Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This is going to take awhile to load so start it, read below, get some hot chocolate, make some popcorn, and come back. :)

My friend Magreth has 3 sisters. Gretchen and Tania both have gotten to know her oldest sister, Wini. Wini invited us to come up to her place (on the same grounds as Magreth's) for a katikati. I guess what a katikati is is a sort of raffle game. Two deck of cards are used. In this case, for 5o vatu (about 50 cents), a card could be "purchased." Once all cards from that deck are purchased, a card from the 2nd deck is drawn. People holding the purchased cards check theirs against what was drawn. Whoever's card was drawn wins the prize (example: 7 of hearts), which in this case was an island dress. Wini sells the dresses for 1500 vatu each (about $15). This isn't much for something hand-sewn and for a dress in general, but it is a pretty high price for island dresses here. The one dress I did buy when I first arrived was 1000 vatu (about $10) so she's getting a bit more profit than others do. Wini just stepped down from her other job working as nanny and housegirl for a New Zealand woman, so it seemed she was using this katikati as a kick-off to let women in her neighborhood know she is selling dresses out of her home now. The older generation of women wear island dresses nearly exclusively, but otherwise women and children wear them for church, weddings and funerals, ceremonies, and other special occassions. Doing the sale allowed Wini to make a bit more on the dresses (assuming lots came to the katikati and bought cards) and also allowed some women a chance at a new island dress for a fraction of the cost. Wini asked us to come up to help with prep and set-up so we had some nice times to hang out, practice Bislama, see a new aspect of culture, and deepen relationship with her and the rest of their family. Thanks to Wini's daughter Beverly, I got lots of pictures I'd never have gotten on my own!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ekipe Village Expedition with Tania

Tania, my teammate, and I went to Ekipe village, north of Vila about 2 hours. We stayed with a Peace Corps worker, Carol from Iowa. She was awesome to let us stay in her house for 2 nights and she totally took us around the village and to a wedding event too. Part 1 and 2 are videos made with pics Tania and I took. They may take an eternity to load, not sure, so start them loading, then do something else for awhile and come back! This was a great trip for Bislama practice, time for Tania & I to hang out, and to see village life. Also though, it was great to get an idea of what would be great to set up temporarily in the bush while homes are being built (pre- electricity and running water!) Grace!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hip hop

Aside from the local string bands and a love for Bob Marley and reggae, hip hop music seems to be the next music genre love of Vanuatu. There are tons of hip hop groups here and competitions here and there. We were able to attend a hip hop competition last night. "We" includes Houghton, Luwi & Monique's kids = Susan, Fred, & Timo, Jesiah & Gwen, and me. Gretch didn't get to go cuz Addy is contagious with impetigo, poor thing!) It was advertised as being from 4-9 PM so we arrived at 5PM thinking being an hour late might put us right on Vanuatu time. Well, we waited until about 6:30, and then they started making announcements. Around 7, the crowd started arriving and the event had started. By 8:30, the place was packed - people standing, sitting on the floor all the way around the dance arena. The event went to 10PM and I think it didn't go later just because the emcee's were from New Zealand and kept things moving. Very interesting to see culture at play. They had to fight to get the crowd to participate and to get the participating dance crews to come to the stage when it was their turn. They'd call the name of the group multiple times, conclude that the group wasn't present, then give up on the group. About that time, someone would convince the group to show themselves so they'd slink up to the dance arena, still hanging back from actually entering. At prompting from the emcee, they'd finally come in. Aside from that, it was AMAZING to see these ni-Van dancers. Some groups had kids so it was super cute to see little guys strutting their stuff. Each group performed individually to self-picked music, then they had the "battles." The judges chose winners based on crowd sound for each competing group but the final 1st and 2nd place were chosen by the judges (from a New Zealand hip hop group, Sweet & Sour).

Other notes about the event - this gym is the one I've been going to my workout classes in and it's pretty ghetto. The floor is concrete so imagine doing head spins and flips on that (and not smoothed concrete, for that matter)! Also, it's up to the season of hotness here now where you just feel like you have a constant fever - breezes give you goosebumps cuz your body is so hot. Imagine now a gym with some metal louver walls letting in a bit of a breeze, but packed to the gills with people and then dancing hip hop in that kind of heat. Insane.

Also, before the event started, I left to go back to the car with Gweny to get the snack/drink sack Gretchen packed for the kids. When we were walking back to the gym, a whole crowd, along with multiple police officers were in our walking path, escorting a squirming prisoner. Just that day, in response to unrest about conditions in the "high security" prison, prisoners escaped and the prison house was burnt to the ground. I put that in quotes because just in the time since we've been here there have been 2 successful outbreaks that I've known about with multiple prisoners escaping. Reportedly, (as written by this morning's newspaper), the prisoners gave government officials a deadline for addressing concerns about conditions of the prison before they were going to walk out. The deadline came so prisoners got an ax and hacked the locks on the cells. They used a thick Bible with "peace" written on the side, placing it upside down on the razor wire. They then climbed a tree and jumped over the prison fence using a branch and the Bible to avoid cuts. Of 65 prisoners, the newspaper reports 26 prisoners being detained (many with gunshot wounds from chasing police and wire cuts) and doesn't report any still at large. Prisoners were moved to the "low security" prison and those low risk prisoners were moved to the VMF (Vanuatu Mobile Force) barracks. Not sure how that's all going to work out. Anyway, I moved as far to the side as I could with Gweny to stay out of the way but when I got back to the gym everyone was pretty stirred up about the catching of this prisoner. An event organizer got on the microphone and encouraged everyone to enjoy the event and that it was just a prisoner who was caught. Hmmm, no big deal I guess. Our team was just talking the other day about needing to make a plan in the event of some sort of military coups or government collapse. It seems not too far fetched to have something like this in place. BMW does also have emergency evacuation plans for missionaries. Please pray for the government and people of Vanuatu - for wise and moral leadership and protection of this country. For the most part, things are peaceful and friendly here, but tempers can flare quickly and people can get stuck in the middle. Military and police here don't seem to necessarily be trained or organized in a way to be very effective in handling problems.

Despite all of this, the hip hop event was very fun to watch and Luwi and Monique's kids seemed to enjoy it. Jesiah and Gwen went home part-way through but seemed to like it too.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Kastom and religion

Kastom is something I don't know if I'll ever fully understand here in Vanuatu. From what I think I do get so far, it seems to be the way of life, the way of thinking, the culture, the default. It would seem to be that although most in Vanuatu would call themselves Christians, a true understanding of the Gospel is not held and a strange mixture of the religiosity of Christianity, animism and kastom exists. Below are some examples of how this manifests and believe me, there are hundreds of other examples like these out there, these are just some I've heard first-hand from ni-Van friends and think I am portraying accurately from what I've learned just in the short 4 months I've been here. (Keep in mind too that all of these examples are things that were shared with me in Bislama so I may not have understood fully but these are as accurate as I know how to make them.)

Magreth and her family mainly attend the New Covenant church branch on the same grounds as all their homes. The service time is set to be the same time as "the morning dew" because one can "feel God more" at that time. A crudely built box sits on the family property. This box has the purpose of containing bad behaviors and thoughts. When a person goes to a certain church, they decide to change. They must then build a box and place all their "rubbish" thoughts and behaviors into it. From that time on then, they can do what is good. The box is behind Wini (holding Addy) in these pictures. I wasn't taking pictures of the box specifically so sorry, it's a bit hard to see.

Mary sat on the bus holding branches filled out with leaves. She explained that the leaves were from a gum tree and were for making medicine (as a remedy for swallowing too much salt from the ocean and then having a sore belly). However, the leaves alone are nothing, it's the prayer over the leaves that make them able to heal. Water is boiled over the fire and a leaf or two is added. The resulting liquid is prayed over and the sick person drinks it and then recovers. Man, woman, and child can drink this liquid. In the past with kastom, the leaf was believed to be enough, but Mary goes to a church here in town in which she and others feel they have gifts of prayer and healing. Now she believes it to be the prayer over the leaf that actually makes the sick person well. Mary's children are all grown and all living and have children of their own. She reports that neither she nor they have any problems now because she is a Christian. She feels that because she is a Christian, so are they. Evidently everyone in Vanuatu is a Christian now, including me because I live here now. The strong evidence she gave as supporting this claim is that everyone is always happy in Vanuatu and always smiling and people share everything with each other.

Evelyn's daughter's father headed out and hasn't been in the picture since; a common occurrence in Vanuatu. She married the father of her 2nd child, Joe (here with her). Once they were married, they decided they wanted kids together. They knew she couldn't get pregnant however, because they knew him to be sterile (he knew from past experience so I understand, and they had it verified with a doctor at the local hospital). In order for Evelyn to become pregnant, they decided to go to a medicine man (kleva). He boiled a leaf and had Evelyn drink the resulting water. Shortly after, she became pregnant and later gave birth to Joe.

I visited my friend Claudia at the hospital where she was staying with her husband, Ronnie. Ronnie went to the hospital complaining of weakness and stomach pain. He was fatally low on blood so over the course of several days, received multiple blood transfusions. The majority of this blood came from family members who were expected to come in and be tested (for blood type and HIV) to donate to him. After a few days of transfusions, he is able to walk around again and has gained back most of his color and energy. There was no real explanation or testing for the cause of the stomach pain, but mainly because Ronnie and his relatives feel the stomach issue is a spiritual one. They believe that an enemy or kleva (someone with knowledge of kastom spells) of some kind mixed up a poison and got it into his food at some point. The reason given for why someone might do this is that they might be jealous of his nice house (keep in mind that their house is a two bedroom the size of my office at Willow Creek Elementary with no running water and one lightbulb.) Now that poison (possibly a demon, they felt) is in his belly causing pain. Two options have been discussed within the family for how to remedy this. One is to pay a woman who works at a local ("evangelical") church here who "works on the side of prayer" (or is considered to be a woman with a gifting of healing and prayer). She has offered to pray over a water bottle and gave directions that Ronnie should pour some of the water over his hands, rub them together, and then rub his hands on his belly. Finally, he would drink the remaining water from the bottle. Within the day, the poison/demon would pass out of his body. The second option is to pay for a flight to Tanna island to visit a very powerful medicine man/kleva. This man would pray over his belly, boil a leaf in water, have Ronnie drink the water, and again, this would make the poison/demon pass from his stomach. The family hasn't yet decided which option to choose but everyone is giving their input and when the doctors have fixed his blood issue, one or the other will be followed.

In Port Vila, there may be a church around every bend (read my post on "church"), and many in the villages around Vanuatu, but dependence remains on kastom and animism. Pray for understanding of the gospel here in Vanuatu and for freedom from fear. Pray for discernment for me and our team, as well as other Christian workers here - that we may be able to share the Gospel clearly and not introduce further syncretism (mixing of beliefs) or confusion. Also that we may be able to discern what is simply herbal medicine or remedies and what is spiritism.


I posted some pics recently of the gorgeousness of God's creation on display in Vanuatu and you can check out the bottom of this e-mail for a few more. This is a lovely place scenery-wise. It's really not so lovely in smell though. Here are some (literally) stinky things about Vanuatu:

Contrary to what one would expect of the capital of a 3rd world country, Port Vila has a trash pick-up system complete with garbage trucks and everything. It works quite a bit different than what I knew in Idaho and Montana, however. Of course there's no separating out recycling and no sorting required. Trash pick-up ideally happens 3 days a week. I say ideally because there are a million and one public holidays here so many times pick-up days are skipped or they just don't feel like collecting or they take too long and don't get to all of them... Garbage is to be in tied plastic sacks. Pretty much all businesses and all the white folk here have garbage bins. Garbage men don't just dump the whole bin into the truck in one fell swoop though. Rather, they reach into the bin and remove each individual garbage bag from out of the bin, examine it (to see if there's anything they may want), and toss the sack into the truck. Nasty! For everyone else, most ni-Vans just have roughly built wooden shelves up off of the ground that they set their trash up on top of. The idea is to keep trash off the ground so the continually roaming dogs and chickens don't tear open the bags and scatter everything all around. Well, the idea works in some instances but is pretty typically ineffective. The chickens often just fly up to the shelves and dig into the trash. This makes walking tricky here because one can expect to be wading through or stepping around all types of trash, from mango skins to cracker packaging to cans to milk cartons. Most Westerners throw their degradable trash right in with the rest, but ni-Vanuatu throw out things like peels and coconut husks and rotting vegetation into piles. Periodically they burn these piles (they aren't for municipal pick-up) so this makes for two smells - one, the sweet rotting vegetation smell, and two, the smoky burning smell. Mmmmm.

Walking into my building to come home means entering and to the smells of.... well, mold and shoes. (It is considered impolite to wear shoes indoors here so in my building, shoes are taken off in the entryway. At most homes or huts they are left just outside the front door.) Not quite home sweet home, but the smell does remind me of the basements of buildings at Grace College in Indiana, where I graduated from in 2000. The memories there with roommates and friends were sweet so the smell-to-memory trigger is something to be thankful for after all. :)

If you live in a humid State, and have lived in your State without air conditioning or dehumidifiers, you know about this one. It is about 2 days that my bath towels smell good and after that, it's like rubbing your face on an unwashed sock - yuck. The problem this time of year is that it is rarely dry enough to fully dry clothes (and no one has dryers here - or dehumidifiers). Therefore, things never really fully dry,which breeds mold and stink. And, with such high humidity and heat now, I sweat continually. If it's not raining from the sky, it's raining from my head sooo, some of my clothes never fully smell free of sweat either. The other day I was hanging up my (clean, just-washed) clothes and sniffing, thinking, whew - what is that disgusting smell!? After some sniff tests, I realized it was 2 things: my clean clothes, and my just-washed hair. Nice.

Yep, my hair reeks most of the time. Maybe I just need to buy something other than the cheapo shampoo and conditioner I use, but pretty soon after I get out of the shower, it already smells. Unless I entirely shaved my head, there is really no way of keeping my hair dry here. Within seconds of getting out of the shower, I'm sweating and need a shower again, so that could be quite the deal, spending all day in the shower. :) I don't bother, by the way. And since I'm always sweating, even if I sat perfectly still in my house, my hair would never fully dry. Rather than try to let it dry, I just brush it wet and pull it up. It stays up and wet all day until bedtime, when sometimes it dries when I let it down for bed. That means wet scalp all day and stinky, itchy head. Again, nice. :) Speaking of the heat, there are many times now that I have to remind myself not to make an idol of my ceiling fan and stationary fan... :)

Ok, so now who's ready to come visit stinky me and stinky Vanuatu? If I scared you off, just ponder God's creation and beauty here in these last pics and maybe you'll decide to keep saving those dollars for a plane ticket after all. :)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Daily sights

There are some things I see on a pretty regular basis so I took some pictures of some of the "regular grind" for you to see and experience a little more of what life is like here in Vila. Essentially I have 3 categories of things here:

1. The walk between Gretchen's and my house

2. Market and roads - I could take hundreds of pictures just at the market of all the crazy fruits, vegetables and other things you can buy there. Here are a few, along with some things seen fairly regularly out in the ocean or on the roads.

Click to play Walk & Town 12-08

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3. Flora - when I first arrived, everything just looked like an overwhelming sea of green everywhere...indistinguishable and unknowable. Now that I've been here awhile, I'm starting to notice the variation and the color that pops out everywhere out of the green. Here are a few things you see just around, the side of the road, up the hill, in yards.
Click to play Flora 12-08
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Monday, December 1, 2008


We spent a day hanging out with various ni-Van friends at Gretchen's place recently so it made picture-taking a lot less awkward. Magreth had planned to come up to Gretchen's place with her younger sister, Jen, and all their kids (Jen's 3 and Magreth's 2 youngest). However, Jen ended up not being able to come at the last minute and the morning they were coming, the father of Magreth's 2 girls showed up and said he wanted to spend the day with them. That happens fairly rarely as I understand it, so he headed out with them at daylight and Magreth met me at the "Christmas tree" by the hardware store (our usual meeting place). Just the 2 of us then walked together up to Gretchen's. SIL is the owner of the properties that the Richards and I are staying in so I got permission 1st to have a friend on the grounds. They have requested that ni-Van friends not be invited into the homes (great temptation for stealing and every expat I know here has had at least one break-in to their homes). There is a small building just down from Gretchen's house that has books and home-school curriculum as well as some toys for SIL missionary kids. It has a tin covered cement porch so Gretch brought some mats down and we sat down there. The building has a toilet too so it was perfect. Tania and daughter Grace joined us for the day too. We played Skip-Bo all morning down there, speaking Bislama and storying-on. Great fun and great fluency practice, as well as something to keep things from being awkward when no one knew what to talk about. I have some other friends I might try the game thing with. It takes the focus off having to come up with conversation topics continually so conversation just flows more naturally.

In the afternoon, Gretch had made plans with Monique (who lives on top, next to her house, she's ni-Van and works for SIL) to make simboro. Simboro is grated root vegetable (or cooking banana) made into a doughy form, then rolled into island cabbage leaves. Here is the process in pictures. Please note that our finished product looks pretty pathetic compared to a ni-Van's completed work. Usually they are tight rolls like little taquito-looking things or really nicely rolled tortilla wraps. Anyway, ours were like little mushy lumps, but they tasted the same so no worries.
Step 1: purchase island cabbage in a rolled bundle at the market, in addition to either taro, manioc, cooking bananas, yam, or kumala (sweet potatoes)
Step 2: open up island cabbage roll, unravel each island cabbage leaf, break them off to just have short stems, and lay them in a pile (Tania and Gretch are our models for this one)
Step 3: peel, then grate the chosen root crop/banana (we used wild yam). Add a small amount of water to the bowl you are grating it into (notice this step and the ones above look an awful lot like laplap making) Here are Monique and Grace using the "rasras" (grater) to grate "waelyam" (wild yam)
Step 4: using fingers, mush up the gratings until it comes to a doughy consistency
Step 5: here's where this whole deal starts differing from making laplap - clump some of the doughy filling onto an island cabbage leaf and roll up the leaf into a bundle
Step 6: layer in a pan
Step 7: milk a coconut and squeeze the milk onto the rolled simboro
Step 8: boil until done (Monique was out of firewood so instead of using her firepit, we just used the gas stove-top).

Step 9: add a grub to the top as a garnish Step 10: ha, ha - who believed me on step 9? If I had you going there, you have to let me know. :) They do actually eat grubs here, but not (I don't think) in simboro. I haven't tried one yet but I'm sure in the village when we're all out of peanut butter and dehydrated ground beef, they'll be looking pretty tasty... The grub is one some ni-Van kids found out at Brad and Amber's place. They were playing with it and came to show us so we had to take pictures. This is Josh's hand holding the huge thing. He's Tania and Jim's boy. The real step 9 is eat (the simboro that is)! It's pretty good.
Tania, Grace, and Gretch plus the 3 kids went up to Magreth's family's place (to her sister, Wini's) to make laplap the day before we got together with Magreth for all this (above). Grace isn't afraid to snap shots all day long so they got some great ones of the whole laplap making process, many a lot better than what I posted a month or so ago. If you want to check out her pics, go to this link: Enjoy! Sometime when I'm not falling asleep on my computer I'll type up here why I didn't go with them and some cultural notes so if you're reading this right after I post it, check back in another day for "the rest of the story..." :)

Friday, November 28, 2008

Team Time

Team time is now a scheduled affair so we are making priority to get together regularly to just build friendship and to fellowship, as well as to discuss issues and make decisions. All the guys on our team headed out to Tanna island (south of here) on Friday. They are doing survey work there to check out any possible future ministry options but they are also helping SIL/Wycliffe Bible translators Ken & Mendy and visiting translators Eric and Michele in a different village. Ken and Mendy's family (they have 4 children: Caleb, Hannah, Abby, and Kate) were on furlough back in the States for awhile, then came back to Vanuatu and bought a much-needed truck to take to Tanna. They are unable to get out to their village without transport and the vehicle they were using before was continuously breaking down and finally died. They came back to Vanuatu the same day the Richards and I flew in so we actually met them at the airport in LA back in August! The idea was for them to buy the truck, get re-supplied to head out to Tanna (propane, food, toiletries, school supplies...), then send the truck on a ship to Tanna, fly over and meet it at the warf and get back into their house in the village. Unfortunately, they had to experience some serious ni-Vanuatu culture, something they are very familiar with by now but it was new for us to see. The ship had repair issues and for several weeks the family was told it would be ready the next week, no, the next week, no... Weeks turned into months and further repairs were made. All legitimate (the crane that picks up containers to set them on the warf fell through the rusty ship and down into the ocean - kind of a big problem...) but frustrating none-the-less. Months later (from 5 August to now!), the ship is fixed, was packed, and brought the truck over. Ken met it, then the guys flew to meet him, and just yesterday Mendy and family flew to meet all of them. The guys dug a septic hole, helped hook up a satellite Ken just purchased (and they were able to Skype from his house in the village!), rid the house of rats and the larger of the vermin, did a few repairs and cleanings, and checked out ministry opportunities. Tuesday they'll come back and let us know more about the time on the island.

The team had a great time celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time in Vanuatu. Tania did a fantastic job organizing the whole affair. She and Jim and kids have moved from the guest house where they were staying into Jack and Kay's main house. They are missionaries that help with Joy Bible Institute here in town as well as with some other AOG (Assembly of God) ministries. They have headed back to the US for a short furlough so wanted someone in their actual place. It is a house able to accommodate pretty big groups so was perfect for hosting our full team, as well as the Gibb family and a ton of other American friends we invited. Some calling other countries home were invited as well, but only very special ones... Ross and Lyndal stopped by for a bit. They just headed out last night to PNG (Papua New Guinea) to do a revision on the New Testament they translated a decade ago. I'm already missing my fun upstairs neighbors! Sophia came as well. She's a ni-Van woman I met at Talua on Santo when I was there in October. She and her new husband, Philip, work together with Andrew and Rosemary (staff at Talua - he's American, she's Australian) on the Bislama Bible Commentary project. Philip was Houghton's contact in Ambrym for the ministry opportunity we have there and the survey work the guys did there last month. Sophia and Philip were here in town and Hought and Gretch hosted them as they just needed a place to stay before heading to Australia for a conference. Philip's flight was earlier so he wasn't able to come to Thanksgiving. From the conference, Philip will return and start on his degree program at Talua (he already has a 3 year diploma, but will now start his 4 year degree). Sophia, however, is coming to Australia with us to Equip! (She's also a graduate of the diploma program at Talua.) She'll do the introductory 6 weeks of the program and head back to Vanuatu to continue her work on the Commentary. I went around town with her the morning of Thanksgiving to help her finish up some medical stuff for her visa. I got to see more of the hospital, as well as a Western doctor's office, the Australian High Commission, and just had great opportunities to talk with Sophia. The day after Thanksgiving, we hung out more and she shared a bit about her work on the commentary. She's an incredibly smart woman of 28, was just married a few weeks ago, and is a hard worker. She's still ni-Van though with her non-Western sense of time. She decided to start a load of laundry just as Hought and Gretch were out the door for Thanksgiving. She also missed her flight the next morning and had to re-schedule everything for a full day after, which is why I was able to hang out with her another day. We are so looking forward to her, and one other ni-Van (Pastor Peter, the head of the Vanuatu Bible Translators organization here) being at Equip so we can continue to speak Bislama with them and learn from them.

At our celebration, turkey was really the only customary food we were missing out on but we were able to order roasted chickens for the same price as frozen ones so the white meat on them tasted pretty close to turkey; yum! Otherwise, we were able to get potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, gravy, bread, homemade stuffing, all the good stuff. Gretch and I spent the entire day the day before making pumpkin pie, cheesecake, cookies, muffins, apple pie, and banana cream pie. It was really nice to have a traditional American feast, made complete with the feelings of being full to the point of popping. The nicest though was being able to fellowship with other Christians and spend some time in thanks-giving prayer. God has blessed us with so much.

There are a lot of events happening all around town all the time. Sometimes I hear about them from ni-Van friends, sometimes from expat friends, and sometimes I stumble upon them. Port Vila Day was one I stumbled upon. I went to market on Friday and saw booths set up all over in the seafront park so wandered over to check it out. They were making an announcement about Port Vila Day(s) being through Saturday. These kinds of things are a lot like fairs in the States with different booths, a few carnival-ish things for kids, music, and sometimes other entertainment. Amber and kids, Tania and kids, and me with Gretchen's kids (she was feeling sick this weekend) went to hang out a bit on Saturday. You can expect a bit of a mix of food you'd recognize (sandwiches, rice, pineapple) and island-style food (some stir-fry stuff with either fish, chicken, or beef, meat sticks, roasted taro or some other root crop, fried egg-roll-ish things with meat in them, sometimes laplap, etc.). I got sandwiches for the kids (one egg and one tuna) a plate of rice, taro, and beef stir-fry for me, and a young coconut with the top cut open for us to drink. Yummy. I ended up being in and out with Gweny and some bathroom issues (she's potty trained now but has lots of accidents) and left early because Jesiah had a sudden stomach ache, but it is always interesting to check out the culture of these sorts of events. They get packed out with people (shady spots are hard to come by), for the most part it is far quieter than similar events in America, and booths are made out of local materials. Check out the palm leaves that made up the walls and fronts of these booths! It's a fun atmosphere. When we arrived on Saturday there was a play on the stage about two crabs being chased by a cat (acted out by some guys from a group who called themselves "The Monkey Boys" - these are guys in their early 20's mind you!). Jesiah kept jumping at the narrator's vocal animation as the crabs tried getting away. The crowd was loving it, laughing. A note on the quiet thing: we went to a concert that was held in a park nearby Tania's house a few weeks ago. It had some local string bands, a local pop band, and some bands from neighboring countries, among other groups. Emily Gibb was asked to play her violin the night we attended so after a French clown act, she opened the concert. Brave girl, and she played beautifully! The crowd really packed in after dark, but even when she played at dusk there were several hundred people all sitting on the grass to listen. I was realizing as we were all sitting there in a big white-man clump :) that we were the loudest ones present. We were talking throughout the concert, kids were running around playing, and we were up and down the whole time. All the ni-Vans around us sat quietly, now and then mouthing or whispering to people around them, and kids for the most part sat and listened too. Concert etiquette here is quite different than America, that's for sure! The ni-Van pop band was trying to get people to stand up, come closer to the stage, and clap and participate more like an American pop concert would look. No one took them up on that but stayed put sitting quietly in the grass. No one standing, swaying and holding lighters... I was telling Jane when we left that everyone around us would probably be happy to see us leave so they could go back to enjoying the concert in quiet. :) Don't get me wrong, a lot of churches and concert set-ups like this have microphones and sound systems set up and they crank the sound, but the audience tends to be quiet, at least in the experiences I've had.

We've been also trying to implement some girls' get-togethers as a team. Friday afternoons are now girls prayer times, which is great. The guys get together for weeky or twice-weekly meetings so it's high time for girls to do the same! :) Tonight we had a girls' movie night. Amber and kids weren't able to make it, but Anna joined us. She's without her husband too (Ben's on Santo and our team's guys are on Tanna, as I mentioned above). Anna is the current Office manager for SIL/Wycliffe (so I see her a lot in the office since I live here) and she also works with YWAM with her husband, Ben. See earlier posts for a pic of them together. Anna has been a great friend here. We've gotten together for Bible studies and prayer, just to hang out, to meet friends, to go to an exercise class, and she's introduced me to quite a few ni-Van friends. She, Tania and kids, Gretchen and kids, and I ate junk food and watched "Secondhand Lions" together at Tania's place. On our way home Anna ran into some friends so walked home with them and Gretch and I caught a bus back to our place.

I think Christian fellowship here is definitely at the top of my list for what I'm thankful for. What a blessing to have friends as a team but also be able to get to know and enjoy others working here and learn from their experince and insight.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Pakaroa church is a Presbyterian church a 5-10 minute walk away from the building where I stay. I've gone there the most consistently of any so I know a few people and quite a few faces. It is interesting to see and surprising to learn that the institution of church here and the practices of church are very much a part of culture. (The exercise class I go to always ends with everyone standing in a circle holding hands and someone praying to close class. Prayers I've heard here are pretty prescriptive. Less like conversation to a God they can have a personal relationship with and more like following a formula.) This group is new recruits to the VMF (Vanuatu Military Force) along with the elders of the church. They were making rounds various Sundays to different churches singing a song and sitting through services. The leader of their group (not sure what his title was: captain?, commander? - some military me out here!) said that not only is he responsible for his group's physical growth and growth in skill areas, but also for spiritual growth. Interesting. The issue with Vanuatu is very similar to the problem in America. Everyone says they are Christian but no one really knows what that means and everyone associates being a Christian with church attendance or making sure the balance of good things done in life outweighs the balance of bad things done in life and just believing that God exists. Well, Scripture says "even the demons believe, and shudder."

There are several different denominations here in Vila and many villages have a church in them, but churches are either weak in doctrine or in many cases with most ni-Vans here, mixing Christianity with animism/kastom (spirit-worship and practices going along with that). God is then just another spirit, another god to appease and to try to make happy. A tiny fraction of Vanuatu actually has the Bible in their own language. Those who do have a language Bible in many cases do not know how to read it or study it. Most churches here either preach from an English Bible, or a Bislama Bible' if a Bible is used at all in the service. Buying a Bislama Bible here would put a ni-Van out about a week's pay so very few have them. There is a Bible society in town that sells Bislama Bibles and has some Good News English Bibles in paperback that are pretty inexpensive, but that would be like me trying to read a French Bible and get much out of it. Sure, I know some vocabulary, and could probably pronounce all the words right, but no way would I have good comprehension, which is kind of the point...

Some things about the Presbyterian church here. It is a big denomination - in the top 3 with Seventh Day Adventist and Catholic. They have a women's organization called PWMU (Presbyterian Women's Ministry Union) and women take this very seriously. PWMU does a lot of fundraising and a lot of outreaches. The mamas in PWMU were just returning from an outreach on Malakula island (where they went to help other mamas with cooking, cleaning, watching kids, and just meeting and talking with new women about church, etc.). PWMU women have "uniforms" they wear when they have a church function so their Sunday back from outreach, they all wore their blue island dresses. There are quite a few women here in town who know how to "somap" (sew them up) island dresses. Island dresses here are the clothing of choice for any "dress up" function and definitely for church. I've been given 4 dresses so I rotate those on Sundays. They are in no way flattering and should be quite cool because of their baggy flowing nature, but are completely see-through so require another layer of clothing underneath so actually are amazingly hot. They are also made in a way that the elastic at the arms makes long-lasting rivets in one's arm; ouch! The see-through factor is due to the cheap Chinese cotton ("calico") available here. You can get any color or pattern your heart would ever desire (especially if you are into VERY colorful) but it's thin so easily tears and frays. Not my favorite to wear, but I do have one that I like. From the looks of my dresses though, I'm guessing that an average of 8-9 times in the washing machine and an island dress is officially a pile of threads. I've sewed up holes and frays in mine several times already and I'm only up to 4 or 5 washes on each.

Back to church practices. Vanuatu is full of very welcoming people who live in community. Therefore, when the PWMU women were coming in to service following their outreach, a line of people went outside to form a line and shake each of their hands. If anyone is new at church, the custom is to acknowledge them, have them stand and introduce themselves in the service, and then following the service, they are to join the line of pastors and elders outside the entrance and have the entire congregation shake their hands upon leaving. I've done this several times now, having visited several churches. It's an interesting experience in a big church like Pakaroa because it means standing in that line shaking somewhere around 200 hands. Good way to get to know people's faces though! :) Another thing Pakaroa does is have the elders come in in a line just before the start of each service, one carrying a ginormous book. I assume it's a Bible, but I'm not sure. They are also first to leave. Everyone sits until they go past in their line, then the church begins to empty from one corner to the other, one row at a time, in a line to shake hands outside, like you'd leave a wedding to hug the bride and shake the groom's hand. The Sunday that the VMF was there was my 1st time to visit and the Kenners came with me. We had to introduce ourselves and after the service, the elders went out, then the VMF, then the Kenners and I, and we all stood in one huge line. Whew, that was a lot of hands for the congregation to shake that day! The line of us went from the church door out to the road!

Last Sunday, I visited an AOG (Assembly of God) church with my friend Elodia. She's the one from Pango village who very first taught me about local kitchens and cutting and cooking root veggies (see August post). I was hoping to visit the church where her dad is an elder out in the village, but when I ran into her at her work, she told me her brother-in-law is a pastor at this AOG church in town and she's been attending there. I tried it out with her.

Tomorrow I plan to go to a Presbyterian church close to the Kenner's house with them but I think I'll head back to Pakaroa again for the rest of December unless I'm invited somewhere else in the meantime. It's been fun to visit so many different churches, but I'm starting to be weary of so many changes and new names and faces. I've been to a Nazarene church, a Baptist church, a Church of Christ church, a few Presbyterian churches, 2 expat churches, an SDA church, the AOG church, and maybe more but that's all I can think of now. :) Some were upon invitation from ni-Van friends, some were to check out what other expats were doing in their ministries, and others were just ones I'd heard of or seen. Most I've gone to have Bislama services but pastors tend to be more educated so throw a lot of English in too, some more than others.

Last Sunday when I went to meet Elodia, I found myself there a full hour early. She told me church started at 9 so I came a few minutes before. Some Churches have acappella singing (just spontaneously led) before service and other churches just start sometime after they've rung their bell and enough people have showed up. Because it can vary so much beyond Western ideas of time, it's hard to know what time to really come. When I arrived not only was no one there, I saw signs for the church saying service was at 10. Hmm, an hour to burn and I was downtown on a Sunday when nothing is open. There is a park right at the sea front just a bit away from the church so I went there to sit and read my Bislama Bible. I found some shade under a Christmas tree and started reading.

Just as a sidenote here, I first learned what a Christmas tree was from a ni-Van friend. She called me and asked me to meet her at the market under the Christmas tree. Hmm, my Bislama wasn't very good at that point so I tried to clarify, then realized she really had said what I thought but I couldn't recall ever seeing anything remotely like a Christmas tree EVER here. So I told her I had no idea where that was and we'd have to meet at a location I determined so I could ensure I'd actually find her. When I got to the market and met her, she showed me the Christmas tree, a tall tree with branches up high and locust-tree looking pods coming off of it. She assure me that when Christmas was coming soon, it would be covered in red flowers, hence the name "Christmas tree." Sure enough, they are budding out all over right now and are very beautiful. Here's one by a hardware store not far from my apartment that has a small market underneath during the week where mamas sell a few produce items. They just sit on mats on the packed ground and lay out their produce on the ground. I just bought a pineapple there this morning before they closed for the weekend.

As I sat reading and waiting for the church service to start, various people passed by. At one point I acquired a "hanger" who stood around just inside my peripheral vision behind/beside me. After a good 10 minutes, he came over and in English asked me the time, and as I was pulling out my phone to check, sat down next to me. Well, I was going to have to work to get rid of this one! It took him 10 minutes to figure out how to come sit by me and bar ME leaving, this would be tricky. I've had some practice in this over the years and quite a bit over the last few months here in Vanuatu, so as he asked me questions (now in Bislama after I answered him in Bislama), I kept my eyes looking straight ahead to the sea, not ever smiling or looking in his direction, and answering with as few words as possible, not asking anything in return, and not having any affect or enthusiasm in my voice or face. Sometimes that works in the States (but now that I think about it, it's never worked here, unless I partner that method with walking away...) :) Well, Jack (my new companion), was good. After asking why I was here (in Vanuatu) and at the park, and realizing I was sitting holding a Bible, he followed up with "will you tell me something you know from the Bible?"

How do you blow someone off when they come right out and ask that? It was obviously not his motivation to learn about the Bible, but rather to continue to engage me, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity! I silently prayed for wisdom about what to share and got some background info from him. I asked if his language has a Bible in it yet (he's from Iriki island, which is the tiny expat resort island seen across Vila Bay right where I was sitting). Nope. I asked if he has a Bible in English or Bislama (he was schooled in English). Nope. I asked if he ever goes to church. Yes, Presbyterian (but seemed like not so much recently). Well, of any denomination here, from what I've experienced and heard, they are the most likely to have some Scripture read in their services, so it's probable that he knows some basics. I decided after praying to share Creation to Christ, followed by a bit about eternal things. I figured the worst that could happen is he'd get bored and wander off, which is what I was hoping to begin with so no huge loss there. Or really, I was thinking, the worst is my Bislama is horrible and I confuse the heck out of him and when it's time for me to leave, he's in worse shape than before he asked. Well, that's where prayer and God's sovereignty come in I guess. And this would be great practice for me to organize my thoughts about the Gospel in Bislama.

So I shared about how God created the world and the 1st man and woman and wanted to be with them. They sinned by doing what he said not to do so it made the road to God become closed off because God can't be around sin. God made another road where people could come back to God because their sins were paid for by killing certain animals and having their blood be the payment. But God wanted a better road back to Him so He sent His Son (Jesus) to earth. He was human just like us and faced temptations (explained this as times where you want to do bad stuff or Satan makes you want to do bad stuff that would hurt God and break His laws - I didn't know what the Bislama word was for this). Jesus didn't do the things God said not to do though so didn't sin but He knows that life is hard and it is hard to stay away from sin so we have a God that understands that. God let Him die on the cross and Jesus' blood paid for everyone's sins and made the road back to God open again. Everyone who believes that Jesus is God's Son and that He died to pay for our sin so we can come on that road back to God is a Christian. The Holy Spirit is a present for them and He lives inside them and helps them do what is good and what makes God happy and them happy. They become a whole new person because the part of people that goes on forever was dead but now is alive. The Bible tells about how to live as a Christian and get to know God better. We can pray to God and have Him hear us and help us. Also, when our body is dead, instead of going to a horrible place called Hell because of the broken road to God, we get to go to heaven and be with the One who created us and who loves us and we live forever.

I realized later that I didn't talk about Jesus raising from the dead and taking over the power of death and being alive right now and being the one that takes our prayers to God so we don't need a priest to do that. Stink. I also obviously had a lot of other areas that I didn't share real well. When I shared all of this though, he stayed put and was really quiet and he looked out at the ocean the whole time and so did I. We just sat quiet for a few minutes and I needed to head out to meet Elodia. He didn't have any comments or ask any questions so I said I had to go but that I hoped he understood the story well and thought heavy on it. I shook his hand (greeting and leaving requires a handshake - light grip and no real shaking, just usually one up and down or just a light squeeze) and walked away to church. I really don't know exactly what I communicated to Jack or what he understood from what I said. I think I said the above, but I'm obviously still learning culture and language and have a long way to go to know how to best share a message like this and get all the vocabulary and grammar right. Please pray for Jack that the Holy Spirit would work in his life and that he would be given understanding and that there would be a guy he could talk to more about this in the future; that he would be saved and on that road to God! I'm guessing he's probably in his early 20's and he told me he works at one of the Chinese stores in town. Pray also for my other friends here - Evelyn, Magreth and her family, Illian and her family, Rachel, and Claudia - for their salvation and for me to be a witness to them of the life they can have in Christ.