Building a Home and Friendships on Fiji’s Mana Island

By Michael Lawrence and Emily Mathe on October 15, 2014

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Returning to America bearing postcard-like pictures of the white sand beaches and stories of snorkeling in pristine teal waters may cause some to wonder if students were returning from an exotic vacation rather than a mission trip. However, the natural beauty of God’s creation was far less significant than the dedicated work and inspirational ministry that took place this past August.

The journey began August 19 at Los Angeles International Airport, where eight Pacific Union College students led by Fabio Maia chose to forgo the remaining weeks of their summer for mission work. They traveled thousands of miles away from home to make a difference on the beautiful Fijian island of Mana, located just east of the main island Denarau. “I went to Fiji to reconnect with my God through service,” said Juan Hidalgo, one of the student missionaries.

Here they would spend the next fourteen days on a construction project. The group would work together with current Student Missionaries Arielle Medina, Josie Herman, and Jessica Aldred to complete the project. Also joining the group were recent PUC nursing graduates Callie Sappenfield and Tori Fode, who led their own mission to raise awareness of the importance of hygiene.

Work began when a barge bearing all the supplies arrived on the sandy beach. Supplies were brought to shore through lines formed by all members of the village from toddlers to the elderly. This prolific display of teamwork helped cut the time of not only this task, but also the countless other jobs that were necessary to construct the house. When construction began, children of the village would rush out of their beds to the construction site early in the morning, eager to help and be of assistance. Toiling away into the late hours, other members of the village took whatever time out of their days they could to roll back their sleeves and help.

Hammering away for hours on a miniscule island in the Pacific brought the group lots of attention. Ulrich Hoffgen, manager of Mana Island Resort, heard about the work of the PUC students and provided them with all the resources he could offer, such as construction supplies, workers, and more. He even graciously contributed amenities unrelated to the project. Word of the service PUC was doing reached the main land, and on the morning of raising the first wall, the group of students were elated as each of their names were recognized on the radio before Hope Channel dedicated a song to the group.

PUC students were able to easily interact with children and members of the community, as most spoke English. Connections began forming right away. “The people of the village were so loving and treated us like family the moment we stepped foot on the island,” said Ravneet Sandhu. “The kids make you feel like a superstar,” said Michael Lawrence. “They fall in love with you right away, and we all got along so quickly and easily. The friendships we made were so genuine. It was hard for us to leave even after just being there a few weeks.”

Standing tall in the heart of the village, the house built by the PUC students will serve as a home to the current and future Student Missionaries who choose to serve on Mana Island. This being the first time PUC has sent its own students to the island for long-term mission work, there was a need for permanent housing for students volunteering through this newly formed partnership. “I learned about the Mana Island SDA School last year when I brought a group to Fiji on an evangelistic trip,” said Fabio Maia, director of Service, Justice, and Missions. “I met Master Sefa, and he told me that they were in need of school teachers. This set up the perfect opportunity to send PUC students as missionaries to teach at the Seventh-day Adventist school. Four students answered the call and are currently teaching at Mana Island SDA.” School principal Master Sefa said, “These girls were a godsend. Without them I do not know how we would have managed the school year.” Maia wants to continue the partnership with Mana Island and regularly give students opportunities to serve.

Although it was only a two-week adventure for most of the group, almost all left with their interests piqued about long-term mission opportunities. On the final night, the group was sent off with the phrase sota tale, which does not mean “goodbye,” but rather, “see you later.” “I would go to Fiji again for sure if there is another chance to go,” said Kevin Choi. “I learned that you don't need a lot to be happy in life and to be thankful to God every moment.”