Paunangisu Village - August 2005

This trip, I went alone to the village and stayed with a Christian man named Harry Archie (pictured above, with his wife and two grandchildren). The village has about 200 people, and only 2 Christians, Harry and another man named Kris. My goal was to follow up with the interested prospects, and continue teaching on the topic of the church. Here is the “play by play.”

I arrived in Pounagisu at about 11 am and went to Kris’ house first. He was not home and so I went to Harry’s house. Harry had a place for me to stay close to his kitchen house. In Vanuatu, it is not uncommon for a person to have many ‘houses’ since they can just build a ‘house’ out of bamboo (posts), woven palm leaves (walls and roof), and coral (floor). The kitchen house is called the “Nakamal.” In their custom, a visitor CANNOT enter the Nakamal unless asked. In the old days, if a woman entered a Nakamal without permission she could be punished by death. For a man, he would be beaten. Though this is not the practice today, I still waited outside the Nakamal until Harry invited me in.

When I entered the Nakamal, there was a small fire going in the corner. Two cinder blocks on either side of the fire held the huge tea kettle that was warming the water for our afternoon tea. As I looked around the Nakamal, there was an old bread cupboard that at one time had screen on it to keep the rats and bugs out, but by now the screens had been well shredded. In it was bread, peanut butter, tea bags, silverware, plates, and coffee mugs. In the back there were woven mats laid on top of the coral and served as a sleeping area. It was a fairly good size area, about 10’ x 10’. In the cool season (July and August) they sleep in this Nakamal so they can be close to the fire if they get cold at night.

On the left side of the Nakamal was a bamboo table that Harry had made many years ago. He directed me to sit down at the table before I unloaded all my bags in the house in which I was to sleep. As I sat down at the table, the bamboo table creaked and groaned. The table looked like a picnic table I was used to back in the states. The top of the table was not smooth as the bamboo was round and not flat. There was a piece of fabric serving as a table cloth that covered the top.

We sat and talked as the water for our tea warmed. We talked about the road on the way out and how it was in dire need of repair. When the water was hot, we fixed our tea and ate some bread that I had brought. Here, the custom when visiting someone is to bring as much food as you would eat, and then some extra as a gift. So, I brought a box of food and gave it to Harry. I gave 5 kilo of white rice, 3 packages of ramen noodles, a box of tea, two small cans of corned beef, a small jar of peanut butter, two loaves of French bread (or a baguette), and a flashlight as a gift.

When we finished our tea he took me to the small house where I would sleep. The outside was the traditional woven palm leaves which was held together internally by bamboo posts. It was dark inside since there was only one window, but enough light so I could see what I was doing. I was surprised, and glad, to see that my bed was a small cot on one side of the room. Covering the cot was a 1” piece of foam that served as cushion. I was glad to sleep on it rather than the floor, which was what I expected to find as my accommodations. I was later humbled to find out that this was Harry’s cot and he gave it to me and he slept on the floor while I slumbered in comfort.

I unpacked my bags and met Harry outside. We walked over to Kris’s house and set up a small tarp covered awning in his front yard. His house is close to the main road so we figured this was the best place to put the awning. At night when we run the generator, which I brought with me, the fluorescent lights can be seen up and down the road, since only the school and the health clinic have electricity. After the tent was set up, we put up the chalkboard which I also brought with me from Vila. I had bought plywood and blackboard paint and made my own chalkboard which served its purposes well.

When everything was set up we went back to the Nakamal and sat at the table and talked some more. Since the teaching would not start until 6 or 7 that evening, we had some time to relax. I met some of Harry’s family, most of which are NTM (Neil Thomas Ministries from Australia), but are interested in the Bible. NTM is basically a charismatic, tongue speaking, hallelujah shouting group. I invited all his family to come to the teaching that evening, but none of them showed up.

After talking a while in the Nakamal, I went to the small house I was staying in and set up my necessities. This meant I put out the mosquito coils, made sure my pepto-bismol was handy, and got my teaching materials out for the evening. I rested, read and relaxed until about 4. Harry came and got me for another round of tea. I was glad to drink tea again because this is where most of the bonding time comes in their culture. We discussed the class I was to teach that evening and he shared how he was sad that he and Kris were the only Christians in Pounagisu. I encouraged him that in time, God would give the increase. We then talked about how we might be able to effectively evangelize the village.

At about 5:30 that evening we went to start the generator. They don’t have electricity or lights in the village, so our team purchased a generator and fluorescent lights for occasions just like this. The stubborn generator, even though it was new, was hard to start. I was sweating quite a bit from pulling the starter cable so much. Finally it came to life and our lights were up and running.

Once the sun went down it turned cold. It was about 60 degrees, but felt cooler with the humidity. I wore long sleeves and jeans. They wore jeans, long sleeves, a coat, and any blanket they could find to hold around them and cover their heads. I began the study about 6 pm and there were 5 of us present, not counting 6 or 7 children. I handed out my lesson outline which I had printed and written in Bislama. Though many understand English, they can understand my poor Bislama better than their best English.

I taught from 6 to 9 pm on the topics of “church of the New Testament” and “Characteristics of the church”. The lessons went well. At least I thought they did. I couldn’t really see many faces because they had the blankets wrapped tight around their heads. If I strained hard, I might be able to see some eyes deep inside their blankets. For them, 60 degrees is as cold as it gets, and they were freezing. I, however, felt pretty good except my toes were cold being as I was only wearing flip-flops.

When my two lessons were finished, I opened it up for questions. A few people asked questions, but most wanted to just go sit by the fire and thaw out. I thanked them for their patience and for their attendance. I passed out copies of my two lessons and invited them to sign up for a Bible Correspondence Course. I also passed out two tracts I had translated into Bislama. Everyone was glad to get these tracts because they just don’t get good, Biblical information, and even then, what they do get is not usually in Bislama. I think our learning the language will really open up many doors for us in the future.

Upon finishing teaching, I shut down the generator, took down the lights, and coiled the extension cord. I put everything in Kris’s house for the night. While crime is not a problem in Vanuatu, I just wanted to be careful and not leave any temptation available for those seeing lights or a generator left out overnight.

I packed up everything and headed with Harry back to the Nakamal. I was glad to go eat as I only had tea and bread for lunch. I thought we may be ready to eat as it was about 9:45. However, Harry said his wife was still not back from the market in Vila yet and that we should wait for her to eat. So we sat by the fire and talked, and talked, and talked. I was glad to talk, but man, I was hungry! At about 11 pm He said we should just go ahead and eat without her. This turned out to be good since she didn’t come back until 1 am in the morning.

I hoped for maybe some rice and fruit to eat, but it was not to be. Harry went over to some leaves in the corner, which I didn’t even see when we walked in because it was so dark, and he uncovered laplap that had been cooking. My least favorite food in Vanuatu is laplap, especially banana laplap. I just don’t like it. It’s gross, hard to chew, and even harder for me to swallow. Guess what kind of laplap had been cooking under the leaves. That’s right, banana laplap. I graciously accepted the world’s largest piece of laplap he handed me and started eating. It was a large square of laplap, with the consistence of a brownie, but the taste of smoky, unripe bananas. I ate as much of it as I could which was about 3/4ths of the piece, and headed off to bed.

That night, it was cold. I had a sheet that I brought with me, but it just wasn’t enough. The woven palm branch walls just didn’t keep the breeze out. I slept with my jeans and long sleeve shirt on, but was still cold. I tossed and turned and slept decently, but not great. The next morning Harry talked about the cold night as if it had snowed overnight.

In the Nakamal we ate bread and drank tea again. I was glad for hot tea to help warm me up. This was Sunday, so after breakfast we took song books over to Kris’s and got everything ready for worship. Besides the three of us (myself, Harry and Kris) there were 4 visitors. I was proud of Harry kind of ‘taking charge’ and leading singing and doing the Lord’s Supper. Kris is about 75 years old and has really poor eyesight so just for him to come is quite and effort. Harry sang and led the Lord’s Supper. This is fairly bold as often times they feel they should “turn it over to the missionary”. This means that they feel they haven’t been to school and are uneducated and that the “missionary” would do a better job. This is often just the island mindset, but I was proud of Harry taking charge in leading worship.

I spoke on the topic of Christ as our Passover Lamb. Looking at the Old Testament and when God instituted the Passover to remind the Jews of how God’s punishment ‘passed over’ the houses that had the blood of the lamb on them, I compared this to the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7). I used several scriptures to show Christ is our “Lamb” and that His blood causes God’s punishment for sin (Romans 6:23) to ‘pass over’ those who have contacted the blood of Christ through baptism. It was a good study and I think everyone enjoyed learning about this topic and thinking about Christ as their Passover Lamb.

After we dismissed worship Kris went back to his house and Harry and I went to the Nakamal for lunch. We had a good lunch with rice, ramen noodles and corned beef mixed together, some papaya and more hot tea. This was a good meal and I was glad to have something other than tea and bread. After lunch I talked with Harry about us making a trip in October to the island of Nguna (pronounced Noon-ah). Nguna is an island that is visable from the shores of Pounagisu village. Nguna has not had the chance to hear the Gospel before and as a result there are no Christians there. I am excited to go preach there, but at the same time, we have to go through the proper channels to get there. This means that Harry will have to contact some people he knows on Nguna and have them ask the chief for permission for us to come teach and preach. Harry feels confident that we will be able to go preach there and teach the truth of God’s Word. This trip would require at least a one week stay teaching and preaching in various villages, and possibly longer if people obey the Gospel. Obviously I am eager to go, but also need to take some time to plan my work, follow-up, and corresponding trips if and when people obey the Gospel.

After an encouraging lunch with Harry, I went back to the small house to rest. I slept about an hour, having gone to bed after 11 pm the night before and getting up at 5:30 that morning, I was glad to rest. When I awoke, I studied my two lessons for the evening. I also worked on reading a book by J.N. Armstrong called “Undenominational Christianity”.

At 4pm Harry came and got me for another round of tea. We drank our tea in the Nakamal. I spent some time talking his grandchildren about the kids in the U.S. They especially liked hearing about making snowmen in winter and about what kinds of animals are in the zoo.

At about 6 pm Harry went somewhere and I couldn’t find him. So, I went to pray for a while before I was to start teaching. When I was finished, he was still nowhere to be found. I think he went to his garden to get some food for the evening meal. Wherever he went, I sure had no clue where he was and neither did anyone in his family. I went to set up the lights as the sun was going down and got everything ready for the evening lesson. As I was trying to start the generator after about three pulls of the starter cord, it broke. GREAT!

[Story pause]

About the generator, we bought it about a month ago. We used it last month the first time we came to Pounagisu to run the lights. It worked fine last time, but had a pretty good fuel leak at one of the gaskets. So, we took it back to the place we bought it and they said they would fix it. The first night I ran the generator, it leaked in the same spot. Now not only was the generator leaking some expensive two stroke fuel, but the starter cord was broken and we had no lights for the class.

[Back to the story]

After the cord broke, I tried to find someone in the village with tools. I found a man named Tom who just happened to have extra cord for his chainsaw and tools for his chainsaw. As it turns out the bolts on the generator are the same size as those on the chainsaw. This was great because nobody else had tools that would work. I borrowed the tools and Tom and I worked on the generator.

We unbolted the cover that housed the pull cable and just as I was about to warn Tom not to loosen the bolt covering the spring, SPROING! Out came the retractor spring that winds up the pull cable. So, not only did I have a broken starter cable, but now I had a spring that had to be rewound and put back in.

We began work on the generator at about 6:30 Sunday evening. We finally replaced the cable, spring and got the generator started about 8:15 that evening. I was tired and ready to call the evening off, but Harry was ready to study. So, I put on a happy face and went to teach. As payment for helping me and for letting me use his tools, I offered Tom my flashlight. However, he said he was just glad to help and did not accept it. I am so glad I found Tom and that he had these tools. What a lifesaver!

That night I presented two lessons. We started at about 8:15 and sang some songs. It was cold again and all the locals were bundled up. I think because of the cool night, not many wanted to venture outside to the meeting. Besides myself and Harry, there were 4 visitors and 4 more kids that came. I spoke first on the history of the church, showing the different points through history in which denominations broke off and formed their church. The second lesson was about characteristics of a denomination. I talked about Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 and how denominations today are the opposite of unity, creating divisions among Christians. I spoke about how the only way to “be a Christian” was to practice what we read in the Bible. Again, after the two lessons I opened it up for questions and had several good questions asked. Even though there were not as many people there as I would have liked, the quality of people that were there was amazing. One man in particular, named John, was the AOG (Assembly of God) Pastor’s son. He was interested in the lessons. At the end, I invited all to sign up for correspondence courses and again encouraged them to practice only that which they read about in the Bible, pointing out that anything else adds or takes away from God’s Word.

Once the lessons for the evening were finished, I again took down the lights and extension cord. I put the leaky generator back in its box and put it in Kris’s house for the night. I walked with Harry back to the Nakamal for yet another meal. Again, laplap was on the menu along with rice, island cabbage and Nem. Nem is a handmade roll somewhat like a Chinese spring roll. Harry’s wife had stuffed them with mince meat and cabbage and fried them in oil. They were fairly good, but very oily.

After eating, Harry and I again sat around the fire keeping warm and talking. Our topics ranged from customs and culture of Vanuatu, to how to evangelize Vanuatu, to how to make laplap. It was good just to sit by Harry and hear him share his faith with me. He told me the story of how he was converted in 1989 by signing up for a Bible Correspondence Course. At the time, he was an elder in the Presbyterian church. Once he realized that he was not a Christian and that his baptism as a child was not valid, he wanted to get his life right before God. He made the break with the Presbyterian church and was baptized into Christ. At the time, he suffered quite a bit of persecution from family and friends. As a result he lost a lot of business (he was driving truck delivering bread and miscellaneous goods to people around the island) because of his decision. I was glad to hear his story, and even more glad that I could share this moment with him. I was glad to be half way around the world from home, talking another language, eating strange food, sitting in a foreign house, in a distant village, yet feeling like I was sitting next to a brother of mine. Indeed, we are brothers in Christ.

At about 11 pm I left the Nakamal and went to sleep. The night was cold again with a good breeze drifting right through the walls. In the middle of the night I got a mosquito bite right in the middle of my upper lip. In the morning it was swollen and looked like I got punched in the middle of the night. I didn’t, but I sure got some strange looks.

I got up about 5:30 Monday morning and started packing up my stuff. I began sifting through my things looking for stuff to give Harry. He is pretty poor and is in some hard times right now. He basically makes a living by working in the garden and sending his wife to Port Vila to sell their food at the market. This only brings in incremental money and so they don’t have much. I decided to give him my large water bottle. I figured it was something he could really use besides the food I had given to him. (On a side note, it is definitely NOT a good idea as a missionary to give money since that only creates dependence. However, giving small things they can use is much more appreciated)

I packed up my backpack, put my books and handouts in a plastic bag, and took my things outside. I went to Kris’s and took down the awning and gathered the generator, lights and cords. I loaded everything up and was ready to leave, but Harry wanted to drink tea one last time, so we did.

I haven’t mentioned yet, but Eric and Shawnda planned a trip at the same time to Epau. Epau is a village about 30 minutes up the road. There are about 15 Christians there. So, we coordinated our schedules so Eric could drop me off at Pounagisu and he and Shawnda could then go to Epau.

After all our stuff was loaded in Eric’s truck, he was invited to drink tea also. We didn’t turn down the kind request and went to the Nakamal to drink tea and eat bread. Eric had already drank tea at Epau that morning, but he graciously had some again to please Harry. We all talked and then said our goodbyes until next time.

We headed back to Vila and will begin making plans for our next trip to Pounagisu and hopefully to Nguna also.