PUC’s Ninth Mission Trip to Fiji: Building Relationships with Service and Love

By Laura Gang on May 4, 2023

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In March, over spring vacation, a group of students and faculty from Pacific Union College traveled to Mana Island, Fiji, for a 10-day mission trip.

It’s been nearly a decade since the first PUC trip to this remote location. Mana is very small, with only a population of about 500 people. Each mission trip has focused on meeting their needs in a variety of areas. A deep connection between PUC and the community has developed with each return trip to the island.

Under the leadership of former Missions Director Fabio Maia and two co-leaders, Biology Professor Floyd Hayes and Nursing Professor Sandra Ringer, this year’s mission trip included 12 nursing students and three non-nursing students. Nicolette Piaubert, a nursing professor at PUC, also went on the trip and helped lead healthcare services.

“This year, we focused mostly on providing medical and dental care for the residents of the island, working as a team with American and Brazilian health care professionals,” Hayes said. “We also provided laptop computers, snorkeling gear, solar power systems, Vacation Bible School, and trash removal.”

At a spring Week of Prayer program in April, Ringer told students about the recent trip to Fiji and said there is virtually no healthcare on Mana Island. There is only one nurse who works part-time at a nearby resort.

On this trip, the PUC group learned that a local “healer” initially discouraged community members from seeking their healthcare services. Ringer said not many people came on the first day. But when Piabert treated some patients that evening word began to spread. They had over 100 patients the next day and 90 the day after. 

PUC student Jan Jernigan just finished the ASN program and is now working on her Bachelor of Science in nursing. She was excited about the Fiji mission trip and the chance to gain medical experience and help minister to the people. When she learned that she could also earn academic credit for her clinical hours, she said it was a “win-win.”

Jernigan said once the group arrived and set up the clinic she went to work helping with triage. She took patients’ vitals and gathered information about why they came to the clinic. Then she directed them to the appropriate or specialized medical professional. Jernigan and other students visited homes and helped survey the village for potential health risks. They also handed out clothing and soap.

The most memorable part of the trip for Jernigan was playing with the children and seeing their care for one another. “The Fijian people, especially on Mana Island, have such a beautiful community that impacted my life to where I have a greater appreciation for the people around me,” she said. “They laugh, worship, pray, play, work hard, and spend time truly enjoying each other's company.”

Hayes said the residents of Mana Island were especially excited about two of the mission projects. “The residents were very pleased to have electricity at the school for the first time in several years, and they were very pleased to receive medical and dental care from medical professionals and PUC students,” he said.

On the last day of the trip, the group gathered with the people of the village. As the sun set with splendid colors in the sky, they joined hands together and sang, We Shall Overcome.

Social work major Madison Alejandra Dietrich said, “I feel like we’ve lost the idea of community. This was like going home to heaven.”

Hayes said he would like PUC to continue to return annually for medical and dental clinics and to provide more science equipment and supplies for the school.

Maia, PUC’s former service and missions coordinator, is the one who pioneered this annual mission trip to Mana Island, Fiji. It was his plan from the start to create connections and trust.

“We try to build relationships with the people there, rather than just doing something, leaving and never coming back,” said Maia in 2018 after his fourth trip to the island.

This year marks Hayes’ fourth trip to Fiji, including three mission trips. He said PUC and the people of Mana Island “owe a huge debt of gratitude” to Maia. “Our work could not be accomplished without his outstanding organization and leadership skills,” he said. 

Jernigan said she would absolutely encourage others to serve on a short-term mission trip. “Going on a mission trip is life-changing,” she said. “We can go in there with all these plans thinking we're going to make all these changes in the people we visit, but I think what I learned is it's really a partnership between them and us. They teach us about life and worship and health just as much as we teach them.”

Every year, PUC students have opportunities to serve with love in other countries on mission trips. In addition to Fiji, there is also an annual trip to Kenya. PUC has also served in Brazil and Peru. To learn more about these opportunities, please visit puc.edu/missions.