Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tanna 10/2012

Our family boarded a plane for Tanna Island on October 12, accompanied by Jean Claude from Malekula.  The Baker family lived and worked in Tanna in 2011, in a similar way to our being in Malekula.  Since they returned to the States earlier this year (Aaron was back in Tanna for two weeks in August), we have been looking forward to having an opportunity to go and followup with the work there.

We spent almost a week with the Christians in Yatakun Village, with is located on the southern half of the island.  Back in 2009, while in Tanna conducting Bible studies in the north, Aaron and Mike Green (Dupont, Washington) went and preached in the local market in town.  Margaret and Meriam were there selling their produce and were very interested.  They went home and told their husbands about what they heard, and went back to town the next day to get Aaron’s phone number.  Margaret’s husband, Tom, began calling Aaron on a regular basis and took our Bible correspondence courses.  When the Bakers later moved to Tanna, Tom and Aaron began studying together every Friday morning (Tom usually walked almost 4 hours one-way for the study).  Tom, Margaret and Meriam were all baptized as a result of these and other studies.  Subsequently, Tom’s older brother (and Meriam’s husband), Antwan, and Tom’s sister, Ruth, were also baptized after studying with Aaron and Cindy.  Earlier this year, Tom studied with and baptized his brother-in-law, Jake, and his wife, Anna.  Jake and Anna live in the southernmost part of Tanna, and walk about 3 hours to Tom and Margaret’s house every weekend to assemble with the Christians in Yatakun.  Eventually, they plan to begin meeting in their own village at Green Pointe, which will hopefully be an open door to share the gospel with the locals there.  We are planning to start teaching there next year.

Tom has many leadership qualities and is well-educated.  His spiritual maturity is amazing, especially given that he has been a Christian for less than two years.  He is very dedicated to working for the Lord and is a great example of a Christian husband and father.  Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend some time with him and getting to know him better.

Titus and I visited Yatakun with Aaron once last year, but this was Shawnda and Alexis’ first visit.  Our main purpose for this trip was to come and spend time with the local Christians - getting to know them better, answering questions, and studying together.  I taught a series of lessons each morning on some “Big Picture Bible Study Helps” that seemed to be well received.  Everyone followed along in the Bible and took diligent notes.  We had some good questions after the studies, and several impromptu Bible discussions throughout the week.  Shawnda had prepared 10 studies based on the fruit of the Spirit which she went over with the ladies each day (and they plan to use those 10 studies in a less-intense time frame over the next few months).

Outside of our formal and informal study times, we enjoyed walking through their coffee plantations and gardens, swimming in the river and ocean, and singing together every night.  Though we were only a few voices, the sound that was produced was strong and uplifting - and they would keep singing even after our family had retired for the night.  Shawnda was able to establish some really strong relationships with the women, basically spending every waking hour with them.  All the Christians there are around our age, and we really hit it off well.  A highlight of our trip was Meriam’s mom being baptized into Christ.  She had studied previously with Tom, and had a good discussion with Shawnda before making her decision.  Including a great uncle a couple of months ago, Tom has now taught and baptized four people.

We were sad to have to depart Yatakun, but excited to move on to Lorakau Village further north.  The truck we had arranged to pick us up at 8am never showed up, and Tom actually ended up going all the way to town to find a truck that would come and get us.  We made our way down the bumpy, winding, dirt road to town (about 45 minutes) and made it to town where we met up with Miswel.  We restocked our supply of rice, crackers, peanut butter, and noodles, and headed for the village.  Miswel was actually converted in Etas Village (near the capital city of Port Vila) several years ago, but moved back to Tanna when Aaron and Cindy came so that he could help establish the church in his home village.

It was bittersweet to arrive in Lorakau - we were very happy to be with the Christians there, but staying in the house that the Bakers had lived in really made it sink in that they are no longer in Vanuatu (and it’s quite obvious that they are dearly missed by everyone).  We quickly got settled in and I met briefly with Miswel and Harry regarding our plan for Bible studies.  Harry was the first convert in Tanna back in 2009, and lives in Lorakau, whereas Miswel lives about a 45 minute walk away in Loun Village.  There are Christians in both villages, and they rotate meeting places each Sunday so that they can all assemble together.  We ended up rotating our daily studies back and forth in a similar fashion.  Thus, the Christians in this area are more spread out than what we dealt with in the south (where we were all together all day long).  I was pleased to learn that they had baptized four people the previous Sunday, all of whom were family members of Christians.  

Due to timing and distance, the attendance at our daily studies was about 6-8 Christians, but there were 16 Christians present at our Sunday assembly, along with 4-5 visitors.  When you add on the 20 or so children, it was a full house!  They asked Jean Claude to preach, and he did a fine job.  I have mentioned before that I am making a conscious effort to include locals on all my mission trips, and it continues to bear fruit for all involved.  We had a tearful goodbye meal with the Lorakau/Loun brethren, a good night’s sleep, and got on the truck early the next morning to head back to town for our flight back to Vila.  All in all, our transportation situation worked out well for the whole trip.

Upon returning to Malekula, Jean Claude gave a short report of our trip to the brethren at the close of our assembly, and that evening we gathered again to show photos and videos from our trip.  This type of thing is important here, because small congregations can tend to think that they are the only faithful Christians around, and are encouraged to see the faces and conditions of their brethren living in other parts of the country.  We are already looking forward to our return to Tanna, Lord willing in April 2013.

Welcome to Yatakun Village (with Jean Claude)

Sunday AM assembly in Yatakun

Abu Margaret baptized by Tom

Tom's house
Our family slept in a 5'11" x 5'11" x 5'11" room - how do I know?  Because no
matter which way I stood/laid, my feet and head hit the perimeter!

Visiting Antwan's coffee plantation - he has approx. 1,000 heads

Shawnda studying with the ladies in Yatakun

Jean Claude and Tom

Sleeping quarters in Lorakau

Sunday AM assembly in Loun
Teaching in Loun

Meeting place in Loun

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Great Day

Our month back in Vila was scheduled around the Pacific Islands Bible College (PIBC) classes that were to be taught in Port Vila and Epau Village.  We always enjoy being a part of the PIBC classes because of the fellowship and excitement that they bring.  This year, I also wanted some of the brethren from Malekula to take part in the classes.  Williamson and Jean Claude from the northwest and Aiel from the southwest were all willing and able to come take part in the courses.

The Epau congregation has been wanting/needing new benches in their assembly house for a long time.  Since they were to be hosting the PIBC courses this year, they really wanted them ready by the start of classes.  They ordered the timber from a local sawmill, and I volunteered to bring the Malekula brethren with me one Saturday to help assemble the stools.  

Even though they placed and paid for their order two months in advance, the timber still wasn’t ready in September, so I went ahead and bought the timber from a lumber yard in Vila.  Claude in Vila heard about our plan and wanted to come along, as did Sam in Etas (Williamson and Jean Claude were staying with him while in town).  Claude and Sam each brought their sons as well.  When we arrived in Epau, Bob, Arthur and Samson were ready to work.

We made a prototype bench first, and then formed a sort of assembly line to complete the rest.  There were brethren measuring, marking, cutting, hammering, sanding and painting - all the while everyone was laughing and visiting.  There is just something about working together that is fulfilling.

When the benches were complete, the Epau congregation “paid” us in the customary way - by providing lunch.  As we were eating I sat there and looked around the room at the brethren “fellowshipping” in the truest sense of the word. They were sharing stories about their families, their conversions, their congregations, etc.  It was heartwarming to see these men, many of whom were total strangers to each other only a few hours prior, now getting along as if they were family.  And really, that’s just what they are - God’s family.  Sometimes the pessimist in me gets down about the work and I begin to wonder if anything is really being accomplished in Vanuatu, but then I am shocked back to reality by a great day such as this one.  God and His gospel are awesome.

L to R: Williamson, Claude, Bob, Samson, Arthur, Sam, Aiel, Martino, me, Jean Claude
Kids: Titus, Tari, Thomas