Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Welcome Home

We had a minor hiccup this trip - both ships were unable to make the trip to Malekula the week of our departure.  Thankfully, one of the local brethren in Vila graciously agreed to get all of things on the ship.  Claude called yesterday to let me know that everything was loaded on the ship, and I am in Lakatoro today to retrieve it.  Unfortunately, there has been a dispute about wharf payments, so the ship is no longer able to dock at the main wharf in Malekula to unload cargo.  Instead, they pull just offshore and “tender” all the passengers and cargo to and from land in two small boats.  Word is that it take 3-4 hours to completely unload (used to take less than 1 hour at the wharf), and you have to be there from the beginning because you never know if your cargo will be on the first boat or the last.  Should be an adventure, or as we like to say, “Oh, my Vanuatu!”

I had so much to do on our last day in Vila that I ended up renting a truck for the day.  I needed to make some last-minute purchases just outside of town, get our 21 pieces of cargo to Claude’s house, take the last of our “Vila stuff” to John and Cathy’s (who graciously let us use their laundry room as our storage facility), and have one last lunch date with Shawnda.  A bonus was the fact that the rental car company has a key-drop at the airport, so we could drive ourselves instead of having to rely on a taxi or bus to get us to the airport on time.  Thus, it was definitely worth the added expense, and we just might end up planning to do that before every trip to the island (though I have vowed to never again wait until the last week to send our shipment!).

Our travel to Malekula was uneventful.  We got to the airport and checked in with no problem and had a smooth flight (though my air conditioning vent wasn’t working and thus my air-sickness acted up a bit because of the heat).  We found a truck right away that took us into Lakatoro.  We ate lunch, bought meat, sugar and flour, and found a truck to take us back to the village.

We received a warm welcome in the village.  With all the confusion regarding the ship, some assumed we had delayed our trip, and were thus surprised to see us.  It was wonderful to see everyone again after being away for almost 5 months.  Perhaps the most encouraging thing was being together with the church on Sunday morning.  The children’s and youth Bible classes seem to be going very well, and I was very impressed with the memorization work all the kids have accomplished in our absence.  The locals are really stepping up and taking on responsibility, which is refreshing!

We have some exciting things upcoming, and request your prayers as we continue to work here in Malekula.  
Storage in Vila

Malekula coastline

Monday, June 18, 2012

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes

Our family worshiped in Epau Village this past Sunday, and it was once again great to be with these brethren.  I wish every American Christian could spend at least one Sunday of their lives worshiping with Christians in the village - it’s such a neat experience.

One of the things that particularly “struck me” this visit was the tireless work of one of the Epau Christians - Kolin.  He is one of the quietest people you’ll ever meet, and is totally petrified by the idea of speaking (in any capacity) before a crowd.  Thus, he is not a leader in the traditional sense of the word.  I can remember one occasion where I asked him to lead a song during a training session - even the expression “deer-in-the-headlights” falls short of describing his reaction.

Does this fact mean that Kolin doesn’t have anything to offer the body?  Absolutely not.  Every Sunday (and I mean every Sunday), Kolin is the one who unlocks the door to the building, sets out the mats for people to sit on, prepares the Lord’s supper and distributes the songbooks.  Then, at the appropriate time, he rings the bell to let everyone know that it is nearing the time to assemble [see photo below].  During worship Kolin is usually selected to pass the plates for the Lord’s supper or the collection.  Following worship, Kolin and another Christian count the collection and Kolin then writes the total on the blackboard.  Last but not least, he cleans up the items used in the Lord’s supper.  Additionally, he is well-known throughout the village as being a hard worker and a big help to his family.

I just thought that was an excellent example of using your talents for the Lord.  Of course, it doesn’t have to be something associated with the assembly time, but it’s important that we Christians ask ourselves on a regular basis, “how am I using my talents and resources to bless God’s kingdom?”  Think about it, and look for opportunities to serve!

If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired (1 Corinthians 12:17-18)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Don't worry, be happy

The primary purpose of this blog is to keep a record of the work in Malekula, but as we visit other parts of Vanuatu we will take the opportunity to make updates regarding the work in those areas. 

Our family enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of the worship assembly at Etas Village yesterday morning.  That congregation was established back in 2006, following a series of studies the Bakers conducted in the village.  It was such a pleasure to be back with these brethren after several months away.

I usually try not to dwell on the relative poverty of the local people, but the fact struck me so strongly yesterday that I can’t keep from sharing my thoughts.  The church has been meeting in a temporary shelter made of local materials for several years, and had been in the process of constructing a more permanent meeting place until a major storm hit the area and blew it over.  Their temporary meeting place has subsequently fallen apart, and they are now meeting in Sam’s home until something else can be arranged.  Sam and Leimawa were two of the first Christians in Etas. 

We rented a car this week so that we could get all of our shopping and errands done, and timed it so that we had the car for two Sundays - thus allowing us to worship with two village congregations.  We drove our little car as far as we dared on the pot hole-ridden dirt road, parked at a house that agreed to host it, and then walked 10 minutes the rest of the way to their house.  I have seen every type of living condition in Vanuatu over the past 7+ years, but having been away for some months I was reminded of just how little the locals have.  These dirt-floor “shacks” are made of every material imaginable - rusted out corrugated iron, old shutters, cardboard, fence planks, wire mesh, black plastic, etc.  Basically, it’s anything they can find at the nearby dump.

Speaking of the dump, every time we see Leimawa, she excitedly shares with us about her most recent find.  She once found golf-club covers that she turned into puppets for the Children’s Bible Club.  She found a calendar which she turned into a flip chart for Bible class.  On Sunday she showed her most recent treasure - a package of post-it notes (still in the cellophane wrapping!), which she is saving to use as name tags for the next Children’s Bible Club meeting.  Along with them she found some metal clips and cardboard folders which she is planning to use similarly.  It would seem that she is the very definition of resourcefulness.

Martino and Meriam, Sam and Leimawa’s teenage children, give up their one-room house every Sunday morning (shoving all their worldly possessions over the side) so that the church has a place to meet out of the elements.  And rather than complain about it, it would seem they are proud to have something to share with the church.  I would guess that, by “common standards” the house would seat (on the floor) 6-8 adults comfortably.  Sunday morning saw 14 adults, 5 teenagers and 18 children cram into the small space.  Just passing the bread and cup around the room was a logistical problem.  But the singing was amazing, and the sense of spiritual closeness was unavoidable.

The Etas congregation shares a meal together following their worship every Sunday.  Everyone brought their dish(es) and placed them in the kitchen - an open-air space filled with firewood and stones (used for cooking laplap).  The thatch roof is charred from the constant smoke it receives (all cooking is done over an open fire).  There is no running water in Etas, and thus it must be fetched by hand on a daily basis.  In fact, I overheard one of the moms teaching Bible class use “go fetch the water” as an example of a command that the kids should consider as an application to Ephesians 6:1.  They carry all of their dirty clothes to the river to wash, and are very conservative with the water they use at the house to wash dishes and to drink or cook with.  Several of the children were late coming to their Bible class because they lingered at the river that morning for some extra splashing, having been sent there for their regular Sunday morning bath.

As I sat there before our time of worship started, thoughts flooded my mind... “I want to build these people a proper house, get them a huge water tank to collect rain water, buy them a gas stove to cook on, give them some extra spending money, etc., etc.”  But then in dawned on me that these are the happiest people I know, and to change their life in such a way would, in all likelihood, change their happiness as well.  Isn’t it weird how that logic somehow makes sense?

I mentioned earlier that I don’t usually write or talk about these types of things, because it is not my intention to make (us) Americans feel guilty about what we have, or to entice you to want to make a difference in the locals’ material lives.  Rather, I just want to encourage us all to take a look around and thank God for our blessings - be happy and content.  Then, consider how we can best use them to God’s glory.  Seek out opportunities in our everyday life to help someone along in their journey.  We’ve certainly been well equipped to do so.  More than anything, this entry is for myself - but if you can benefit from it as well, to God be the glory.  Thanks for reading!

From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more (Luke 12:48)

Sam, Leimawa, Meriam, Martino and Barbara back in 2006