Monday, May 30, 2011

Baker's visit [Shawnda]

It was so uplifting and refreshing to have our co-workers, the Bakers, with us last weekend. Friday morning we all woke up early in order to catch a truck to town. The kids were super excited to see the Bakers and so were Eric and I! We knew that the trucks would be full today (since several of the village trucks are "out of commission"). So, we were at the road at about 10 till 6. A truck pulled up at 6 but was headed the other direction to another village (to drop something off). We went ahead and jumped on knowing that it would probably already be full by the time it got back to where we were. And sure enough, we left our house at 6, drove 15 minutes to the other village, dropped off and picked up and by the time we got back to where the truck had picked us up it was already 7:30 and the truck was full to overflowing.

I should also mention that the rest of our trip to town was not uneventful! On the way to town from our village, you have to cross two rivers. The first is right by our village (where we walk to swim sometimes) and is almost always passable...but the second is quite a ways further towards town. The second river is fed by both fresh water and the ocean. And right now the tide is in from about 6 till 9 in the morning - making the river impassable during that time. So when we arrived at the 2nd river, there were three trucks already lined up waiting their turn to cross once the tide went out. It was now about 8:30 and the Bakers were set to arrive at 9:30. We felt sure we wouldn't get there in time. But we knew they would be alright - they are used to Vanuatu travel! Thankfully since the truck we were on is set high up from the ground, we were able to get across the river between tides at about 9. We ended up getting to town just in time to pick them up. The kids were so excited to see each other! They were all 4 bouncing off the walls. As we walked through town we looked like a little parade and I told Cindy, "Sure is too bad that we are so inconspicuous...we just blend right in, don't we?!" Hahaha! :o) We did our shopping & ate lunch in a food stall at the market (the kids were way too wired to be cooped up in a tiny little room to eat...but they did it and we all endured the endless chatter). Then we chartered a truck back to our little village. They said their roads in Tanna are a lot worse, but not as long. And since they have their own truck in Tanna, they weren't used to the jostling they got in the back of the truck on the way to our house. Poor Cindy got a bruise on her back from leaning against the side of the truck. I've been the same exact bruising when we arrived. When we got home, we made spaghetti for dinner, got all of the beds blown up and situated and we all went to bed pretty early that evening. It had been an exciting day.

Since the men of the congregation had already decided that on Saturday they would go get sand at the beach for making the concrete for the church building, we all decided to walk down there with them so the kids could go swimming while the men worked. It worked out great. The kids loved playing in the ocean, Cindy and I got to visit and watch the kids, and the men were busy filling up bags with sand. We were there for a couple of hours and then walked back home. It was a lovely morning. Since we were asked to come make laplap with Leisande on Saturday afternoon, we decided to go ahead and make fajitas for lunch. They were delish and we all enjoyed the treat. Once lunch was cleaned up and the kids were down for naps, Cindy and I headed to Leisande's to start making laplap. Malekula has a special kind of laplap that only they make (sorsor) and it's the best kind if you ask me (or most people for that matter) and Cindy wanted to learn how to make it. So we made it (with Leisande's assistance) from start to finish. I've made/assisted with many a laplap in my day, but this was the first time I've really, really paid attention to how everything was done. I knew Cindy wanted to learn how to make it so she could teach the ladies in Tanna - they really want to learn. So, we paid really close attention since she would have to be the expert next time she made it! :o) Once we got the laplap "in the oven," we helped Leisande weave a coconut leaf mat (not that she needed our help - but she taught us how to do it). It was fun. When we got home, the kids were up from their naps and some neighbors came over, so we just sat in the yard and visited and watched the kids play. Then that evening we went and helped Leisande get the laplap out of the "oven" and brought it up to our house for all of us to eat (they don't have a good place for all of us to sit and eat together). So we spread out some mats on the floor of the verandah and the Bakers, Brandells and Jean Claude’s family all gathered around the laplap and dug in. After we'd all finished, we got the Bislama praise chorus books out and sang for about half an hour. It was a lovely end to the day.

Sunday was busy, busy, busy (as Sundays tend to be). It was a good busy though. We worshipped in the morning, had a fellowship meal together after worship, & came home for a few hours to rest.  Cindy and I stayed with Melia and Lexi while they slept and Eric and Aaron took Kaela and Titus (and a few other boys who live close by) to the river for a swim. When they got home we made dinner, ate and then headed back to sing and have Bible study. It was a great day.

Oh, and right after worship on Sunday morning Lexi got a sliver of wood in her foot. She was crying and begging me to get it out.  So one of the ladies jumped up and grabbed a leaf that’s “milk” is supposed to make the splinter come out on its own without having to dig it out. When she brought it back over to Lexi and a big group of kids gathered around. Eric and I held Lexi still so Stellan could administer the “treatment.” After several failed attempts (because of Lexi moving too much and making the “milk” run off), we finally got one to work. It didn’t come out right away, but by the time she’d had a nap and was getting ready for afternoon Bible study, it was nowhere to be seen! That local medicine is good stuff! :o)

We decided that since the Bakers are used to Vanuatu travel and speak the language that we didn’t need to accompany them on the truck back to town. So, early Monday morning, the Bakers woke up, trudged out to the road, and jumped on the doctor's truck. Since he HAS to be in town every day to work, we knew he'd leave in plenty of time to "beat the tide" at the river so-to-speak. :o) They got off before the sun even came up (about 5 or 5:30) and made it to town with plenty of time to spare.

It was such a blessing to have them here. We were so excited for them to see where we live, meet the Christians here, and just be together for the weekend.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Shawnda's trip to the garden

So a few days into our stay I realized that we were going to be eating rice and meat again for dinner (because we hadn’t been here long enough to acquire any produce yet), so I went and asked Leisande if they had any root crops that I could have one of (for a little variety). She was so apologetic b/c they only had yams. I was like, "That's great. Yams are great." (To me, root crops are root crops...I don’t care if it’s taro, manioc, kumala or’s starch and I just treat ‘em all like potatoes anyway.) I told Leisande that I felt bad that the family was always sharing things from their gardens with us and we weren't helping them in their gardens. She said, "Okay, you can go with me tomorrow and we'll work and you can bring some things home for your family too." :o) Yippeee...I'd never been to the garden before!

So Saturday morning we all walked down the "big" road (the coral road that runs through the village). Titus, Lexi and Eric walked with us till the kids got tired then turned around and came back to the house. (Eric knew he'd have the kids all morning, I just suggested they walk with us for a while to help the kids stay busy this morning. Oh and Titus rode his bike, not walked. He had a ball. So, about 30 minutes or so from the house we (Leisande, her sons and I) turned off the main road onto a little tiny pathway (if you can call it that). We walked for another 15 minutes or so and we got to their "old" garden - last year’s that still has some banana trees that are good. Leisande cut a few banana stalks down (by cutting the whole tree down - you know banana trees only produce one stalk of bananas in their life? But if you cut it down another grows in its place). Oh, oh, oh and when she was looking at another stalk that she thought was ready, she spotted a snake coiled up on the stalk of bananas. Thankfully it was way up high so it couldn't "get us" - but it was a little intimidating none-the-less! And it was a pacific boa (the only kind that lives here) - so not poisonous. And of course, “the crazy white woman” whips out her camera for a picture of the snake! Ha. Then we walked another 10 minutes to their garden for this year where we dug up some yams, planted some taro in it's place (they are very good about crop rotation), planted some pineapples, dug up some manioc, pulled weeds, and a few more things. It was all very interesting and very hard work. The gardening itself was actually quite was the long walk there and the long walk back carrying the produce that did me in! Needless to say by the time we got home my shoulders were screaming (I had carried a bag of yams and manioc on a branch over my shoulder all the way back and boy was there a knot in my shoulder) AND I was SOOOOOO hungry! But, I really did enjoy working in the garden alongside Leisande and her boys. And even though I’d be willing to if I needed to, I sure am glad that my family doesn’t rely on me doing that almost daily in order to have food on the table. I am so appreciative and grateful that there are so many back in the States supporting the work here (and allowing me to buy meat and other things when we go into town)...and I’m so thankful for the lovely families here who share of their garden’s produce!!!
snake in the banana tree

Friday Bible study

In addition to Sunday and Wednesday night Bible classes (focused on adults), we also started a Bible study on Friday afternoons for the youth (ages 11-19).

We’ve had two sessions so far, and they’ve both been quite successful.  We had 8 people the first Friday, and 9 the second.  Two of the youth, who live in Tulwei Village but were in their home village because of the two-week school break, even made a two-hour hike (one-way) just to attend our second meeting!

My main goal for the meetings is to firmly ground these young people in the word of God, at a time where their brains are ripe for learning.  I also hope to instill a biblical morality in them as they reach an age in which most locals begin experimenting with unrighteous practices.  Of course, ultimately we hope these young people will decide to be joined to Christ and become faithful servants of His, ensuring a bright future for the church in Malekula.

The format for our time together includes, lunch, singing (American “devo songs” translated into Bislama by our very own Shawnda Brandell), study (usually about an hour), and then a game or two.  We had a water balloon toss [photo] the first Friday, which was especially fun because none of them had ever seen water balloons before.  The following week we played some games that encourage memorization, coordination, and fast thinking.  All said, we spend about 3 hours together.  Such is doable because school is only in session until lunch on Fridays.

Our first study was an overview of the Bible, considering in some detail the 11 “chapters” of Bible history, from Genesis to Revelation.  The following week we considered a brief synopsis of each of the 39 Old Testament books.  I lecture and write on a small white board, and the students diligently take notes.  It is encouraging when, following the lesson, I ask questions to review the study and see that they are in deed learning.  We’ve also been working on memorizing the books of the Old and New Testaments.

None of these youth have yet obeyed the gospel (and admittedly, some have most likely not even reached an age of accountability yet), but we hope that this biblical foundation will facilitate their obedience to the gospel when they are ready to dedicate their lives to our Lord.  Please be praying for the success of these weekly studies.  Upcoming topics will include an overview of the 27 New Testament books, a study of the Old Covenant, and a study of the New Covenant.

Can you hear me now?

Believe it or not, we now have cell phone reception at our house in Malekula!  A new phone company entered the Vanuatu market a few years back, and pledged to ultimately provide coverage to the entire country.  Northwest Malekula was one of the last areas to receive a tower (currently only about 10% of the population does not have direct access), but now that we have we are all very excited.  News of an impending cyclone will now reach us in plenty of time, and we’ll be able to stay in better contact with friends in Port Vila, Tanna and Santo.  Too, we can now even receive phone calls from from the US while sitting on our front porch in the middle of a coconut plantation. Dial 011-678-569-1097.  Long distance charges apply!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mission: Veranda - Complete

We were able to complete the foundation, posts and 4/5 of the thatch roof of our veranda before we departed Malekula in March.  The local brethren finished the thatch and installed woven bamboo for the walls.  We have really enjoyed having the outside living space, as it is much cooler with the combination of breeze and shade.  It also serves as the location for our weekly youth Bible study.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Shawnda and Renzo pose with the birthday cakes

Mixing and pouring the concrete memorial

I have often thought to myself how similar Vanuatu (and most other developing countries) must be to the 1st-century world.  Living here for six years has opened my eyes to so many peculiars of the New Testament - the marketplace, fishing, the status of dogs, self-sustenance, family loyalty, etc.  A value that has really become clear since living in the village is the sense of community.

For example, during our first week back in Malekula, “our family” (the local one that has basically adopted us as their own) had two major events take place.  Interestingly, they both took place on the same day.  First, about 20 men gathered at our house to pour a concrete memorial where Flexon and Alsen’s dad is buried (yes, about 15 feet from our house).  Funerals and weddings are definitely community events, as there are no funeral homes or wedding planners on which to rely.  Though the patriarch of the family died back in 2009, friends and family were still eager to assist with the last portion of the burial customs.  I appreciated the opportunity to assist them.  Even though I was never able to meet the deceased, I have come to love his children as if they were my own brothers.  Following the work, as is customary, a meal was shared to express thanks to all who assisted.

The day also happened to be Lorenzo’s first birthday (Flexon’s son).  Ni-vans traditionally only celebrate a person’s first birthday, so they tend to go all out.  That is the primary reason Flexon and his family were in the village for a few weeks (you will recall that they live in Vila).  An interesting tradition for birthdays in our area is a water fight.  While originally it just meant dousing the honored guests’ brothers and sisters on the special day, in turned in to an all out water war.  Shawnda and I enjoyed taking part, since we are “a mommy and daddy of Renzo’s,” but Titus and Lexi were a little freaked out by all the yelling and running.  There were probably 100 people there for the celebration.  Fiona asked Shawnda to make a cake, which was a big hit.

It was interesting that these two events - one somber and one exciting - occurred on the same day, but since the interested parties were basically the same for both, it just made sense to complete them both then.  It’s so neat to see how the community cares for each other.  Previous to this and similar experiences, I had found it hard to understand how the Christians were so charitable following Pentecost (Acts 2-6), but now it makes perfect sense. 

In that vein, let me encourage you to visit a developing country if ever the opportunity presents itself.  It will change how you look at the world, and it will likely even assist you  in understanding more about the cultures, customs, and lifestyles of those we read about in our study of the Bible.