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Chaplain to bolster peacekeepers in Timor Leste

Rev Tavake Manu (front row, third from right) with members of the Falelotu Kosipeli Methdist Church men's group. The men donated footballs that will be distributed by peacekeepers in Timor Leste.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God (Mathew 5:9).

This is Gospel verse army chaplain Rev Tavake Manu was focused on when he headed off with a company of New Zealand peacekeepers to Timor Leste last month.

Tavake is the sole Methodist chaplain supporting the New Zealand armed forces. He is stationed at Burnham Army Base south of Christchurch.

Last month Tavake became one the support people for the 150 Kiwi soldiers who will spend the next six months as members of a joint Australia-NZ peace keeping force stationed near the Timor Leste capital, Dili.

"The peacekeepers’ job is to go on daily patrols of the villages around Dili. We will be divided into three camps around the city," Tavake says.

"Timor Leste is 95 percent Muslim, 4 percent Protestant and 1 percent Muslim. It has a long history of colonisation. In the mid 1970s the Portuguese pulled out and Indonesia moved in and took over. Timor Leste became independent in 2002.

"There was a generation of young people who missed out on education during the Indonesian period. From what I understand, the Timorese people are very friendly but do not trust the system and can be suspicious.

"There is still a bit of low level guerrilla activity there and some gangs are active. They fight for territory and crime and drugs can be a problem."

Tavake says the NZ troops are his first priority as chaplain. Most are leaving behind their families; they will be under pressure and frequently bored.

The role of the chaplain is to communicate with the soldiers to make sure they are focused on the task at hand and to help them sort out any issues they may be having with what is happening with the families back in New Zealand.

"The chaplain also holds church every Sunday. Like in World War II, they say there are no atheists in foxholes. Soldiers on peacekeeping missions stick together and have a high level of spirituality."

To prepare for the mission Tavake underwent seven weeks of intensive training along with the soldiers. That included physical training at Waiouru, which involved live firing, basic military warfare and some police training such as how to secure a marketplace or other location in case of a riot.

Along with his essential gear Tavake will be bringing a supply of footballs and children’s clothing donated by two Methodist congregations.

One of the Kiwi soldiers’ camps is near and orphanage and Wesley Broadway Church has donated clothing and toys for the children there. And the men’s group from the Christchurch Tongan Fellowship (Falelotu Kosipeli) has donated soccer balls, volleyballs and touch rugby balls for the soldiers to handout to young Timorese.

"Because we can bring supplies on the plane with us, they do not have to be processed through the NGO system," Tavake says. "That means we can deliver the clothes right to the orphanage.

"Kiwi soldiers are well liked in all the areas around the world they do peacekeeping. While they maintain a professional approach, if they bring out a soccer ball and play, it attracts the children, and then they give the ball as a gift."

Tavake previously served as a prison chaplain. He says while military chaplaincy is quite different, it also involves building up the character of young men.