O Lord our Lord, how majestic in your name in all the Earth! These words best describe the extent of my experience in Tuvalu, islands of pristine beauty and grandeur. The land, surrounded by the enormity of the Pacific Ocean, is a telling reminder that the world’s eyes are on Tuvalu as a place to be enveloped by the rising sea levels, the impact of climate change, within a matter of years. And yet the people of Tuvalu, led by the Rt Honourable Prime Minister, are defiant in their determination that they will not succumb to such predictions and that they will not allow fear to interfere with their capacity for hospitality nor their resolve to save Tuvalu.
“Save Tuvalu, save the world” is the relentless cry of the Tuvaluan people. They believe that if the international community will make good on their public pronouncements about climate justice, then they must make Tuvalu a practical and positive case study in climate change mitigation, such as land reclamation, coastal protection and sustainable living for the people of Tuvalu. Whilst “Save Tuvalu, save the world” is the song of the Tuvaluan people, they are not sitting, waiting for the international community to heed their call. Indeed, there are signs everywhere of robust interventions by the government and people of Tuvalu to protect the coastlines, reclaim land and bolster the hope and confidence of their people. The newly erected bungalows, in which I was accommodated, courtesy of the Prime Minister, are situated on reclaimed land, a testimony to the tenacity and determination of Tuvalu and an audacious statement that they will not sit back and wait to be swallowed up by water.
I landed in Funafuti on Thursday 16 August, and was warmly greeted with the characteristic hospitality and graciousness of the people of Ekalaisia Kellisiano Tuvalu (EKT) and the wider community of Funafuti. This welcome did not come by surprise, as I have grown accustomed to this kind of generous and extended welcome in the Pacific; and my first visit to Tuvalu four years ago, reminded me that I should expect no less. However, it was very special and meaningful to me to experience the love and care of the people and to observe the cherished place of CWM in their consciousness. The days that followed, with meetings with leadership of the State and Church, opened my eyes to the power of partnership so very evidenced in the way the Church and State cooperated, while keeping their roles distinctively defined and segregated. In the Fogafale (meeting place), where we gathered for daily meals, the whole community comes together and the indigenous traditional culture comes alive. In the words of the prime minister, at the closing farewell function, “such gatherings are known to produce many mad people, such as you (referring to me)”, intoxicated by the spirit of the traditions and the energy of the music and dance.
My conversation with the Church leaders provided clear lenses through which to view the work of EKT and to engage with their struggle and search for meaning and relevance in their context. This meeting of their General Assembly will elect and appoint new leadership for the Church under a proposed revamped staffing structure to allow for tighter fiscal management and more cost-effective use of resources. My visit provided an opportunity to celebrate the leadership of Rev Tafue Lusama, CWM Director and former General Secretary of EKT, who is now on study leave pursuing his PhD in climate justice at the Pacific Theological College. It was also an opportunity to share information about CWM, including a call for support of our 2020-2029 strategic planning process. CWM is etched in the consciousness of the Tuvaluan people, with over 80% of the population being members of the EKT. So significant is CWM in the consciousness and regard of the people that His Excellency the Governor General of Tuvalu took time from his busy schedule to attend the session of the Assembly where I was making my presentation on CWM; and at my farewell function the Governor General and First Lady, the cabinet, parliament and diplomatic Corp were all present. What a spectacle of welcome, appreciation and affirmation!
And finally, I said my prayers in Tuvalu. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no life jacket in the little speed boat that carried me from Funafuti to Funafala, surrounded by the beauty of the Earth, I felt ready to make peace with my Maker, the God of life. So I said my prayers, borrowing words from Simeon – “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For mine eyes have seen…” (Luke 2: 25-30, NIV). There on the high seas, the Assembly theme of EKT, “ Sailing with Christ in the currents of change”, impacted me in a most profound and life-transforming way. I realised that the answer to the fear of the disciples, on the stormy seas (Mark 4: 35-41), was wrapped up in their own reflective question (“who is this?” :41), as Jesus responded and restored calm to the sea (: 39). I conceded that the predictions of science and the prophecies of religion are all subjected to the plan of God. That is faith at work, my Tuvaluan encounter and experience.