Growing up, Rev Noa Turaganivalu had a typical life for a boy in Fiji.
He was raised in a rural village on a small, remote island, played a lot of rugby and went away to a boarding school (where he played more rugby). And as the only son in a family of six, he was always regarded as ‘first’ and ‘above’ his three sisters.
“It’s been a cultural and traditional norm for the male to come first and be at the top of everything we do. That’s how I was raised. … I was taught that being a man meant to be strong, and women were inferior to men,” says Rev Noa.
It is no secret that such norms can be a factor in the prevalence of violence against women everywhere. In the Pacific, where the vast majority of people identify as Christian, Pacific churches have a huge role to play in ending violence.
Today Rev Noa is an ordained minister and, supported by UnitingWorld, is a champion of gender equality for the Methodist Church in Fiji (MCIF). But it’s been a long journey to where he is now, Rev Noa admits.
The patriarchal mentality he grew up with continued into his marriage.
“Back then I tried to take ownership of my wife. I was abusive and she can tell many stories of how I used to treat her,” Rev Noa says.
The journey to change for Rev Noa started at theological college but wasn’t fully developed until he was confronted by the theology of gender equality expressed by Solomon Islander theologians Rev Dr Cliff Bird and Rev Siera Bird, and others.
Before embracing his post as Gender Equality Theology (GET) Minister for MCIF, Rev Noa spent an entire year grappling with the gender equality Bible studies and other resources, first reading and meditating on the ideas, and then starting to enact them in his life.
“As I looked deep into the theology, it was something that transformed me: The way I see the world, the way I see my wife and my children and the way I see others,” says Rev Noa.
“When we go out from the right interpretation of the Bible, that men and women were created in the image and likeness of God, that does not allow you to do any harm or abuse to anyone.”
Rev Noa says his life has changed in a way that makes him proud as a husband, father and grandfather.
“I can now respect my wife for who she is, her dignity and also my children and grandchildren. They can tell the story of my transformation in the way I speak and the way I act now.”
Supported by UnitingWorld, Rev Noa has been travelling throughout Fiji, preaching at churches and fellowship groups, running workshops, training ministers and lay leaders and changing hearts with his powerful testimony as he teaches the biblical basis for gender equality and anti-violence.
It’s busy, hard work. But Rev Noa says things are changing before his eyes.
“The ball is rolling. Slowly, because this work is countercultural and counter-traditional,” he says.
“Thank you all in the Uniting Church for your partnership. We need your prayers and support as we try to bring peace and stability to our nation and our world.”
We Need Your Help!
This program was previously supported by the Australian Government, but the grant expired in 2021.
Over the coming months, we will be sharing stories and fundraising to continue this powerful and unique work led by our Pacific partners. We hope to raise $90,000.
To donate and find out more, visit www.unitingworld.org.au/endviolence We look forward to keeping you updated about this life-changing project!
Top photo caption: Rev Noa and his family “I can now respect my wife for who she is, her dignity and also my children and grandchildren.”