Friday, December 11, 2015

Month's progress

We blitzed the Etas building project in November, knowing that our family was scheduled to depart the country the following month. The local brethren pitched in with some extra help, and we also hired four skilled friends-of-a-friend for the final two weeks of the month.

We were able to render/plaster the interior and exterior walls of the main building, install timber framing for the gables and ceiling, and get the guttering in place to feed the 6000L water tank. We also completed the concrete block work on the toilet/storage block, boxed and poured the bond beam, and screwed on the roofing sheets.

We didn’t quite get the project completed in 2015, but it will be a high priority once we return to Vanuatu in early 2016. Our level of excitement is high, as we dream of all the ways in which the structure and property will be used to promote the gospel in Etas and beyond.

Six Souls Added

It’s always exciting to get the call someone has decided to make their confession of faith in Jesus and be baptized. We got just such a call recently, as 3 couples in Etas decided that it was time to make a commitment.

All six of these precious souls were heavily impacted in one way or another to make this decisions following the cyclone. For some, the natural disaster was simply a wakeup call that the end could come at any moment, and they began seeking how to be ready. For others it was the outpouring of Christian love and provision that came at the hands of so many, both foreign and domestic. All six subsequently attended studies during our week long evangelistic campaign in Etas. Though I could be mistaken, these are no “rice-Christians” (those who make a public decision based on hidden selfish motives of getting something) … we see faith working in their everyday lives, and look forward to helping and watching them grow!

Please be praying for Namah & Mary, Joseph & Agnes, and John & Flora as they begin their walk of faith. Good things are happening :)

Back row from left: Sam (baptizer), John, Joseph, Patrick (baptizer), Mary
Front row from left: Agnes, Flora, Namah

Happy Birthday

Titus is 9! Hard to believe it's been that long since we brought that bundle of joy into our home. Never a dull moment since, and we are grateful for the blessing he continues to be to our family!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Great Ending

We’ve made it pretty clear that the best week of our ministry in Vanuatu took place early this year, as we conducted our first ever youth camp. That set the trajectory for the rest of the year, and we enjoyed being together one last time in “closing” our youth group for 2015.

Though our traditional youth group Bible study plans were greatly inhibited by Cyclone Pam damage, we were still able to meet together each Wednesday night at our house for volleyball, sausage-sizzle (hotdogs) and encouragement. Then, as is customary in Vanuatu, we had an official year-end closing at Mele beach. We enjoyed our largest crowd to date, and I relished the opportunity to once again speak from 2 Timothy 2:2, which has become the key verse for our group. The schools here follow a calendar-year schedule, with the main break being December and January. The kids will have a lot of time on their hands over the next couple of months, and so along with Paul, I encouraged them to “flee youthful lusts” and instead “pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” We passed out rubber bracelets with the inscription “2T2:22”, that will hopefully serve as a daily reminder of the wisdom Paul prescribed here.

We completed the afternoon of fun with snacks (including a birthday cake for Titus!), swimming and games. A few of these kids have already made a public confession and are following Christ, and it seems that several more are on the path towards making that good decision. We are excited about the future, and look forward to more time together in 2016!

Monday, November 2, 2015

A belated welcome

We welcomed our very own HIM (Helper in Missions) worker in September, Abbie Bryant. Abbie will be apprenticing with us for two years, as she learns the ropes of foreign mission work. The HIM program is a ministry of the Memorial Road Church of Christ in Edmond, OK, and closely associated with Oklahoma Christian University.

Welcomed by the Tulwei Village, Malekula congregation

Bathroom remodel, island style (again)

Note: I debated whether to title this entry as bathroom remodel or toilet remodel. You see, in most parts of the world (including Vanuatu), people distinguish between the room you bathe in and the room you “toilet” in. But alas, since most of my readers are Stateside, I went with “bathroom” even though we actually remodeled the place we “toilet.” So, now you know…

Cyclone Pam passed by the northern islands of Vanuatu on the far east side, and so our house on the northwest side of the Malekula was fairly sheltered. Nonetheless, our toilet room took a pretty good beating from the wind and rain, not to mention the fact that I only had sheets of plywood to make the walls during our last remodel back in 2013. 

Flexon and I were recently able to spend a day replacing the old plywood walls with woven bamboo. I LOVE the look of freshly cut/woven bamboo … if only it would stay that fresh looking! We walked about an hour to Flexon’s garden, cut down the bamboo stalks, carried them back to the house, split them each in half, fanned out the halves, wove the panels, and nailed them up. Not too shabby!

Flexon (green) and Titus (blue) carrying bamboo

Split and fanned


.... and voila! (new door to come)

New Places & Faces - Etas

We continue to see God causing the increase and opening up doors of opportunity into new areas. In part five of this series, we would like to introduce you to two new Christians in the Etas Area of Efate Island.

We’ve seen a significant influx of visitors to the Sunday assemblies in Etas this year. The leaders asked me to conduct a week long gospel meeting back in June, with a view towards prompting a decision of faith in these new contacts. We were excited that Ruth and Lois decided to be baptized into Christ shortly thereafter. There are many others (8-12) who appear to be close to making a similar decision, and we pray that the Etas congregation can continue to reach out to their friends and neighbors.

Ruth (center) and Lois (right) after being baptized into Christ by Timothy

New Places & Faces - Iannuhup

We continue to see God causing the increase and opening up doors of opportunity into new areas. In part four of this series, we would like to introduce you to two new Christians from Iannuhup Village in South Tanna Island.

Tom took me on my first visit to Iannuhup Village back in May 2013, at the request of a village leader there, Daniel. We spent several hours studying and answering questions with 12 souls that day.

Tom subsequently followed up in the village, with George (Tom’s cousin) and Alice taking a special interest in the studies. I am happy to report that the couple was baptized during my most recent trip to Tanna. Iannuhup is about an hour’s walk from Iatukun (Tom’s village), and the plan is for them to continue assembling with them until there are others in Iannuhup to meet with. George and Alice specifically requested prayers for their marriage, that they can effectively implement God’s plan for their relationship.

Tom getting ready to baptize his cousin George

George and Alice, after being baptized by Tom (center)

George and Alice after church on Sunday, along with their kids and George's mom, Mary

New Places & Faces - Lousinganu

We continue to see God causing the increase and opening up doors of opportunity into new areas. In part three of this series, we would like to introduce you to new contacts in Lousinganu Village in Central Tanna Island.

I had the pleasure to spend a week in Lousinganu Village last month. I was scheduled to spend the week with the Loun/Lorakau congregation, but they requested that we conduct a series of lessons in nearby Lousinganu instead. Thomas, his wife (Mary), and his brother (Peter), have been making the 45 minute one-way walk to meet with the Christians in Loun most Sundays for several months. They were originally contacted by Thomas and Peter’s uncle, Harry, who is one of the church leaders.

We had some 20 adult visitors attend the afternoon studies each day, in addition to 10-15 church members. We are hopeful that the seeds planted during the week will take root and grow into faithful disciples, and perhaps there will be a church meeting in Lousinganu in the months to come.

Afternoon study in Lousinganu 
Thomas and Mary along with their kids and extended family members

New Places & Faces - Green Point

We continue to see God causing the increase and opening up doors of opportunity into new areas. In part two of this series, we would like to update you on the activity in the Green Point Area of South Tanna Island.

After spending most of 2014 in Port Vila because of the medical needs of their youngest son, Jack and Anna returned home to Tanna Island late last year, and this year began actively living out their faith in Green Point. Jack and I spent countless hours studying together in 2014, and it is such a pleasure to see his spiritual maturity. Anna and Shawnda also studied together once per week during that year, and she is an absolute jewel. They report that the Sunday assemblies they host at their home have 10-20 adult and children visitors each week.

By all accounts, Jack was the definition of a “brawler” before he turned his life over to Jesus, and many in his home village are stunned at the transformation they've seen in his life. We are excited by his determination to let his light shine, and pray that many others will follow his and Anna’s good example in South Tanna.

Jack and Anna, along with boys Saing and Ralph, and Jack's aunt

New Places & Faces - Wiaru

We continue to see God causing the increase and opening up doors of opportunity into new areas. In part one of this series, we would like to introduce you to two new Christians from Wiaru Village in North Malekula Island.

I met Christine & William during my first trip to Malekula back in 2009. I was originally taken to Malekula by Flexon, and Christine is his eldest sister. She and William live about a 3 hour walk inland from Tulwei Village, which is where our family was based from 2011 to 2013.

We are excited to report that William and Christine were baptized into Christ recently. Both Flexon and his younger brother Alsen were instrumental in studying with and converting them. You may also recall me mentioning their son, Atison, several times in recent blog posts and reports. It is exciting to see this family continue to reach out to their loved ones with the good news.

Alsen and his wife recently moved inland, and are now only about a 20 minute walk from Wiaru, and so the two families are able to gather together each Sunday for a time of worship and encouragement. They have several regular visitors from the community that are meeting with them as well. We are planning to conduct an open air gospel meeting in 2016 in Wiaru, and look forward to the fruit that might be gleaned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Maiden Voyage

Lembinwen Village is situated in Southwest Bay, Malekula, the very definition of ocean-front property. We made our first mission trip there back in July 2012 at the invitation of Aiel and his family. Lembinwen is unique because there are no roads on that part of the island, being “trapped” by the sea on one side and mountainous regions on the other. Because of it’s location on the bay, in conjunction with the huge lagoon, the primary form of transportation is local-style outrigger canoe (or more recently and less-common, fiberglass boats with outboard motors).

Canoes in Lembinwen are like cars in the Western world - i.e. most families have at least one, although there are a few who do not have one of their own. For various reasons, including access to the proper type of tree and cost, Aiel has not had a functioning canoe for many years. In theory, he and his family could walk to and from the garden, but it would be treacherous and very time consuming. The alternative they usually choose is borrowing a canoe, but that usually means they can only go to the garden when others aren’t. Their son Jansen is also a great fisherman, whether by net or spear or hook, but isn't able to fish as often as he could if they had a family canoe. Lastly, Titus LOVES the water and boats, and so he regularly asks if he too can borrow someone else’s canoe when we are there (not too keen on that one, as I would hate for him to damage or sink someone’s means to livelihood).

With all those facts in mind, late last year I asked Aiel to help me acquire a canoe. We found and purchased a proper “bluewater” tree, commissioned a neighbor to oversee the project, and the rest is history (ended up costing about US$200). During our recent trip to Southwest Bay, we were able to take the “Ti-US” (so named by Titus and pronounced “tie-you-ess”) on it’s maiden voyage. That evening, Aiel and I went out and hung the fishing net between two buoys (like a “trout line” in the States), and ended up with six fish by morning. Maybe I’m weird, but I feel two things being out in the canoe: [1] a little closer to New Testament times as we paddle the open water in a rather crude vessel, and [2] a little more manly because we provide the food with our bare hands. Titus enjoyed playing in and with the canoe for a few days, and I believe Aiel and Jansen are putting it to good use on a daily basis while we are back in Vila.

It would seem that my plan worked out quite nicely :)

Alexis, mom, me, Aiel and Benny (project manager)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Light in Lembinwen

One of the things I've been trying to emphasize with the local congregations here is being a blessing within the community, both as individuals (at work, school, play, garden, etc.) and as a group. I've been encouraging them to find specific ways in which the church can focus on areas of service or ministry to make a difference in Jesus' name. Simply keeping your eyes open for opportunities to serve the community, coupled with prayers asking God to open doors, can work wonders.

One of the things Aiel and his family in Lembinwen Village (Southwest Bay, Malekula) wanted to do was assist the local "kindy" with some supplies. Government schools begin with Class 1 (1st grade), and so each community is responsible for running their own kindy program, which means they are often under-resourced. Aiel met with the kindy teacher and together they came up with a list of items that would benefit the learning of these 20 to 25 four- and five-year-olds (buckets, crayons, floor mat, wall clock, drawing paper, etc.).

Most of the items needed to be purchased in Vila, and we then shipped them to Malekula, including some posters that were sourced from the States. During our recent trip to Lembinwen, the kindy teacher and parents asked us to come see how they were using the resources that had been provided.

It was such a joy to see the kids benefiting from the donations, and I was proud of Aiel's family for putting the teaching into practice. The kids had literally memorized all of the principles and spelling of the information contained on the posters (days of the week, colors, 123s, ABCs, shapes, etc.), and were very appreciative.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Aid Distribution 101 … How we did it (Part 5)

We were grateful that the folks in Malekula and Santo islands were not seriously affected by the cyclone, being that they are on the far west side of the archipelago. Further east is the island of Ambae, and we were able to talk with leaders there and send a shipment of rice and tinned meat to help the locals get back on their feet food-wise. Thankfully the brethren there were not as hard-hit as other areas of the country.

Additionally, the island of Tanna in the south was hit quite squarely. I ended up making three quick trips to Tanna post-cyclone, in an effort to determine how best we could help the locals there. On those initial trips we were able to supply families with tents, tarps, and food items. As mentioned in a previous post, even the outer island stores stayed well stocked due in large part to Vanuatu’s pre-existing shipping channels, which made it much easier to ensure that everyone had access to food.

We work regularly with brethren in four different villages in Tanna, and it was determined that we needed someone on the ground there to help facilitate the distribution. Tom graciously accepted the position, which included him coming to stay with us in Vila for a week to help unpack goods from the Brisbane-originated containers, and box up things to send to Tanna. We initially sent 60+ boxes of clothing, bedding, toiletries, medical supplies, food, etc., to be placed in the hands of local leaders for distribution. I was pleased with the way they distributed these goods far and wide, and were a blessing to many people in their communities and beyond.

The church buildings in both Loun and Iatukun Villages were badly damaged. The Loun building was made completely out of local materials, and so within a couple of weeks of the storm, they had already picked up the pieces and reassembled their meeting place, albeit about 20% smaller than the original due to damaged materials. We are currently making plans to help them construct a more permanent building, and believe it will be serviceable by yearend. The building in Iatukun had a corrugated iron roof that was completely demolished, and so we were able to provide new sheets of roofing iron. The local Christians salvaged the old roofing iron to quickly piece together shelters and kitchens.

Housing was also an issue in Tanna, primarily because most of the houses were made completely from local materials … materials (bamboo, wild cane, coconut leaves) that will not be available again for quite some time due to the storm. Our solution was to provide a heavy-duty chain saw for the brethren to use to mill lumber from the trees that had fallen, ripping posts, rails, and planks to rebuild houses, kitchens and toilets. The chainsaw also came in handy as they undertook the huge task of cleaning up their gardens, as there were large tree limbs strewn everywhere.

Aid Distribution 101 … How we did it (Part 4)

As you continue on around the east side of Efate Island, Eton Village is located about a 30 minutes drive from Port Vila. Missionaries Tobey and Kathy Huff live on the church property, and were instrumental in cyclone relief there, especially in relation to food, water and housing. We coordinated efforts to some extent, but for the most part they handled the needs of the brethren and others in the village. In similar fashion to Etas, we delivered 20+ boxes of donated goods into the hands of the leadership, who in turn distributed the items as they saw fit. The members also worked together with Tobey to repair the church building, which lost one side of windows and one side of the roof.

Approximately 20 minutes beyond Eton is Epau Village.  Epau’s water system was offline for several days following the cyclone, and so we made water runs there as well. Thankfully, the system was functioning very quickly, thanks in large part to Bob, who is chairman of the village water committee and one of the leaders in the church in Epau. The water system in Epau consists of a series of pipes and tanks, fed by a fresh water spring about a mile up the hill from the village. There is basically one outdoor tap for every household/clan. We delivered water filtration systems to folks here as well, to ensure clean drinking water. In addition, we supplied food staples, tarps, nails, and soap early on, as they waited for the government rations to kick in. Most of the brethren in Epau lost at least one entire house, and so we were able to use relief funds to purchase much needed sheets of roofing iron, depending on how many they lost in the storm. Additionally, the entire roof of the church building fell in on itself, and so many local Christians worked together to get it replaced, along with the louvered glass windows.

Church building in Epau Village

Church building in Eton Village