Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cyclone Pam 4/1

James​ has arrived, and we've already put him through the wringer! Yesterday was a full day, beginning with a trip to Epau Village. We were making sure concrete blocks and bags of cement were successfully delivered to Arthur's house. Their family sleep house was totally demolished, but they had been working on a block house pre-cyclone. We are working to provide materials so they can get a roof on the new build, so they can quit sleeping outside (under a UK Aid tarp). We also inspected the damages on other homes, and are working towards helping them get reliable roofs on their houses as well.

One of the brethren there, Bob, is in chairman of the water supply committee, and he has been working hard to get the village water supply back online. James wanted to have a look at the source and the holding tanks, to see what help/advice he could provide (he's the owner of The Water Store in Tulsa, OK). Together with Bob and the committee, we are looking into the possibility of reworking the system to make it more reliable ... as it stands, any heavy rains cause the poly-pipes to become disjointed and/or break because of the rushing river.

We visited a few folks in Eton on the way back, and made it back to town just in time to pick Alexis up from school. We then quickly loaded up all our 20L water containers in the truck and headed to Etas Village for our regular water run to the two areas there. We delayed a bit with the squad that live near the dump, so much so that the dump gate got locked, with us on the "wrong" side. We tried a couple of other roads, but the debris from the cyclone and recent rains meant they too were not passable. On the plus side, we provided A WHOLE BUNCH of villagers their free entertainment for the evening, as they watched me try (in vain) to get up a steep, muddy incline. Alas, we drove back to the gate, parked the truck, and headed out walking. Thankfully, a service bus came by quickly and was able to take us back to the house. He's definitely getting to experience the real deal!

Wednesday was shopping day (after I hitched a ride to Etas to retrieve the truck), as we had several things to pick up in preparation for our trip to Malekula and Santo this weekend. I am getting a bit of a cold, and appreciate prayers for health and safety as James, Titus and I travel to visit the brethren there from Thursday to Tuesday. We are slated to do some major building supply purchases beginning next week, and truly appreciate all the extra funds that have been provided over the past two weeks (www.gofundme.com/oz6e9c for more info).

Still no power at the house, but the workers are in the neighborhood and we expect it to be back on by the weekend ... fingers crossed ;).

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers! We read and appreciate every email, note and comment, but don't always have the time (or the internet connectivity) to respond. Please know that you are holding us up during this trying but faith-building time. We love and appreciate you all! To God be the glory... ~E

Cyclone Pam 3/30 Bislama Bibles

In the past we've maintained a "Bislama Bible Fund" but over time the requests naturally waned, and so did the fund (Bislama is the national language of Vanuatu). However, Cyclone Pam caused water damage in almost every home on Efate and Tanna, and many Bibles were ruined. I'm sending this stack out today, and our stock is basically finished. Would you consider donating if you haven't already? We can get a bulk discount rate of about US$15 each. This is just one of many needs that we are facing. Details for credit/debit cards and checks can be found at www.gofundme.com/oz6e9c. Thanks, and God bless…

Cyclone Pam 3/29

A few updates from Vila...

- Our second counseling session with A and G went well (study and discussion of Eph 5:21-33). We are hoping that he will start taking part in church activities, as that will serve to unify their family. Our next meeting together is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Thanks for praying.

- Food rations (rice and tinned meat) seem to have kicked in around the country, which is a relief to so many as they focus on rebuilding homes and replanting gardens. We continue to be on alert as to where we can fill in the gaps, and begin to work towards helping people rebuild and get back to normal.

- Still no electricity here at the house, 2 weeks post-Pam. Not too bad actually, as we run the generator for a few hours twice a day for the washing machine and keeping the freezer compartment at fridge temps (gas is about US$5.65/gal). We have running water, cellular service, and cool(ish) breezes, so we can't complain!

- One of our elders, James Moore​, is scheduled to arrive here tomorrow. We will focus on Efate for a few days, then make a quick trip to Malekula (Southwest Bay and Tulwei) and Santo (Shark Bay). Then back to Vila for a few days before a long weekend trip to Tanna (Loun, Lorakau, Iatukun and Greene Pointe). We are so grateful that he's coming to see the people and places we love and care for.

- Churches in Brisbane (AU) have successfully loaded two 20ft containers of donated goods that are scheduled to arrive here around 7 April. This will certainly be a tremendous blessing to many here. We are praying for wisdom as to how go about sharing, and pray that God will use these gifts to His glory.

- Last but not least, we've been overwhelmed with appreciation as we receive updates from the church in Perkins (OK), Australia and New Zealand regarding relief funds being donated. Many, many Christians have stepped up to the plate to love their Vanuatu neighbors. Hardship is hard, but Christian family working together makes it sweet. To God be the glory, and thanks for bearing fruit!! www.gofundme.com/oz6e9c

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cyclone Pam 3/27

Took some time today to "sharpen my axe" ... made a trip to the wharf (Vila-Malekula ship hadn't arrived yet), was able to get the truck in for routine service, and had a cup of coffee and some toast at cafe in town as I mapped out travel plans and relief/rebuilding plans.

Really excited that one of our elders from Perkins (OK), James Moore​, is headed our way in just a couple of days. We're going to see if we can wear him out dragging him here, there and everywhere, but we know he's up for it! 

Got a call late in the day from Patrick (& Ruth) inquiring about my recent trip to Tanna. He is originally from the White Sands area of that island, which logged the majority of the Tanna deaths, but now works on a cattle farm here on Efate. I'm glad he called because I learned that they and their coworkers had some needs that they weren't able to meet, so Michael​ and I  did some shopping and headed to the center of the island. Beautiful drive, especially getting to see so much green grass and healthy cows (although all the trees were bare). Patrick is a hard worker, both on the farm and in the kingdom, and we enjoyed getting to visit with him for just a bit. So grateful to all of you that have sent in extra funds (www.gofundme.com/oz6e9c), which allow us to help out in these types of instances without a second thought. They were so appreciative, and I wish each and every one of you could witness first hand the joy of distribution. What a blessing. Thank you for serving alongside us!

I have flights booked to Malekula and Tanna in the next couple of weeks, and we also plan to start some rebuilding on a house in Epau Village soon. Your continued prayers for wisdom, providence and endurance are greatly appreciated! ~E

Mike Gray (Shawnda's dad) poses with Patrick (brown shirt), his dad (lt blue) and cousin (dark blue)

Cyclone Pam 3/26

We did a combo water-run / Tanna report at a couple of different places in Etas Village this morning. They had already heard my stories, but we're excited to see photos of their homeland and loved ones in Tanna. Every time I look thru the photos I am amazed that that the death and injury tolls were so low. Any loss of life is, of course, too much, but I still can't believe it wasn't worse, especially on Tanna.

I spent most of the rest of the day hunting down the best prices on corrugated roofing sheets and water tanks, and started the #OhMyVanuatu experience of paying our vehicle registration :) ~E

Oh my Vanuatu: TC Pam edition

Saw this "temporary fix" to the electrical lines while walking in town today...

#OhMyVanuatu ;)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cyclone Pam 3/25

Good things happening on Efate today...
We started the day with another water run to Etas Village. Michael Gray and Titus are quickly becoming old hands at the task! We will head out again tomorrow with a truck load, and will stick around awhile to show them pictures of their loved ones in Tanna - they were grateful to hear news of my trip today, and are now anxious to see pics.
I met with church leaders in Etas and Epau today, getting an update on where they are and what they need. I'm trying my best to listen and hear what they need, rather than putting my ideas into their heads. I think we are headed in the right direction as to how to best assist them.
The first installment of NDMO (Natural Disaster Management Office) food rations were delivered to Epau today. Allowances are to include 5kg rice, 2 tinned fish, 2 tinned beef, and 2 packets of Ramen noodles ... per person, every 15 days. Seems fairly meager, but I think it is really designed to supplement what little they are able to gather from their gardens. The distribution centers in town were basically mobs of people anxious to get food (more because it was free than because they were desperate, IMO), but I think the village drop-offs were a little more tame. Overall, it's probably as good a system as there can be. I'm grateful that the food is starting to flow, and pray that tensions don't rise as the weeks go on.
In Epau, I also learned that an aid organization had dropped off gravity-fed water filtering units (no instructions, no training, which will likely equal no use), and another had dropped off tool packets (machete, hand saw, hammer, nails, tie wire, etc.) to each household. It was also GREAT news that the water supply is back online in Epau (an average of one outdoor tap per household). One of the Christians there, Bob, is head of the village water committee, and I was proud of his hard work. Running water is such a blessing, and you don't tend to realize it until you don't have it. Since Epau now has food and water coming in, we will slowly turn our efforts to rebuilding there, as materials and funds allow. We are still collecting money via www.gofundme.com/oz6e9c or via check to:
Perkins Church of Christ
PO Box 128
Perkins, OK 74059
If you need further details, don't hesitate to ask. Thanks so much for your continued thoughts and prayers!! We'll provide more details as they become available... ~E

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cyclone Pam 3/24 Tanna trip

Note: this is going to be somewhat detailed, because I know there are some who’ve been to Tanna and desperately want to know all the ins and outs of my trip. Those who prefer the cliff-notes version can just skip to the pics and captions, as you will get the gist of the trip from them :)

My trip started off eerily, as a sizeable group had gathered at the Vila airport to receive a coffin from Tanna…always a difficult site. Take off in Vila was then delayed, as we waited on two doctors from New Zealand to transfer over from their international flight to our domestic one.

I touched down in Tanna and found a transport headed to “town” (Lenakel), about 15 minutes away. The natural destruction I saw as we bumped along this once-familiar island road was about what I expected, and my emotions soared. There were tree branches everywhere, and being a week post-Pam meant everything had browned, either from being severed from the life-giving roots, or scorched by the Tropical March sun. No branches and leaves means no shade, and throughout my trip I noted what a toll this small fact alone took. The place was hardly recognizable.

I got dropped off at Lenakel Stadium, and one of the locals in the truck with me surprisedly exclaimed, “Are you going to walk?!? You’re going to have to jump over a lot of trees!” I just smiled and affirmed. The first hour of my walk up the hill to Loun Village was rather treacherous. It is a heavily wooded area, and for some reason every single tree decided to fall towards and onto the road. It didn’t help matters that I was carrying ten tents/tarpolines/ropes on my backside, and my personal effects on my frontside, and a plastic bag of groceries in my hand. In good conditions, the trek would have been about an hour, but it took me almost two. Thankfully, by nightfall I had reached the portion of the road that the locals had already cleared, which made it much easier to find my way. If I had had to try and navigate the lower portion of the road in the dark, I am certain that I would have ended up being lost. I had a plan B though, plenty of tents to sleep in!

As darkness set in, I came upon a villager that inquired as to my destination, and he walked with me for about five minutes, leading me to Miswel’s house. Miswel, Martha and Kal were beyond shocked to see me, and I was beyond blissful to put my bags down! It was so great to see them, huddled together under a makeshift shelter of two pieces of recycled (read: badly damaged and twisted beyond recognition) corrugated roofing held up by bamboo poles, couched down “Tanna style” and eating ripe bananas. They said that they were just about to head to the classroom to sleep. We visited briefly as we walked, and I learned that there were no deaths, or even serious injury, in their area. We came to John and Alice’s house (well, where their house used to be), and I got to surprise them and others at their compound. John had pieced together a small shack from the remains of his previous house and kitchen. It was half full with all their things, the other half being dominated by a mattress. He was sleeping there to keep an eye on the place, while his wife and kids went back and forth to the classroom each evening/morning to sleep. We immediately set up a couple of the tents I brought, and all us guys stayed there while the women and children went on to the school. I was so glad to be there, and to know that everyone was safe.

I awoke early the next morning (Sunday), and was in awe of the destruction, as it was my first time to see it in the daylight. Every house, kitchen and toilet on their land had been totally destroyed. With all the leaves and most branches gone from the trees, you could see for miles and miles around, including the tops of hills that I really didn’t even know where there. Miswel took me on a quick tour of the village, particularly to the school site where the majority of the village had taken shelter on the morning of the cyclone, and where most women and children were still sleeping each night. What a blessing these concrete structures were around the entire nation, saving countless lives. The foreign government and aid organizations who funded them deserve congratulations for rendering an invaluable service to the people of Vanuatu.

After breakfast of yam and flying fox (aka fruit bat), they began clearing a place for our assembly. The sun was relentless, and there was little shade to be had. It was an abbreviated service, but I think our assembling together met its function quite well … to encourage one another in our common faith. I spoke briefly from Jesus’ sermon in Mt 6, encouraging them to trust in Him and not to worry. After lunch, the guys and I headed up the hill about an hour to Lorakau Village, where several members live. They usually all rotate having church each Sunday between these two villages, but because of the storm had not yet made contact. It as fun to surprise them, but once again devastating to see the destruction and hard times that they too are facing. Upon seeing me, Tess began to wail loudly, the customary way to show intense sorrow and grief. I will never get used to that sound, as it penetrates you to your soul, but after about 5 minutes, she dried her eyes, smiled, and came over and shook my hand. Tess and her family, in particular, became very close to the Baker family while they lived in the village, and I think my “representing them” after such an agonizing experience was just more than she could take. I sat and visited with the family, and they told me their story of how they had endured the cyclone and its aftermath. Amazingly, two of their local-style houses were still standing!! I came to learn that they had both actually fallen to one side, but several men pulled them back upright using ropes the day after the storm.

We found some shade under the eaves of the school there, as the sun was now at full-bore, where Miswel and I took a brief nap on a pile of 2x4s. We said our goodbyes and headed back down the hill, stopping briefly at a water tap to bathe. We walked by the collecting tank that normally (although rather infrequently) supplies water down to Loun. A large banyan tree had fallen on a section of pipe in the storm, severing it and bury it deep under its massive trunk and root system, and so Loun has been without water for over a week now. They have rain tanks at the school, but with the entire village using them, they will be depleted soon.

I had planned to head on back to Lenakel in the afternoon, to give me a head start to the south for Monday morning, but the guys convinced me to just say there for the night, promising to rise early the next morning with me to make the trek to Iatukun Village. We ended up leaving about 6am (we finally made it to Tom’s house in Iatukun about 10:30). Miswel, John and I ran into Antoine in Lenakel, He was in the back of a truck, and so I was only able to shake hands and speak to him briefly, but he told me that the rest of the family was at home (I later learned that he was in town because he had joined the disaster relief committee, and will be involved in the aid distribution). As we walked south, we met Jack coming our way. He was SO surprised to see me, as we hadn’t seen each other since I dropped him and his family back at Green Pointe last November. It was so good to see him, and he turned around and followed us back south. A few minutes later, we had the same experience with Tom. Lots of smiles all around. Tom said that he had planned on staying home to work that day, but saw so many people passing by on their way to Lenakel, that he was afraid he was going to miss something so he headed down the hill too. After a brief discussion of whether we would all head back to town, or on to the village, we decided to go on to Iatukun so that I could see the rest of the family there, and witness the destruction for myself.

They too were eager to share their story of survival and resilience as we walked. Surprisingly, the road all the way south had been cleared over the weekend… no small feat! There were definitely more people on the road than normal, several in trucks but most were walking. Between the four local men I was now traveling with, they knew everyone we passed, which meant we stopped and exchanged pleasantries often. Once we reached Tom’s, I saw Margaret in the distance and joking yelled to her “where’s the house?!?” She too was surprised as could be to see me and ran over. I held out my hand for the customary handshake greeting, but she came on in and hugged me. Rather untraditional, but it showed how grateful she was to see me… what a welcome. What a blessing it was to see Tom, Margaret and their daughters all healthy and smiling. Antoine’s wife, Merriam, soon learned of our presence and came over as well. Tom showed me around the place, and while I basically knew what to expect, I was still in awe of the destruction. Church building, kitchen, and two houses had been rendered sticks. Thankfully, the posts of the church building were all still in tact, and even the door was still on it’s hinges. The bamboo walls and corrugated steel roofing sheets did not fare so well.

It was no surprise to me that Tom and had already pieced together a small house, a cooking area, and a shelter that basically looked like a crude horse stable. He is perhaps the most industrious ni-Van I know, and he had really made some progress. Thankfully, their water supply was not damaged. What a blessing water is (be grateful every time you turn on the tap or flush)! We visited and had lunch together (even though I hated to eat some of their food, with there being so little left). It was a pleasure to sit in the “horse stable” and share stories. They were eager to learn about Vila, Etas and Loun, and shared about their experience as well. We talked about the steps they’re taking to rebuild and replant, and what assistance the government and NGOs will be able to provide. We all dozed off for the normal noontime siesta, and once the sun had crested and begun its descent, the three of us began our descent back down to Lenakel?Loun as well. It was tough to say goodbye, but we were all reassured by my intention to travel back to Tanna early next month.

Miswel, John and I made the three hour trip back down to town, stopping briefly at the river for a rinse off / cool down. Man, the sun sure was strong! The cool water rushing past felt wonderful, and it was hard to leave. We made it back to Lenakel about 5:30pm, and rather than trek all the way back up the hill to Loun and then back down for my 7am airport checkin, I stayed the night at the Tanna Lodge. There were dozens of aid workers there, and the only room they had available had a huge empty space where the gables should have been, but I was happy to have the running water and a bed. After thanking Miswel and John for their company, and sharing a few gifts with them, I basically crashed until 6:00 the next morning, when I got a ride back to the airport. There are piles and piles of rice, tinned meat, noodles, and bottled water there waiting to be distributed. I do not envy the logistics of getting such aid out to the people, but hope that it will be done in an effective way.

It was a quick trip, and full of excitement. I am really glad I went, as I think it was an encouragement to the brethren there, and it gave me a better idea as to how we might assist them in the near future. While there is definitely an air of concern amidst the people, they are still smiling, very resourceful, and quite resilient. They are undoubtedly going to come out the other side of this, but are in need of help. Their primary focuses now are temporary housing, gardens, and water. I’ve spoken above of water issues, especially in Loun as their supply system was badly damaged. The housing situation is difficult. They can (and already have) pieced together what materials they can salvage from the old houses, but only a fraction of those materials remained intact which means smaller/less houses and kitchens. Too, it is difficult because the natural resources (bamboo, wild cane, coconut leaves) they would normally use to rebuild were also badly damaged or destroyed in the storm. The churches’ meeting places in both Loun and Iatukun will also need to be replaced, as there are really no other out-of-the-elements options for their assemblies. It comes as no surprise, but they are very wise when it comes to food consumption. After the storm they diligently went out and collected the fruit and vegetables that had fallen, and have been eating things in conjunction with their spoil-rate (eating things that are quicker to spoil first, saving the longer lasting items for later). Their manioc crops were basically destroyed because the high winds dislodged the roots enough that they will rot (and they weren’t yet mature enough to eat). The yam harvest begins April 1, and the yams are quite hearty and can last for months if the thick outer skin is not compromised, which will be a lifesaver. The kumala (sweet potatoes) seemed to have weathered the storm as well. Coconuts are a major staple to the Tanna diet, often consumed at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but all the coconuts were knocked off the trees, and some 30% of the trees fell down, so that will be a hardship in the coming months.

I was pleased to see chicks, piglets and calves as I walked around the villages … the promise of new life and future provision. The banana plants that had been broken in half already had new shoots coming out, a welcomed sign of renewal. God’s creation is truly amazing, and He does care for people as a loving Father. Please be in constant prayer for everyone in Tanna and throughout Vanuatu! I believe that they are all going to be fine, but they are going to need some assistance as they get back on their feet. Thank you to all who prayed for my safe trip, and for ongoing wisdom as we seek to minister here. ~E

Loaded down and ready for adventure!
Miswel and John happy to receive their tents in Loun Village

Remains of the church building in Loun

Remains of John and Alice's house in Loun

Makeshift house quickly put together by John from salvaged materials ... currently a family of 8. 
Remains of Abu Iata's house/kitchen in Loun

Remains of a partial-concrete structure in Loun

School building in Loun where countless took shelter during the cyclone, and many women and children continue to sleep (Miswel)

John showing off a flying fox (fruit bat)

Remains of a house in Loun

Getting ready for the day in Loun (Taiwan and Kal's wife)

Breakfast in Loun ... yams and flying fox (mmmmmmmmm)

Remains of church building in Loun (left) and our meeting place this Sunday (right)

Alice telling the children stories about Moses in Loun

Loun assembly Sunday am

New banana shoots ... promise for a fruitful future

This house in a village just north of Loun, the only concrete structure in the area, sheltered some 127 people (!!!) during the cyclone. It's approx 215 square feet (24m2).

Villagers working together to rebuild houses from salvaged and new local materials

House at Lorakau Rural Training Center where Aaron, Cindy, Kaela and Melia lived in 2011.

Ahhhh, Patu ... that smile!!!!

RonJon, Tess and Yaris in Lorakau

Harry in Lorakau

Classroom in Lorakau that saved countless lives during the cyclone and still houses several a week later

Two of Harry's houses in Lorakau are still standing, though they had fallen to the side and had to be pulled back upright by several men using ropes

Remains of the boys' dorm at Lorakau Rural Training Center

Huge banyan tree split in half by Cyclone Pam, just outside the Baker's old doorstep

Chief Nako in Lorakau

Water tank that supplies Loun Village ... a pipe was badly damaged by a tree falling on it and the village has been without their water supply for over a week now. The school's water tank is quickly running out.

New sprouts on the banana trees that were broken in half by the storm

A little local medicine ... this is what happens when you let the white man use the bush knife!

Back at John and Alice's

My place for two nights in Loun

Tom in front of the remains of the Iatukun church building (all the posts are still standing!)

Makeshift shelter at Tom's in Iatukun ... a great place for lunch and a siesta

The remains of Tom and Margaret's main house in Iatukun. Thankfully their water tank is still intact, and their water supply is functioning!

Tom had just recently completed this structure in anticipation of this year's visitors

Makeshift cook house at Tom's in Iatukun 

Remains of a house in Iatukun

For the first time ever, I could see the ocean while sitting at Tom's house ... the trees were badly mangled by the storm, leaving behind no leaves and few intact branches. Things will begin to scorch soon in the Tropical March sun.

Sunset my last night in Tanna

As I walked through the villages I saw many calves, chicks and piglets ... signs of new life and future providence

Two heaps of rice bags awaiting distribution at the airport in Tanna