Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, WCC acting general secretary, stated: “Pastor Allen Nafuki was a lifelong dedicated leader, bringing unique contributions as a Pacific islander to the ecumenical movement. He was passionate and courageous about speaking out for independence, for a nuclear-free world, and for the rights of women and children.
“We will miss his presence at the WCC 11th Assembly. It was our hope to welcome him there in person and to thank him for both his true heart and his decades of work.”
Nafuki was also a former member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) Executive Committee.
“I always appreciated Allen’s firm support and faithful commitment to the WCRC,” said Chris Ferguson, WCRC general secretary. “He brought his wisdom and insights as a Pacific Islander to all that we did, and he will be greatly missed.”
Nafuki’s funeral was held on 14 June in Port Vila, after which his body was flown to his home island of Erromango for burial at Dillon’s Bay.
Nafuki had hoped to retire in 2020 after a decade serving as assembly clerk, but the COVID-19 pandemic prevented the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu Assembly from sitting last year to choose a successor. Nafuki thus continued to serve, despite diminishing health.
Nafuki’s contributions to his church and to his country have been extensive. Over a 40-year period, he spoke with a prophetic voice, always on the side of the oppressed and outcast, fighting for justice and liberation. For example, he led the national Vanuatu movement in support of West Papua independence.
Following the 1980 independence of Vanuatu (previously New Hebrides), Nafuki served as the Christian education director for the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu (1982-89). Originally intending to train in youth ministry supported by his singing voice and musical skills, Nafuki later studied for pastoral ministry at Rarongo Theological College in Papua New Guinea from 1971-75. He was there during the independence of that Pacific nation in 1975 and carried these hopes home to New Hebrides.
Nafuki married Idau Arua of Papua New Guinea in 1975 and they had six children. Arua held various administrative posts in government as well as elder leadership in the women’s activities of the church before her sudden death in 2010.
As a further contribution to his nation, Nafuki served as secretary of the Vanuatu Citizenship Commission (1990-93) and was deputy director of the Civil Status Office (1994). He later had a period as a member of the Vanuatu Parliament (1998-2002), including some time as government whip. In 1986 he was awarded the Vanuatu Medal of Merit for his services to the church and the community, followed in 1998 with the Presbyterian Church in Vanuatu’s Golden Jubilee Certificate of Recognition and Appreciation for his leadership.
“In Vanuatu and throughout the region, he was a fearless and outspoken advocate for self-determination,” said Rev. James Bhagwan, general secretary of the Pacific Conference of Churches. ”The freedom of West Papua, Kanaky and Maohi were close to his heart and he spoke passionately on these issues at every opportunity.”
Nafuki was also concerned about reparation for the victims of nuclear testing in Maohi, Kiribati and the Northern Pacific.
“While he has not lived to see the completion of this important regional work, Pastor Nafuki leaves us with a legacy,” said Bhagwan. “We are called to continue to work zealously for the needs of others in order to show a practical love for God, neighbour and creation.”
Nafuki also called out violence against women and children as a sin. “He was fearless in this regard and challenged male leaders in the church to stand for the rights of women and children,” said Bhagwan. “We will remember him as a humble servant of God, dignified and respectful towards all, with a wonderful sense of humour.”