Saturday, January 31, 2015

Anatomy of Holiday Youth Camp (Part 2): Why camp?

We had been meeting weekly for almost a year, and while the kids remained diligent in their attendance and participation, it was evident that we needed to add something fresh to the mix. Ni-Vanuatu youth love opportunities to get away from the house, away from everyday responsibilities, to spend some time in fun and recreation. They also genuinely enjoy relevant Bible study. It’s really no different than any other country/culture, I assume. Since students are out of school in January, I thought it would be a good time to get away with the youth for a few days (this post not withstanding!). 

I had seen pics on a friend’s Facebook feed of a campsite south of town, and went to inquire. It was a pretty classic low-key summer camp type setting, just a few meters from the beach. It had running water and generator-supplied electricity in the evenings. I took Atison and Sam (a leader in the Etas church and father of three youth group members) to view the property and share my vision, and they too were excited about the idea. We prayed that afternoon God would open a door for us to have a successful camp there in the not too distant future, and began making preparations. The youth too, when presented with the idea, were very keen.

To be continued…

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Anatomy of Holiday Youth Camp (Part 1): Forming the group

The congregation in Etas Village was our team’s first new church plant in Vanuatu, primarily a result of the efforts of Aaron and Cindy beginning in late 2005. Most of the new Christians were young couples, and so naturally much of our efforts were focused on their young children. Ministries included Children’s Bible Club, Bible Hour, and Cindy’s Reading School (for kids whose parents couldn't afford to send them to public school). Fast forward almost 10 years, and those kids that were introduced to Jesus and His word are now in their teens. Shawnda and I have attempted to pick up where the Bakers left off, and continue to minister to these youth and their families. We began formal youth group meetings early last year, coming together in Etas each Sunday afternoon.

I am especially grateful that Atison, the eldest member of the youth group, is gifted to be a leader and teacher amongst them. We’ve seen a lot of growth in Atison and the rest of the group. I floated the idea of a youth camp to Atison last year and he was very excited. After talking with a few leaders in the Etas congregation, we began making preparations to conduct our first youth camp in January.

To be continued…

Aaron taking the confession of Sam and Pbles, two of our first contacts in Etas Village, before their baptisms back in January 2006
Leimawa assisting in Cindy's reading school - Etas 2007. Several current youth group members were students.

Future youth group members Jimmy, Michael, Elginy and Martino at PBK in 2009

Early youth group meeting in Etas in 2014

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Counseling and Consulting

One thing we’ve learned about Vanuatu culture is the value placed on mediated communication, to perhaps coin a phrase ;). While in the West we value the ability to confront a situation head-on, grabbing the bull by the horns, and “manning up”, these are quit undesirable characteristics in group-centric cultures such as Vanuatu. Here they prefer a more beat-around-the-bush, indirect approach, always eager to invoke the services of a mediator. With that in mind, our most recent trip to Northwest Malekula saw Shawnda and me taking the role of counselor and consultant.

I continue to be hesitant about putting details in such a public forum, but our counseling was an effort to mediate between a married couple that has been facing some significant problems in their relationship, including all manner of hatefulness and selfishness … a vicious scenario. In fact, it’s my opinion that the only reason they’ve stayed together is because, ironically, it is the easiest option available to them. Had either one been presented with a “reasonable” option to leave, they would have taken it. The situation has caused a lot of consternation for the church as well, both internally and within the community as the members have become the recipient of much gossip and scorn because of this situation. We spent time talking to the couple individually, and also with congregational leaders. The whole process is somewhat counterintuitive to me personally, because I would just assume the locals handle it themselves, but they value an outsider’s mediation, and so we did our best. By no means have all the problems been solved, but I do believe that a plan has been put into place that can have positive results. It’s going to be a long and arduous road.

We put on our consulting hats as well during the visit. Many of the churches here get into a rut of “we believe the right things and do the right things on Sunday” and never allow Christ to influence them much beyond that. I’ll be the first to admit that the mindset is largely the fault of missionaries such as myself, but it’s a mistake we are endeavoring to rectify. During the week, Shawnda met individually with the women and I with the men. We had asked them beforehand to think specifically about one “internal” ministry idea, one “external” ministry idea, and what changes/improvements could be done to the children’s and youth Bible classes (which had obviously both become quite stagnant). Beyond those three items, they were invited to share anything else that was on their minds. While we heard our fair share of complaints and blame-gaming, it turned out to be a positive and beneficial experience. Having compared notes with Shawnda throughout the week, I used our assembly time on Sunday to share some of the ideas that we had been presented, using Matthew 25:31-46 as our study text. Hopefully and prayerfully, 2015 will see the church in Tulwei Village take a more active approach to ministry and service within the congregation, in the community, and beyond.

As always, your prayers are appreciated...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Note to self

I’ve made this note several times before, but apparently it’s necessary to do so again: don’t schedule things in December or January. Things just don’t tend to work out during those months. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over, but we made a reporting trip to New Zealand in December 2012, and we were finishing up our Visiting Missionary role at OC in December 2013, and so I’d forgotten.

Why is work so difficult? It hinges on the fact that Vanuatu’s school year follows the calendar year, and since our summer months are January-March here in the southern hemisphere, schools are on holiday in December and January. Anytime school is out, the rest of the community tends to check out a bit too. Some businesses even close for entire weeks or even a month during the holiday season. 

With all the closures and resulting free time, you’d think it would be a perfect time to schedule something extra: a workshop, a study series, a campaign effort or a church picnic. But to the contrary, it means that everyone scatters, many going to visit family in other villages or islands. It’s only reasonable, really, as it’s the only time of year they are free to do so. It actually makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Live and learn, Eric, live and learn ;)