Epau Village June 2005

On Wednesday, June 1, Shawnda and Cindy hurriedly came into the house and proclaimed, “Willie is at SeaView and wants to talk to you.” You see, for the previous four weeks, Shawnda and Cindy had been studying with Willie’s girlfriend, Yoland. Though Yoland has moved into town for work, Willie continues to live out in the nearby village of Epau. On this day, he was scheduled to depart for the village in a few minutes, and we had been wanting to meet him because Yoland had been sharing with him some of the things she had been studying, and he was interested.

Aaron and I quickly headed to town, found Willie and introduced ourselves. We offered to come to his house in the village, if he was interested in studying the Bible with us, and he gladly accepted our invitation. That Friday, we headed to Epau about 9am (some unforeseen detours caused us not to actually leave town until 9:45). The trip took approximately one hour over the freshly-grated dirt/coral roads.

We were scheduled to stay in the village through Sunday, and were to stay at the house of a Christian named Ata. We had attended the worship services of the church in Epau the week before, so we knew where to go (the church is currently meeting at Ata’s house). They showed us to our “house,” which had been built a few years ago for American Peace Corps workers to stay in while learning Vanuatu’s language and culture from Ata and his family. The house was really nice considering bush-standards...probably the nicest we will ever see in a village.

Unfortunately, we arrived in the village an hour later than we had originally told Willie we would arrive. Unlike most ni-Vanuatu who would have just waited, he went out to his garden to work (gardening is his fulltime job...he sells the produce at the Market in Vila) when we saw that we had not come on time.

In preparation for our trip, we had requested the opportunity to meet with the chief. Vanuatu’s tradition/custom says that a foreigner is not to enter a village without first seeking the permission of the chief. While this is not always observed by snapshot-hungry tourists, especially on the main island (Efat), we wanted to set the precedent for our work in the country at the beginning. Eddie, a local Christian, went to talk to the chief about such a meeting. The chief approved our proposal, and a small ceremony was scheduled for that evening.

BACKGROUND INFO: The church in Epau has been requesting permission from the chief to purchase land and build a building for the past few months. The chief, a Presbyterian Church-loyal, had denied their requests. Needless to say, this had caused some animosity between the church, the chief, and the Presbyterian Church. However, the week before we came he had a change of heart, and granted the church permission to purchase land in the village.

Since Willie was unavailable, we sat around outside Ata’s house and talked to him and his family. His daughter, Winnie, fixed Ramen noodles and corn beef for lunch (Aaron and I brought nine packages of Ramen, 2 bags of rice, 1 liter of juice concentrate, some tea bags, and three Tupperware containers for the family to use in light of our stay). After lunch, Ata took us to his garden. I am continually amazed by the resourcefulness of the ni-Vanuatu people…their gardens are absolutely amazing, especially in light of their lack of fancy equipment. Essentially, they have shovels and bush knives (machetes) to do what Americans do with high-tech machines. Being in the bush provides a wonderful atmosphere…so simple and peaceful.

As we were leaving with Ata to see his garden, Willie returned from his garden (which is about a 30 minute walk from the village itself). He apologized for missing us earlier, but stated that he had to go and get some work done. Of course, we said we understood, and offered to study as soon as he was ready. He wanted to “swim” (bathe) and change clothes, and then he would come over. About five minutes after we returned from Ata’s garden, he came over. I taught a lesson on “The Overview of the Bible.” Willie, Aaron, Eddie and Ata all gathered to listen. Periodically, Eddie would chime in with an overview of what I had just taught...which was no doubt very beneficial. We are learning more and more everyday how important the Bislama language is, especially in the village. Willie has the equivalent of a sixth grade education in English, but Bislama is by far his language of choice (like all other ni-Vanuatu). Upon the conclusion of this lesson, Eddie asked Willie if the Presbyterian Pastor (the denomination Willie attends in Epau) had ever gone through the Bible with him book by book as we just had. He said, “No, I have never heard any of this stuff before.” His response was both extremely surprising and encouraging. I solicited questions from the study, and Willie raised his hand and asked, “I was ‘baptized’ as a baby, but some say I have to be immersed…is that true?” WOW, what a great question! As badly as I wanted to answer his question right then and there, I told him that it would be best if he would allow me to answer it when we got to that point in our studies on Saturday or Sunday. Eddie explained to him that studying the Bible is like building a house…you have to work on the foundation before you can start on the roof. Willie conceded to waiting until the proper time. I asked Willie if he wanted to study another lesson that evening, or wait until Saturday. Willie said his head would swim if he studied anymore, so we adjourned with a prayer.

About 6:00 that evening, Aaron and I began bobbing our heads to the sound of a string band that had started to play within earshot. We inquired as to who it was and where they were, and Ata told us it was Willie’s band playing next door. Ata’s grandson, Kuma, took us over to listen. We stayed for a couple of songs, but had to head back to the house because the chief was coming over. Apparently, the band is the village’s major form of entertainment and they play every night for whoever wants to listen/watch. It was a wonderful experience, as we really like ni-Vanuatu string bands (I got a CD of Vanuatu’s Greatest Hits when we returned to town).

A few minutes later, the chief arrived at Ata’s house. We were both surprised that he was a “regular guy”…no special clothes, or any other distinction. He did have an assistant chief, his spokesman, accompanying him. They shook everyone’s hand (a considerable crowd of local Christians had gathered at Ata’s house in light of the chief’s arrival) and took their seats. We were all sitting on Ata’s “porch,” that is underneath an open-air corrugated steel roof. Eddie was the first to speak. He stated his appreciation for the chief’s decision to grant the church permission to buy land, and then talked about our request to meet with the chief. He heavily emphasized that he had NOT instructed us to meet with him, but that it was our idea. Next, Aaron made a small speech on behalf of our mission team. He said that he appreciated the chief coming on such short notice, and thanked him for allowing us the opportunity to teach in his village. Following custom, Aaron and I then presented gifts to the chief (a wristwatch and rice) and his assistant (2 large pieces of taro, a relatively expensive root crop). They gladly accepted the gifts we offered, and then it was the chief’s turn to speak. His spokesman rose and said that they were honored that such young men were interested in adhering to their culture. He clearly stated that our mission team now had an open door into Epau...that we were welcome at any time to teach and preach there. At the conclusion of his speech, the chief offered Aaron and me each a bowl of kava. Kava is a drink made from a local root crop and is traditionally very sacred, reserved only for chiefly ceremonies. Unfortunately, in the past few years it has been heavily abused by tourists and locals alike. It does have some natural medicinal value and, like so many other things, can be detrimental when used in excess. For tradition’s sake, we each accepted the kava and took a small sip. This act concluded (sealed) the ceremony. The chief had to leave, but his assistant stayed to eat with us. Eddie told us that as a result of the ceremony that evening, the enmity between the village and the church had been wiped clean. Vanuatu is interesting in that a simple ceremony can result in the absolute end to a multitude of disputes.

Aaron and I hadn’t done all that much that day, but we sure were ready for bed.

I woke up the next morning with a severely upset stomach, but felt gradually better as the day progressed. Ata’s grandchildren, Kuma and Cathleen, showed us around the village (Willie was busy most of the day helping one of his friend’s install a new roof on his house, and working in the garden). We played soccer with some of the kids for an hour or so, and then it was time for lunch. After lunch, I had to rest (stomach was acting up again), but Aaron sat and talked with Ata, as he had lots of Bible questions…especially about miracles. Though we had gone primarily to study with Willie, we were able to accomplish much more with the chief, the children and the local Christians than we had even imagined.

Willie returned from the garden and said he would be ready to study about 7pm. I helped Ata put up a light (connected to a solar powered battery...villagers have no electricity or running water) in the shelter the church met under. At 7:00, we went to the shelter and saw that 5 or 6 people had already gathered. I taught two lessons that night – “How Does God Communicate with Man?” and “Understanding the Difference Between the Old and New Testaments.” The lessons took approximately an hour each, and by the time I finished there were about 25 people listening…many of them non-Christians. It is so wonderful that in Vanuatu, especially in the bush, when you teach outside you draw a crowd. This is case particularly when you teach at night, as there is not a lot going on after dark (again, no electricity). This is something we will have to continually take advantage of. The lessons seemed to be well received, and I was quite pleased with the evening (we had begun to doubt the success of our trip, since we had practically sat around all day Friday and Saturday). When we got back to our room, Aaron came in and said, “I really think you need to teach in Bislama tomorrow.” My immediate thought was, “yeah right,” but upon further reflection I knew that he was right. He explained it to me this way: if you present a “10” lesson in English and they comprehend only a “3,” it is much better to present a “6” lesson in Bislama if they comprehend a “6.” That made perfect sense. We have all really been trying hard to learn Bislama, and I realized it was test time. Aaron was scheduled to preach the next morning and said he had decided to go ahead and try to do it in Bislama too, for effectiveness sake. His encouragement was the incentive I needed to take the plunge.

Sunday morning, about 35 people showed up for my class on “The New Testament Church.” I talked first about the importance of the church (that salvation resides only in the church/body) and then about the characteristics of that church. Those in attendance reacted very positively to my teaching in Bislama. In fact, I have never heard so many “Nambawan” (number 1) responses. At the conclusion of my lesson, one man asked, “suppose I become a Christian…then what?” It was a rather generic question, one that would have taken hours (or days) to completely answer. I did the best I could in the five minutes or so I had. His motive for asking the question occurred to me later...he now understood the importance of being a member of Christ’s church/body, and had determined that the denomination he was apart of did not have the characteristics of that church. He wanted to know if he could become a member of Christ’s church, but continue practicing the things he had grown accustomed to. His question proved that my lesson had come across accurately and understandably...he understood the importance of the church and the characteristics of that church. During the morning assembly, Aaron preached a sermon from 1 Peter 1:13-25...talking about how a Christian is to conduct himself (which helped to answer the man’s question more fully). Again, the brethren and visitors were so thankful that we had used the best Bislama we could. We still had to throw in some English words in a few places, but the Bislama we did use really did make a difference. At the conclusion of the worship service, we invited everyone to come back at 1:00 for two more lessons.

I took one of the men to his house to get the food his wife had prepared for lunch. When I returned, Eddie informed me that his brother’s wife, Lesande, wanted to be baptized. He said she had reached over and touched his arm and said, “I didn’t realize until to day that I was lost.” Her husband, Eddie’s brother, was previously an elder in the Presbyterian church and had been converted a few years back. She began attending the services of the church with him at that time...but she had never obeyed the gospel. We rejoiced with the angels in heaven because of her good decision. Eddie baptized her in the ocean near Ata’s house...one of the most beautiful scenes (spiritually and physically) I have ever been fortunate enough to experience.

After lunch, I taught lessons on “Sin” and “Salvation.” My Bislama, though lacking, still seemed to hold the interest of the 30-something who had gathered much better than my English had the night before. As a conclusion, I talked about Luke 14:25-33…the importance of “counting the cost of discipleship.” One of the church’s major problems in Vanuatu in the past has been members falling away from the faith, because they did not first count the cost of their decision to become a follower of Jesus on His terms. Our team will continually make a concerted effort to always teach what is involved in following through on the initial decision to follow Jesus.

I talked to Willie privately after my lessons, while Aaron took some of the others home (some had come from another village, about a 20 minute car ride away). He understood what I had taught over the past few days, but wanted some time to think about what he needed to do in response to God’s Word. He also wanted to discuss some specific sins he needed to deal with (repent of) before being baptized (Acts 2:38), and the possible repercussions of such a decision. I badly wanted him to make the decision that very day, but knew that pushing him into a decision was not wise. Instead, I made sure that he understood his spiritual condition before God and how to reverse that condition. As we drove away from Ata’s house, it looked as though he had a small tear in his eye. God’s Word is powerful and can be so effective when we allow it to work as it was designed to. Though Willie did not obey the gospel during this trip, I feel confident that he will sometime soon.

Though we had only been gone a few days, it was nice to be home...to take a shower and sleep in our own beds. As we think back on this, our first mission trip, we see God working in every respect. We didn’t necessarily accomplish all that we thought we would, but we did accomplish all that God wanted us to. Thank you all for your continued prayers for our work here in Vanuatu. Together, we are truly making a difference!

EB

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Arthur, a local Christian, built this bungalow on his property a few years ago for American Peace Corps volunteers.

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Aaron and Eric stayed in the bungalow for the weekend.

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Arthur's grandson, Kuma, was happy to show us around the place.

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Kathleen, the daughter of some local Christians, was also a good tour guide.

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The Epau congregation met under this bamboo structure they built on Arthur's land.

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After services on Sunday morning, we ate lunch together... "aelen kakae."

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Leisande, whose husband was already a Christian, was baptized on Sunday morning.

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Harry and Chris are the only two Christians in their nearby village, and were able to join us for worship and lunch on Sunday.

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