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Cyclone Pam was called a “monster” even before she began to ravage the islands of Vanuatu. This massive storm travelled down the length of the country bringing devastation from the island of Pentecost to Tanna in the far south.
Port Vila, the capital city, is located on the island of Efate. Port Vila is the most heavily populated place in the whole country of 63 islands. This is where Joy Bible Institute is located. The island of Efate took a direct hit from Pam. The subsequent devastation, with an estimated 85% of all houses severely damaged or totally lost, shows the power of 320kmph winds.
The capital city is a mass of debris: roofing materials scatter the roads, power lines are down, huge trees are uprooted, house floors sit exposed to the wind, and even concrete walls have been pushed over by the fierce winds.
People who already lived on meager resources are now left destitute. The country’s infrastructure has also been crippled: mobile phone towers buckled, satellite dishes broken, schools sit roofless, government buildings battered, and the main hospital eerily broken and empty.
The great efforts to bring basic services and development to the island nation of Vanuatu over the years have been wiped away with one powerful cyclone. The full impact of Pam, the loss of human life, and the scale of the disaster will only come to light in the weeks to come as the ships take to calmer seas, the small planes land on grass runways, the mobile phones begin to ring, and news comes from all the remote villages and islands still silently suffering.
Please pray and give to assist the wonderful people of Vanuatu.
On Saturday August 25, we flew to the island of Tanna for the AG General Conference. The conference opened on Sunday with a parade of delegates and a brass band marching through the town of Lenakel. The week of services was held by the soccer field in the center of town. Different groups set up food stalls and served meals all day long for the attendees.
The President of Vanuatu, His Excellency Iolu Johnson Abbil, flew to Tanna to be at the Sunday opening service and presented Medals of General Service to senior pastors and lay church leaders who have faithfully served the Assemblies of God since its early years in Vanuatu. It was very moving to see so many old friends cross the platform to receive their medal.
Chief Lava Niplaui
Rev. Tari Masanga
Rev. Tom Ierongen
Rev. Willie Naias
Rev. J. Kamanalagi
Rev. Nausien Iakopien
Rev. Bob Koapa
Rev. Raymond Clay
Rev. Hopkins Keith Sawon
Rev. Situ Meiri
Rev. David Willie Saul
Rev. Rene Meltetamath
Rev. Dick Joel Peter
Rev. Youen Atnelo
There were some potentially divisive issues expected at this conference and many of you had been praying. Our prayers were answered as the conference was a wonderful time of healing and encouragement. The guest speaker from Fiji, Rev. Moses Cakau, had a timely word from the Lord each morning and evening. The altars filled with people seeking more of God.
(left) The Conference women met together on Monday and Tuesday. Lori spoke at both meetings. (right) AG Vanuatu Supt. Rev. Youen Atnelo and guest speaker, Rev. Moses Cakau, from Fiji.
(left) Prayer time at altar. (right) Missionary Bryan Webb interpreting for speaker Rev. Moses Cakau.
Thursday morning Gary spoke on “Discipleship” to an attentive group of pastors and delegates.
(left) A shed served as the JBI booth at the conference. We sold Bibles, books and handed out applications to potential students. (right) JBI 2008 graduate, Pastor Alick Keith was ordained during conference and several JBI grads received credentials. Alick pastors on the island of Epi and ministers to secondary school students.
Flying home to Port Vila!
It is great to be back online and have internet service again! Getting a house, unpacking and moving has not been as easy as we had hoped…never is really. Things take much longer than you hope they will. We moved into our rental house and five days later had our first robbery which resulted in the loss of Gary’s new Apple laptop and my mobile phone! It was such a shock to us to have this happen! We are so thankful that Gary had everything except a most recent Bible study backed up. Unfortunately, his computer cannot be replaced here and this is really hindering him from getting his work done. The thieves came again two weeks later and damaged windows and a door but did not get in. UPDATE: Our landlord has just installed security bars on the windows. Thank you for praying for our safety and good rest.
Two weeks ago, we were sitting out Cyclone Vania, which actually formed near the southern Vanuatu island of Erromango, about 100 miles away. It was a slow moving cyclone with high winds which uprooted trees in our yard and all over the Joy Bible Institute campus. The campus still looks like a war zone as so many large trees have come down. We are thankful that no buildings were seriously damaged but we lost the bananas, papayas and much of the avocado crop which the students eat.
The southern islands of Vanuatu were harder hit by Cyclone Vania with food gardens and huts destroyed. For people in rural areas this means food shortages until the next crops can be planted and harvested in 4 to 6 months. We know of four AG churches on Tanna which were heavily damaged. The damage reports are still coming in from other rural areas. Plans are underway for a shipment of food to be sent to Tanna with the assistance of AG World Relief. Thank you to those who have given towards this. Pray that things will go smoothly and a ship will be going south with space to take relief supplies very soon.
UPDATE: Yesterday a second cyclone called Yasi passed over the northern Vanuatu islands of the Banks. All domestic flights were cancelled due to the high winds. Our missionary colleague, Bryan Webb, who was down in Port Vila with us over the weekend and unable to fly home yesterday. His wife and children went through the cyclone alone. I am happy to say he was able to get on a flight home today. We have many churches on the small Banks Islands and are waiting for damage reports. So please pray for the people in the Banks who have just gone through this cyclone. The meteorological department has predicted four cyclones to hit Vanuatu this season.
By world standards, Port Vila is a small capital city. But it is certainly the center of comings and goings to Vanuatu and the outer lying islands. Since we live in Port Vila, we are privileged to meet many people and do many airport welcomes and farewells.
When literature or medication are urgently needed by missionaries or national pastors on other islands we send them by plane. When larger shipments of food, building materials or church supplies are needed, we ship them by small boat.
Doctors and dentists work primarily here in Port Vila so many people have to come to town for treatment. Small commercial planes and a private helicopter are sometimes used in emergency cases to evacuate people to Port Vila for medical treatment. Good medical care is not available to many people.
Our missionary colleague, Bryan Webb, is currently organizing a Health Care team which will be going to the southern island of Tanna. Bryan works on the northern island of Santo so he shipped us the necessary camping supplies of tents, toilets, portable shower and even an electrical generator which we then put on another ship headed to Tanna to be used by the team.
At this point, everything seems to be falling into place for the medical team, except the AIDS awareness kits which are needed for a community health seminar. These were shipped from Fiji in February but have not arrived. Please pray that these parcels will arrive in time to be used in this outreach.
It all started on a twin engine eight passenger plane, piloted by a VERY young lady to whom I entrusted my life for the 75 minute flight. She did an excellent job flying us from Port Vila, the capital, to the island of Tanna (see map above). In the photo above, the pilot had climbed up on the wing to check the one of the engine’s fuel level. (Hover over the photos to read their descriptions.)
The longest and most harrowing part of the trip was the three hour boat trip up the west coast. Sixteen pastors with their backpacks piled into an 18 foot boat that shouldn’t have had more than nine passengers aboard. Then they asked me to pray for a safe journey! I felt like we were tempting God! We had hardly gone a few hundred feet when a wave came crashing over the side of the boat. I was trying to decide whether I should attempt to save my camera equipment if I needed to swim to shore – O, great was my faith!
The waters soon calmed a bit, but as we traveled up the coast, we would stop periodically as church members along the way brought us food which we piled into our very full boat. It soon became apparent that we needed another boat to make the rest of the trip, much to my relief!
The above photo is actually a composite photo, but it gives you a better idea of the area. You see our little yellow boat and some of the buildings where the church is located on the hill.
The Great Commission and
the Great Omission
Wednesday evening was an evangelistic service for the village, so I preached on the God who is looking for true worshippers, based on the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4.
On Thursday and Friday mornings, I had the privilege of speaking for some seven hours to about 25 pastors concerning the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations. On Thursday, we took an in-depth look at Matthew 28:18-20. Far too often the emphasis has been on evangelism and altar calls as if that were the goal. It may be the starting point but it is not the finish line. The mission which Christ gave the church is far greater than evangelizing. We have not done what Christ mandated us to do when we’ve distributed tracts, preached sermons, had altar calls or even baptized new converts. He will evaluate us on the basis of whether or not we have made disciples by teaching them to obey everything that he has commanded us.
On Friday morning we considered the biblical characteristics of disciples as described in the New Testament and had to ask whether we as pastors are true disciples; we reproduce what we are. We also dealt with the process of how we are to make disciples and the need to evaluate all church programs and ministries in terms of whether they are accomplishing the mandate to make disciples. It was evident that the Lord was dealing with hearts and challenging them to obey him in the task of making disciples.
Beware of the sharks!
Early Friday morning afforded some extra excitement as one of the pastors insisted that I come down immediately to the beach with my camera. On Thursday they had slaughtered a cow for the conference. That evening they took a hunk of beef a couple hundred yards out to sea. They secured it with a large fishing hook and high test fishing line. Tied to the end of the line was a plastic sack with a small hole in it, containing cow’s blood, enough to lure something big. The line was then secured on shore. They checked the line at about 1:00 am. Something had taken the bait. They pulled in a three meter (10 foot) tiger shark!
By the time I got there, there was a good crowd of people and the shark had already been disemboweled. During our five and a half days together, we enjoyed wahoo, tuna, black fish, parrot and other fish, and of course, the shark!
Final Sunday Service
Our final service was Sunday morning. Once again it was my privilege to bring the Word, a message on the responsibility of pastors to lead the church to full maturity in Christ Jesus from Ephesians 4:7-16.
Final Trek Back
I had noticed soon after our arrival that there were about ten pastors with us who had not been on the boat. When I asked them how they got to the site, they told me that they had trekked in over the mountains, a hike of two and a half to three hours. I definitely wanted to go back with them to see what I had not yet seen!
Sunday after church, we had a hearty meal and began the trek up the mountain. I carried only a small sack with water and my camera; I had sent my 30 lbs. backpack with the boat!
The scenery was remarkable. From certain points we could see at once Mt. Yashur (Tanna’s volcano), the islands of Futuna, Aniwa and Erromango.
Coming down the other side of the mountain, we passed through villages, were greeted by children playing in the jungle and saw where some of our pastors serve. It was nearly two and a half hours before we found a dirt road. It would be another half hour before we found a truck which would take us the rest of the way to meet the other pastors that had taken the boat. (I was happy to know that they had not capsized with my backpack!) I spent the night in Lenakel and returned to Port Vila by plane on Monday morning.
We have 30 churches on the island of Tanna. Being able to meet with the pastors and help renew their sense of mission was vitally important to the work of the Lord here. I believe that the Lord directed me specifically to speak about the priority of making disciples and the pastors expressed the appreciation for the way that the Lord dealt with them.
Please pray for these pastors that they will continue to grow in the Lord and be the shepherds that God has called them to be. And pray for us that the Lord will continue to enable us to speak discerningly and boldly into the lives of pastors and church leaders in Vanuatu.
On June 4th, Gary took an hour flight south to the island of Tanna to speak at the Tafea Pastor’s Conference. After landing at the Lenakel airport on the SW coast, he joined a group of pastors for the 3 hour motor boat trip to the northern tip of the island. Pastor Am Tuprik and the people of North Gate village were their hosts for the next five days. There were 16 people and their luggage loaded in the small motorboat probably suited for 9 passengers. As they went along the coast, Christians on shore flagged them down and loaded yams and other produce into the boat for the conference. The boat got so low in the water of the sometimes choppy sea that finally, half of the passengers transferred to a second motor boat (photo above). Everyone arrived safely by sea. Other pastors walked several hours on inland trails to attend the five day conference. The photo below right shows the pastors who attended. One of the participants was John Nako, who graduated from JBI in November 2007 and is now working with Pastor Johnny Lava on the island of Tanna. The rest of the story to follow…