Monday, January 24, 2011

The first day of the rest of our lives

Yesterday marked an unofficial beginning, of sorts, as our co-workers (Aaron, Cindy, Kaela & Melia Baker) left for their new work on Tanna Island.  We had been planning for this day for months, but it was still a bit surreal to say goodbye and watch them board the plane.  I thought I would give some history and an overview of what our teammates are planning.

Our team has been together in some form for many years.  We first met the Bakers back in 2001, when we both worshiped at the 29th and Yale congregation in Tulsa, OK.  Independently of one another, we both decided to begin attending the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver in 2002.  It was there that our friendship with them was solidified, and also where we all met Mike Olson, a native of Colorado.  The five of us went on a survey trip to Fiji and Vanuatu during the summer break between our two years at Bear Valley, and then began making plans to function as a mission team, ultimately deciding to focus our efforts on Vanuatu.

Upon graduation, we all moved into a house in Colorado that was owned by some great friends, Jeremy and Rebecca Korodaj.  That house served as our home base as we all went out raising funds for our mission.  It was during this time that Kaela was born.  We lived together in that house for almost a year, when we then moved to Vanuatu (April 2005).  We were grateful to find a duplex for rent that met all of our needs, and so we have lived next door to the Bakers in Vanuatu for almost six years.  Our four kids are like brother and sisters to each other, and we really do feel like we are family.  Of course we’ve spent countless hours together with “Uncle Mike” as well.  We have experienced a lot together, both joyful and sorrowful, and "the team" has been a blessing every step of the way.

The Bakers were introduced to Tanna through the Christians in Etas Village here on Efate, most of whom are originally from that island.  Once these locals had learned and obeyed the truth, they were eager to have that same truth taught to their loved ones.  After making several trips to Tanna, the Bakers decided that they would dedicate at least a year to helping these people learn about Jesus by teaching the Bible.  They have rented a small, one-room, cement block house in Lorakau Village, which is the village where the church was started in Tanna during an April 2010 campaign.  Aaron’s main focus will be on training the Christian men, that they may teach others also (a la 2 Timothy 2:2).

Once he returns from his time of furlough in the States, Mike will be preparing to move to the island of Espiritu Santo.  We have hundreds of Bible correspondence course students there, which he will be following up on.  He will also take advantage of his proximity to Ambae Island, where there are two congregations meeting, by making several trips in to assist these brethren.

As of now, we plan to all be together in Vila in April, at which time we will celebrate the completion of six years on the field.  We will again gather in Vila next December, which looks like it will be the last time for us to be together in Vanuatu as missionaries. 

As a reminder, our family was delayed a week by Cyclone Vania.  Lord willing, I will be heading to Malekula on February 3, and the rest of the family will follow a week later, on February 10.  Please keep our entire team in your prayers as we transition into this new phase of our work, especially as we do so separately.  Tank yu tumas! (Thank you very much!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Plan your work, work your plan

As I type this post on January 18, I am reminded that we had hoped we would already be on the field in Malekula by this time.  We had planned to send our final shipment of “stuff” in December, but the ship arrived at the wharf late and in order to make up time did not allow any cargo onboard.  The next voyage was scheduled for January 27, and so we established that as our new departure date.  However, last week’s category 1 cyclone (our first in almost 6 years of living in Vanuatu) caused the ship to postpone its trip to Malekula by a week.  So, our new departure date is February 3.  Actually, I will travel alone on the 3rd and the rest of the family will follow on the 10th (hopefully the extra week will allow me to put the finishing touches on our house, or at least to get it in a livable condition!).

We are excitedly anxious about starting this new phase in our work, and the delays are somewhat difficult to deal with.  But, if there’s one thing we’ve learned since arriving in Vanuatu, it’s patience.  Too, the extra “down time” has given us a chance to think, dream and plan more.  Here are a few of our thoughts regarding our upcoming work in Malekula, Lord willing:

  • We are planning to see this new work through, and anticipate it taking three years to the get church firmly established.  We plan to split our time between Malekula and Vila in two-month increments, rotating back and forth.  For at least the first year, we will be keeping our house in Vila - it’s the cheapest, most secure, and most familiar option we have for the time being.
  • I plan to spend some time every day learning the local language (the “Big Nambas language”).  The national language of Bislama will easily get me by teaching, preaching and conversing, but the locals speak their language exclusively amongst themselves.  I believe that grasping that language will be a valuable skill to possess.
  • Our first year’s main focus will be evangelism.  We will be living in Tulwei Village (northwest) and will distribute tracts, conduct gospel meetings, and offer personal Bible studies there.  We have one Christian living in Wiaru Village (north central), and her family has invited me to come and teach in that village.  Flexon’s sister lives in Lampupu Village (central) and she and her husband have asked me to come and teach there.  During one of my prior trips I met a man at the airport who “has his own church” and is looking for some direction as he leads those 12-15 souls.  He has completed our Bible correspondence courses (BCC) and subsequently invited me to come and teach his congregation (northeast).  Last but not least, we have approximately 50 BCC students on the island, and I will send out letters to each of them offering to conduct studies in their villages.  I plan to involve the local brethren in as much of these efforts as possible for some on-the-job training - one or two of them are already capable of even teaching some of these lessons.  Someday they will be solely responsible for evangelizing their island.
  • Since the majority of our time will be spent in Tulwei, we want to take an active part in the community.  We will work in the garden with the brethren, harvest cacao and copra during their respective seasons, participate in community projects, and volunteer at the local primary school.  Shawnda also plans to start a “library club” in which she invites mothers and their children to come and listen to a story.
  • In year two (2012) our focus will shift more towards edification.  We will plan to “return and visit the brethren in every [village] in which we proclaimed the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:36).  My goal is to establish a traveling blitz-week Bible school of sorts, where I go in and teach daily on a topic for a week in each location.
  • A lot can happen between now and the third year, but we’ve titled year three as the time to “set in order what remains” (Titus 1:5).  We hope to be in a position where we can focus on equipping the brethren to take the baton and run.  We will, in all likelihood, be returning the States the first part of 2014.  It is our great desire and prayer that we will have established several faithful congregations on the island by that time.  Furthermore, we hope and pray that God will bless us with a situation going forward (in the States) that will allow us to return to Vanuatu once a year for the foreseeable future.
  • Though we will certainly stay busy with all of this and the usual family obligations (including homeschooling), village life is still very slow and by definition includes a significant amount of down time.  The culture is such that accomplishing one thing per day qualifies as “ busy.”  I look forward to reading a lot, teaching myself to play the guitar, doing some writing, and just enjoying the slower pace of village life as a family.  In fact, each time I am there I think to myself “surely this is the way God intended for us to live.”  
  • During our Vila rotations, I am considering the idea of focusing on one congregation per rotation.  I envision us being a “shot in the arm” for the congregation during that two-month period, with lots of teaching, evangelism, visiting and encouragement.
Please join us in praying that these goals and dreams will come to fruition.  Thanks for reading and we look forward to updating you on the progress.  To God be the glory!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A few fun facts

Malekula Island

  • Malekula is the archipelago's 2nd largest island.  It was named "Mallicolo" by Captain James Cook in 1774, which interestingly means "pain in the rear."  It is uncertain exactly what characteristic earned it such a title, but some have postulated that it was cannibalism, malaria, fierce tribesmen, or the poison-ivy toilet paper.
  • The island is shaped like a sitting dog.  People in Tulwei village describe their location as being "trot blong dog" - the dog's throat.  If you zoom in close on Google maps (satellite view) to the dog's throat, you will see Brenwe Village marked.  Tulwei Village is slightly southwest of Brenwe, and our house is just south of the rather obvious "clear spot" on the road (the spot is the primary school).  The Google satellite photo is quite out of date, well over two years old (thus our house is not visible).
  • There are 28 different languages spoken in Malekula alone, the most diverse island in Vanuatu.  A few examples of the Big Nambas language (spoken where we will live) are: white man - terel; grandma - abu dabet; good night - pas metafaren; that's alright - i pas woki.  One of my goals is to gain a working knowledge of the language, mostly so I can understand what in the world people are saying all the time!  Bislama is very effective in teaching the gospel throughout Malekula.  The New Testament was translated into the Big Nambas language in 1986, and is called "Turanien M'Dah".
  • There is a well-known "custom story" in Malekula of a man named Ambat, who had two white children - they disobeyed him by eating an apple and were turned black as punishment.  I wish I knew just how old this story was, as it most likely predates the introduction of the Bible by Europeans in the 17th century.  How cool is that!
  • There are two main cultural groups in Malekula - the Big Nambas and the Small Nambas.  Kudos to those of you who can figure out what a nambas is (stating it would have made this post PG-13)!  Thankfully, both tribes now wear more "European" style clothes.  Otherwise, becoming "all things to all men" would have been a bit embarrassing!
  • Eerily, the last victim of cannibalism was cooked in a ground oven in 1969, in the Big Nambas area (which is where we’ll live!).  The grandfather of some of the local Christians practiced this unsavory diet.  I always like to give the Malekulans a hard time around meal time - "you're not going to eat me, are you?!?"
  • Some say the Big Nambas were the last group in all of Vanuatu to accept missionary teaching (or any other European influence).  Interesting that members of this tribe were the first on the island to accept and obey the gospel (in October 2009).
  • Much of Malekula’s cacao has been certified as organic.  A Swis chocolatier has negotiated an exclusive contract with Tulwei and the surrounding villages, as organic cacao’s demand is increasing while its worldwide supply is decreasing.  He has a ship that comes to Vanuatu three times per year to pick up their beans (the lengthy trip shows just how valuable the cacao really is).  I look forward to working with the local brethren during the harvest season in March and April, as the process is fascinating.  You would never guess that chocolate comes from this yellow fruit.
  • Malekula waters “teem with sharks” and there have been several fatalities.  The island also has a significant population of Pacific boas.  Yikes!
  • Traditionally, Malekulans believe that you can die from one of only two possible causes - old age or sorcery.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It all started when...

Eric, Flexon and Fiona in Tulwei Village - June 2009

It’s difficult to determine a starting point when talking about the providence of God, especially in regard to our work in Malekula as we feel as though God has been working this out since we were born (and beyond).  But, so that this blog entry isn’t 20 pages long, let’s start back in April 2005 when our team first arrived in Vanuatu on a mission to preach the gospel to this island nation.

We needed a place to stay for a couple of weeks while we secured housing.  We had a positive experience with the Coral Motel back in 2004, and since they had a house that we could all stay in for a reasonable rate, we took it.  It “just so happened” that the owner of the motel was selling his truck, and we were in need of some transportation.  We purchased that truck, knowing that the bed was in severe need of repair.  A few days later, as I was on my way to get some quotations for the work, I drove past a local Christian, Eddie (who lives in Eton but was in town for the day).  I pulled over and told him what I was looking for.  He insisted that we head straight for Ken Garage, as he knew Ken well and trusted his work.  Their estimate was reasonable, and so they began working right away.  When I went back a few days later to see how things were going, I visited for several minutes with the mechanic, Flexon.  He inquired as to what I was doing in Vanuatu, and before I left I had set up a Bible study with him and one of his co-workers.  A few weeks later Flexon was baptized into Christ, and a few months later he met and married Fiona.  Fiona was then baptized into Christ in August 2005, after studies with Flexon, Shawnda, and myself.  It was then that Flexon started asking me to accompany him to his home island of Malekula to teach his family the gospel.

For various reasons, we were not able to make that trip until June 2009, when Flexon, Fiona and I first traveled to Tulwei Village in NW Malekula.  We taught every night for a week, but did not have any conversions that trip.  Flexon and I returned in October, at which time his brother, Alsen, was baptized into Christ.  Before hearing and obeying the truth, Alsen was the youth leader for the Presbyterian Church in the village.  He and I both faced a lot of grief over his departure.

In subsequent trips, 8 more were baptized in Tulwei Village, as was Alsen’s niece in Wiaru Village (a two hour walk).   We have many more interested in Tulwei and have received invitations to come and teach in three other villages.  Our team has also made contact with 48 others through our Bible correspondence courses.

If you want to learn more about our work in Malekula up to this point, you can read our family’s e-Scrapbook from June 2009, October 2009, December 2009, March 2010, as well as my Malekula journals at