Fiji Methodist takes voyage to Australia

World Parks Congress

The World Parks Congress, a global forum held once every 10 years about protected areas, is meeting in Sydney, Australia, this week.

The Rev. James Bhagwan, secretary for Communication & Overseas Mission of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, joined the crew of the traditional sailing canoe the “Uto Ni Yalo” as it prepared to sail into Sydney Harbour with three other vaka carrying a message from the Pacific people to the IUCN World Parks Congress on Nov. 12-19.

Uto Ni Yalo

Image courtesy of The Uto Ni Yalo Trust. (Credit: ABC Licensed)

“Padre James,” as Bhagwan is known, has served as chaplain of the Uto Ni Yalo in a voluntary capacity since 2010. He is also a trustee of the Uto Ni Yalo Trust.

A keen swimmer and StandUpPaddler who loves the ocean, Bhagwan said he was looking forward to continuing to provide spiritual nurturing to the voyaging community which not only includes the crew of the Uto Ni Yalo, but also crews of three other traditional canoes: Marumaru Atua (Cook Islands), Gau’alofa (Samoan and Tongan crew and American skipper), and Haunui (Aotearoa/NZ).

Historical event

At the same time Bhagwan said he was excited about being part of this historical event of the Pacific speaking with one voice to the world of the importance of caring for the environment.

“Pillar 1 of the Methodist Church’s Connexional Plan is ‘Salvation of Souls,’ and Pillar 12 is “Christian Stewardship of Creation’,” Bhagwan said. “The Mua Voyage, is a way for me to connect these two important pillars together as part of my ministry and as an example of what we in the Methodist community can do.”

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the Uto Ni Yalo Trust signed an agreement to support the voyage of the traditional Fijian vaka sailing boat to the World Parks Congress. The vaka were expected to sail into Sydney Harbor this week. More than 4,000 people from 160 countries are gathered there for the global forum held once every 10 years about protected areas.

The vaka represent a Pacific voice on securing a sustainable future for its oceans, islands, people and heritage.

The Uto Ni Yalo set sail from Fiji in mid-September, travelling via Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and was due in Sydney for the opening of the congress. Four vaka are carrying 40 Pacific representatives.

Effects of climate change

One of the vaka's captains, Harry Godwin from the Cook Islands, said they will tell the congress about the effects of climate change in the Pacific. He described these as the rise of sea level, decline in amount of fish to catch, and loss of nice beaches.

The congress will share knowledge and innovation, setting the agenda for protected areas conservation for the decade to come. Building on the theme "Parks, people, planet: inspiring solutions," it will present, discuss and create original approaches for conservation and development, helping to address the gap in the conservation and sustainable development agenda.

The IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 will:

  • Articulate the vital role of protected areas in conserving nature while delivering essential ecosystem services
  • Position protected areas within goals of economic and community well-being, and
  • Demonstrate how this can be achieved in practice.

Sustainable commitments

For the first time, the Congress, convened by International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN), the world’s largest environmental network, will collate and communicate the most compelling and inspiring solutions to global challenges. It will help create new sustainable commitments for protected areas across the conservation, development and business sectors.

The congress will feature more than 1,700 presentations and events attended by heads of state and international environment ministers. The last Congress was held in Durban, South Africa, in 2003.

Pillar 12 of the Methodist Church in Fiji’s Connexional Plan states:

Mankind is part of the world we live in. The Human centeredness of our physical and economic developments have destroyed other creations and our physical environments. We are now reaping the catastrophic costs of our selfishness as shown on landslides, drowning of low lying Atolls and islands, soil erosion death of marine life and climate change.

As Christians, we are called to revisit God’s model of creation in Genesis 1: 26. That our rulership and dominionship over the world of creation can be handled responsibly and justly only when we mankind are able to conform to the image of God. The image of God is God’s law and wisdom in a person that transform him or her to become responsible to the world of creation.

Their well-being is his responsibility given by the creation at the time of creation to be the “Responsible Stewards of God’s creation.”

Editor's note: The First Friday Letter of the World Methodist Council, a worldwide association of 80 Methodist, Wesleyan and related Uniting and United Churches representing over 80.5 million people. It engages, empowers and serves the member Churches by encouraging Methodist unity in witness, facilitating mission in the world, and fostering ecumenical and inter-religious activities. reported on Bhagram’s journey.

More information about the World Parks Congress is available on its website.

Letter to the Editor