David Newby

National Forgiveness Week Tribute

David's Celebration

NATIONAL FORGIVENESS WEEK

David Newby and Rob Warren were called by God to take a message to the church leaders in Fiji … that the combined churches should introduce a National Forgiveness Week (NFW) throughout the whole nation. The goals were to emphasise the values of one-on-one forgiveness within the community.

In November 2002, backed by a team of pray-ers in Sydney, David and Rob set out for Suva. They spent a lot of time praying, both before and after they arrived, wondering what God was going to do. The next day they were taken to a special convening of the Assembly of Christian Churches of Fiji (ACCF) where they were asked why they had come. After hearing the message, the committee voted unanimously to adopt the idea.

Over the next eighteen months David and Rob travelled back to Fiji on numerous occasions before work on NFW began. The ACCF then proposed the idea to The Fiji Department of National Reconciliation and Unity, who in turn presented it to the Prime Minister. In December 2003 the Prime Minister and his Cabinet formally approved the inaugural Fiji National Forgiveness Week

The Prime Minister, the Hon Laisenia Qarase, took a personal interest in the program. He developed and rescheduled it to precede Fiji Day (Fiji’s national day of independence). The week was given a new name – Fiji Week. It was held from 4th to 11th October 2004.

Fiji Week – Fiji National Forgiveness Week

The inaugural Fiji Week was given the theme of National Reconciliation & Forgiveness. The government spent $700,000 on the event, which started with a multi-denominational march through the streets of Suva to Albert Park where the President formally opened the week, and prayed for his beloved nation. He went on to say, “Prayer and forgiveness are the essence of the compassionate connections we need for our country.”

Open repentance and requests for forgiveness were offered throughout the entire nation, with major events being conducted in six urban centres (and seventeen regional districts) across the country. The message of forgiveness in the name of Jesus was promoted to the highest levels of government, to churches, to schools, in the cities and towns, in the villages and homes. Television, newspapers and radio reported daily as the week progressed, and they did so in a positive light!

Church leaders spoke openly about the need to forgive, culminating in a public display of forgiveness between Catholics, Anglicans, Pentecostals, Methodists and other mainline denominations. Church leaders publicly confessed their critical and judgmental attitudes towards other denominations, requesting their forgiveness, which was freely given with embracing and the shedding of many tears. What a wonderful sight!

Individual government and community leaders humbled themselves before the television cameras, asking forgiveness for specific sins against the Church, community and the Indo-Fijian population. Various religious, community and government leaders (including the Prime Minister) submitted to a foot-washing ceremony as a gesture of servant-hood towards the people.

Forgiveness was openly requested and freely given by paramount chiefs, coup leaders and provincial leaders. Forgiveness was flowing in the villages and homes as family members identified and confessed their sins to one another. Amazing to behold!

One week prior to Fiji Week, the Prime Minister had addressed the United Nations in New York, telling them about the upcoming week of forgiveness and reconciliation. Afterwards, many delegates lined up to congratulate him and to shake his hand.

Fiji Week was heralded as an outstanding success by those who participated and the media alike. As a consequence, the Prime Minister decided to hold the event annually thereafter.

After relating this story to a group of interested people in New Zealand, one man spouted, “Who are you guys? You are just a couple of nobodies – a couple of nobodies!” And they had to agree: they acknowledged that they were only a couple of nobodies, but nobodies called by God to do something completely beyond their capabilities – for God was with them (as He said He would be) and that’s what made the difference.

Vanuatu National Forgiveness Week

Back in Australia, the small intercessory prayer group met when the need arose. One night, a member of the group had a vision of NFW flowing into Australia via a line of latitude emanating from Fiji. When they checked the map they saw that this imaginary line passed through Vanuatu before pointing to a place in the desert region of the Northern Territory, Australia. Intuitively, they knew the message had to be taken to Vanuatu before it could take root in Australia.

In 2005 David and Rob landed in Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu knowing no-one. Again they found themselves addressing a group of influential pastors about NFW which they christened Vanuatu Forgiveness Week (VFW). The pastors immediately warmed to the idea and arranged a formal meeting with other key church leaders and intercessors.

They endorsed the idea of introducing VFW across the nation. But no-one knew how it could be done on such a massive scale, especially as the country consisted of a collection of islands spread across a thousand kilometres of ocean, each with different cultures and traditions.

Over the next five years they were to return to Vanuatu many more times to encourage the pastors towards initiating an annual week of forgiveness. Each time the pastors were enthusiastic, but each time their plans came to nothing.

After five years the nation’s Prime Minister, Edward Natapei, heard about the idea wanted to know more, indicating his willingness to meet David and Rob. But they were unable to get through to him on his private line or email, and resorted to calling the Prime Minister’s Office line. The PM’s private secretary was most unhelpful, rejecting calls and ignoring their requests.

It seemed hopeless but David decided to travel to Vanuatu anyway, as Rob was unwilling to go without a firm appointment. David and his son, Ben, went to Port Vila and fronted up to the Prime Minister’s Office unannounced. True to form, the PM’s private secretary was as obstructive as ever, presenting David with a stern wall of opposition.

“The PM is a very busy man, and simply cannot see people who walk in off the street, no matter how dire their need or important their request,” stated the personal secretary emphatically.

David’s entreaties fell on deaf hears as the PM’s private secretary was highly skilled at his job of keeping people away from the country’s leader. Finally, after ten minutes, David said, “Well, I am simply responding to the Prime Minister’s request for this meeting. Could you please give him my card and have him call me if he would like to talk?”

Later that afternoon the private secretary called David, saying, “The PM will meet with you at 11-00am tomorrow!” The next morning, in the PM’s office, David spent an hour presenting the concept of VFW. The PM then discussed VFW with others in his cabinet. All agreed and it was scheduled run immediately prior to the country’s 30 year Unity Day Celebrations scheduled for 29th November 2010.

The budget for the event was set at 5 million vatu (just over AUD$60,000), a significant amount of money for a small island nation. In October VFW was given official status by the Prime Minister and his cabinet, setting aside the week beginning 22nd November 2010 as the inaugural Vanuatu Forgiveness Week.

The Prime Minister, a devout Christian, saw the value of promoting one-on-one heartfelt forgiveness throughout his land. He could not wait until 2011 when elections would be due; it had to be done immediately if it wasn’t to be misinterpreted by his opponents as a political ploy. But this left only 4 weeks to organise a nationwide event!

The inaugural Vanuatu Forgiveness Week was held from 21st – 28th November 2010. Due to the limited time, it was held primarily on the main island of Efaté, Vanuatu’s hub of government and tourism. However, over the ensuing months VFW was extended throughout other islands in a staggered manner, to facilitate proper planning.

People sent text messages to one another saying “Sorry” and asking for forgiveness. One family reunited after many years of separation. The father had left home to live with another woman, but after hearing about Forgiveness Week, the man approached the village chief asking for his assistance in reuniting his family. One night, in front of the entire village, the two reinstituted their marriage vows and were reunited.

In the village of Pango, on the outskirts of Port Vila, a contingent from the small island of Moso arrived. The two communities had been feuding over the killing of 22 villagers back in the 1850s! Now, after 160 years, they had come to forgive and to be forgiven. They publicly repented before one another and exchanged gifts. Many tears of repentance and joy were shed that day. After sharing a meal together they formed two lines and progressively embraced.

Vanuatu Forgiveness Week provided a platform for many families and estranged villages to reconcile and resolve their differences. But VFW lasted for only one year.

Now that VFW had taken root in the hearts of the people David and Rob felt a release for it to flow back into Australia. It was like a valve had been opened through which Forgiveness Week could now water the dry dusty continent which was home to the two men.

Forgiveness Week in the Never-Never

The Never-Never is the ancestral home of many Aboriginal tribes, more correctly known as Arnhemland. David and Rob did not wait for Vanuatu Forgiveness Week to materialise before following the trail into northern Australia. Instead they took the message to both countries concurrently, knowing that bringing the message out to broader Australia would take longer than with the two previous nations.

You will recall that the intercessory prayer team had ‘seen’ an imaginary line running from Fiji, through Vanuatu, back into northern Australia. When they checked the map there was nothing, so they got a more detailed map. There in the desert near the city of Katherine, on the edge of Arnhemland, was a small Aboriginal settlement named Beswick, and that was where Rob and David had to go!

Beswick had a floating population of around six hundred people and was a melting pot for many Aboriginal tribes. As such, it had connections into many other Aboriginal communities throughout the Northern Territory, and was a strategic place for NFW to begin.

In September 2006, after one abortive attempt, the Beswick Christians initiated their first Forgiveness Week. David and Rob attended the inaugural event which was held on the outdoor basketball court in the local school grounds. It was not a massive celebration like they had witnessed in Fiji; only about 120 people attended and only a few community elders were amongst them.

The following year the message of Forgiveness Week materialised in the hearts of the indigenous people of Manmoyi, who had heard the vision preached some two years previously. The week was planned for July 2008 and many Aboriginals from across Arnhemland expressed an interest in attending. The small community of Manmoyi became a showpiece, as the year before, every person in the community, adults and children alike, accepted Christ as their Saviour!

Forgiveness Week was gradually filtering out into the broader community to challenge the traditional culture of payback. The practice of payback is firmly entrenched in the Aboriginal way-of-life. Put simply, payback is revenge. When someone is hurt then the family members retaliate.  Payback is deemed to be complete only after equitable suffering has been metered out to the offender or their family.

There is no word for forgiveness in the Aboriginal language. During a visit to Roper River community one Beswick Aboriginal observed a woman teaching a group of young people about forgiveness. She asked her where she had heard such a message … “At Forgiveness Week, last year” was her reply.

To honour David, the Aboriginal people of Beswick gave him the skin name of Barlang. This made him an honorary Aboriginal in the Myali tribe of Oenpelli and Manangrida.

National Forgiveness Week has not stopped with David’s passing. Moves are now afoot to bring it out of Arnhemland into all Australia. David’s legacy will continue as the Lord directs.

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In Honour Of A Great Man