Republic of Vanuatu

The South Pacific nation of Vanuatu is made up of 83 islands, situated approximately 1,200 miles east of Australia’s northern tip. Our closest neighbors are New Caledonia and The Fiji Islands. While approximately 60 islands are inhabited, the majority of the country’s 260,000 population reside on 12 major islands. The standard of living in Vanuatu is quite diverse, with the capital city of Port Vila offering a very modern lifestyle opportunity, whereas the large majority of outer-island inhabitants engage in subsistence farming and have no running water or electricity. Tourism is the economy’s primary source of revenue, followed by agricultural exports including beef, coffee, cacao and copra.

History of mission:Vanuatu

Our mission team (Aaron & Cindy Baker, Mike Olson, Eric & Shawnda Brandell) originally formed in 2004 and arrived in Vanuatu in April 2005. We spent the next six years working primarily with congregations on the main island ofitem3 Efate. It was during this time that we learned Vanuatu’s trade language, Bislama, and gained insight into the country’s diverse culture and customs. The first two phases (2005-2013) of our work were overseen by the Columbine Church of Christ in Littleton, CO.

Beginning in 2011, our mission team spread out to follow opportunities that had been presented on other islands within Vanuatu. The Baker family lived and worked in Tanna for a year, evangelizing in the area and edifying two newly-established congregations. They moved back to the United States in early 2012, and continue to be involved in the work through yearly mission trips. Mike Olson moved to Santo, where he lived in Luganville (the only other “city” in the country) and worked primarily with the Shark Bay congregation in a village 18 miles outside of town. He moved back to the United States in March 2014. The Brandells moved to Malekula in 2011, and worked with two newly-established congregations for three years.

Phase 3 Work Plan

The Brandells decided to futher commit themselves to living and working in Vanuatu. The Church of Christ in Perkins, OK, had been a longtime financial supporter of the work in Vanuatu, and agreed to take over as their sponsoring congregation they moved forward into Phase 3. The congregation had sent a group of campaigners to work with them in Malekula back in 2011, which whetted the congregation’s appetite for a more involved role.

item5The Brandells see God opening new doors of opportunity, and anticipate that He will continue to do so. Their family is now based in the capital city of Port Vila. They believe this to be the best option for several reasons: [1] They will be stationed in the most populous city in the country, giving them access to a large majority of the nation’s locals due to the transient nature of the populous; [2] It will make inter-island travel options (airport, shipping) most accessible; [3] It will provide access to the best available medical care and telecommunications; and [4] It will allow the family to spend time in a relatively modern society, which will help facilitate their eventual transition to the United States.

The Brandells seek to involve themselves in the following three areas of work:

1. Edification and equipping of Christians

Working regularly with eleven congregations, they follow a type of “circuit rider” approach. Being based in the capital city, they make themselves available to regularly visit the five congregations on the main island for assemblies, Bible studies, leadership training, and evangelistic efforts. They do not associate themselves regularly with any one congregation, in an effort not to promote an unhealthy paternalism or dependence. It would be a goal to ultimately see elders in these congregations.

They also make themselves available to visit seven outer island congregations two to three times per year. While each of these congregations will have unique needs and requests, they are working through a sort of curriculum to teach and train in these areas (somewhat of a mobile classroom). The main goal in these efforts would be to strengthen the brethren in their faith and knowledge of God’s word, to encourage them to actively live out that faith, and to be available to assist them with questions and/or problems as they arise. They try to take local Christians on these trips for training and encouragement purposes. It is a goal to ultimately see elders in these congregations as well.

Experience has shown that short bursts of teaching are most effective, and they therefore spend approximately ten days in each outer island location during a trip (to assemble with the brethren on two Sundays). Any longer than ten days tends to become burdensome on the brethren both physically and mentally. They remain adaptive in their scheduling, but average one outer island trip per month.

2. Evangelizing new areas

To date, we work with Christians on five of Vanuatu’s islands, and most of the congregations are located in remote areas. We continually seek out opportunities to lead souls to faith in Christ in new places throughout the country, with a view towards making contacts on all twelve majorly-populated islands. The most successful way the gospel has been spread in our experience is through personal connections; i.e. we meet and convert someone in the capital city who then invites us to go and teach in their home island. This again will be a major advantage of living in the capital city. We plan to actively pray that God will open doors, and will also seek out other opportunities to spread the gospel such as newspaper and radio advertisements, Bible correspondence courses, and mass distribution of Bislama literature. As Vanuatu becomes more modern, the gospel will have more and more avenues through which to travel (e.g. internet Bible studies, DVDs, etc.).

3. Production and distribution of Bislama resource materials

Vanuatu is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with every region of each island having its own unique language. English and French are spoken by the more-educated of the population, but Bislama serves as a linguistic bridge for the entire country. Furthermore, we are fortunate to be here at a time when the printed page still has great effectiveness. item6Due to various factors, people in the outer-islands will read and re-read just about anything they can get their hands on, and literature usually gets passed on to someone else when it is no longer wanted, rather than trashed. We therefore believe that much good can be done by printing Bible study resources in the Bislama language. This value is magnified by the fact that one person can be teaching thousands of people in different parts of the country simultaneously through this means.

We plan to commit a significant amount of time to producing materials such as tracts, books, Bible study periodicals, Bible dictionaries and other resources. I would also love to see the New Testament translated into “modern Bislama” (as the current translation is a rather loose interpretation, and the substantial infusion of the English language into Bislama in recent years has opened a door to having a much more effective translation). The bottom line is that we want to do whatever we can to assist locals in studying and understanding God’s plan and wisdom for our lives as laid out in His word.