A Tribute to Pastor Lupeti Fihaki
Saturday 9 November 2013
Pastor Lupeti Fihaki, Titilia and family Ni Sa Bula Vinaka – we greet you as the Wesleyan Methodist family of New Zealand, surrounded by so many friends from Australia, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.
It is so fitting that we pay tribute to Pastor Lupeti’s significant leadership and ministry at the very time we gather as a South Pacific Wesleyan Methodist Conference.
Lupeti has been a significant leader who loves not only his own culture but has deep respect for all other cultures and above all loves the Lord Jesus Christ and loves the Church, the Body of Christ in all its diversity, colour and vibrancy.
Lupeti and Titilia and his family came to New Zealand about 25 years ago, after work in Papua New Guinea and before that in Fiji.
I first met Lupeti when he chaired the Fijian Advisory Committee of the Methodist Church where his leadership skills, mana and love of God were well-known and well respected. We later met at my home in Henderson about 1991 and soon got to know each other. Little did we know what was in store for the birth of a new denominational family and the role he would have in its formation.
Lupeti was a prominent lay leader in the witness of evangelicals and charismatics during all of the 1990s when the Methodist Church of New Zealand embraced radical liberal emphases and did little or nothing to respect so many Pasifika and Pakeha people – who out of conscience and theological conviction – could not embrace non-Biblical ways, and who stood up with grace for righteousness and Biblical Truth. Lupeti never flinched in that difficult battle when many opposed him.
In January 2000 Lupeti travelled with Rev Allan Oliver to Australia to attend the annual conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, held that year at Toowoomba. They attended as New Zealand guests – but they also went as “spies in the land” to see what the Australian Wesleyan Methodists were like!
It was Lupeti and Allan’s positive recommendations about Wesleyan Methodists in Australia having the same heart and theological convictions that we had which helped encourage the fledgling Wesleyan Methodist movement to form into the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand, under the Superintendency of Rev Edgar Hornblow.
As a founding lay leader in the new denomination Lupeti always had a consciousness and commitment to the whole Church. He knew that the local Church and its worship and mission was central but his appreciation was never just for the local Church but for the whole Church and indeed the global Body of Christ. He was part of the group that welcomed the first visiting group from West Michigan in May 2002, took them around the North Island, and made friendships that last to this day.
Lupeti brought many gifts to his lay leadership in the Church, and he played a major formative role integrating various ethnic groups, helped by considerable experience with the large Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma. His special Fijian and Tongan ancestry was useful, his linguistic and cultural skills helpful, and his working experience in the hotel industry in the South Pacific always meant he was conscious of a high standard of organisation and the vital role of food and hospitality.
As our new Church formed and we faced many challenges, Lupeti held in a creative tension the best of the past with an openness to learning new ways that transcended culture, age and style.
Titilia was a key part of Lupeti’s offering of leadership. Her forebears had welcomed the first missionaries to Fiji in the 1830s and her Christian faith has been a wise and powerful influence on Lupeti since their marriage. I have memories in the difficult days of the formation of our Church when Titilia would rise and speak from the lecturn with great presence, dignity and wisdom.
Titilia’s role helping Lupeti become a real Christian (as John Wesley would say) and a leader in the Church is absolutely clear. Lupeti knows the power of God’s mercy and forgiveness for he was converted and restored to live as a Christian from a time in his life that was unhappy and away from God.
The vision for a new holy Church that would be missional and life giving was an unwavering conviction of them both and has contributed to the healthy growth of our network of Churches.
In the early years of our Church, Lupeti discovered new appreciation and understanding of Wesleyan holiness theology – something which had been neglected for many years in Fiji and here in New Zealand.
Lupeti’s commitment to the wider Church and the John Wesley stream of the Church was always strong, as is his commitment to us belonging, celebrating and participating in the wider Body of Christ, especially the international Wesleyan Church and the World Methodist Council.
At our third annual conference in 2002 Lupeti was elected as the first lay Assistant National Superintendent. It was a measure of his leadership experience, his standing in the Church and his commitment to us being a multi-cultural Church that he was elected that year with a strong mandate and subsequently re-elected five times.
Lupeti has been to Australia several times and to the United States to attend the General Conference in 2004. At this time he also helped facilitate a significant Habitat for Humanity build project in Fiji with many New Zealanders helping.
His commitment has always been for reconciliation – cross cultural friendship, young people growing in their faith, and the Church planning ahead.
At the 2010 Conference he became a Commissioned Minister and at the same conference took up pastoral care responsibilities in a newly configured Superintendency team.
In September of 2010 Lupeti accompanied an IWU team around New Zealand as they began to explore possibilities for a presence in our South Pacific region. The following February (2011) he was part of an IWU team visiting to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa making contact with Churches and educational authorities. His contacts, cultural insights and language skills were a significant asset. With IWU’s recent acquisition of Wesley Institute in Sydney we can acknowledge that Lupeti Fihaki was part of the broad web of preparation that led to this exciting development. With some of their older grandchildren at University he and Titilia are vitally concerned they have a Christian worldview and have always been an advocate for higher level Christian education.
Members of our leadership team have described Lupeti’s ministry like this:
- “I have always thought of Lupeti as the heart of the church – while others may be the head and hands of the church, Lupeti has always loved the church, its vision and its people in a way that is inspiring.”
- “He and Titilia have been a huge influence in reconciling and guiding the multi-cultural strategy in our formative years.”
- “A pastor who is prepared to go the extra mile to speak into your life.”
- “Always ready to sit down and talk, friendly and approachable.”
- I have always been encouraged by Lupeti’s positive and optimistic outlook on what the Wesleyan Methodist Church in NZ is becoming. He loves to see leaders grow together and potentialising their gifts and he expresses how much he believes in us.
- “A very loyal member of the national leadership team.”
I concur with such comments and have so much valued a collegial working relationship with Lupeti that I can hardly imagine him not sitting around the National Council table and reminding all present about who we are as Wesleyan Methodist people. Or contributing a word of grace and truth in our executive meetings. Lupeti’s faith, sense of humour and thinking the best about others has always been inspirational.
Over the years Lupeti has visited many of our Churches, spoken with authority, welcomed guests, represented the Church at licensing and commissioning services and always officiated with a humble consciousness of the privilege of serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
Recent times have not been so easy with illness for him, Titilia and others, and significant family responsibilities – especially with 7 children (three girls and four boys and 34 grandchildren!
Lupeti you are a cherished brother-in-Christ, friend and colleague in ministry all these years. We thank God for your legacy of faith in helping establish our Wesleyan Methodist Church in New Zealand and the new South Pacific Conference.
Tonight the conference pays tribute to you, Titilia and your family for the outstanding contribution up have made to the mission of God.
God bless you in your continuing service to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Tribute prepared by Rev Dr Richard Waugh