Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Few Reflections

We’ve now safely arrived back “home” in Vila after our first (almost) two-month stint in Malekula.  Surprisingly, we were all a bit reluctant about returning to the relative hustle and bustle of “the big city,” as we had really become attached to our new life in the village.  But, after a couple of days with modern conveniences such as running water, refrigeration, washing machine, and a wide selection of goods at the store, we’ve decided that it is indeed nice to be back in Vila for awhile. 

Of course, the highlight so far was getting to worship with our brethren on Sunday after not seeing them for so long.  It is comforting to see how well the church is Vila is getting along without us.  It’s hard to put into words, but we can just sense that they’ve really begun to take ownership of their congregation.  They are cutting the grass and cleaning the building, they are locking and unlocking the doors on Sunday morning, they are calling for meetings, they are planning for Pikinini Baebol Klab, they are making the announcements, they are handling challenges as they arise.  It’s great that we are still here to assist, but not being relied on much at all.

As I look back at our time in Malekula, I am almost in awe of the relationships we’ve established - with both Christians and non-Christians.  It’s amazing how fast you can get to know someone in such a short time because of the close-knit community atmosphere.  We have purposely paced ourselves in this new work, trying our best to let the locals know how much we care before expecting them to care how much we know.  The village life fits our family surprisingly well, and we hope that God will be able to use us mightily there over the next few years. 

We will be heading back to Malekula in May, and will be starting several new works then.  We will let you know more about those plans in the coming weeks.  Please continue to pray for our family, our team, and our work!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy Birthday, dear Lexi-girl

We celebrated Alexis’ birthday island style on the 9th.  She got one present (a small kitchen set - we knew it was made in China because it was a cooktop, pots and pans and the only food item that was included was a lemon - not exactly something you can cook) and a chocolate cake (made on the stove-top, in the dutch oven).  We sang happy birthday at least 20 times during the day, and planned to take some cake to our prayer meeting that evening, but it was canceled due to a torrential downpour.  We’ll have a friend’s party once we get back to Vila.  Interestingly, as we have it scheduled now, all four of us will celebrate birthdays in Malekula this year.


A funny thing happened the other day.  I stepped into our “local toilet” (small house over a big hole in the ground) and was quite surprised to see a coconut sitting there (no, it wasn’t “using” the toilet - just sitting there).  I looked up and noticed a large slit in our black plastic roof (we will eventually put a thatch roof on, but since I don’t know how to weave it, I am at the mercy of the local Christians - maybe next week?).  Then I got to thinking: what if I had been “squatting” at the time of entry?!?

I brought the coconut in question over to Shawnda and asked her to guess where I found it.  When I told her the story, she started laughing and said, mockingly, “Sorry, Shawnda, how did your husband die?” - “Oh, he was in the toilet and a coconut fell on his head.”  We both got a good laugh.  The moral of the story - look out for falling coconuts at all times!

Why coconuts?  Because we live in the middle of a coconut plantation.  Back in the day, Malekula was practically a copra factory, and so the island is literally covered in row after row after row of coconut trees.  We had to cut down several to build our house (“why?” you ask - reread the first paragraph!). 

Coconuts are probably the most used “fruit” anywhere in Vanuatu. There is a use for it in every stage of growth. A green coconut (young, plucked off of the tree) is great for drinking the juice - the flesh is still very soft, but edible. We didn’t even know this stage of growth existed (since our experience with coconuts prior to moving to Vanuatu was buying dried, grated coconut at a grocery store).  The next stage (when the “meat” inside the coconut has hardened), it is split in half and “scraped” out using a round, serrated piece of metal attached to the end of a piece of wood. It’s then mixed with water and squeezed (coconut milk) over any kind of local food...e.g. laplap, kumala, simboro, manioc, taro, etc. Once a coconut has fallen off of the tree and lain on the ground for a while, it begins to sprout a new tree. The “seed” inside the coconut is considered a delicacy among locals (think coconut flavored angel food cake - consistency and taste). But, the most profitable use for coconuts is in the making of copra.

Copra is the dried meat of a ripened coconut.  Though the process is quite labor-intensive, it is once again also quite profitable.  Once the dry coconuts fall from the trees, they are gathered up by hand, split in half with an axe, the meat is removed with a small piece of iron, the pieces are hauled to a dryer (small hut with a raised floor - the coconut is spread out on the floor and a large fire is made underneath - it has to be stirred over 2-3 days until fully dried out).  Once dry, the copra is rammed into large burlap sacks and hauled to the buyer.  The copra is then exported and is ultimately used to make soaps, oils, lotions, etc. overseas.  Less than a year ago (if memory serves me) a ton of copra would win you 30,000 vatu (approximately US$300).  However, due to a recent rise in demand, the price is now flirting with 70,000 per ton (approximately US$50 per bag).  As you can imagine, the copra business is booming again in Malekula, because that is big money around here. 

If one person or a husband/wife team were to try and complete a round of copra, it would take them weeks.  Instead, they have formed co-ops in which 10-12 people work together on each of their small plantations until they’ve harvested all their copra.  The plantation owner has to provide lunch, but otherwise has no expense for the labor.  They usually meet once or twice a week.  With the co-op system, splitting/shelling out takes 1-2 days and drying takes 2-3 days.  The average person ends up with 4-8 bags of copra at the end of the process, thus 20,000-40,000 vatu.  Copra is the main source of income for the locals on the island.  They use their money to buy things like rice, sugar, tea, cement, mobile phone credit, clothing, and batteries.

It will soon be cacao season (from which chocolate is made), which I am looking forward to experiencing.  I will let you know what I learn.

Man Bush

In Bislama, “man-bush” is slang for someone who is out of their element and thus doesn’t know what they’re doing.  While it derives from someone who was raised “in the bush” not knowing anything about the modernities of city-life, it applies equally as well to this city boy living in the bush!

On Saturday, we ran out of gas for our stove.  The stores that sell refills are in town, and wouldn’t be open until Monday anyway, so cooking on the open fire was our only option.  Even during my limited camping experiences, someone else started the fire and cooked, so all I had going for me was a little common sense and few times of witnessing locals start fires (though I must admit I hadn’t really ever paid attention to how they did it). 

Wood is, of course, plentiful, so I gathered up some pieces that were dried out, as well as a few dead coconut branches (I knew those were perfect fire starters).  I got two cinder blocks and four pieces of re-bar to make a grill and we were ready to go.  Though it probably would have been beneficial, my pride was glad there were no locals around to help - my “man-bushness” would have been embarrassing.  It took me about 20 minutes to figure out how to actually get the fire started for lunch, but once we got it going we fared quite nicely.  And stir-fry on the open fire tastes great!

Alsen came by later that evening, saw the ashes and inquired.  I told him the story and he got a big smile on his face - “was it hard for you?” he asked.  Haha, I just told him that I was man-bush and he laughed.  I must admit that once I had a few episodes under my belt, I started to enjoy it, and by Sunday night I was pretty efficient.  The major downside was that the smell of smoke was everywhere, not to mention how time consuming cooking became.  We quickly determined that Monday would be our go-to-town day that week, so that we could replace our gas bottle.  But, it was a true village experience, and next time we’ll be more prepared.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Introducing Eric and Shawnda...

...of the ni-Vanuatu variety!  We were honored that two Christian families here in Malekula decided to name their newborn children after us “so that we will never forget you and the message you brought to us.”  Shawnda was born in January to Alsen and Annette, and Eric was born to Williamson and Massi in February.  We pray that they will grow up to be faithful servants of Christ.

Introduction to Rano Village [3.2.11]

We were invited to Rano Village by Bernard and his family.  When I announced our family’s intention of traveling there after worship one day, we learned that one of the Christians here in Tulwei (Stellen) is married to Bernard’s younger brother.  She and her brother (another Christian in Tulwei, Williamson) both agreed to accompany us on the trip, as they knew the lay of the land and would be able to provide support in various ways.

Williamson’s family (he was converted in early 2010, and subsequently taught and converted his wife, sister, and mother) invited us over for dinner on Sunday night before we left on Monday morning.  We had “Malekula-style” laplap, which means they cook a chicken in the middle of the laplap.  Then, the juices are mixed with coconut milk and used as a soup in which to dip each bite of laplap - definitely THE BEST way to eat laplap, as it makes every bite taste like chicken.  We also enjoyed the time of fellowship with this good family.

We woke up early Monday morning, got our things together, and walked out to the road to catch a truck to Lakatoro (the hub of the north part of the island).  Our family ended up taking a different transport than Williamson and Stellen, but we all met back up in Lakatoro.  This trip was a new record for how many people you can fit in the back of a truck - we were squished in there like sardines.  It wasn’t comfortable, but being so crammed in meant that we weren’t quite as fearful of falling out as we normally are - we couldn’t move even if we wanted to!

I quickly went and uploaded/downloaded emails at the internet cafe, bought some rice and sugar to take to Bernard’s family, and made it back to the market just in time to catch the truck Stellen had arranged to take us to Rano.  Thankfully, I had met a couple the week before from New Zealand who are in Malekula as volunteers for two years (similar to US Peace Corps) - they live in Lakatoro and agreed to hold on to our ice chest for a few days so we didn’t have to lug it to the village and back.  Tulwei Village is on the northwest side of Malekula, and Rano is on the northeast.  The distance from Lakatoro is about the same, but the road to Rano is much better because there is not as much of an increase in elevation that way. 

I had arranged with Bernard to call him on Sunday afternoon (he has cellular reception throughout his village, but we have to walk to a specific location to get a signal) to talk logistics.  I tried to call him several times on Sunday, but never could get ahold of him.  I tried again on Monday morning, but still no luck.  I thought he might meet us in Lakatoro, but he wasn’t there either.  I was a bit concerned, but figured there was probably a logical explanation as this is Vanuatu after all!  Since we had people with us who could get us to the village, it really wasn’t that big of a deal - I just hoped there wasn’t a problem with us coming.  Much to my delight, Bernard was standing at the road as we pulled into the village.  He was actually planning to get on the truck and head to Lakatoro to meet us, but we beat him to it.  Rano is right on the coastline, and unlike our coast on the west side, they have sandy beaches - it was quite beautiful.  The village is actually split into two parts - half on the mainland and half on an island just off the coast. 

We were quickly introduced to the family and taken on a short tour of the village.  Rano reminded me a lot of Marou Village on Emao Island - the houses were practically built on top of each other, with some houses having only a couple of feet between them.  Bernard serves as the village “pastor” with four or five denominations all meeting together every Sunday.  Interestingly the locals claim strong ties to their various denominations, but really have no distinctions other than that, as they all worship together with Bernard as their sole leader.  Bernard was raised in the United Pentecostal Church, so that is the doctrinal leaning of the group.  However, he named the church “House of Refuge Incorporation.”  The church building (really just a tarp held up by bamboo poles) is right next to his house.

Bernard, Willamson and I walked down to the ocean, as it was at least 15 degrees cooler down there with the breeze.  We talked for about an hour about spiritual things, mostly me trying to get a handle on what Bernard believes, practices and teaches.  It was obvious that he is a very religious person, and I really do believe that he wants to know the truth and do what’s right.  Unfortunately, he has been “brain-washed” (his own words) by many different groups, and has developed quite a hodgepodge of strange (in the biblical sense) beliefs.  My Personal Evangelism teacher at Bear Valley used to tell us that the hardest person to convert to the truth is someone who really has no standard, and I quickly realized that this might be more difficult than I had hoped (Bernard is an “anything goes” type of person).  Nonetheless, God had presented this open door and I was going to do all that I could to present the truth in the clearest of terms. 

Over the next day and a half Bernard and I visited and studied pretty much non-stop.  He had previously completed our series of Bible correspondence courses, so my first order of business was to look over them and see where we were.  From his courses we derived our two main topics of discussion: instrumental music in worship and the Godhead.  We started with the fact that Jesus established one church, and that we must strive to follow the New Testament pattern for that church.  I explained to him the principle of biblical authority, and the importance of speaking where the Bible speaks and remaining silent where the Bible is silent.  From there we discussed God’s desire for true worshipers, those who worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24), and noted the “truth” regarding worship in the New Testament never once included the addition of mechanical instruments.  I fielded a few of his arguments (the use of instruments under the Old Covenant, “but the people like it”, etc.), and he seemed to grasp the concept quite quickly.  Then a look of concern came over him, as he realized what the application was - he was going to have to change his practice if he was going to follow God’s plan for His church.  I really appreciated his honesty with the text, and hope that he will decide to do things God’s way.

From there we moved on to the core doctrine of the United Pentecostal Church - “oneness theology.”  They believe that Jesus alone is God; that He functions as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit simultaneously.  They equate the doctrine of the Trinity with polytheism.  Overcoming this false doctrine proved to be a far more difficult task.  We read verse after verse after verse showing the distinct persons of the Godhead, and I think that after a while he really began to understand the truth.  Teaching three persons and one God is a difficult task, especially in Bislama.

Unfortunately, our short time together was cut even shorter when the Minister of Health,  who is from that village, asked Bernard to travel to another village for some official business that evening.  He was extremely apologetic, and was willing to tell the minister no, but I told him that I was pleased with all that we had accomplished on this trip and that he could go ahead and fulfill his duties, as we were going to leave early the next morning anyway.  We arranged for me to come back and teach publicly, which I tentatively plan to do the third week of March.

I am now working on a study of the Godhead that I hope to pass on to Bernard during our trip to town next week.  The door to this village is definitely open for the truth, but I also realize that the road ahead is a rather long one (we haven’t even broached the subject of modern-day miracles yet).  Please be praying for soft hearts and open minds in Rano Village!  To God be the glory...