This has become a reality for us and as we look back over the last few years, we can see how God was preparing us for this to happen.
We were in our early sixties and planning for an easy retirement where we could spend time with our children and grandchildren, do a little travel, spend time at our holiday home, and perhaps help with different children’s programmes in our home church. We had downsized our house and garden ready for the time when all this would happen.
Over the last fifteen years we had visited Suva, Fiji, many times where we “fell in love” with the children at the Gospel School for the Deaf. We first visited when Vivienne Harland was still directing the School and Hostels, and we were in awe of the amazing ministry she had established, and her desire to help the deaf in Fiji. We became aware of the great needs of these beautiful, kind and generous Fijian people, and especially those who could not hear.
Russell become a board member of The Harland Deaf Ministry Trust in 2014, and we continued our annual visits to attend the AGM and stay in touch with staff and children.
It was while attending one of these meetings that the first seeds were sown by the then Director, Jim Cooney and his wife Marilyn. They had been travelling back and forth to Fiji from the United States for 15 years and felt it was time for them to hand over to someone younger (Jim was in his early eighties), giving them more time with their family. We dismissed this crazy idea, as neither of us had had any teaching or deaf experience. We certainly didn’t know sign language, and we were looking forward to retirement in NZ.
Family needed us, our grandchildren were too young to leave for long periods of time and there were many other valid excuses. However, God saw things differently, and slowly but surely, he had answers for all those excuses and started to reveal his plans for us.
Through our daily Bible readings, prayer, and a bit of gentle persuasion from other board members we began to realise that the work that God had for us to do in Fiji was doable. Marilyn Cooney had told us that if we said we would go, God would work out the details, and this has proved to be true. We have been reminded that He has promised that His plans for us are to prosper us and not to harm us.
There were challenges and doubts along the way, as we prepared for the big changes that lay ahead of us. Russell had been in the same IT job for forty years and the thought of that coming to an end seemed a little daunting. Sue had been in accounts for many years and neither of those jobs seemed to be suitable training for “missions” work.
After the routine and security of going to the same place of work for forty years, attending the same church for nearly as many years, and having a small garden that we liked to keep manicured, it was a huge leap of faith to pack up our suitcases, hire a boy to mow our lawns, lock the doors and board a plane to Fiji where we had no idea where we were going to live. All of these actions were quite outside the square for us, but we had peace about it all, and looking back we can see that God had everything under control. There were many who have been, and still are on the journey with us, and pray for us regularly. We have family, a home church, friends, neighbours, and workmates who have shown amazing support and encouragement.
People talk about the sacrifices we have made, and yes, we do miss our family. We are not able to pick our grandchildren up from school, we do miss the comforts of home, we do miss our home church, we do miss meeting friends for coffee, but God has met those needs in various ways and we do not think about those things as sacrifices.
We can talk with our family with the help of technology, and although they will be never be our grandchildren, we have many young children who need a hug. We have a very comfortable home to live in (along with the cockroaches, lizards, and ants), we have a church where we are needed, and amazing Fijian Christian friends who have taught us so much about loving and trusting God. We feel so blessed by their care for us, and to hear them pray for us brings tears to our eyes.
There are many cultural traditions which we still have to learn about, we are not completely converted to doing things in “Fiji time” yet, and it will be many months before we can converse in sign language. The weather will get unbearably hot again in summer, we will have to say “goodbye” to NZ again and again, but we know that we are where God wants us to be, and He has promised to be with us every step of the way.
We knew that life would be hard in Fiji, but perhaps not quite as hard as it has turned out to be, and there have been many challenges to face, in areas where neither of us has ever had any experience, but we came with the assurance of Deuteronomy 31:8 – The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged.
We are still new at this game and there will be hard times ahead of us, but there is joy in knowing that we can be part of this ministry, where we pray that our beautiful children and young adults will learn about, and come to know the Lord. They may not pass their exams when they finish school, but they have heard the greatest message of all time. We feel so blessed that God has brought us here.
Have you got something on your heart that you would like to do? Then listen to Gods call and step out in faith. It will have its challenges and might be hard work, but if you can make an eternal difference in one persons life, isnt it worth it? You may be at retiring age, but you will have a wealth of experience that God can use to be a blessing to others. It doesnt have to be all â€˜spiritualâ€™ work but follow the footsteps of our Lord who met the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of so many. Just remember Matthew 19:26: Jesus looked at them and said, With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.
RUSSELL & SUE