamber and for my servant’s wages and have to extend the other £10 to accommodate for our meat and drink, and for my clothing and all other necessaries I am much to seek, and more your brother George will not hear of for me, and he says that it is only covetousness that makes me ask more.”

Lucy’s nephew John Winthrop Jr., Governor of Connecticut, heard of her distress and begged George to “help Aunt Lucy in her time of age and infirmity.” George dismissed the letter insisting he could do no more, although he had already become a very wealthy and influential man. He was Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet and known as a statesman, diplomat, turncoat, and spy.  Downing Street in London and New York City are named in his honor.

Two centuries after Lucy’s death, her story came to the attention of Harriet Hanson Robinson, a 19th-century author and suffragette. HHR pitied Lucy’s situation during her old age but commented on this familiar scenario. “Lucy Downing established the unwise precedent of educating one member of her family at the expense of the rest- a precedent followed by too many women of her time.” HHR’s observations were accurate as no other Downing sons were educated at Harvard and her daughters were sent out to service in the colonies. One of these daughters was forced to marry against her wishes, although most of her children married quite well. Lucy died April 9, 1679 in London.

Lucy’s colorful writing lives on and shows her sense of humor and unique choice of words. The lack of spelling and grammar conventions back then make her letters sometimes difficult to read, but they provide a rare insight into the life and concerns of this educated and well to do Puritan woman who lived on both continents. Although she was a mother to nine children and three stepchildren, her letters to family rarely mention any except George. This omission seems noteworthy considering she left seven of them in the colonies when she moved back to England.

Why didn’t Harvard pay more tribute to any member of the Downing family for its very existence? Lucy, although educated and cunning was still a female and had little authority or observable power. Not only could women not vote, but they were not allowed control over their own money or inheritances. It was a man’s world. Also, Lucy abandoned any influence she may have enjoyed in the colony when she had her husband returned to England.

The most likely reason for Harvard forgetting the Downing’s influence is that Sir George Downing, one of its first graduates and its first tutor, was held in very low esteem by the colonists after he returned to England. First siding with Cromwell, George switched his allegiance back to the king when the crown was restored. This was remarkable since George gave his full allegiance to Cromwell, but showed the skill of currying favor with those in power throughout his political career, even if it meant traitorous behavior.

George blamed his time with Cromwell on his teachers at Harvard and the elite back in the colonies for their ill conceived ideas and teachings. Word of this traitorous and disloyal behavior reached the colonies and George was forevermore held in disdain. It became a proverbial expression in New England to refer to a false man who betrayed his trust as “an errant George Downing.”  Harvard had little reason or incentive to honor Sir George Downing or his mother, Lucy Winthrop Downing.

Lucy’s father, Sir Adam Winthrop

S is for Spectral Evidence

One of the greatest travesties of justice in American history was that spectral evidence was allowed as court testimony during the Salem Witchcraft Trials in 1692. Spectral evidence is based on the visions, hallucinations, or dreams of the accuser. Today, it is inconceivable that any sane person would consider this type of evidence as valid, and there were some in colonial New England who would have agreed

A specter is a spirit or ghostly apparition that causes torment to its victims. The problem is that others cannot see the specter even though they may observe the alleged victim writhing in pain. Only the “victim” and perhaps a few of her friends were privy to observe the specter. This evidence was considered admissible at the time because the Puritans believed that the Devil and his minions were at work and powerful enough to send their evil spirits to lead pure, religious people astray.

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The Other Three Million Who Died in the Holocaust: The Forgotten Story of the Polish Christians During WWII

The forgotten story of the Polish Christians who were killed by the Nazis during WWII is one which few people outside of Poland are aware. All of the people in Poland suffered enormously during the Holocaust−both Jews and Christians. Six million Polish people died under the Nazis and half of these were Christians.  The German occupation and brutality overwhelmed all Poles during WWII, and this fact needs to illuminate the plight of all the Polish people. Unfortunately, some writers of the Holocaust deliberately distort the tragic circumstances of the typical Polish citizen while others might insert this fact in the last sentence of their article.

Polish women forced to work at a Nazi slave labor camp

The Jewish experience of the Holocaust has been remembered and honored in numerous books, movies, and museums. The movie “Schindler’s List” gave us insight into the valiant efforts of businessman Oskar Schindler’s rescue of eleven hundred Jews. Irena Sendler, a Polish Christian nurse and social worker who served in the Polish Underground in German-occupied Warsaw saved more Jews than any other individual  during the Holocaust (besides diplomats who furnished visas.)  Irena was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, but it was instead awarded to Al Gore for his work on climate change.

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P is for Punishments

Years ago we visited the Criminal Museum in picturesque Rothenberg, Germany. Typical Americans who tour Europe visit royal palaces and grand museums unaware that these ostentatious sites and elegant objects likely are not part of most peoples’ heritage. Relatively few royals immigrated to America. Most of us descended from the persecuted peasant class. This unique museum was my introduction to the cruel world my peasant ancestors had to endure.

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The Criminal Museum displayed hundreds of fascinating punishment devices used in medieval times. I recall a heavy wooden rosary that had to be worn for missing Sunday mass.  There was metal contraption (shown below) resembling a flute that was secured around the neck and inserted into the mouth. Every breath produced a shirll, strident sound announcing that the flutist was a disgraceful musician.

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Polish Home Army During WW2

Today is the 75th Anniversary of the founding of the Polish Home Army which was by far the largest resistance force in Poland when it was occupied by Nazi Germany. At its height, in 1944, over 400,000  Polish men and women were involved in the Polish Home Army’s resistance efforts. They performed well over 30,000 acts of sabotage and fought over a thousand pitched battles and 24 major encounters. They had no armored vehicles or tanks and no air force or navy. It was mainly infantry aided by their compatriots who were forced into slave labor in camps. By design, these factory workers produced munitions and equipment that malfunctioned or rendered useless in battle.

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Polish Underground Grenade Production

Poles of all many religions, Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, and Muslims, joined the predominantly Roman Catholic Poles in The Home Army. They all shared a love of country and Poland’s standards and wanted their country back. There was also what could be referred to as a phantom army of supporters. The fathers, mothers, sisters, brother and neighbors were the ears and eyes that provided medics, chaplains, messengers and financiers for the regular Home Army.

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German Train Blown Up by the AK

The resistance blew up German bridges and railroads, and their mission was to reduce Germany’s ability to wage war and to defeat them through acts of espionage to provide intelligence for the Allies. They also worked to rescue countless Jews, Poles, and POWs in prison camps. An estimated 1-3 million Poles died trying to rescue or help Jews.

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Polish Underground Radio Station

The Polish government still existed throughout WWII, intact and in exile in England with a small navy and air force also stationed in there. Poland’s treasure in gold bullion was sent to England and helped Britain purchase weapons and materials for its defense.

enigma-machine

The Polish underground sent a working replica of the German “enigma machine” along with the ciphers to England in 1939. With this device, the British could read every military dispatch sent from Germany by airwaves or by captured couriers. Three Polish mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zyalsi were credited with the enigma replica. Alan Turning, a Brit was later given exclusive credit for this feat but was really responsible for making a version that could meet the wartime challenge of daily code changes.

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AK (Armia Krajowa)

During WWII, 7,000 German trains and 5,000 German vehicles were destroyed by the AK. Polish intelligence was the most consistent, prolific and reliable compared to any other occupied country during the war. The gallant efforts of the Home Army allowed the Nazis to squander valuable manpower and resources on failed operations.

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Symbol of AK (Armia Krajowa

Although the Allies greatly valued the AK’s work, in the end, the Polish Army was given very little credit. We must not forget the millions of precious heroes who gallantly sacrificed their lives but were extinguished so ruthlessly.