Friday, February 21, 2014

Oh, my Vanuatu: The Mother of Invention

The cliche has proven true time and again, perhaps nowhere more so than in Vanuatu … necessity is the mother of invention. This certainly shouldn’t be interpreted as a complaint, because we really do almost always find a way to accomplish what needs to be done. Sometimes it just takes a creative use of available resources.

For instance, I recently walked into the kitchen of our short-term accommodation to find my lovely wife making tortillas. No plastic mat? No rolling pin? No problem! Just turn a cake pan upside down and roll out the dough with the yoghurt maker canister.

I could also tell you about using a household light switch to manually override the glow plug wiring in our first truck, or cutting off the top of a coke bottle to use as a funnel, or lining a 5-gallon bucket with a grocery bag to use as a toilet, or using a rock as a hammer and a butter knife as a screw driver, or cutting a section of tree stump for a step stool, or…

It all makes for an exciting life!  Oh, my Vanuatu ;)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


It seems too silly to be true really, like a doctor who can’t stand the sight of blood or a banker who doesn’t understand basic financial principles, but it’s true … I don’t do transition well. That’s silly, because my life has been a long series of transitions for well over 10 years now (college to "the real world" to Bear Valley to Vanuatu … Port Vila to Malekula to Oklahoma Christian to Port Vila again).

Surely I’ve gotten better at adjusting to change over the years, but I am still amazingly susceptible to culture shock. Even just moving from one short-term accommodation, to another, and into our permanent rental has thrown me for a bit of a loop. It’s hard to describe really, but most of you have read about or experienced enough culture shock to know what I mean. Sometimes I just feel like I'm in a bit of a rut, without much clarity as to how to get out. I think it's all exacerbated this time, because our teammates (the Bakers) are no longer here or (Mike Olson) are about to depart.

I want to provide a secure and loving environment for my family (God’s provision makes this relatively easy), I want to be active in my community in honor of Jesus, I want to edify and encourage my Christian brothers and sisters here in town and in the villages. In a word, I want to be “useful” in God’s mission. But so often, when caught in transition, I find it difficult to achieve these goals. 

And so, I ask you to pause for a moment and say a prayer on my behalf, especially because about the time I get adjusted to my new surroundings in Vila, it will be time to make a trip to Tanna, and a few weeks later to Malekula. I love Vanuatu and the work God has given us to do here, and really want to be an effective worker. Your prayers and encouragement along those lines are much appreciated!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Oh, my Vanuatu: Lost in Translation

NOTE: There was a popular string-band song in Vanuatu when we first arrived that repeated the phrase "oh, my Vanuatu" several times. It was frequently played in the arrivals lounge of the airport. Over the years, out team adopted the saying, reciting it tongue-in-cheek whenever we experienced something that could happen "only in Vanuatu." I thought I'd start sharing some of these lighter moments as a blog series this year...

I could probably do a whole "lost in translation" series of these OMV posts, because so many of the products sold in Vanuatu come from non-English speaking countries, and the "loose" translations on products are often quite comical.

While we are searching for a house, we have been staying in short-term accommodations in an area of town called "nambatri" (designated "number 3" by the US army during WW2). As I was walking to town a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a new Chinese restaurant on the way that happily bills itself as one that offers "characteristics of burned taste." Sounds appetizing, yes?!? Of course, I assume they intended to portray something more along the lines of "chargrilled", but this particular way of saying it brings a smile to my face every time I walk past. Maybe we'll have to stop in sometime for a taste?

"Oh, my Vanuatu!"

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Dilemma: Example 1

Women in Port Vila march thru town to bring awareness to the abuse problem. Photo credit: AusAID

One of the most challenging issues we face culturally in Vanuatu is domestic abuse. While I get the sense the situation has improved drastically over the past few hundred years, specific scenarios continue to break our hearts and make us wonder what the right answer is.

Before we left Malekula in the middle of last year, a woman had begun attending the studies and assemblies of the church in Tulwei Village. She had noticed a marked change in life of a local Christian family that lived nearby, and wanted to investigate. To say she has a humble, sweet spirit would be an understatement. And the effort required to prepare food, wash and feed her young children, and walk 15+ minutes in the heat to take part in our weekly assemblies was great.

A non-practicing Catholic for all of her life, she was for the first time studying her Bible and being blessed by Christian fellowship … we could see faith taking root. And then, all of sudden, after a few months of practically perfect attendance at all functions, she quit coming altogether. When a Christian friend expressed concern to her, we learned that her husband had “blocked” her from any future association with the church. You see, her husband practices black magic, casting spells on enemies for compensation, and he did not want a Christian influence in his home.

I had a friendly relationship with her husband, having visited with him casually many times (by the oceanside near his house, on the soccer field, at a wedding ceremony, etc.), and felt like I had a decent relationship with him. He is probably about 40 years old, has an extremely deep voice, and has some of the most defined muscles I’ve ever seen on a ni-Vanuatu man (and they are all quite sinewy). In fact, I vividly remember meeting him initially and thinking (proverbially), “man, I sure want to be on this guy’s side in a fight” - he is literally an intimidating presence. 

However, I knew all to well that a visit from me (or any of us) inquiring about his decision regarding his wife’s participation with the church could very likely end in a severe physical beating for his wife (and perhaps his kids). It is well-known that such blows have been leveled on her before, with general cultural acceptance … the thought of it even now makes me nauseous. Thus our dilemma: sit back and let this soul fall away before her faith ever had a chance to blossom, or take action that will likely result in mayhem?

I talked with local Christians about the situation, and they agreed with my concern. In fact, due the general acceptance of domestic abuse, their natural suggestion would be to “live and let live” and just move on. Upon further consideration though, we decided that first and foremost we would pray for the situation, specifically his heart, and it was determined that we would not address the issue with her husband directly. The plan of action was that we would attempt to show this family the love of Christ at every opportunity. The ladies class would visit her occasionally at their house, just to say hello and offer a prayer. The men would actively seek to engage the husband in everyday activities (in the garden, on the way to town, etc.). To date, our efforts have not been fruitful, but so long as I am alive I will be thinking about and praying for this family in Brenwe (“brin-way”) Village. Would you join us?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Oh, my Vanuatu: Health Care

NOTE: There was a popular string-band song in Vanuatu when we first moved here that repeated the line “Oh my, Vanuatu” several times. It was usually played in the arrivals lounge of the airport. Over the years, our team adopted the saying, reciting it tongue-in-cheek whenever we experienced something that could happen“only in Vanuatu.” I thought I’d start sharing some of those funny/frustrating stories this year…

My last OMV post reminded me of another Hospital experience. Some of you have heard it already, because we tell the story whenever someone asks me about the health care conditions in Vanuatu.

As a part of the adoption application process, Shawnda and I had to have medical certificates from the hospital. After taking my vitals and completing the eye chart, the nurse handed me a coffee mug and pointed me to the bathroom. I filled the mug, walked back through the waiting room (very awkward, I must say), where the attendant put a few drops of liquid into my sample. It passed the test, he dumped the contents into the sink, sloshed some water in it, and turned it upside down beside the sink for the next patient.

And that, my friends, is this week’s “oh my, Vanuatu” moment ;)