Con­tro­ver­sial group leader speaks out for the first time over a row rocking RKS, which has seen three teach­ers trans­ferred

Fiji Sun - - Front Page - SELITA BOLANA­VANUA

The leader of a con­tro­ver­sial prayer group al­leged to be a cult, in the cen­tre of a Ratu Ka­davulevu School row, yes­ter­day broke his si­lence. Nananu Vil­lage el­der and landowner -RQH %LXWLORGRQL VSRNH RXW IRU WKH åUVW time in de­fence of his small group. The vil­lage is near RKS in Tailevu. Mr Biu­tilodoni said: “We are not a cult. We are a le­git­i­mate prayer group.” The row erupted be­cause more than 60 stu­dents and some teach­ers had joined the prayer group. It caused ten­sion in the school and es­ca­lated to a point that prompted the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion to in­ter­vene and trans­fer three teach­ers to other schools. Mr Biu­tilodoni dis­missed spec­u­la­tion that they were prac­tis­ing strange re­li­gious prac­tices. He said maybe this was be­cause their prayer ses­sions were in his house in the for­est on his land. He said the RKS stu­dents and teach­ers joined his group with their own free will

and choice. He said his group was called the “Self Sup­port Min­istry”. It is a break­away group from the main­stream Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist Church. The group is based at Waini­tadro Set­tle­ment, Waini­bau, near RKS. The prayer min­istry started last year in a small class­room at RKS un­til this year when they were asked to leave.

Mr Biu­tilodoni said this year they re­quested the school for a small space which they could use on the Sab­bath days. He said un­for­tu­nately the school dis­agreed so “we’ve been hav­ing the Sab­bath in my own home.” “The prayer group has more than 10 mem­bers along with more 60 RKS stu­dents.

“I’ve never forced stu­dents to join this prayer group, it’s from their will­ing heart. Dur­ing Sab­bath, they come to my home for prayers. “We don’t be­long to any church de­nom­i­na­tion we are just an in­de­pen­dent prayer group which strictly fol­lows the Bi­ble. “The main rea­son for our break­away was be­cause, the main­stream church did not agree with some of our teach­ings. We have Sab­bath re­form where we wor­ship on Satur­days, Health re­form, where we don’t eat meat and Dress re­form where we em­pha­sise on wear­ing long sleeve clothes. This was to keep the ho­li­ness of God,” he said. Mr Biu­tilodoni said most of the stu­dents who were part of the prayer group came from “very bro­ken fam­i­lies and trou­bled homes. “So they feel wanted and safe in there. “Be­cause of the teach­ings, most of the stu­dents have stopped smok­ing and drink­ing, and some par­ents do come to me say­ing, they’re re­ally happy with the changes.” Is­sues arose at RKS since some of the stu­dents had al­legedly cho­sen to stay home and do Bi­ble stud­ies than at­tend classes.

“I didn’t tell them to stay home, it’s their own de­ci­sion. Stu­dents also come to me say­ing teach­ers in school have been pass­ing re­marks and call­ing them names be­cause of this prayer group, even when they want to read the Bi­ble in the class­room they will get scold­ing,” he said. The Police and Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion reps have also vis­ited Mr Biu­tilodoni’s home to in­ves­ti­gate. “This morn­ing the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion came here to take one of the stu­dent who has been with us since Mon­day. The poor boy came to my home in tears seek­ing com­fort be­cause of his fam­ily prob­lem. I told the Police that they should be happy be­cause this is also a way to re­duce crime rates in school,” said Mr Biu­tilodoni. “Many crime cases hap­pen here in school sim­ply be­cause of the weak spir­i­tual up­bring­ing. The Lord is us­ing the youths these days. We are not prac­tis­ing any cult teach­ing here, we are just based on the Bi­ble. I’m ready to an­swer ques­tions, if there’s some­one in doubt, let it be a par­ent, teacher or any­one, do come and I’ll tell you the truth,” he added.

An of­fi­cial of The Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist Church said the issue would be re­ferred to the church lead­er­ship be­fore any state­ment could be made.

Photo: Selita Bolana­vanua

Vil­lage el­der Jone Biu­tilodoni. To the right is the shed where they hold prayer ses­sions.

Jone Biu­tilodoni (in blue), with a friend.

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