Monday, March 24, 2014

Oh My Vanuatu: Nit Picking

We did a fair bit of traveling in the past three years, as we were based in N/W Malekula but still made regular visits to Efate, Tanna and Santo. Since the trucks usually leave the village in the early morning, and the flights out of Malekula usually leave in the afternoon, we spent many hours at the “airport” waiting on our plane. I put airport in quotes because it’s actually just a small, tin shed attached to a burnt-out brick structure (the subject of arson several years prior by the family who lost the land dispute and thus the rites to the yearly royalty money - a-whole-nother OMV post!). The good news is, the area is right on the coast and gets nice breezes off the ocean, not to mention the beautiful natural scenery.

I still remember a comical instance in which I returned from a short jaunt down the way a bit, just to stretch my legs. We often made “new friends” with our fellow travelers. This one was different, though, as she had moved Alexis in front of her and was meticulously fingering through her hair looking for lice. This is a VERY common practice in Vanuatu, especially in the villages, where lice are especially prevalent. Even still, it struck me as odd that a total stranger would comb through my daughter’s hair looking for the creepy crawlers while carrying on a conversation with Shawnda.

As we like to say, “Oh, my Vanuatu!” ;)

Monday, March 17, 2014

In Memory...

I lost a dear friend and Christian brother on March 2, 2014, though I wouldn’t learn of Claude’s passing until a few days later. Our family was in a part of Tanna that does not have cellular reception, and therefore we were cut off from the news of the world for several days. As we were shifting from south Tanna to central, and came within range of a cell tower, my phone gave the familiar “ding” indicating a text message had been received. The screen image is still burned in my memory, as I read the text from Flexon: “SORI BLO TALM SE CLAUD KALSAKAU I BIN DED LO SANDE MORNING MO FENERAL BLO M LO MONDAY.TA.” (i.e. sorry to say that Claude Kalsakau died on Sunday morning and the funeral was Monday. Thx.).

I immediately called Flexon in order to gain some details, and learned that Claude had an episode relating to his diabetes that Friday, had gone to the hospital very weak, and ended up dying a couple of days later as a result of his blood sugar levels. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement. My mind went racing back to the last time I talked to Claude. After being gone from Vanuatu for six months, I had a lot of catching up to do with the local brethren, but not having our own transportation made this somewhat difficult. Flexon normally takes care of the lawns at the church building in town, and I had told him I would take a weekend to give him a break. Since Claude and Rosemary live fairly close to the church building, I decided to walk over and say hello when I finished mowing that Saturday morning. We had a good visit, and I remember thinking afterwards that they both seemed to be in especially high spirits - life was good. Looking back, I am SO glad that I decided to stop by and see them that day, rather than waiting a month or so for our truck (which I had considered), as that was the last time I will ever see Claude here on earth.

I still remember meeting Claude for the first time back in 2006. Several of us were working on the church building construction in Vila, and he pulled up on the land and started looking around. I assumed he was with the government or something, and there to make an inspection. However, he introduced himself, and I then realized that he was married to a Christian we knew from Eton Village. He asked what time we assembled on Sundays, and announced his intention to begin coming once the building was finished, since he lived so close.

A few weeks later I began studying with Claude, and in the midst of those weekly Bible studies he came to have faith in Christ and was baptized. From that point on, he made a conscious effort to live for Jesus. He had grand plans for his own life and for that of his children. He greatly desired that his family be useful in God’s service. A highlight for him was a mission trip to Tanna in late 2012 with Aaron. During a brief stint as a political advisor to a government minister, he was constantly looking for ways to use his position to God’s glory. Claude himself would have admitted that he was far from perfect, and one of things I appreciated most about him was his willingness to receive instruction and correction. He was constantly asking others to keep him accountable, and genuinely repented when something came to light in his life.

In the last year or so, Claude and Rosemary begin spending most of their time serving with the Christians in Etas Village. We were in the States for most of that time, but the stories I’ve heard from the Etas Christians prove that the church and community were richly blessed by their time together. Claude will be sorely missed by many people. His son, Tari (9yrs), and daughter, Liz (4yrs), were positively affected by their father in the few years they had together. We also recently learned that Rosemary is pregnant with their third child. The whole situation breaks our hearts, and were it not for the fact that we witnessed Claude’s strong faith in Christ, we would be distraught. We have been encouraged by the way the church family has stepped in and cared for the family. We are praying for wisdom to know how to best work with and bless Rosemary and the kids going forward.

Claude, ever the student

Claude and others being welcomed to Lorakau Village in Tanna

Rosemary, Liz, Tari and Claude (c. Dec 2012)

Claude's first Sunday after being baptized into Christ

Claude accompanied me to Epau Village one Saturday for a work day

Claude was active in studying with, baptizing and encouraging Kelly

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Dilemma: Example 3 (Good news!)

I blogged here and here recently, talking about the “culturally acceptable” practice of spousal abuse in Vanuatu. As I’ve said before, physically disciplining your wife is as commonplace here as disciplining your children is in the Western world, even among Christians.

It’s not easy to shake such a normative practice (in Vanuatu, you likely grew up seeing/hearing your own father and uncles so engaged, and were almost certainly surrounded by the practice in your community). In fact most, if not all, of the women who are currently incarcerated in Vanuatu are there because either [a] they finally decided “enough was enough” and retaliated with a knife when their husband wasn’t expecting it, or [b] they gave birth to an abusive/non-supportive man’s child, and saw no way of relief other than to kill their newborn baby by throwing him down the outhouse latrine, into a dumpster, or into the ocean. This situation has to break God’s heart, and does ours as well.

But there is good news… In particular, I am thinking about two families that have experienced Jesus’ promise of healing and renewal by the Spirit’s power. I’ve heard the stories from one Christian couple, about their pre-Christ relationship. He wasted his family time and money on kava, coming home in a drunken stupor on a regular basis. When his wife angrily shared her displeasure with his activity, he would “show her what happens” (physical abuse) when she disrespected him in such a way. Once she locked him out of the house, and his drunken confusion led him to burn their house down, destroying practically all of their worldly possessions. The vicious cycle of drunkenness, anger, abuse, and hatred seemed like it would never end. But it did. The good news of Jesus Christ brought forgiveness, healing and instruction to this couple and their children, and they are now pillars of the faith in their congregation and their community. They serve as living testimonies to the gospel’s power to change.

A second couple has dealt with similar problems. She went to night-clubs and participated in various associated pursuits. He took part in the usual drunken beatings, including one kick to the abdomen that resulted in a mis-carriage. The bitterness that existed between the two of them was self-evident, as they followed in the footsteps of their worldly upbringing. But when they committed themselves to Jesus as Lord, and began allowing His Spirit to guide them, they began experiencing very positive changes. To see them today, the facts of that old relationship are almost unbelievable as they evidence the fruit of the Spirit. 

While neither of these couples experienced an overnight, “cold-turkey” change, the longterm affect of the gospel in their lives is apparent. Both are true stories of conversion. In fact, when I get down about the work in Vanuatu, and begin feeling like we are just spinning our wheels and wasting our time, I remind myself of these two couples and others like them, and see how God is working in Vanuatu through our efforts - changing hearts and lives. We pray that the cycle of violence is slowly being broken as a new generation of children is being brought up in these Christian homes, where the teaching of Ephesians 5:21-33 is a centerpiece. The problem is systemic and its effects are widespread, but we serve a powerful God and have His good news to share. Please be praying that we can used for good in similar situations.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Dilemma: Example 2+

I blogged here introducing a dilemma faced in Vanuatu, regarding the general cultural acceptance of spousal abuse. I gave an example from our experiences last year in that post, and here want to mention a couple more.

We recently learned that, while we were away in the States, one of the Christian ladies here in Vila faced some very difficult circumstances. She had been having some health problems last year, and even spent some time in the hospital. We visited her there and tried to help her out as much as we could. We had assumed that the problems (back/stomach) were purely physiological, and hoped that treatment and medicines would remedy the problems. But, a few months ago, it came to light that her problems stemmed from physical abuse. Her husband is not a Christian, and is prone to “disciplining” his wife - so much so that last year he inflicted blows that resulted in a mis-carriage. For the safety of herself and their 5-year-old daughter, she left the house for a time, and sought assistance from the Women’s Center. Problem was, the employees she dealt with there were distant relatives of her husband, and ultimately they were little to no help. When her husband learned of her intentions, he successfully got a restraining order against her, preventing her from being within so many meters of their daughter. As if these facts alone weren’t bad enough, we are talking about one of the sweetest, gentlest Christian women you will ever meet. She regularly visits members in the hospital, never comes to our house without bringing a small gift of food, faithfully attends the assemblies of the church with her daughter, and bears much more fruit through her everyday good works … all in spite of the fact that her husband is unsupportive. The situation breaks our hearts, and we along with other Christians in Vila are trying to be a support to her, and praying for her situation regularly (namely that her husband’s heart will be softened, and that he will yield himself to Jesus). She has since moved back in with her husband, and shared with us last Sunday that she is again pregnant, and needs our prayers for that as well.

We also recently learned some things about a young lady who has been visiting our assemblies in Vila for several months. She is the adult daughter of one of the Christian families in Tulwei Village (Malekula Island - where we spent the past 3 years). She has lived in Vila for several years, working at her uncle’s small shop, and ended up marrying a man here in town last year. Since he was not a member of her particular denomination, she was “excommunicated” by them. Because of her family ties with some in the church, she began visiting with us, much to our delight. Her husband came with her a few times early on, but wasn’t really interested. She is now eight months pregnant with their first child, and with the other two stories we’ve mentioned in this series, it came to light that her husband is also physically abusive and sexually unfaithful. He works on a cruise ship and is therefore gone to sea for months at a time, and is not a Christian. We are obviously hoping to see to her spiritual needs, but also recognize her great need for physical wellbeing. She wants to do the right thing, but sometimes even we aren’t exactly sure what that is.

I won’t belabor the point further, but even now I am thinking of at least two other fine Christian ladies in Malekula who are struggling along the same lines, as their husbands are not Christians.

Please be praying that we will have the wisdom, understanding and opportunity to help these and other ladies in their endeavor to sustain peaceful and safe lives. We feel so helpless at times, but know that our God is bigger than these trials, and that He can work through His people to bring about wide-scale change.