Solomon Islands Ministries Newsletter (Issue 1)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - South Malaita Visit

Our trip to the Moscom Fellowship in South Malaita started and finished with travel dramas!  We were scheduled to leave Honiara at 8:00 pm on the Sunday night following our return from North Malaita but the boat departed at 6:00 pm instead, despite confirming the time with the port that morning.  A second attempt to depart the following day on another boat was also frustrated when transportation at the other end could not be arranged.  Therefore, the trip was rescheduled until the end of the week with a change of route through Auki and Atori.  Instead of a direct 24 hour boat trip from Honiara to Moscom, the change of plans would mean the ferry from Honiara to Auki (as with our northern trip), a four hour truck drive to Atori and then two hours on a small 'mosquito boat' south to Moscom.  This change of plans meant that Vanessa opted not to go on this journey due to her fear of very small boats and open water.  This proved to be a wise decision as we encountered up to 2 metre swells in some sections of pretty rough waters over this leg of the trip.

The name ‘Moscom’ was originally coined as a radio call sign by the local village leader when he worked for Australian Aid.  It is a hybrid of the actual village name ‘Mosipe’ and the word ‘community’, which stuck and has now become known throughout Malaita.  This village leader responded to the need for a church in Moscom by contacting his close friend in Honiara who was instrumental in bringing The Salvation Army to Solomon Islands.  The community wanted a church that cared for more than just their  spiritual needs, so they were very responsive to the message they heard about The Salvation Army through the visit of Captain Soddy Maraga from PNG.  Over the past few years, the Moscom Fellowship has been led by a local Salvationist named Miriam, with the strong support of the nearby SDA Pastor Seke.  Like Kwai in North Malaita, The Salvation Army has grown around a few families in their village, but unlike Kwai, this congregation has a notable absence of men, who watch on from a distance when not attending their watermelon farms.  Miriam is a hard worker who does her very best to juggle her duties in the village as a mother and grandmother with the responsibilities of being the congregation leader.

We were greeted at the beach, further along the shore than planned due to rough waters, by a large group of very enthusiastic village kids, .  This meant a 20 minute walk through the neighbouring SDA village and up a rather steep hill back to Moscom, with the kids super keen to carry our luggage.  We arrived at the village on dusk and were once again blessed by a lovely welcome song by a group of children and a time of worship and fellowship.  

The Saturday program was much the same as Kwai in North Malaita with a session of teaching about Salvation Army symbolism and a session discussing the Sacraments.  Unfortunately Ness wasn't there to teach the kids so they all (25 of them) decided to sit in on the adults session.  I'm not really sure how much they took in but they at least pretended they were interested.  The Sunday Service had quite a different feel to up north but was nevertheless a wonderful time of worship.  The girls performed a vocal item that featured some beautiful harmonies that lived up to the reputation of amazing singing in the Solomon Islands.  On Monday, Wency led four sessions of Soldiership Classes and I got to sit back and watch this wonderful man of God in action.  The questions that followed each of these sessions demonstrated a genuine desire to integrate what they were learning into the realities of living out their faith in a remote village.  These classes resulted in two Adherents being accepted that evening during a Fellowship Meeting.

Village life in Moscom maintained the beautiful simplicity and generous hospitality that we enjoyed in Kwai.  It was such a pleasure to interact in the life of the village through conversations over meal times and even joining in a spontaneous game of mud soccer with the boys!  It was somewhat of a spectacle having the visiting 'white Pastor' playing in the mud and word spread through the village like wildfire.  The boys thought it was hilarious every time I slipped over in the mud while trying to kick the ball.  Another aspect of village life we witnessed was the migration of watermelons from the hillside farms down to the beach in readiness for the boat to Honiara.  The farmers hauled countless bags of melons, weighing approximately 50 kg each, on their shoulders down the steep hills.  I couldn't sit idle watching all this physical activity so I followed one of the farmers back up the hill to lend a hand, which was very much appreciated.

Unfortunately, village life is not an Utopian existence.  While engaged in one of our evening conversations, thieves from a neighbouring village broke into our room and stole all the money we brought with us to support this Fellowship from my bag!  This was a significant amount of money that would have been a real blessing to Miriam and this congregation.  The village leaders were devastated that this happened to their guests while in their care and it was a harsh confrontation with a growing problem in this remote area where people have to work very hard to survive.  Nevertheless, this disappointing experience did provide a platform for prayer and teaching from Ephesians 6:10-20 about the spiritual battle in which we are engaged.

I said at the beginning of this post that our trip started and finished with travel dramas.  Well, our trip home was a 38 hour saga!!  We were scheduled to leave on Tuesday but our boat didn't show up.  It was then supposed to arrive at 10:00 am on Wednesday but ended up arriving at around 3:00 pm.  It took three hours to load up the melons from all the farmers waiting along the shoreline that spread across four villages.  When the boat eventually set sail out of the bay it was starting to get dark so it docked at a nearby port for the night because the Captain wasn't confident sailing in the dark due to the lack of navigation equipment on board!  We slept on the boat to stay close to our belongings and woke up very early in the morning to a large crowd waiting to board the boat with their cargo, including a rather large pig.  The journey through the channel dividing Big and Small Malaita was rather calm but got very wet along the way.  It also got very crowded as we were met by smaller boats along the way to transfer even more people and cargo on board.  By the time we reached the last port at the end of the channel our boat was overcrowded with barely any room to even stand with people jostling for positions to get out of the rain.  This was the scene for a cramped, cold, wet and miserable final 10 hours across Indispensable Strait between Malaita and Guadalcanal during the night (fortunately we picked up another Captain before departing the port who was confident sailing in the dark!).  At around 3:00 am we noticed some sparks on the floor in front of my feet.  An electrical wire was exposed between our deck and the engine room below, which was shorting out sending sparks through a rust hole onto the 
metal deck that was awash with sea water!!  Together with rough seas and constant storms, it was a very long night and the sight of land couldn't come quick enough.  We arrived in Honiara port at around 6:00 am but had to wait another hour before we docked as the crew pushed through the crowded boat to collect fares.  Praise God that Wency had the money for our fares in his belongings, which didn't get touched by the thieves a few days earlier!

Despite the dramas and discomfort of the journey, the experience was irreplaceable!  We got to share in the reality of many Solomon Islanders who have no other way to travel between the Provinces.  We got to see island life up close and personal.  Underneath the tropical beauty that surrounds us everyday is a challenging existence that exposes the vulnerability of these incredibly resilient people.  This experience provides us with a deeper understanding of the context in which our brothers and sisters in Christ are serving under the flag of The Salvation Army.  May God give us wisdom to use this experience to inform and guide us as we lead The Salvation Army in this context.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - North Malaita Visit

Before arriving in Solomon Islands we read about a new Salvation Army Fellowship that had commenced during May 2017 in North Malaita after two newly enrolled soldiers from Honiara Corps returned to their home village on the Kwai River.  Their arrival home was good news for their village as the church they left behind had disbanded due to the infidelity of the pastor.  After sharing their joy of joining The Salvation Army in Honiara, their witness led to a number of conversations among the community leaders that resulted in their decision for the discouraged church members to become the first Salvation Army Fellowship in North Malaita.  Previous leader of The Salvation Army Solomon Islands Ministries, Major Malcolm Herring, visited this fellowship just before returning to New Zealand and 15 new soldiers of The Salvation Army were enrolled!  As the newly appointed leaders of The Salvation Army in Solomon Islands we knew straight away that we would need to plan a visit to this Fellowship early in our role to see for ourselves the progress of what God had commenced in this remote location and to encourage this newly formed Fellowship of The Salvation Army.  We also wanted to make a strong statement to these new Salvationists that our appointment was not just to Honiara but to wherever The Salvation Army extended throughout the Solomon Islands. 

Our trip to Malaita started at the port of Honiara on a passenger ferry that took three hours to sail to Auki on the west coast of Malaita.  From there we climbed onto the back of a public truck with nearly 20 other passengers and a mountain of luggage for a bumpy four hour drive to the furthermost point of North Malaita.  The road trip took us through some stunning tropical landscapes, over some precarious river bridges and along the beautiful western
coastline of Malaita.  We were greeted upon arrival by a very enthusiastic congregation dressed in their full uniforms eager to meet their new leaders.  This warm welcome extended to a weekend of generous hospitality and rich fellowship that expressed deeply the kingdom values of Christ and their cultural values of community.

While our visit was certainly to meet and greet the members of this Fellowship, it was also to provide some teaching and to participate in their worship services.  Each day commenced with a 4:30 am Prayer Meeting and concluded with a two hour Fellowship Meeting that featured some of the most passionate worship and prayer we have ever experienced!  In many ways, Vanessa and I felt like spiritual dwarfs among these people.  If we thought the singing in Honiara was inspiring (which it is), this church took it to another level.  

On the Saturday I conducted a Teaching Seminar in two parts to teach on 'Salvation Army Symbolism' and 'Salvation Army & Sacraments'.  For such new Salvationists, these themes filled in a lot of gaps in their knowledge and understanding about the distinctives of Salvation Army worship and culture.  They fully engaged with the teaching and asked appropriate questions to seek clarity and to make sense of my Aussie accent.  During this Teaching Seminar Vanessa took 17 children through Junior Soldiers Preparation Classes, which is a young people's discipleship program in The Salvation Army.  At the end of the classes 7 children indicated that they wanted to become Junior Soldiers; which is the first group of Junior Soldiers in the Solomon Islands.  

Sunday Worship was something special!  Their church building is an old wooden, open-walled structure, positioned on top of a very steep hill that stimulated nearly as much physical energy to get to church as the spiritual energy that was generated during church.  A congregation of 46 gathered to celebrate their love for Jesus in their usual passionate style.  One of their leaders led a lengthy testimony time that had people eager to not only share their testimony through words but also through song.  Vanessa then had the absolute pleasure of enrolling the 7 Junior Soldiers before I had the privilege of preaching the Word of God.  It is always humbling to see people respond to the Word of God, but to have 13 of these soldiers kneel at the make-shift Mercy Seat (that I had taught them about the day before), recommitting their lives to God and His mission in North Malaita, was a truly overwhelming experience.  The afternoon included a Leaders Meeting, another first for North Malaita, that completed the picture for us about the scope of ministry already occurring in and beyond this village.  To listen to their leaders express their vision for the future was energising.  I cannot wait to write up my report for the PNG Territorial Commander about this growing ministry!

Throughout our stay in North Malaita we enjoyed fully engaging in the simplicity of village life.  From swimming in the river with the kids, watching food being prepared with cultural methods, eating food grown in the village, to showering under a tap behind a canvas screen out in the open air; life in this village offered an unexpected richness that is rarely experienced in the city.  

Returning home to Honiara was a bitter sweet experience.  Despite our enjoyment of village life, we did miss being connected to the wider world.  Yet, leaving this place, even after only a few days, was like being separated from a sense of family again.  There is something supernatural about the body of Christ that transcends culture and language through a deep unity of the Spirit, I imagine much like the disciples experienced in the early church.  We left North Malaita with a great deal of excitement for the future of this Salvation Army Fellowship.  We also left with enormous anticipation for what might be ahead in the second part of our journey to visit another Salvation Army Fellowship in South Malaita next week.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Solomon Islands Ministries - Beauty Among The Ruins

During World War 2 Solomon Islands was an important Allied supply and communication route between Australia, New Zealand and the US in the Pacific theatre of the war. The Battle of Guadalcanal was the first major offensive by Allied forces against the Empire of Japan who occupied Guadalcanal and surrounding islands, which resulted in a strategic victory for the Allied forces that changed the course of the war.  While a significant victory for the region, this battle cost the lives of 7,000 Allied troops and 19,200 Japanese troops, with a staggering number of wounded on both sides, let alone the high cost paid by indigenous populations.  A permanent reminder of the impact of this six month battle is left in the ruins of 67 ships, over 1,200 aircraft and countless munitions that litter the ocean floor and countryside of the Solomon Islands.

On Boxing Day I had the extraordinary opportunity to visit the Vilu War Museum in western Guadalcanal where many of these WW2 ruins lie outdoors against the contrasting beauty of native tropical flora.  As I moved between the relics listening to the well-informed commentary from the museum owner's daughter-in-law, my mind was caught in the paradox of my surroundings.  I felt a sense of privilege being able to walk among these preserved pieces of history on the very land where this moment in history played out.  I felt a sense of awe and wonder being able to personally observe up close and touch these historic instruments of war.  I felt a deep sense of sadness at the number of lives lost as a direct result of these now decaying relics that have become an attraction for tourists.  Yet, at the same time I found myself distracted by the natural beauty that kept intruding upon our historic tour.  Between each of these twisted and aging wrecks grew some of the most stunning exotic flowers I have ever seen that stole my attention away from the heroes of this museum.  Interestingly enough, what once stood as powerful machines of destruction are now lying subject to the regenerative power of nature.

War inevitably leaves a scar upon our humanity that can take generations to heal.  Similarly, the everyday battles of life can also cause deep wounds and leave lasting scars.  Yet, despite the worst that humankind can inflict upon itself, there is a Creative Force at work in this world that brings healing and restoration to all of creation.  Throughout Scripture there is a common theme of restoration that is declared by the prophets (Isaiah 65:17), proclaimed by Jesus (Luke 4:18-19) and revealed in a vision to John (Revelation 21:3-5)...

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

God, in His grace and mercy, has been actively working since the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to restore the beauty of His creation.  Within the paradox of my walk through the relics of WW2 on Boxing Day is a powerful reminder that even among the ruins there is beauty that cannot be extinguished.  Maybe this is a timely message for someone as we prepare to leave behind the year that has passed and enter into the year that is ahead.  

Look for the beauty among the ruins.  
Hold onto the promise of restoration.
God is making all things new!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Solomon Islands Ministries...

After months of anticipation and preparation, Vanessa and I finally landed in Solomon Islands on Wednesday, 13th December to commence our appointment as the Officers in Charge of The Salvation Army in the Solomon Islands.  We were greeted by a warm and enthusiastic welcome from CSM Wency Ramo’oroa and some members of the Honiara congregation, many of whom delayed or cancelled their annual trip back to their home provinces just so they could meet us!  Along with the Honiara Corps welcome party was Pastor Mary Vasula from the Honiara CRC church to greet the incoming Salvation Army Officers as a demonstration of support from the local churches.  After some initial pleasantries, the welcome party ushered us to a garden rotunda adjacent to the airport car park where Wency addressed us with some formal words of welcome, giving thanks to God for our arrival.  It is truly a humbling experience to be told that your arrival is an answer to the prayers of a congregation.

During our first two weeks in Solomon Islands we have approached our new role in a three-fold manner - Look, Listen & Learn!

Persian poet Moslih Eddin Saadi once said, "A traveller without observation is a bird without wings."  As travellers in a new land our senses have been overloaded by the reality of life in Honiara.  From the onlookers perched on top of the airport roof, to the gauntlet of crater sized potholes turning the 10 kilometre trip from the airport into a two hour drive, to the splattering of red spit all over the pavement from the incessant chewing of betel nut, the sights of this city are a world away from what is normal for us.  Yet, the moment our passports were stamped with our residency visas, this became our reality too.  The only way we are going to effectively navigate this new reality, is through keen observation that looks beyond the 'what' to see and understand the 'why'.  Only then can we effectively engage this new culture and really see where God is already at work.

One of the dangers for any missionary entering a foreign land is assuming the posture of an expert with all the answers.  There is no doubt that we have been appointed to this role for a reason and we bring a certain level of experience, training and knowledge into this space.  However, as cultural outsiders living and leading in this new environment we are barely students.  According to Andy Stanley, "It is next to impossible to hear the voice of wisdom if we are not really listening for it to begin with."  Therefore, the prayer of King Solomon feels very real for us right now - "so give [us] the wisdom and knowledge [we] need to lead these people."  Such wisdom and knowledge not only comes from listening to God but also listening to the people entrusted to our responsibility.  Only then can we effectively engage this new culture and really hear what God is already saying.

For the past six years I have been a part-time student of mission studies while leading in a culturally diverse community that has provided me with a real life laboratory to apply everything I have learnt.  This journey of learning does not stop with a degree.  In fact, as leaders "the learning process is ongoing" because "successful leaders are learners" (John C. Maxwell).  Every observation, every conversation, is contributing to our learning experience.  The cultural insiders here in Solomon Islands are the real experts and are our partners in mission.  Taking a learning posture enables us to filter everything we think we know through an appropriate cultural lens to ensure 'how' we lead empowers those with local knowledge.  Only then can we effectively engage this new culture and really discern where God is leading His Army in Solomon Islands.

Even in this short period of time, this posture of Looking, Listening and Learning has revealed to us an alignment of vision with the Salvationists of Honiara Corps and a shared desire to journey together to discover what The Salvation Army will look like as we, by God's grace, expand its presence and impact throughout the Solomon Islands.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Dongi Dongi Mission Trip - Reflection

Feeling Accomplished

One of the common critiques of short-term mission trips is around the immediate and long-term impact of the mission activity.  Some wonder if anything of lasting significance can be accomplished in a couple of weeks.  Others question if the money spent on the cost of the mission trip could be better utilised by sending it directly to the mission field.  While these are valid questions that should be given reasonable consideration, at the end of our three weeks in Indonesia I am left with the following reflective conclusions:

  • We have mobilised a team of Salvationists from our Corps to actively engage in the international mission of The Salvation Army.
  • We have evoked a spirit of generosity in our Corps and community to resource the vision of an overseas Corps and community.
  • We have invested into the lives of 180 children and their families by helping to establish a school building more appropriate for the needs of the local community.
  • We have partnered with a community by participating alongside them in a project that has laid the foundation for ongoing relationship beyond the end product.
  • We have shared life with other Salvationists through local hospitality, mutual encouragement and pastoral ministry.
  • We have been mutually enriched by exchanging broader perspectives of Salvationism through our respective cultural expressions and experiences.
  • We have responded to unplanned ministry opportunities adding value to and alleviating stress from local leadership and discipleship initiatives.
  • We have followed-up relationships established during previous trips through ministry engagement that continues to sow into the faith journey of other Salvationists.
  • We have returned home better equipped with a higher level of cultural intelligence to more effectively engage cross-culturally in our Corps and community.

It is one thing to contribute to a mission by sending money but quite a different experience to commit to a mission by going and personally engaging with those on the mission field.  Both can be valuable, but approached with right attitude the latter fosters a level of engagement that puts relationships ahead of the task and helps to develop a level of cultural intelligence that can integrate into mission and ministry back home.

Dongi Dongi Mission Trip - Day 21

Answered Prayer!

In my previous blog post I briefly shared that I lost my phone at a major shopping mall in Jakarta.  This is not how I imagined finishing up our mission trip!  However, after some fervent prayer and the determined actions of my travel companions, this happened (as shared on Facebook):

"I would like to share with you an extraordinary experience I had this morning! On Saturday I lost my iPhone while at a major shopping mall in Jakarta, which contained my credit card, driver's licence and medicare card in the cover. You can imagine my distress at losing my phone and identification in such a busy foreign city!! Yesterday morning, Neville and Nyoman decided to try calling my phone from Nyoman's Indonesian number, to no avail. However, last night we noticed two missed calls on Nyoman's phone from my phone number. Nyoman called back and discovered that my phone was found on the ground beside our car in the car park at the mall by a man from Bandung. He took the phone home and tried to send a message to me via my Instagram account, which was still logged in on my phone. This morning, this man and his family drove all the way from Bandung, about a 3 hour drive, back to Jakarta to return my phone and identification to me! While this alone is remarkable, my phone was still in 'flight mode' and my SIM card was disabled by Telstra after we reported it missing, so it shouldn't have received our call; the battery on my phone never holds charge for more than a day anymore; and it was found by a Muslim man and returned by his family who wanted to demonstrate the integrity of their faith. I praise God for this miracle against the odds of ever seeing my phone again and the risk of my ID being used for identity fraud overseas. I'm still astounded by this incredible blessing!!"

What threatened to be a spoiler of an extraordinary mission trip became a major highlight!  Once again I was reminded how God can use any situation to bring unexpected encounters and blessings that reinforce how great He really is!!  I also can't help thinking that my encounter with this family is no accident and that our paths will cross again some time in the future.

Dongi Dongi Mission Trip - Days 19 & 20

Return to Jakarta

Following Stav's saga of getting home after a number of flight cancellations due to lingering smoke from fires, we were watching the flights in and out of Palu very carefully.  Fortunately, our early flight out of Palu departed without incident and we arrived in Jakarta on time for the final stage of our journey.  It was great to be greeted at the airport by Nyoman's brother and brother-in-law, who welcomed us as a part of the Timonuli family.  We enjoyed refreshments at Major Spener and Rai's quarters at Jakarta #2 Corps before booking into our hotel and heading out to the local shopping mall for lunch and an amazing massage!  Unfortunately, Nyoman's misfortune of losing his phone the day before transfered to me with my phone disappearing in the shopping mall car park.  More about that in my final blog post!

One of the things I love about traveling overseas is exploring the local market place, especially experiencing the flavours and fragrances of street food.  There is something captivating about the buzz and activity of street stalls that come alive at night!  The first night in Jakarta we played it safe by enjoying a delicious duck meal - bebek goreng.  The following night Neville was determined to try cobra, which was selected from a cage live and we got to see every stage of its preparation before eating it coated in satay and chili.

On Sunday we were doubly blessed by worshipping at Jakarta #2 Corps in the morning and Jelambar Corps in the evening.  I had the privilege of preaching in both meetings and praying alongside two special people who have been journeying through some very difficult times.  Leading up to our mission trip we became aware that the two year old son of a couple we met during our Jakarta Mission Trip in 2011 had a stroke.  His condition was serious and we united with an Army of Salvationists all around the world to pray for his healing.  I can't describe our joy to see this little boy walking around as a testimony to God's grace!  The faith of his young parents is inspiring and to see them totally surrender to God's will for their lives despite their son's condition is as much a testimony as his healing.  
We were particularly looking forward to sharing with our friends at Jelambar who have remained a special part of our lives since meeting and serving them in 2011. Our two day stopover in Jakarta on our way home from Palu allowed us time to follow-up and renew these friendships, being mutually encouraged by seeing how God is at work in each other's lives.