The history of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma is closely related if not synonymous with the history of this relative young South Pacific nation. It was the missionary zeal and highly disciplined evangelical thrust that saw the members of the Wesleyan Missionary Society penetrate the islands of Fiji, beginning in October 1935. Since that time, Wesleyan Christianity has become well integrated into local culture of the indigenous people.
In April 1854 the then paramount chief of Fiji, Ratu Seru Cakobau was converted to Christianity. Following this conversion, many people openly confirmed their faith in the gospel. This gospel has become a significant pillar in the maintenance of Fijian society.
When British rule was introduced in 1874, the government became the third strand in the new orthodoxy which evolved as the embodiment of Fijian consciousness. These three strands are commonly known as Vanua (way of the land), Lotu (Christianity), Matanitu (state). Throughout these last 160 years, the Methodist Church in Fiji has enjoyed the close working together of these three strands.
1879 saw the coming of Asian Indians. They were imported as indentured laborers for the sugar cane industry. They had come with their religion, language, culture and customs. The Fiji home mission responded to the Indian challenge in Fiji by setting up the Indian Mission in 1892 to address their condition of work and witness to the loving care of God. Work lapsed until Ms. Hannah Dudley arrived in October 1897.
Dudley Church and Dudley High School stand as testimony to her devotion and commitment to he cause of the gospel. Membership of Indo-Fijian Methodists is 2,243 out of a 213,000 Methodist population.
The Rotuman Mission was under the Fiji District of the Wesleyan Missionary Society since 1841. Rotumans on the island of Rotuma are predominantly Methodist. They have continued to grow in their number and persistence in faith in Fiji as well as in countries outside Fiji such as Australia and New Zealand. Rotumans in Suva, Fiji, have built one of the finest buildings with modern architectural art with a sitting capacity of 1,000.
In 1987, Fiji suffered two military coups. This event became an important turning point in the country’s political history. It placed the Methodist Church in a shaky and difficult situation. It was left with a crisis of identity. An authentic and clear witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ is now called for in order for the church to recapture its identity. The Church is convinced that it must continue its missionary obedience, availing itself to assist in any way possible to become an instrument of peace, justice and unity in our multi-coloured society.
Strong challenges from new religious groups, enthusiasts and spirited cults are among the new forces the church faces today. The spiritual life of our people at the grass root level is maintained, affirmed and renewed in the church’s worship. The evangelical disciplined faith has always been a feature of the spirituality of the Fijian people. As the church moves on to the third millennium, the challenge still stands to seek new ways of witnessing to the lordship of Christ in a new pluralistic situation.