When Pastor Raj Deo met Rukmani at Lomawai in 1999, she was 56 and had suffered chronic back pain since childhood. She was unable to do manual labour – a significant challenge for a widow whose only source of livelihood was the sugar cane farm she took responsibility for after her husband’s death 16 years earlier.
Pastor Raj, who also came from a local cane-farming family, was then pastoring an Assemblies of God church nearby. He asked if he could pray for Rukmani and, despite her Hindu background, she agreed. For the first time in decades, she found herself free from pain. Doctors were astounded at the change in the state of her spine.
Following this miraculous healing, Rukmani dedicated her life to Christ. For several years she was part of a small group of Christians in a predominantly Hindu community of Indo-Fijian farmers. Pastor Raj had moved on to pastor the Church of Christ at Vitogo. There was no formal church in Rukmani’s area, but a small group met together regularly to pray and encourage one another in her home. Pastor Raj would visit and encourage them whenever he returned for family matters.
In 2012, Pastor Raj introduced Rukmani and the small group of Christians to Pastor Muneshwar Goundar, who had moved to nearby Sigatoka to begin church planting work with the Fiji Community Churches of Christ. In addition to his work in Sigatoka, Muneshwar began to visit and encourage the group with midweek meetings. In 2014, in a makeshift shelter on a neighbouring farm, a Sunday service commenced in Lomawai for the first time.
The Sunday meetings were an answer to the community’s prayers, but Rukmani dreamed for the Lomawai community to have its own permanent church. In 2015, she donated half an acre of her farmland so that the church could be established.
Because her farmland is leasehold, the bureaucratic process of transferring the land to the church and rezoning was a protracted and frustrating one for Rukmani and the church. In March 2018, after years of waiting, Rukmani stood up in the church, under the same makeshift shelter, but on land that she had donated.
With joy in her heart, she offered praise to God, because just one day earlier, she had helped to pour the concrete slab for a water tank for the church. Others have assisted with other construction, building a toilet block and a storage shed, and Rukmani continues to encourage members of the church to work together to see a permanent church building established.
Now 75, the woman who was once unable to do manual work because of her crippling back pain can now be seen cutting grass in the church compound with a machete, or raking up after others. She leads by example to raise money for the building, raising and selling chickens, and donating her proceeds to the building fund.
Rukmani says she does it with joy, thanksgiving, and deep love for her Lord and Saviour Jesus, who restored her both physically and spiritually, and gave her new hope.
Bruce Edwards, Fiji