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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey- My name is Lindsay and I go to Fon Du Lac Community Church. I just want to say how amazing your blog is and that it is so encouraging and a joy to read! Bryan Faltynski told me to read some of it because I want to become a missionary too! Thanks and keep up the good work! We'll be praying! GOD bless and all that jazz, love in Christ- Lindsay