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...