Feb 16, 2022 Society
Christianity runs deep in the Pacific Islands. When my auntie and uncle created their own church, it changed our lives. They stopped being auntie and uncle and became esteemed Faletua and Faifeau (First Lady and Minister). Our immediate family went from being just a few hundred people in Ōtara to a congregation (most of South Auckland + half a Tongan family). In 1999, the global panic of Y2K was inescapable. While most New Zealand families found comfort in Ken the Cockroach, ours looked to Jesus.
After school, we went to church to practise songs and dances, preparing for any opportunity for public performance. Like the von Trapps, we took religion on the road. Our first performance was at Ōtara flea market. Dressed in purple and white choir robes my mum had sewn the night before, I realised we weren’t passive Christians. We were cool Christians. The thing with religion and cults is they’re really fun at the start. You belong to something greater and you’re rewarded with status. I was always known
as the afa-Initia (half-Indian), but in church, my faith was full Sāmoan.
In Papatoetoe Intermediate, I was out at the back of the field holding lunchtime exorcisms. My hands hovered over my classmate’s head as I rebuked Satan and ordered him to leave her body. A kid who was mindlessly thrashing a tree with a branch yelled out, “You guys are gullible.” I stopped mid-tongues and yelled back, “No, we’re evangelists!”
The thing with believing in the invisible is your mind fills in the gaps. When Faifeau said Satan was coming to Earth on 1 January 2000, I believed it. Flip 1999 around and you get 6661. The mark of the Beast and the One.
I believed the world was going to end.
When Christmas drew near, our church did prayer walks. On Friday nights, my cousins and I stayed at Faifeau’s house. We slept together on the floor sharing gossip and stories. At the time, weight-loss tea was a real fad. My cousin told me about a woman who drank weight-loss tea for two whole days, then went to the toilet and came out a size 10. My size-14 gut had so many questions, but instead I talked about a nonfiction book from a Christian bookshop. It is the scariest book I’ve ever read.
“It’s a true story by Rebecca Brown MD — MD stands for medical doctor — and she saves this other woman who turns out to be Satan’s bride. Apparently, Satanists are everywhere.”
“Like where?” a cousin asked.
“Hospitals… parks… kindergartens… everywhere!”
I could tell my cousins were both scared and curious. My older cousin told us to shut up and go to sleep, and eventually we did.
At 3am, my auntie’s voice shook us awake. “Time to get up! We leave in 30 minutes!”
The trick with prayer walks is wearing the right clothes and shoes. Something light yet warm, and appropriate footwear. (I learned that lesson the hard way when I wore a lavalava and jandals.) After piling into the van, we drove to church in the pitch black. We got there first and had to wait for the other families. This part was exciting. Kind of like being in a heist, but for Jesus.
Familiar cars drove in, adding to the huddle of mothers. The mothers were shadowy forms with soft glottals like percussion in the dead of night. Faifeau would strap on his guitar and tell us the direction we were walking. I’m not fluent in Sāmoan but I could understand finger pointing. We were then arranged in a single file, with Faifeau at the front and a deacon at the back.
A song would start. All the practising paid off as we sang in perfect harmony. “Alleluia! Praise God!” We sang with our arms lifted high. Dogs barked, lights flicked on, and people shouted swear words. Faifeau would point his hand in their direction: “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus!”
All 20 of us would follow suit, shouting and pointing hands in their direction. “I rebuke you, Satan!” In hindsight, we were a nuisance, but at the time, I thought we were like Rebecca Brown MD, cleansing South Auckland. When a drunk guy called us “dumb assholes”, I was sure he was Satan’s best man.
After we stopped singing, people spoke in tongues and said variations of “Praise God”, “give us your anointing” and “please forgive us”. What was exciting at the start really drags after 10 minutes.
When the sun rose an hour later, Faifeau led us to a netball court behind a school. He knelt down and began to pray, which started a wave of people collapsing to their knees. An auntie fell to the ground convulsing and speaking in tongues, her face wet from tears. A stray dog came and sniffed her butt, which my cousins and I struggled not to laugh at, before being shushed by another auntie.
As plastic bags and trash blew past, Faifeau prompted the final song. We knew it was the last one, the same way you know the last ad before a TV show. The auntie on the ground slowly rose to her feet as if nothing had happened. My cousins and I stood up and stretched as if we’d just woken up, and then we went about our day. Like normal.
Like we did on the morning of 1 January 2000.