fiji-850x447A report from the work of the Suva-based Gospel School for Deaf and Deaf Hostels.

The Lord brought into my life a wonderful woman, Nancye It is four years since I was last in Fiji. Various commitments kept me away and it was good to be back. I have kept in touch but there is nothing like a first-hand account. Over the last few years the hostel staff have come through some hard times together. The major challenges revolve around the interaction between the gospel and the culture: how does the Christian message enrich Fijian culture? For a visitor faced with similar challenges, in her own country, I fi nd their stories inspiring.

The Gospel Confronts and Changes
In 2011 the Senior Girls' Hostel parents were removed from their post, the husband was having an affair. To make matters worse he was also a Bible teacher and leader in the Deaf community. Tema and Toni took over the Senior Girls' Hostel. Things settled down and a sense of safety and security returned. At the end of each day Tema read with "her girls" from the Bible. They began memorising from the Psalms, all the way through Psalm 23 and then they began Psalm 139. Towards the end of 2012 one of the girls (I will call her Hannah) told Tema that the previous hostel "father", the dismissed leader, had raped her several times. Tema sent for all who had particular care for Hannah and together they surrounded her with love and considered how to support her.

 Rape is not uncommon in Fiji but few cases go to court. For deaf women it is particularly dangerous, few can properly "tell" their story. However, Hannah, with the support of her community, decided to tell the police. The case came to court in 2013. The judge asked Hannah why she had not reported the crime until a year later. Through translation she spoke of her sense of shame. "Then how come you did tell your story?" Hannah said that learning Psalm 139 had helped. She looked at the judge and quoted: "O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up....", and she explained that she came to realise that if God knew and still loved her then it was okay to tell her story.

 The judge imprisoned the ex-leader for 16 years. Hannah is doing well. The hostel and school staff have taken advice from the Women's Crisis Centre for practical ways to help Hannah when feelings of fear and shame resurface. The leadership of the Christian Fellowship for Deaf also look for ways to support the ex-leader and his family. They hope that while in prison this man will repent and come out a changed man.

 The Gospel Confi rms and Supports It is the end of term and there are mixed feelings about the holidays. Some of the students are eager to get home to be with family and friends who love them. A number of families are learning signlanguage and some local families attend the evening classes which the Gospel School for Deaf runs for families of the Deaf. Family communication is so much richer with signs.

 Avikesh (19 years) is looking forward to spending time with his father. Dad is also deaf; he has been learning signs from the school and his son. They love to talk together and share jokes. Although they no longer share the same religion, father and son love each other and sometimes work together on building projects. Avikesh's parents are proud of his success at school: in his studies and as a prefect, and they support his ambition to do accounting work.

For Iakobo (23 years) these holidays are particularly signifi cant: he will not be returning. In the nine years he has spent in the hostel and school he has learnt to talk/sign, he has learnt to read and write, he can work at about a Year 10/Form 4 level, and he has learnt some vocational skills. It is seven years since he was last at home in Kiribati. It has been too expensive for him to return for the holidays. Iakobo is returning a man, mature in his abilities to work with others, growing in his relationship with Jesus, and keen now to become a
fisherman with his father.

 Not all the students look forward to the holidays. One asked Tema if she could stay back, in the hostels. They have talked it over. Although Mum and Dad live nearby and are well-off, they take little pride in their deaf daughter. Sometimes they forget to drop her off at the beginning of term or pick her up for the holidays. Her brothers and sisters get good quality shoes and clothes, she doesn't. Tema encourages her and assures her that she will pick her up next term if no one drops her off. "God loves you, we love you, go home and love your family," she advises. "We will see you in two week's time."

 Ruth Harland for the Deaf Ministry

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