A contingency of more than 20 Samoans who had travelled to Israel on a Fiji Airways chartered flight to represent Samoa at the 2023 Feast of Tabernacles, are safe and have boarded their flight home.
The group had been staying in Jerusalem, about 78 kilometers from Gaza and have posted regular social media updates to assure friends and family of their safety.
Samoa Delegation to Israel 2023 group leader, Shivani Sharma, has posted detailed updates showing the group to be in high spirits.
Herself an articulate writer, Ms Sharma testifies and shares on an update post how they continue to minister God’s word despite the unexpected turn in their journey.
“Each time we start worshipping and singing, the manager and staff have been coming to see what we are doing and watching us. Other guests have come to sit in and were touched by the presence of God. One moved to tears.”
“Today the manager came to say that all the staff have been talking about us. He said that they have never experienced a group that has so much love and treat them like family. He also asked if he could join our evening devotion time.”
The Palestinian militant group Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip, launched its largest surprise attacks in decades on southern Jerusalem three days ago.
A day after the attacks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis to brace themselves “for a long and difficult war”.
Israel responded swiftly with huge strikes on cities in the blockaded Gaza Strip, destroying dozens of buildings, as Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel.
So far, more than 1,100 people have been killed in Israel and Gaza, authorities said, with the death toll expected to rise.
Shivani Sharma shares that the experience has given them an understanding of what the people of Israel go through on a daily basis.
“... but in the midst of uncertainty and what seems to be chaos around us, we are at peace and still before the Lord. It’s a blessing to finally understand a bit of what the people of Israel face regularly.”
“… Did I know we would end up in the middle of a war? No. We have all learnt so much and grown in ways deeper than just surface.”
“I know for a fact that we will return home different people. Changed. Impacted. Its a great reminder to fix our eyes on what God is doing in this time and season!”
The Samoan delegation continue to post video updates, and say they were even able to do a little sight seeing and last minute shopping today.
An update post from the group shows packed bags in the hotel lobby, as the return Fiji Airways chartered flight prepares to leave Israel.
At 5am Samoa time, one of the delegates, Ivanhoe Vaai, shares with Samoa Global News that they are safely on board about to depart.
Clarifying Misleading Reports
Despite the regular updates on the Samoa Delegation to Israel 2023 social media pages, Ms Sharma has expressed disappointment on a local newspaper for publishing misleading reports that the group were stranded, causing unnecessary panic to family and friends.
Meantime the Fiji delegation have also had to correct misinformation and misleading reports by Fijian and some Pacific media outlets stating the group was “stranded” and could not get home.
“We wish to provide an update and clarification in regards to Team Fiji that is in Israel 🇮🇱
“In light of recent media coverage in both Fiji and with certain Freelance Journalists in the pacific region, there seems to be some misunderstanding and misinformation spread by these outlets causing unnecessary panic to passengers family and friends..
The Fijian nationals are not “Stranded” as claimed by major Media outlets in Fiji, stranded would suggest that passengers have been left behind, which is not the case..
As part of the tour Itinerary our Fijian nationals was due to depart Israel on the 11th of October 2023, However due to the current conflict in Gaza , team Fiji will now leave a day earlier which is the 10th of October 2023 carrying not only Fijian Nationals but also our Samoan brothers and sisters who joined team Fiji at the start of this Pilgrimage..
“As part of team Fiji’s continued support to other nationals in need, the charter will also carry pacific island nationals who have been stranded in Israel due to cancellations with their respective airlines.”
The privately chartered Fiji Airways flight had been fully funded by traveling passengers and the delegation acknowledged and thanked Fiji Airways for their continued support, as well as the Government of Fiji for their part in ensuring the safety and security of the return flight home.