A Brief History of the Bible Institute @ Raiwaqa
Rocco Pierce had a vision for the newest work that he wanted to begin in the South Pacific. He had been working as a full-time missionary in the South Pacific since 2003. During that time, he had taught as a full-time instructor for the Pacific Islands Bible College under the direction of Robert Martin. While working with PIBC, he was privileged to travel to numerous islands across the South Pacific teaching Bible courses in the local churches of Christ. Later, he moved to American Samoa, where he worked with Pacific Broadcasting Network, a Christian radio station being operated by fellow missionary Randy English. While living in American Samoa, he continued to work with churches throughout the South Pacific.
In 2012-13, Rocco stepped down from the radio work in American Samoa to serve as the Missionary-in-Residence teaching Bible and Missions classes at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee. During that time, he turned his attention to new ways that he could carry on the work in the South Pacific. He decided that the time was right to fulfill a dream that he had long held to begin a full-time preacher and leadership training program for members of the churches of Christ in the South Pacific islands. He began visiting different islands in the Pacific and talking to local church members about their interest in the program.
In the meantime, Rocco came into contact with members of the faculty at the Bear Valley Bible Institute at Denver. He learned that they were looking to add new schools to their international extension program. One of Bear Valley’s requirements was for there to be at least two full-time faculty members before launching a new program. So, Rocco set about recruiting a partner to help launch the work. In the fall of 2014, he was joined by his son, Jason Pierce, who had previous missions experience in Russia and was interested in returning to the mission field. Together, Rocco and Jason began working out a plan for opening a new training school in cooperation with Bear Valley Bible Institute. After examining various options, Rocco and Jason decided upon the island nation of Fiji as the best location for establishing the school. This plan was solidified after the two took a survey trip in late 2014. In 2015, Rocco took another survey and planning trip to Fiji to begin the process of legally opening a school in the country. This time, he was joined by Keith Kasarjian, who was serving as the Director of New Schools for Bear Valley Bible Institute. Together, they were able to get things started on the legal front. Little did they know then that the process of registering a new school would become a multi-year process! Over the next two years, Rocco and Jason (with the support of Keith Kasarjian and the Bear Valley Bible Institute staff) would continue planning for the opening of the school and raising funds for locating it in Fiji. After several names were discussed with the Fiji Higher Education Commission (FHEC), they settled on the name Bible Institute at Raiwaqa.
In September 2016, the school opened for a trial run of six courses that were offered as a means of recruiting full-time students and testing out various teaching methods to see what things worked best for teaching in the island culture. The first course was on the Biblical book of Hebrews and was taught by Jason Pierce. That course was followed by Rocco Pierce teaching courses on “The Christian Home” and “Sermon on the Mount.” The next two courses were taught by visiting instructors. Tony Duncan, a Christian from the United States, taught a course on “Old Testament Poetry II: Proverbs - Song of Solomon.” Lance Mosher, an American missionary working in New Zealand, taught a course on “The New Testament Church.” The final course was on “Planned Preaching.” It was co-taught by Rocco and Jason.
On February 21, 2017, the Bible Institute at Raiwaqa officially opened as a full-time two-year program. Initially, the school met at the church building for the Raiwaqa Church of Christ at the corner of Bryce Street and Grantham Road (hence, the name Bible Institute at Raiwaqa). The school was incredibly grateful for having that facility as a place to launch the program. However, in July 2017, the Lord opened up a door for the school to lease its own facility. In August 2017, the school officially moved its operations to its present location at 39 Nayau Street, Samabula, Suva.
Since beginning the program, BIR has been privileged to train a number of wonderful students from Fiji and the South Pacific. On Saturday, November 3, 2018, we were pleased to have our first graduation. Five students graduated during that first ceremony. Four were from Fiji and one student was from the Solomon Islands. We were joined for that first graduation by Denny Petrillo (President of Bear Valley Bible Institute) and Ron Butterfield (elder for the Henderson (TN) Church of Christ which oversees Jason Pierce’s work in Fiji). Since that time, we have had two more graduating classes in 2019 and 2020. In total, BIR has graduated fifteen students. Twelve are from Fiji, two from the Solomon Islands, and one from Pohnpei (an island in Micronesia).
In addition to our full-time program, we have recently been blessed with the opportunity to start a couple of part-time programs. The first program is a Congregational Leadership Certificate that we offer for Christians living in the Suva area who are interested in studying but unable to commit to the full-time program due to work and family requirements. This program offers four courses a year (for a total of three years). It meets one night a week and is directed by Emosi Sailo (a 2018 graduate and member of the BIR teaching faculty). This program was launched in December 2019 and has enjoyed great participation.
The second program was launched in August 2020 to help the congregations on the western side of Viti Levu (Fiji). This program operates classes on alternating Saturdays. Each meeting date offers two classes (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) that are taught by Rocco Pierce and Jason Pierce. The courses typically last between four and eight weeks each. So far, the courses have been well attended by men from congregations in Nadi, Lautoka, and Ba.
The Bible Institute at Raiwaqa has taken on the mission of teaching and training preachers, teachers, and church leaders in Fiji and the South Pacific. We are committed to carrying out the mission as long as the Lord continues to provide us with means and students to do so. We appreciate all prayers on our behalf as we continue to do this great work.