Sunday, May 19, 2013

Special Opps in "opportunities." It's neat to see how God answers our prayers for open doors (Col 4:3).

Vira is in his late 20's and works at the National Bank of Vanuatu in Vila. He recently responded to an ad in the newspaper for a Bible correspondence course, and indicated that he was not only interested in the course, but also in a face to face meeting. I was excited to meet him and learn about his and his wife's interest in studying the Bible. He intends to take the PIBC courses in Vila this year, and I will continue to study with him each time we are in Vila.

Christopher is an older man, and I also recently had the opportunity to visit and study with him. His is an interesting story. He was promoted to "pastor" in his church several years ago, but by his own admission knew/knows very little about God's word. He is hungry in the truest sense, and I am glad that our paths have crossed, and pray that as he learns he will make the determination to live for Christ.

During our recent trip to Tanna, one of the local Christians (Tom) had scheduled a study in a nearby (about an hour's walk) village. Daniel had invited us to come because he is tired of manmade doctrines and practices and just wants to go back to the Bible. When Tom told him that is exactly what we want to do as well, the invitation was quickly submitted and accepted. Daniel leads a group of 15-20 people in his village (Iannuhup, "yen-new-hoop"), and about 12 of them showed up that morning to study the Bible. I presented the gospel to them and answered the questions that they had. Daniel expressed that they were surprised (at this "new" teaching) and very interested in future studies. Tom is going to continue to work with Daniel and the others, and I look forward to my next opportunity to be there as well.

One of the Christian ladies here in Tulwei is married to a man from the northwest side of the island, Rano Village. They have had a tumultuous relationship from its inception, with him living in Rano and her living in Tulwei most of the time. They are still cordial to each other (for the most part), but it is a strange situation (I still don't understand it totally). However, as Stellen has been studying what God's will is for her as a mother and wife, she has attempted to apply those teachings to her life. Her brother, Williamson, has also made a sincere effort to reach out to her husband, Willie, having studied with him on several occasions. Willie came to our church campout a few weeks ago, during which both Alsen and I had some good spiritual discussions with him. Following the campout, I studied with he and Stellan for three nights, and as a result he made the good confession and was baptized into Christ. Our first order of business, so to speak, is to try and get their marriage on the right track. It is something they are dedicated to, but is definitely going to require a lot of effort from both of them. In the near future, we will look to begin preaching the gospel in Rano Village, once the two of them are living there.

Please be praying for all these situations, and that God will continue to open doors for the word. What an awesome God we serve!

Photos below: Christopher during our initial visit; The group we studied with in Iannuhup Village (South Tanna Island); Myself, Tom and Alsen welcomed in Iannuhup; Visiting with Willie at the campout

Church of what?!?

Since moving to Malekula in 2011, I've heard rumors of a mysterious religious group on the south side of the island, referred to (at least by outsiders) as "the church of marijuana." I had my doubts, as the "coconut telegraph" (island version of "hearing it through the grapevine") can sometimes be quite exaggerated. The story goes that the group meets together every Friday afternoon to "worship" by, you guessed it, lighting up and getting high (with Bob Marley music and videos blaring in the background). They supposedly cook the marijuana into foods as well, and intentionally blow the secondhand smoke into their children's faces in order to "train them up" in the way they want them to go. Repulsive, I know. I imagine they have a pretty effective outreach program in the area.

When we were last in Vila, suspicions were confirmed by the headline in the local newspaper that said "Melip Villagers Arrested." Over 50 men from the village were arrested for marijuana cultivation, distribution and use, and were brought to Vila from Malekula to be incarcerated (word is their sentence is 20 years, which is a VERY stern punishment by Vanuatu standards).

Upon our return to Malekula, we were surprised to see some new faces in the neighborhood, as we know all the kids in our area (they are at our house playing on a daily basis). Come to find out, these new faces were children whose dad had been arrested, and their mom brought them back to her home village (here in Tulwei) to be with her family. Most of the rumors have been confirmed as true by these first-hand observers, though my understanding of the religion is still a bit cloudy. In accordance with the religion, the children were not allowed to wear red, leave the house, or use modern medicine - ever.

Interesting, to say the least. The church is trying to minister to these four kids and their mom, and hope that they will learn to follow Jesus.

[Below: photo taken in Etas Village last year of a marijuana plant being cultivated outside the front door of a house, taken by visiting brother John Carlisto]

Bringing In the Dough

During our recent trip to Tanna, we learned of an interesting situation that we thought might be good to share, as we try to give our readers a clearer understanding of the goings on in Vanuatu.

One of the most stressful issues that ni-Vanuatu face is in regard to educating their children. While the vast majority of the schools are government-run, students are still required to pay school fees to attend. That burden has been lessened recently, as the government passed laws that ensure kids are able to go to school through the equivalent of 6th grade fee-free. However, beginning with secondary school, the fees are still imposed, and can be a significant financial burden since the majority of island families do not have a source of regular income.

Harry and Tess were some of the first Christians in Tanna, and have grown a lot in their faith. It has been our pleasure to work with them and get to know them better. Their oldest daughter, Joslyn, is enrolled in secondary school in the main "town" of Tanna Island, Lenekel. At the beginning of the year it became quite evident that they were not going to be able to foot the bill for their daughter's continued education (9th grade). So, Harry went and talked to the administration about the possibility of paying the school fees in the form of local produce (such could be plausible since the majority of the students board at the school, and thus the school is responsible for feeding some 160 people everyday). The administrator countered his offer with a job opportunity - head baker. Harry had baked bread back in the village before, and so he took the job.

To ensure that his daughter is able to attend school, Harry walks to Lenekel everyday (7 days a week) to bake bread for the students and faculty. Thankfully, it is an otherwise flexible schedule, since he bakes bread "today" to be consumed "tomorrow" - thus not preventing him from other family obligations and the weekly assembly. The walk down to Lenekel (there is a pretty significant drop in altitude) takes a little less than 2 hours from his village of Lorakau. The walk back up to the village takes almost 2.5 hours. Bread baking takes about 4 hours total, as he has to make two batches due to the size of his utensils and oven (he uses a 50lb bag of flour per day). A couple of perks include getting to take home the empty flour bags (used for transporting produce from the garden) and several loaves of bread.

Harry doesn't take home much pay, because the large majority of his wages are retained by the school for his daughter's fees (I would guess that the fees are between $400-500 per term, with 3 terms per school year). But, Harry and Tess are happy "because God has provided a way" (his words) for them to send their daughter to school. They have two more daughters and three sons coming up behind, and it will prove to be a continual struggle to educate their children in this environment. I am proud of the way they've handled the situation, and think they are to be commended for their sacrifice, commitment, and dependence upon God's provision.

I followed Harry to/from work one day while we were in Tanna last month, and very much enjoyed getting to visit with him. He is a thinker, and really does seek to manifest Christ in his life. Please be praying for him and his family.