Methodists across Britain and Ireland plan to participate in a day of prayer and fasting in solidarity with Methodists in Fiji, whose human rights are being denied.
The British and Irish Methodist Churches are urging people to abstain from food on Thursday 25 February and to consider donating the money they would have spent on it to the World Mission Fund, which will be offering long term support to the Fijian Methodist Church. At the same, they are asked to pray for the people, churches and government of Fiji.
Methodists in Fiji have designated February as a month of prayer, in response to what is being seen as the direct persecution they are facing.
The repressive government of Fiji, led by Commodore Bainimarama, has targeted the Methodist Church in the country, apparently because its members and ministers have stood up against military rule and human rights abuses.
The Methodist Church has been forced to cancel its annual Conference and choir festivals until 2014. Local districts and circuits of the Church are also having their activities restricted, with administrative meetings banned.
“In the UK, it’s easy to take our religious freedoms for granted,” said Rev Stephen Poxon, Secretary of the Methodist Missionary Society and a former President of British Methodist Conference.
He added, “The Methodist Church in Fiji simply desires to worship God and serve the people of Fiji with their ministry, but the government’s unreasonable restrictions are making the Church’s daily life almost impossible. Through fasting and prayer, we want to show our solidarity with our Fijian brothers and sisters.”
All members of the Fijian Methodist Church Standing Committee have been charged with attending an unauthorised meeting (held last April), and have been held for questioning by police. A number of the Church’s ministers have also been accused of spying on the government, although the allegations have not been substantiated.
One of the Church’s superintendent ministers was detained after he was overheard saying that he would hold meetings whether or not they were legal, and his comments were reported to the military.
The Fijian Methodist Church has requested a meeting with their government to discuss the ban and explore alternatives. “We are a people who believe in knocking,” said one minister, “Even until midnight!”
The British Methodist Church says that Fijian Methodists are continuing to gather for prayer and worship despite the persecution.
Under new legislation in Fiji, speaking out against the government is deemed to be treason. Sending criticisms of the regime to or from abroad will be regarded as sedition. Any such criticism (whether made in Fiji or abroad) is now being treated as a criminal act.