Friday, October 21, 2011

Interim Report

It’s a bit amusing that most people in Malekula refer to our off-months (in Vila) as a “spell” (i.e. rest, vacation), because these months tend to be even more busy than our on-sight months (in Malekula).

On our way back to Vila earlier this month, we scheduled a three day stopover in Santo to visit Mike.  After being together for almost 10 years (2 years at Bear Valley, 1 year of raising support stateside, and 6+ years in Vanuatu), we really appreciate opportunities to spend time with our teammates.  Mike took us to meet the “Shark Bay” Christians, who live on a plantation on the east side of the island.  We had heard many things about these four brethren (two couples - Toara and Hannah in their 30s and Seule and Miriam in their 60s), but had not had the opportunity to meet them.  It was a pleasure indeed!  It’s always neat to walk back into the bush and find people with whom we share our faith.  We visited, ate, and sang hymns together.  Hopefully our visit was as encouraging to them as it was to us.

Back in town, we were able to visit with Christians we’ve known for several years.  Meriam stopped by with her youngest daughter.  She and her husband were converted back in the early 90s while living in Ambae.  They are currently stationed in Santo where her husband teaches in a technical college.  I was also happy to get reacquainted with Jessie, who is actually the first ni-Vanuatu I ever studied with and baptized (way back in 2003 during our first visit to the country).  He is worshiping and studying with Mike, and is trying to encourage his wife to become a part of the Lord’s church.

I also took advantage of Mike’s internet connection to begin booking tickets for our furlough trip back to the States early next year, which is always exciting (and a bit overwhelming - price-wise and scheduling-wise).  We then returned to Vila for a week.  Our major focus while in Vila this month will be to pack up our house.  We have to be out of our Vila house by December 31, which sounds like a long way off, but since we’ll be in Malekula most of that time, we have lots to do.  This is compounded by the fact that we are having a massive garage sale the Friday after we return from Malekula on Monday (in December).  We really need to have everything ready for that by the time we leave Vila on November 1, and since we are basically selling everything that won’t fit in our suitcase or Malekula house, it’s a big undertaking!  It’s amazing how much “stuff” you accumulate in 6 years. 

We worshiped with the brethren in Vila that Sunday, and were encouraged by their continued spiritual growth and maturity.  They really are trying their best and have come such a long way in a relatively short period of time.  We also enjoyed a family pizza and movie night on Friday, a friend’s 4th birthday party, and hosting some friends from Australia for dinner.

Once our week in Vila was complete, we boarded a plane for Tanna Island.  Though our departure was delayed by three hours (the “large” plane we were scheduled to fly on was out of commission, which meant the airline had to make four trips on the small plane - since we weren’t tourists, we weren’t high-priority and were thus placed on the third flight out), the Bakers were waiting excitedly for us at the airport.  We all jumped in the truck and headed to their place up the mountain.  We all had fun catching up and seeing where the Bakers have been living and serving this year.  The next morning, Aaron, Kaela, Titus and I caught a truck to the south part of the island (1.5hrs), so that I could meet some Christians that were baptized this past August.  The Bakers will be moving back to the States early next year, and Aaron wanted to make sure that I knew these brethren and how to find them.  It was again very refreshing to meet these new members of my Christian family.  Tom’s wife, Margaret, was selling produce at the market back in April 2009, when Aaron and Mike Green preached there.  She brought that message back to her husband, who was a disgruntled “pastor” of a local religious group.  He was interested and contacted Aaron.  When Aaron moved to Tanna, he and Tom began studying together every Friday afternoon in Lenakel - a four hour walk one way for Tom!  The Baker family and a large group from Etas Village went to Yatukun (Tom’s village) in August, at which time he, his wife, and his sister-in-law (Meriam) were baptized.  Tom’s older brother (Meriam’s husband, Antoine) and parents are also very close to obeying the gospel, and attend worship each Sunday with this young Yatukun congregation.  Tom is 32 years old and very sharp.  I look forward to all that the Lord will be able to accomplish through him in south Tanna.

We were only able to spend one night in Yatukun, but we talked and studied with Tom and Antoine for the entire time - definitely the longest Bible study I have ever been involved in!  Aaron will visit them again in November and December, and then I will begin visiting them in mid-2012. 

Our team of four returned to Lorakau Village on Saturday, where we were honored to share in a laplap supper with a Christian family, Harry and Tess (and their six kids).  Harry was the first convert in Tanna back in 2009, and is the chairman of the Rural Training Center where the Bakers live.  Sunday morning was another treat, as we were able to worship with the brethren in Loun Village.  The churches in Lorakau and Loun rotate worshiping in each other’s village every other Sunday.  The 45 minute walk downhill to Loun wasn’t too bad, but the uphill walk back in the afternoon sun meant we were all ready for a Sunday afternoon nap!  I was overwhelmed by the experience of getting reacquainted with Christians I’ve known for years (in Vila, who subsequently moved back to Tanna to help the start the church in their home village), and meeting new Christians.  There are now 12 Christians in Lorakau/Loun, but they enjoy 12-15 visitors (most of them regulars) every Sunday.  Aaron, Cindy and the local Christians are involved in personal Bible studies with most of these, which means the church is on the verge of doubling in size!  One such prospect is the village chief.

Monday was (purposefully) a slow day in which the kids played outside and we adults visited, played cards, and rested.  We made it back to Vila safely on Tuesday, and once again hit the ground running buying supplies for Malekula, packing up the house, and preparing for a week long gospel meeting in Epau Village next week.  I will be teaching five lessons on “The Church of the Master, Jesus Christ.”  That effort will end on Friday, and Lord willing, we depart for Malekula the following Tuesday.  Yeehaw!

Mike and Alexis with the Shark Bay (Santo) Christians

Loun Village (Tanna) church meets here

Tom (Yatukun, South Tanna) has to climb a tree to get cell phone reception

The ground in Tanna has lots of volcanic ash mixed in - a lot like black sand

Alexis and Kaela enjoyed their time together

Shawnda and Cindy washing dishes at the Baker's house

Teaching the Tanna ladies how to make laplap Malekula-style

Aaron, Harry and Eric talking about the church in Lorakau

Reunited and having fun

On the road to Loun for worship Sunday AM

Cindy studies with the youth girls about moral issues every Sunday AM

A Tanna-welcome before worship

Preaching in Loun to a full (overflowing) house

Shaking hands as we depart the assembly

The Loun/Lorakau Christians

Jessie and his family in Santo (he was baptized back in 2003)
Enjoying time with Uncle Mike in the park (Santo)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Gud Nius Miting 2

The Tulwei congregation conducted our second gospel meeting September 22-25, during which we studied “The Truth About Baptism.”  This was chosen because we continue to receive lots of questions and hear lots of misinformation being disseminated on the topic.

On our first night we let the Bible answer the question, “Why study baptism?” and noted that baptism is the point at which one enters into Christ (Rom 6:3), becomes a disciple of Christ (Mat 28:19), is saved by God (Mk 16:16; 1 Pet 3:21), and has his sins removed (Acts 2:38, 22:16).  Though many religious people today want to relegate baptism to position of little to no importance, the Bible is clear in emphasizing its import and essentiality.

Our second study considered how biblical baptism is to be administered, as there are a number of religious groups in the village who choose sprinkling over immersion, in spite of the clear teaching of Scripture.  We looked at the original definition of the word, made note of the logistics of two examples of baptism in the New Testament (Jesus in Matthew 3:16 and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:38), and considered Paul’s use of the word “bury” in illustrating baptism (Romans 6:3-4 and Colossians 2:12).

We studied another point of confusion on our third night, when we looked at the difference between being baptized “in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and being baptized “in the name of Jesus only.”  There is a very vocal group that has made it there identifying mark that one must be immersed in water while the person baptizing them says “I baptize you in the name of Jesus only.”  This teaching, obviously, causes much confusion and contention.  We first noted that there is no magical formula that must be spoken when someone obeys the gospel, and then studied the meaning behind the two expressions (though the text never actually says “Jesus only”), recognizing the fact that both are accurate in describing why we are to be baptized.

During our final study, we answered the question, “Who needs to be baptized?”  We first looked at the biblical evidence, noting that one must hear, believe, repent, and confess Jesus in order to be biblically baptized.  A case in point is found in Acts 19, where about 12 men who had previously been immersed in water in an effort to obey God had in fact done so without the proper teaching/preparation.  They proceeded to be biblically baptized after being taught by Paul, which illustrates the importance of the divine order - teaching/understanding precedes baptism.  We then made application to who is not ready to be baptized (i.e. small children, those who’ve never studied the Bible, those who believe they have already been saved, and those who are baptized to join a church other than the Lord’s).  I closed by emphasizing that, though we had spent four days focusing on baptism, baptism alone is worthless.  It is the last step in the process of becoming a Christian, but it is a meaningless step without taking the preparatory steps the New Testament lays out.

I was very pleased with the way the lessons came across, and the way they were accepted.  Unfortunately, we had only two visitors attend the studies, in spite of our efforts to invite friends and family.  In some ways we weren’t too surprised by the community turnout, because most of the religious leaders in the village have “blocked” their members from studying with us.  We were all a bit disappointed by the lack of visitors, but I tried to emphasize that if all the Christians would gain a good understand of the topics we covered, they would be equipped to answer the questions of their neighbors in a less formal setting should the opportunity arise.

I am convinced that there are more locals seeking the truth, and we will continue to do our best to present it in such a way as to reach them.  Please be praying for open doors in Tulwei Village and throughout Malekula.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Village kindy

Back in May, I wrote the following to my parents in an email...

“I can't decide what to do about helping at the school. I am willing to help and want to, but I don't know about Titus and Lexi going with me. I asked Titus what he thought about us going to school and mommy teaching for a little while a couple of days a week. He said "No, mom. I just want you to be our teacher. Can't you just be our teacher? I don't want to go to school." Then I said, "What if just Lexi and mommy go to the school a couple of times a week and you stay home with Daddy?" He said, "No, I just want us all to stay at home - No one goes to school." I know we can't let him run our lives, but I also don't want to do anything that's going to make him more unsettled or insecure. He never wants anything to do with a large group of kids. And today Lexi said she doesn't want to go to school either. They play "school" all the time, but they want nothing to do with that big group of kids. They love individual kids, but when they see the large group together, they are intimidated (and I can understand that). I guess I can always try again next year.”  

Soon after we moved to the village I found out that the kindy (preschool) had two teachers, 40+ kids, no materials (crayons, paper, books, etc), no visual aids or flash cards, and no toys or games! And on top of that, neither teacher had any training at all, but were simply the only two in the village who were willing to commit to teaching kindy. Now I’ve had lots of teaching experiences, but have never had to come up with an entire curriculum under those circumstances. So I couldn’t even imagine how those two teachers did it! I decided to pray about it and talk to Eric. We agreed that it would be a great way to help out in the community and for the kids to have a little social interaction as well. But, as I wrote above, neither of our kids were interested and I sure wasn’t going to volunteer at the expense of my own children. So, I settled for a different kind of helping. My mom is a retired early elementary teacher (and she was an amazing one) so I always “pick her brain” for ideas for younger kids. I asked the local kindy teachers if they would be interested in having a little training session with her. They were super excited. So, when mom and dad were here in June, she and I went for one day and taught the kids and did a teacher’s workshop with the teachers. It went really well and we all enjoyed it. I still had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to help more, but didn’t have any idea how that would happen. Well...two weeks ago something changed. I wrote this in another email to my parents...

“A BIG day has arrived at the Brandell house...both kids are going to go to Kindy in the village starting next week. We are on school holiday right now and they have both decided that when school starts that they want to go to school. It was totally Lexi's idea. She's SUPER excited about it. We decided that she could go and that she would do just fine. We were a little unsure at first, but finally said “yes.” We decided that it would be a good experience for her. Then earlier this week Eric wanted to get Titus to think about going too. So he brought it up and Titus immediately said "no" but Eric didn't give up. He said, "Why don't you want to go?" and Titus said, "Dad, it's a little bit scary. I think I'll just stay with you and mom at home." Lexi said, "Ty, I'll hold your hand. We can go together! It's not scary." :o) He said, "No thanks, I'll just stay here." And we said, "Whatcha going to do while the kids are at school?" and he said , "Well, what are you guys gonna do?" Eric said, "Well, I'm going to be studying and Mommy will be working around the house." Titus said, "Well, I'll just go play with Wesley" - and we said, "Wesley and all of the other kids will be at school!" So he said again, "But I'm a little bit scared." And Eric said, "Titus when I was your age and I was starting to school I was so scared. But when I got to school, I made a friend who said, "Come with me Eric, you don't have to be scared! We're going to have fun!" Eric said, "Sometimes there are things in life that are a little bit scary, but you just have to try them anyway. Most of the time you'll find out that it wasn't scary at all and actually it turns out to be fun!" So Titus said, "Okay, I'll try it. I'll go to Kindy with Lex." So we told him and Lexi that they both would go every day for a week and try it out. Then we'd talk about it again to see what they thought. They both agreed. And we decided that Eric can take them - they won't be "clingy" to him like they would be to me and I'll pick them up (I plan to go up most days and help for the last hour or so of kindy to that'll work out well). They'll only have about 3 weeks of kindy before we go back to Vila and then we'll come back and have about 4 or 5 more weeks after we get back in November. We'll see how it goes. But if nothing else it's great for them to learn to function in a group setting and follow teacher's instructions (other than mom and dad's).”

Well, I can now report that after two weeks of kindy, we have a success story! It’s the perfect situation for them. The school is literally right across the road from our house, they leave the house a little before 8 each morning and have recess at 9:30. When recess is over (at 10), I come up to the school and do the last hour of kindy with all of the kids (the other teachers are there too). We do activities, sing, play with puzzles, do fine motor activities, and all sorts of other kindy activities. Mom and I were able to make some visual aids, flashcards, etc. when she was here. The other teachers do use them sometimes, but are still a little afraid to use them (it’s new and different). So I choose a couple each day and show them how to use them with the kids. It’s worked great so far.

The best part is that it has been so good for the kids’ social development and language learning.  Being away from mom and dad for 2 hours each morning has been great for their independence. They are making friends and learning how to get along in a group (taking turns, etc). It’s especially good for Titus to play with boys his own age, as most of his friends around the house are much older than he.  They are both communicating well in Bislama. We’ve really seen it flourish since starting kindy. As far as their academics, we still “homeschool” the kids (but at this point with them being 3 and 4 years old, that basically entails reading with them, learning letters, sounds, numbers, writing practice, etc - which are all part of our daily lives anyway). Village schooling is not the answer for the entire duration of our kids’ education, but it is a great fit for now and we are all enjoying it!

Kid Stuff

Titus and Lexi are enjoying all of the fun activities involved in being a kid in the village. The other day we were at the school yard while the youth group was playing a game. Leaves had fallen from the trees and Titus was having fun crunching them. So I thought, “Hey, it’s fall in the States and we used to love raking and jumping in leaves every fall!” So, even though it’s far from fall temperature, we raked up those leaves and Titus and Lexi had a grand ‘ole time jumping in them.

Of course Lexi spends much of each day playing “mommy and baby” - she makes babies out of whatever she has. At home she plays with her stuffed animals, but she’s been known to make babies out of leaves, sticks, and pieces of cloth. She also loves to imitate what she sees local women doing with their babies. She uses a sarong to tie her baby onto her when she walks places, covers her baby from the hot sun with an umbrella when walking on the road, ties a sarong between two poles for a baby sling at worship, etc. She often comes into the house scrounging for more babies when her friends show up and want to play too.

Titus is 100% boy and loves imitating the older boys. It all started with a “stick truck” back in February. The most recent fad in the village is that all of the boys walk around with their slingshots trying to shoot birds to eat. So, after practicing with a friend’s for a few days he decided that he needed one for himself. We had a friend carve him the “Y” and we bought a piece of elastic tubing for the sling part. He loves that thing and carries it with him wherever he goes. Never know when you’ll see a “pijin” (Bislama for bird). He hasn’t “stoned” one yet, but he will if he keeps practicing - he’s getting pretty good!