Almost 54 years ago, in June 1966, Australian Church Women awarded the second Winifred Kiek Scholarship to Miss Sabita Devi Swarup of Fiji for secretarial studies and training in Australia. Sabita was 23 years of age and a member of the Methodist Church at Lautoka, Fiji.
Sabita had a very interesting conversion story of how she became a believer in Jesus Christ and accepted Him as her personal Saviour, and how her life was transformed by Christianity. Her testimony is reproduced in this post so that you may be encouraged by Sabita’s Christian witness and perseverance.
‘Although I was born in a hindu home, the very first few years of my school life were spent in a Methodist School but owing to inevitable circumstances my parents had to shift to another district, and that to me meant leaving the school which I began to like. This also meant, an end to the Christian teaching that I was having. My next school was a very strict, hindu one where the children spent about thirty minutes daily in singing and prayer, besides an hour’s “puja” (acts of worship) once a week.
‘After three years at this school I was fortunate enough to be selected as a first year student at Jasper Williams Secondary School, as it was called then. For the first time in my life I had to leave home for a hostel – the very thought of leaving home for a hostel, at the time, was by no means a happy one. However, the case proved contrary to what I had thought as the environment at this Christian school was quite different from that of my former school.
‘At this school students were given religious instruction daily in the morning, and morning and evening devotions in the hostel, Christian Endeavour on Fridays. At the time this teaching did not mean anything to me and I felt that I was having more lessons on the Bible than on History, Geography, Arithmetic, English for which I was really here. Church services, Sunday Schools were compulsory and I dreaded going to these, as to me all these seemed boring. In Sunday School, while others concentrated on lessons I used to think of excuses in order to get away from going to church – excuses which to me, now, seem feeble.
‘The Christian way of life of the staff of this school, particularly in the hostel, influenced me a lot. But the lessons on Easter really made me think. Although I had heard and read about Jesus dying on the cross and then rising again from the dead, it just sounded like another fairy tale. I started reading the Bible daily, both morning and evening and praying, began to pay more attention in the scripture lessons in the school. I had many doubts, nevertheless the prayers gave me peace. During that first year at this High School I accepted Christ and after having been given permission by my parents, I was baptised.
‘After only two years of secondary education I had to leave school and take up a job in order to help my father support my younger brothers and sisters. In 1959 I was given a job in the office of the same school and have been working there since. I had a break of four months in 1963 when I worked for the Bank of Bareda Limited. I had to leave the bank because of home trouble and also because I felt that at the school I would be doing my Christian service, although in a very small way.
‘The work at the school includes taking scripture lessons of one of the primary classes and this has helped me a lot. While preparing the lessons I come across things which I have not heard before and I feel that as I give out the gospel to others, I learn a lot at the same time.
‘In 1959, with another helper, I started taking a Sunday School in which we had about a dozen children whose ages ranged from three to eleven years. This was held in a Christian home where only a couple of women were Christians besides the grandmother. Often the older members of the family joined us in the worship and there again I had a very good opportunity of witnessing for Christ. Sometimes we returned, discouraged, because of low attendance or lack of response from the children. However, as the Sundays passed, both old and young became more eager and interested. After three years at Vitogo (the name of the village) I started a group of primary school children and since last year I have been taking a group of junior high school students.
‘In August, 1965, I attended the Pacific Island Christian Education Curriculum Conference. The lectures, demonstrations and discussion groups helped me to see why my teaching was not as effective as it might have been and how I could improve myself as Sunday School teacher.
‘The Christian way of life is, not in the least, an easy one especially when the rest of the members of the family belong to an entirely different religion. My parents have tried to force me into a hindu marriage but I have been strengthened to remain firm on my decision.
‘I feel that this study and training [the Winifred Kiek Scholarship] would enable me to serve the church more effectively in a secretarial capacity.’
Sabita arrived in Sydney on 7 August 1966 ready to begin her studies at the Metropolitan Business College for almost five months. She lived at the Methodist Girls’ Hostel during her studies and was reported by the College to be a very satisfactory student.
Whilst Sabita was still studying, she was offered a position at the Methodist Mission Hospital at Ba in Fiji. This position was formerly held by a missionary; now a local person would have the necessary skills to fulfil the requirements of this staff position. With Sabita’s future employment in mind, the Scholarship Committee arranged for her to have a brief period of office experience at a suitable Australian hospital before she returned to Fiji.
After Sabita returned to Fiji and began her work at the Ba Hospital, Australian Church Women received a letter from the Chairman of the Ba Hospital thanking them for the training and experience that Sabita received in Australia. Sabita was at the Ba Hospital for only a few weeks before her skills were further recognised when she received a transfer to be the secretary at the Methodist Navuso Agricultural School in Suva, Fiji.
It is good to know that the Winifred Kiek Scholarship awarded to Sabita greatly benefitted both her and her community.