Our container came the 26th of March and floated in the bay for a day waiting for an opening at the wharf. Vila Bay's pretty, hey? From here it landed as scheduled the 27th of March at the wharf and was offloaded the next day. In the meantime we'd run around town getting duty and customs exemptions and finding an agent to clear customs, paid our fees to our clearance agent, the ship agent, the wharf, quarantine, and to customs and brought our paperwork around to each place.
Where things started getting fun though was at the wharf. When I went inside, I was originally going to one teller but she directed me to go to the other, who took my paperwork, but then recognized me as we were chatting. I hadn't recognized her, but she remembered me as being with Houghton, who Gretchen had sent off to help this woman and her husband and their small boy in the confusion at the airport in Melbourne, Australia, when our flight to Vanuatu March 8 was canceled for repairs. Because our flight was canceled for a day, the airline put us up at an airport hotel but the process of figuring out where to go and what to do and how to check in was a bit bewildering to us. Having figured it out, we were sitting at the hotel waiting for room assignments and Gretchen remembered the one ni-Vanuatu family who'd been waiting with everyone else for the same flight but were as of then, missing from the hotel lobby. She sent Houghton off to find and help them as we thought through how difficult it had been for us to figure everything out in a situation where we were in our own language and in a Western setting where we understood things like elevators and hotel check-ins, etc. Houghton did indeed find the family, who were lost and anxious, not knowing where to go, and was able to help them (in Bislama) to sort out their hotel and how to get there and when to be back the next day.
We carried on not thinking again about the situation until Roselyn (above) recognized me at the wharf in Vanuatu! In this case it was me out of my league, not really knowing the process and her who was helpful in guiding the way. Interestingly, the form our clearance agent had printed out for us listed a wharf price of nearly $400 more than what Roselyn charged us. Not only that, but because of the relationship, it meant that rather than Houghton and I driving across town multiple times a day (which we'd been doing for all the other agencies we'd already visited), I could call and organize things over the phone with her. She arranged for our container to be moved to a clear place for inspection and took pains to insure it didn't have another on top of it or beside it. She also later arranged for us to borrow a forklift and operator, which we hadn't figured we'd have access to in Vanuatu.
God provides some pretty interesting connections, doesn't He? Praise Him for the cancellation of the flight and the chance to build a relationship with Roselyn prior to our shipment! She'd like to get together to hang out so please pray for further opportunities to get to know her and her family better.
Our next fun story of God at work involves the quarantine officer who inspected our container. (He's behind and to the left of the Jeep in the shot above.) We'd paid for an import permit from Quarantine already and gave him a copy in his office, but he said that fumigation is required either on the US side or here in Vanuatu. We shared that we hadn't fumigated in the US but weren't sure about doing it in Vanuatu since people had told us that fumigation isn't always required. He seemed ready to tell us we needed to just fumigate, but then all of a sudden said, 'well, let's go look in your container and then decide.' We drove out with him to where the container had been moved to and discovered that none of us had a metal cutter to cut the seal open on the container. So we drove to the other side of the wharf past his office and borrowed one from some pals of his who work security for the wharf, drove back, and opened it up. All this gave lots of time to talk about his background and ours. Once in the container, he looked around and seemed unsure about what to tell us so went in and looked and came back out and we closed up the doors again and looked to him and he said 'i oraet nomo'. (Kinda like 'it's all good' or 'it's ok'.) So we drove back to the customs office and he talked to the officers there and explained that it didn't have to be fumigated after all! While we waited with him for a customs officer to go back and inspect the container with us, we chatted some more and then as we left him to his work, he invited us out to a community event in his village that's taking place in a few weeks. Wow, so God used that relationship there too and we saved over $650 in fumigation fees because of his decision.
So how in the world did we get all of the stuff out of the container? In the States it took about a dozen people and a forklift/skidster to load the container in bitter cold weather. We tried to convince friends from the US and AU to come over and face the sauna of a container box with us as we unload, but work, money and lives prevented them from coming despite the genuine desire many had to come. Not surprisingly, God had it all taken care of. Some days it was just Houghton and a very helpful ni-Vanuatu, Loui. Loui is the Richards' neighbor and is the groundskeeper for SIL. Other days it was Houghton, Loui, and an Australian, Ray, who works with SIL here as properties manager. We also had the help of Wags for a few days. He's an Aussie who was here for several weeks to help some of the families with homeschooling so the moms could get some of the printing and translation production work done.
Hands down, the most helpful were the connections Loui had with just about everyone at the wharf. We hadn't known this before, but quickly realized that Loui's relationships with a customs officer, forklift driver (one from the wharf and one from a local hardware store in town), the gatekeeper, and the rest, made our road so so much easier to travel. On one occasion, Loui and Houghton entered the wharf early morning expecting an entire morning of trying to gather a forklift driver so they wouldn't have to unload each crate at the wharf, then re-load them at the house. When they got to the container, Loui said to Houghton that the forklift driver was a family member from Tanna. Houghton encouraged Loui to ask him to help us unload the four remaining crates with the forklift. Loui did, and 15 minutes later the container was completely empty and the first of the last three remaining loads was on the truck! The funny thing came later when Houghton returned to the wharf by himself and couldn't find Loui's relative. When he talked with the guys at the wharf, they said that the previous forklift driver was a driver for a local hardware store and didn't even work for the wharf. Isn't God's timing just perfect? The guys at the wharf said that their driver would be back after lunch so to come back then. Sure enough, when Houghton and Loui returned to the wharf, the driver was in the forklift and ready to go. This just doesn't happen very often in Vanuatu! Your prayers were answered and God definitely prepared the road for us. Loui said, 'if you had taken me from the beginning you would be done by now.' He is probably right. God reinforced two lessons that we will have to be reminded of over and over again. Relationship, relationship, relationship. Community, community, community.
1. Independent and lone ranger personalities and work habits just aren't as effective or respected here. 2. Trust Him for every minute detail and don't be as frustrated when it's not your plans or ideas that are getting the work done.
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God works in mysterious, crazy, sometimes confusing ways, but in these last few days, many of those ways have been awesome to see and fun to be a part of. Praise Him!