Fer, “Youth with a Mission in the Pacific Islands”

Fer, Yannick. 2016. “Youth With a Mission in the Pacific Islands: From Evangelical globalization to the reshaping of local cultural identities.” in F. Magowan et C. Schwartz (eds.), 2016, Christianity, Conflict, and Renewal in Australia and the Pacific, Leiden/Boston, Brill, pp. 81-101.

Abstract: The rise of Pentecostal-charismatic movements in Polynesia today is opening up new spaces for converts to engage in the contemporary dynamics of globalization, encouraging them to question the intertwined links between religion, culture, and the land, as shaped by local Christian cultures. A complex articulation of converts’ voluntary disaffiliation from traditional religion and their critical reappropriation of Christianity create dilemmas of identity, as Polynesian “Christian tradition” finds no unanimous response within the Pentecostal-charismatic field. Indeed, in recent decades, these movements have led to a double diversification, brought about on the one hand, by the growth of The Christianity of the South and, on the other hand, by the increasing separation of charismatic streams from classical Pentecostal theology.

The charismatic network Youth with a Mission (YWAM), which has been present in Oceania for forty years, exemplifies this global transformation of the Pentecostal-charismatic field and its local impact upon reshaping the identity of Pacific Islander youth. After situating this network within contemporary Pacific Island Protestantism and the post-World War ii American context, this chapter examines the patterns of YWAM global culture, including its positive representation of cultural diversity. I show how these trends generated a militant reappropriation and renewal of cultural identities within the Christian space among young Polynesian converts at the outset of the 1980s. In particular, the Island Breeze movement, a YWAM ministry launched in 1979 by the Samoan Sosene Le’au, claims to seek the “redemption of cultures” and advocates the use of Polynesian dances as both an expression of Christian faith and a universal missionary tool. Finally, an analysis of the links between the YWAM global charismatic culture and this local religious renewing and reshaping of Polynesian cultural identities illuminates several points of adjustment or tension: between individual “new birth”, regional migrations and cultural authenticity; and between historical relationships of domination and the emergence of a “Christian indigeneity influenced by the global theology of “spiritual warfare”.

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