Monday, December 29, 2014

Two interesting questions

We always offer a time of Q&A whenever we are teaching publicly, and two questions really stood out during our recent trip to Tanna Island...
  1. "What does 'b@*tard' mean?" (writing it in the blog was almost as shocking as hearing it live). This one came in the context of our Biblical Parenting studies. The woman who asked it (following a session on ineffective parenting methods...yelling, berating, etc.), said "I call my daughter that all the time when she doesn't obey, but it dawned on me just now that I don't even know what it means ... I just heard it on a movie once." For starters, I suggested that we not use words that we don't know the meaning of. Secondly, I explained the meaning of the word. Finally, I encouraged us all to refrain from using expletives at all, especially when irritated with our children, suggesting some healthier alternatives. Whew, that was a first!
  2. During a casual conversation with a Christian and another man who's been visiting the assemblies recently, they began asking about Sabbath-keeping (always a go-to Q&A topic in Vanuatu). That discussion led to a very interesting question along the lines of "what about people who respect Sunday but don't go to church or even call themselves Christians ... will they go to heaven?" It took me a while to understand where they were coming from, but I eventually realized that they were coming at God's judgment from a very legalistic standpoint. It was as if they thought if you do this set of things (e.g. respect Sundays) in the prescribed way and subscribe to the right side of a series of belief-questions, then you've successfully appeased God to the point that he will be willing to save you... actually very pagan, really. It was a great avenue to talk about the true meaning and effectiveness of faith in Christ, and that while the first day of the week has special significance and assembling has great value, it really has little (or nothing) to do with one's salvation, per se. 
I continue to see a significant cultural-disconnect between the Christian faith (as generally taught/acted out here) and ni-Vanuatu reality. We continue to strive to find a way to be able to seamlessly blend the two, as Jesus would have it. It's a learning process, but one that we are committed to.

Interestingly, this was the site of my discussion where question #2 was asked - the village nakamal (or "meeting place"). The houses were built for the boys to live in during their recent month-long circumcision festivities.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oh my Vanuatu: Police Report

During our recent court proceedings for Grayson's adoption, the judge required Shawnda and me to get local Police Clearance as part of her vetting process. Sounds easy enough, right? Oh, and she wanted it by close of business the same day ;)

The procedure serves as an exemplary model of how these sorts of things are done in Vanuatu. Here's what I did...
  1. Go to the Police Station general inquiry counter (I mean, you would think you would get a *Police* Clearance at the *Police Station*, right?). The officer on duty said that I needed to go and get an application form at the VANSEC House up the road.
  2. Go to the VANSEC House and retrieve an application form.
  3. Return home to fill out form and gather necessary documents (Passports, Birth Certificates)
  4. Go to town to get copies made of relevant documents.
  5. Go to the Government Finance Building and pay the fee ("Urgent" fee for same day processing available for twice the cost).
  6. Take receipt and application form back to Police Station, for them to run us through their system.
  7. Take signed application back to VANSEC House for them to print out official Police Clearance forms.
  8. Come back in a few hours to retrieve the forms.
  9. Submit to the Supreme Court clerk
Whew, made it! Oh, my Vanuatu ;)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A new approach

It's taken me awhile, but I'm continuing to grow as a Bible teacher in the Vanuatu culture, praying daily that God's Spirit will gift me with the ability to teach well, and relying heavily on my most faithful (constructive) critic, Shawnda ;).

Most notably, I've recently implemented a more discussion-based approach to my lessons. I've noticed that this keeps my students much more engaged, and seems to increase retention and effectiveness as well.

For instance, I recently led the Vila congregation through a study on the Sermon on the Mount after a meal on Wednesday nights, but instead of teaching through the material, I prepared to actually *lead a study* on the material. The results were quite amazing, as people really got into answering questions, sharing thoughts, and suggesting applications.

The brethren in Tanna Island had requested that I focus on Biblical Parenting as a topic for my most recent trip there. Once again, instead of teaching through my material (something I had done twice previously in other locales), I led a study through my material, taking time to really delve into the passages and asking them questions about the texts. This was an especially helpful approach for this topic, as they were able to supply lots of actual child rearing experiences and frustrations, which we all then discussed.

The change has had such a gratifying effect, and I pray that God will continue to use us to share his word and wisdom in effective ways.
Inside the church building in Loun Village

Monday, December 15, 2014

Oh my Vanuatu: Can You Hear Me Now?

Digicel, a cellular communications company, came to Vanuatu back in 2006 and made a significant impact on the country, installing cell towers on all the major island and now touting a 80+% coverage of the population.

They installed a tower in South Tanna, that was subsequently pulled down by irritated locals who thought that THEY should be receiving royalties (ah, land disputes, a-whole-nother OMV post topic). Consequently, there is no cell reception in Iatukun Village. Unless, of course, you are willing to climb to the tip-top of the breadfruit tree on Tom's property, where, on a clear day, you can get one or two bars on the Telecom Vanuatu network.

Knowing that Tom often calls me from up there, I decided to give it a try during my recent trip to Tanna. Chalk it up to a testament of my love for Shawnda? I climbed up to the top of the tree, swaying in the wind and able to see for miles and miles (including the ocean and the storied Yasur mountains), and my knees were literally weak with fear. I couldn't decide whether to hold on tighter to the phone or to the tree. It was great to hear her voice, but it was a short conversation (and my only one of the trip)!

My heartbeat has increased just blogging about it ;)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bittersweet Departure

Titus and I spent a couple of weeks in Tanna last month, visiting Christians in Iatukun and Loun Village. Jack, Anna, Saing, and Ralph traveled with us from Port Vila to Iatukun. Their family came to Port Vila last November, after baby Ralph rolled into the cooking fire, causing significant burns to his legs and feet. They spent a few months in the hospital (five toes amputated and several skin grafts on his legs), and then several more months with Anna's family.

With Ralph back to good health, it was time for the family to go back home to Tanna. After spending a week with us in Iatukun (Jack's sister, Margaret, lives there with her husband, Tom, who originally taught and baptized Jack and Anna), we took them to their home in Green Pointe (South Tanna). I can say that a few tears welled up in my eyes as we drove away. God really used their trials to ultimately be a blessing. They've grown so much in the past year (closer to the Lord and closer to each other), and have been such an encouragement to the Vila congregation and our family. Jack has been a great study-buddy ... we made it from Genesis to 2 Peter, studying together several hours every week (we plan to finish up the NT next year). At the same time, I am excited to see what God will do through this young couple, in a village that is still a very dark place. Please be praying for them to let their lights shine, and for the continued health of their boys.

Lord willing, we will make our first visit to Green Point to work with Jack and Anna in March of next year :)

My last study with Jack this year. His younger brother, Joseph, who is Mormon also joined us.

Jack, Anna, Saing, and Ralph at their gate in Green Pointe Village, South Tanna Island

Friday, December 12, 2014

Oh my Vanuatu: Betty Emma

Air Vanuatu added a new ATR72-500 to its fleet last month, and has dubbed it "Betty Emma." As the story goes, she was the first woman-Tanna to ever ride on an airplane back in the '60s. A pilot from Australia landed his small plane on the island, and (through sign-language) asked if anyone would like to go for a ride. The village chief and his cronies feared that it was too dangerous for anyone of import to go, and thus nominated one of the women to be the guinea pig. I mean hey, if the plane goes down, we've plenty of other women, right?

Another story that makes us say, "oh, my Vanuatu." ;)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The new place

We were grateful to find a very well priced duplex in a good neighborhood to rent when we arrived back in Vila last February. However, the two small bedrooms, the leaky roof, and the small (practically non-existent) yard meant that we were keen to move as soon as our lease was up.

A couple of months ago we heard from a friend that SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) was looking for some long term tenants to fill one of their properties. The properties are normally rented out on a short term basis, usually to outer-island Bible translators who are taking a break in Port Vila. We were excited by the opportunity because we had visited friends at the property before, and really liked the setting.

Long story short, we are now in a three-bedroom / one-bathroom triplex, in the midst of a fair bit of land with lots of space to run and play, and lots of fruit trees. Our kids have played outside more here in the last two weeks, than they did in 10 months at the other house. We also have several neighborhood kids around on a daily basis, which is great for Titus and Alexis ... a more village-type setting, which is what they are used to. What a blessing it has been already!

Here are some (pre-move in) pics, taken with the phone so not great quality...

Monday, December 8, 2014

To-do list (Grayson)

  • After having "been continuously in the care and possession of the applicant for at least three consecutive months", submit application for adoption order, including letters of recommendation, marriage license, medical certificates, etc.  - CHECK (Adoption Case No. 19 of 2014)
  • Hassle the Supreme Court secretary ;) at least once per week until you receive a court date (necessary because sometimes they don't notify you until they call and ask "why aren't you present for your meeting with the judge?")  - CHECK (assigned 27 November, 9am before Justice Sey)
  • Pick up the birth mother and her father (the birth-father has denied paternity) and head to the courthouse for meeting in judge's chambers.  - CHECK (ended up needing some additional info, to be supplied to the court by end of business; follow-up meeting scheduled for tomorrow 9am)
  • Secure local Police Clearance and write Further Sworn Statement indicating how we initially learned about Grayson, our current living arrangement, and future plans.   - CHECK
  • Attend follow-up meeting.   - CHECK (judge agreed to issue adoption order)
  • Pick up adoption order later that afternoon.   - CHECK (Yesssss!!!)
  • Retrieve application form for amendment (name change) to birth certificate   - CHECK
  • Submit application for amendment to birth certificate   - CHECK (received same day service!)
  • Submit application for Vanuatu passport (waiting time: 3 weeks)
  • Submit application to US gov't for non-immigrant visa (had to this step in person in Papua New Guinea for Titus, but the forms are now electronic and children under 14yrs do not require an in person interview ... travel savings of approx. US$1,500!)
  • During a temporary visit to the US, submit paperwork for naturalized US citizenship (eligible to submit 25 November 2016)
  • Apply for US passport and Social Security card
We're getting there!

It's official: We are the Brandell 5

In spite of the fact that our meeting in the judge's chambers began with her saying, "well, we have a problem ... you filled out the wrong forms", we were given Grayson's adoption order on 29 November - or 28 November in the States. Titus was born on US Thanksgiving day 2006, and Grayson's "gotcha day" is US Thanksgiving day 2014. We are blessed! Thanks so much for the prayers and well-wishes!

Alexis' response when we got home: "But mom, I thought he already WAS ours?!?" (I think Grayson is thinking the same thing below as he studies the adoption order)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Excuses, excuses

No posts in November?!?

Ya know, it has always irritated me when bloggers don't post an entry for several weeks, and then they feel obligated to tell you that they've been so busy, what's kept them away from posting, etc. In spite of that, here goes ;) ...

  • Titus and I made a two week trip to Tanna Island, where we visited Christians in Iatukun and Loun Villages. It was a great trip and I will talk more about some of the events soon.
  • While we were gone, Shawnda learned that we had been assigned a court date for the next Thursday (27 Nov). We had a followup meeting with the judge on that Friday. More on that experience soon.
  • That weekend, we had Titus' birthday party on Saturday and moved house on Sunday.
  • Following the move, it took our ISP about a week to get us reconfigured and back online.

So there you have it. Rest assured, we're going to get caught up this month! Stay tuned...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Prayers for Steven: Update

We blogged last month requesting prayers for Steven in Santo. Our family just returned from a follow-up trip to visit the Christians meeting in Shark Bay, Santo, and I am happy to share that Steven is doing quite well.

A few days after taking a very discouraging stance, Steven's uncle (and namesake) actually approached him with an apology for the way he had acted. It would seem that Steven handled the whole situation splendidly, and ended up being a great witness of the Spirit working in his life.

Steven finished his contract cutting timber, and used the majority of his earnings to purchase a chain saw and a fishing net. He has been using the saw to cut his own timber to build a house, and also to cut an outrigger canoe. He plans to use it and the fishing net to help feed his family and also sell fish at a nearby open market.

Steven seems to be progressing well in his faith, and his parents say that they've been amazed at the transformation they've witnessed as he follows Jesus. Please do keep him in your prayers, as he will certainly continue to face trials and temptations in his young walk of faith. And THANKS SO MUCH to those of you who paused to pray for him over the past month!!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mekem mared (make marriage)

We have shared before about some of the awkwardness of marriage in Vanuatu. Nonetheless, our family was honored to be a part of Sam and Leimawa's marriage celebration last month. The government granted me permission to perform ceremonies and sign marriage certificates several years ago, and so I had the privilege of officiating the ceremony. Shawnda tried her hand at (her first-ever) wedding cake, and Alexis enjoyed dressing up to be a flower girl. Being a part of these types of cultural events is something very special to our family.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Prayers for Case No.19

We've submitted our paperwork in relation to Grayson's adoption and received our case number, and are now awaiting a court date assignment. We are hoping that that the Vanuatu-side of the process will be complete by year end, but things really begin to slow down around Christmas and don't start picking up again until mid-February. We appreciate your prayers for a smooth process! God is in control :)

Monday, October 27, 2014


Having previously completed our 11-point outline series of studies on the Story of the Bible, we’ve moved into our new teaching section with the youth group in Etas Village: The Gospel Story. Atison and I have broken “the Christ Event” into 9 teaching sections:

Jesus … was born, is Messiah, performed miracles, taught, prayed, chose apostles, died, rose again, ascended/sent the Spirit.

We try to regularly do a review game of the prior week’s lesson, and decided to introduce a “Bingo” type game to review the key concepts and verses from the Birth Narrative. The youth loved it! And better yet, we weren’t even there that week, as I was in Santo, and Atison lead the meeting solo … Bingo! The future is bright :)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Oh, my Vanuatu: Scaffolding

This one pretty much speaks for itself :)

photo courtesy of dear friends, Andy and Jenny Rowan

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Flood of Emotions

Following my recent 5 day trip to visit Christians in the Shark Bay area of Espiritu Santo, Toara and I walked from one end of town to the other as we waited for my airport check in time. I was amazed at the flood of emotions that I felt as we walked through Luganville, the only city in Vanuatu besides the capital…

  • With the exception of a new bank, a new hardware store and a new hotel, the town has practically stayed the same since my initial visit back in 2003. Surreal, especially in light of the fact that Port Vila has changed so significantly!
  • I distinctly remember the overwhelming sense of culture shock and uneasiness I felt way back then, on what was my first ever foreign mission trip.
  • I smiled as I walked past the Natangora Cafe and remembered how much I enjoyed their steak and chips during that trip, probably because the owner was an American and it provided me a much-needed taste of home.
  • I remembered fondly my then-mentor and best friend, Wayne Burger, who introduced us to Vanuatu, mission work, and so much more.
  • I walked by the Unity Park Motel where we stayed for a week or so on a subsequent short-term visit in 2004, where I studied with and baptized my first person ever, Jesse. He’s still going strong (I spent most of my time with him this trip as well - he still has a heart of gold).
  • I remembered seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Unity Park Stage back in 2004, and thinking how much the pomp and circumstance of his visit just didn’t fit into the Vanuatu culture.
  • I realized (finally) that our great friend, brother and teammate really is gone from Vanuatu. Mike Olson did a lot of work during his few years in Santo, and it was unnerving to be there without him, especially as we walked by his old apartment.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Thy Kingdom Come

Like Jesus, our prayer is that God’s name be hallowed, His kingdom come, His will be done … on earth as in heaven. As His workers, we see it as one of our primary functions to allow Him to work through us to accomplish these things here. Vanuatu is a picturesque place and we prefer to share the happy stories, but behind the sand, surf and palm trees, Satan is at work. For instance…

We recently heard of an American who lives in Malekula who innocently went in to a local store to purchase a memory card for his smart phone. Much to his surprise, there were pornographic images preloaded on the card … and what’s worse, they weren’t images downloaded from the internet of girls a thousand miles away, but local girls who had (seemingly) willingly posed for the pics. The influx of cell phones and the widespread availability of internet and camera phones is wreaking havoc throughout the country. We were literally numbed by this report.

We’ve recently been approached (by Christians!) inquiring as to whether it is acceptable for a woman to prostitute herself out to earn money for school fees, if she has the approval of her husband. We tried to answer the inquiries with patience and grace, but we were flabbergasted by the idea. As we began to inquire further, we learned that local, dis-organized prostitution of this sort is a reality, and is growing rapidly in popularity as locals have more dispensable income.

Something that has been particularly dear to our hearts since our early days in Vanuatu is what we term “post-birth abortion.” It seems there’s a new story every month of a baby’s body being found, having been “disposed of” by un-desiring parents (in the ocean, dumpsters, latrines, etc.). No doubt there several more who’s story never even gets told. This is what initially prompted us to communicate our willingness to adopt.

Last but certainly not least is domestic (particularly spousal) abuse. In some ways this is the worst example, because it is so openly accepted and practiced historically and culturally. We pray that this vicious cycle will be broken.

Imagine a world where we all "treat people the same way you want them to treat you."  Blessed are the peacemakers … may it be us! 


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Prayers for Steven

During my recent trip to the Shark Bay area of Espiritu Santo Island, Steven confessed his faith in Christ and was baptized. He is the 20 year old son of Toara and Hannah, and is currently working a short term job harvesting timber for a special order to be exported. We spent a lot of time together on Saturday and Sunday (his days off), and he’s also studied in the past with his parents and our former teammate, Mike.

There was great rejoicing Sunday morning as we walked back from the Nanda Blue Hole following his baptism. His parents, in particular, were glowing. The air of excitement affected our entire assembly time that morning. After we dismissed, everyone walked back to the house to visit and eat lunch. Steven came up and called me aside. As I followed him away from the crowd, he turned to show tears streaming down his face. His uncle had heard of his decision, and rebuked him for doing so. His uncle holds some sway over him because he is his namesake and has gifted him some ground there on the plantation (basically making him an heir). He chided him that such a decision was going to ruin his life … specifically that he would no longer be able to “drink, smoke or get married” (not sure where that last one came from?). Steven wasn’t so concerned about the prohibitions, but just wasn’t prepared for the persecution to come so quickly, especially since it was coming from such a dear source. 

We prayed for strength, and visited a bit about how he might handle the situation going forward. Not only will Steven face this familial difficulty, he will no doubt struggle as he lives for Christ among his friends and coworkers. Please be praying for this young Christian as he pursues this new course, that he might be a light in a dark place.

Monday, September 22, 2014

To one of the least of these

I spent a long weekend recently on the east coast of Espiritu Santo Island with Toara and Hannah. They live in the midst of a coconut plantation, and are furthermore surrounded by cows, chickens and pigs. They are sustenance farmers… primarily living from what is produced in their gardens. Fruits and veggies that were available during my visit were beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, plantains, grapefruit, taro, fresh coconut juice, and island cabbage. Yum! They cook over an open fire, bathe and wash clothes in the stream that runs through their land (it’s technically Hannah’s brother’s land, as Toara is from Tongoa Island and moved to Santo to help Hannah’s family in their coconut plantation), and utilize an outhouse for their toilet. They recently added a 50w solar panel and car battery that allows them to run some low wattage 12v LEDs at night - they’ve gone big time!

Hannah and Toara aren’t a part of a large congregation (some Sundays it’s just them and their kids assembled together), and they’ve never “taught and baptized” anyone. Nevertheless, it was clear to me after just five days with them that they are living for Christ. What do I mean? While I was present with them, I couldn’t stop picturing Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 25:31-46. A primary example of this relates to the children at their house. Toara and Hannah have given birth to Steven, Willy, Priscilla, James, and Sarah. They work hard to provide for their needs. It is clearly evident that they love these children and desperately want to instill a faith in Christ in them. But the list doesn’t stop there…

Yanik was born to Toara’s sister, and is about 14 years old. I don’t know the details, but he has been living with Toara and Hannah for a long time (perhaps his entire life). They love and provide for him as if he were their own, and he is blessed to now be a part of a Christian family.

Joel Robert joined the family at birth, a little over three years ago. He was born on a ship at sea to a woman with severe mental problems. One of Toara’s distant cousins was the father (they were not in a relationship). He was unwilling to care for the child, and the birth mother was incapable, and so Toara and Hannah took Joel in as an infant, as they were considered “next of kin.” 

Anies (pronounced “Annie-yes”) was dropped off at Hannah and Toara’s house last December by her father. She is approximately 5 years old and has cerebral palsy. I don’t know if her biological parents were ever married, but know that they are no longer together. The bio-mother came and got Anies in June, but returned her in less than a month because she was “tired of dealing with her.” The bio-father drops a package of diapers off at the road once a month or so, but has little else to do with assisting the family in raising Anies. Hannah can’t leave Anies alone for any length of time, and since she’s getting too heavy to carry, this greatly inhibits her ability to go and work in the garden as she needs … thus, Toara’s workload is increased as well. Hannah bottle feeds Anies three or four times per day, as she never learned to chew and swallow, changes her diapers/clothes regularly, and bathes her in a large washtub. She also works hard to help Anies’ flexibility and mental stimulation.

The brief glimpses into these three children I’ve provided don’t do justice in communicating what a difference Toara and Hannah are making in their lives. Or rather, what Jesus is doing through Hannah and Toara. Would you please be praying for this lovely Christian couple, as they struggle and sacrifice in order to be Jesus to the least of these? What a great reminder and example of Christlikeness they are to me!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Oh my Vanuatu: To catch a mouse

One could probably make a pretty good case for the mouse to be the national animal of Vanuatu...they're everywhere. Lots of natural produce and resulting bi-products make for great feasts and breeding grounds.

Fun fact: a mouse/rat can climb a coconut tree, chew a coconut stem causing it to fall to the ground, and gnaw through the THICK husk and relatively-soft shell to get to the flesh inside...pretty impressive feat.

Here's a pic of the area under some shelving at our Malekula house after we'd been away for a month:

Fun fact: to date, I've killed two mice at our Malekula house ... one with a machete and one with a metal pipe. #realman

Here's a pic of a trap we rigged up at our house in Vila recently:

Believe it or not, the trap worked, and we had a drowned mouse in the bucket the next morning. #success

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Exam in Progress

After eleven weeks of studying an eleven-point outline of the Bible Story with the youth group in Etas (taught each week by Atison), exam day came. The kids were nervous (hey, you aren’t supposed to have tests at church school, right?!?), but they had been digesting the material well, and I know that they studied their outline a lot. We had also performed an activity that lead them through the story physically, focusing especially on the movements of Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and ultimately Jesus.

My ultimate goal, of course, is that they solidify this information in their minds as a foundation for current and future Bible study. I have become a firm believer in contextual/narrative understanding for effective Bible study, and believe grasping this big-picture is an initial step (after learning the books of the Bible and their general groupings).

The majority of them (we average 10-12 kids each week) did very well, with only the younger ones having some trouble putting things down on paper (I think they knew the material better than their scores proved). These youth show such promise and potential, and they are exciting to be around. Be praying for them!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sowing seeds

I was recently presented with a unique seed-sowing opportunity, both literally and figuratively. But first, some background info… Back in 2005, Aaron and Cindy met Sam and his family in town. They are originally from Tanna Island, but came to the Vila area many years ago for work. They live in Etas Village, and through Sam and Leimawa’s conversion to Christ in January 2006, much of Sam’s family has been impacted by the gospel message he lives and preaches, both here on Efate and back in Tanna.

Sam’s sister, Nepina, is one such example. She subsequently set her family on a course for Jesus, with two of her six children having been baptized into Christ (Ruth in 2010 and Jimmy earlier this year). Her remaining four boys are active in the church and/or youth group, and show signs of growing faith in Jesus. This is an especially big deal because her husband, Iapsei (“Yop-say”) is known as a “Kleva” (i.e. witch-doctor). He is a local medicine man, whom locals visit so that he can have dreams and visions based on their condition, prescribing activities and potions to run out the evil spirits that are causing the issues. As you might imagine, he has little interest in (holy) spiritual things, but thankfully he has not prevented his wife and kids from following Christ.

Prior to the event reported below, the only encounter I have had with Iapsei is when I saw him passed out drunk on the sidewalk in town one afternoon, with Nepina standing beside him almost in tears, having no idea how she was going to get her husband back to the village before nightfall. A couple of men and I threw him into the back of our truck and I took them home. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great first impression, as I spent the next several minutes cleaning vomit out of the truck. Nepina was mortifiedly embarrassed, but grateful.

Fast forward almost a year, and Sam informed me of an interesting request (and one I still don’t totally understand, but I’m going with it!). He told me that Iapsei had asked something of me… that I get him some watermelon seeds to plant in his garden. “Whaaa?” you ask. Me too! But Sam tells me that this is Iapsei’s way of initiating a relationship with me. Apparently, while he is actually interested in learning more about being a disciple of Jesus, he has to go about it in a roundabout way. I have now delivered four packages of watermelon seeds to Iapsei, and pray that these “seeds” will ultimately find soft soil in which to produce fruit. God is working, and it is exciting to be a part of. Would you be praying with us?

Nepina teaching Bible class in Etas, including her son, Richard (blonde hair)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Preaching Jesus' sermon

A few months ago the congregation we work with in Vila decided to begin meeting together on Wednesday nights. We weren't sure how many people would be able to attend, but decided that even if only a few could gather together it would still be beneficial. The primary purpose of our time together is to share a meal and visit - taking a break from the everyday worries of life and fostering spiritual relationships.

I do very little preaching on Sunday mornings (the native brethren are entirely capable), and so they asked if I would be willing to share some studies during our Wednesday night gatherings. I didn't want it be something where I stand up in front and talk for 20-30 minutes, and thus decided to make it less formal and more interactional. We all simply remain casually seated around the room and I lead the group through a study with a fair amount of questions and discussion. We are now in the final phases of going through Jesus' sermon on the mount from Matthew 5,6 and 7, and I have been so very pleased with the participation and interest shown.

I taught on Mt 7:1-6 recently, and for the first time it struck me that in v.1 Jesus says "do not judge" but in v.5 He says that there is a time to "take the speck out of your brother's eye." The difference would seem to be one of attitude. When we [a] recognize our own sinfulness and need for forgiveness, and [b] foster genuine relationships with others, only then are we truly in a position to humbly help them deal with sin and shortfall (rather than indignantly judging them). I understand this to be the point of Jesus' proverb in v.6 - it's an utter waste of time to judge superficially (e.g. wasting food on dogs or pearls on pigs), and actually ends up causing more harm than good. Being a former tax collector himself, I see Matthew focusing a lot on the Pharisees' (who were well-known for speaking disparagingly of tax collectors, Mt 9:10-13) negative attributes in his gospel account. It appears that chief among their problems was prideful judgmentalism of others, which stemmed from self-righteous arrogance and a lack of concern for their fellow man.

Lord, please help us refrain from such Pharisaistic tendencies. Remind us of our sinfulness and help us foster relationship, a combination that will facilitate our working together and building up one another. Thank you for the premier example you have shown us in Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

At the farm

Being stationed back in Vila as we begin "Phase 3" of our mission work in Vanuatu is affording us the opportunity to spend time with a lot of different Christians. One such instance is our going to the farm each Thursday evening to be with Patrick, Ruth, and some of their extended family.

Both originally from Tanna Island, Patrick and Ruth moved to Efate back in 2005 for work. Mike met and studied with them, and they were both baptized into Christ that December. Patrick initially assisted his dad on a cattle farm, but late last year was promoted to manage a new addition to the operation, overseeing 1,000 head of cattle. The change meant that Patrick and Ruth moved to a different plantation, and allowed him to hire two new workers to assist him. He chose two of his cousins to come and work with him - Frank and Yao.

Patrick and Ruth have lived "in the middle of nowhere" since being on the main island, as most of the cattle are run in the center of the island. Nevertheless, they've been letting their lights shine amongst those they are around. They've always assembled together on Sundays, along with their two young children, and they are regularly joined by their coworkers. When we returned to Vanuatu earlier this year, Patrick asked if I would conduct some Bible studies at their house, primarily focusing on teaching Frank, Yao and their wives. And so we've been going out to the farm for a few months now. We drive on the "big road" (tar-sealed) for about 20 minutes, turn off on the "white road" (gravel) for about 10 minutes, and finally through the gate and across the pasture for another 10 minutes of bumpiness. What a difference a few minutes drive makes when compared to the relative hustle and bustle of Port Vila!

The three families live in a small corrugated steel house (with detached kitchen - on the right side of the second pic below), and run a generator each evening to pump water up the hill for the cattle. That means we have an electric light for our studies. Following our study and discussion, we eat dinner together and visit, while the kids play. Every week is a new experience, and I always come away with a newfound appreciation for the ways in which God uses His word and His people to further His cause and kingdom. We are praying that fruit will be born from these efforts, and that God will continue to bless Patrick and Ruth as they serve.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Whew! We made it...

The title of our blog is "Afta" and it's intended to be a medium of communication through which we tell you what's happening on a regular basis. During the (northern hemisphere's) summer months, I haven't been posting as often as I like. Sometimes I feel like I don't have much to say (our routine seems rather...well, routine), and we've been really busy with lots of visitors. By my count, we've had 24 people come through since June. We've had tons of fun, been greatly encouraged, and feel like much good has been accomplished. We don't have any more visitors scheduled between now and the end of the year, and we are looking forward to getting back to our normal schedule of Bible studies and outer island trips. Of course, we have a "new normal" now, seeing as how we are a party of five!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Youth for Jesus

One of the highlights of our week is always the youth group meeting in nearby Etas Village. Though the group was formed only a few months ago, much good has come about. I've blogged recently about Atison teaching and leading the group, which continues to go really well. The teens are inviting their friends regularly, and we are enjoying 12-18 youth in attendance each week. We've come to think of the regulars as our own kids!

Now we are very excited to share that, over the past two weeks, three of the youth have made public confessions and have been baptized into Christ. Jimmy, Martino and Meriam are also leaders in the youth group, and show a lot of promise for both the present and the future.

Please join us in praying for these young Christians, that they will be faithful and active for Jesus all their days. We are so proud of them. To God be the glory!!

Martino, Meriam and Jimmy - our newest brothers and sister

Martino and Meriam, with their proud parents, Sam and Leimawa

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Special Announcement...

You’re gonna think we’re crazy, but …

We’ve welcomed the cutest little bundle of joy into our family today. Grayson Brady was born yesterday, and over the next several months we will be working to finalize his adoption. All are healthy and well, and of course we are all very excited.

We covet your prayers, and appreciate your support and encouragement very much…