Tuesday, June 10, 2014

2 years later

It has been 2 years since our family has departed Vanuatu. I don’t say we “left” Vanuatu, because even though we physically departed Vanuatu, our 7 years spent there engrained the people, places, custom and culture so deep in our hearts and lives that in many ways we never “left”.

The countdown: Cindy and I leave on June 23rd to return to Vanuatu to help the Christians in Yatekun and Loun villages. We lived near Loun and would go there several times a week, but this trip takes us about 2 hours driving time to the village of Yatekun to visit Tom and Margaret.

Less than two weeks to go until our departure, so how are we doing? Here goes…

First, we would love to take the girls, but it’s expensive. Plane tickets for one adult are $2,000 from St Louis to Los Angeles, Fiji Port Vila, then Tanna. Children’s tickets are cheaper, but only by about 10%. Right now, we can’t afford it. So, they’ll stay with grandparents for 2 weeks and have a great time and we’ll miss them like crazy

Second, we are busy packing. I tease Cindy and tell her that she packs everything, except the kitchen sink. She claims she’s “just being prepared” but my guess is we won’t need half the things she’ll pack. In all fairness, if anybody comes down with pneumonia…Cindy can give them a chest x-ray. Infection? I’m sure there’s medicine for that! Sprain your ankle? She’s probably got crutches in there somewhere.

Third, we’re going to teach, so there are always lessons to prepare. If I’m not preparing my own lessons, then I’m translating lessons for someone else. I’ll be teaching Matthew, Mark and Luke and one of my co-workers teaching with me will teach Genesis to Deuteronomy (commonly known as the Pentateuch). Always busy…

Last, we’re brushing up on our Bislama. We want to hit the ground running and not lag behind. We want people to know we love them, miss them, and care about them. Losing the language would indicate we have lost some of our care, concern and love for them. Don’t want to lose that. So, we’re practicing at home to see if we can stay sharp on the language.

OK, gotta run. LUKIM YU! We’ll report as the day of departure gets closer.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Yatekun: Take 3

By Cindy
A small group of us made a third and final trip to Yatekun Village this past weekend. We left on Wednesday morning and stayed until Monday morning. Those on the trip included: Aaron, Kaela, Melia and I, Miswel, Martha and Stephanie (age 2), and Abu Iata.

In case you don’t remember, the Christians in Yatekun are: Tom and Margaret, and Tom’s sister-in-law, Meriam. All were baptized in August of this year.

Shortly after arriving I was thrilled and delighted to find that they had built a new outdoor toilet! Yea! The horrid stench of the previous one is a thing of the past and I was most grateful for it! And – as a bonus – the dried coconut leaves were placed in such a way that they made three very good walls (no more gaps!) and I at last felt that I had some bit of privacy when visiting the outhouse. There was not a forth wall, as the three-foot wide fourth side was open to the bush. Thankfully, it opened to a part of the bush that was not penetrable by human traffic…just a few chickens and the occasional dog or two!

Aaron ran studies on the book of Revelation in the morning and after lunch each day. Then, in the evening, after a short video for the “kids” (young and old) he showed a video on the book of Matthew, taking the time to answer several Bible questions that had been asked previously. On Saturday afternoon a group of about 10 Seventh Day Adventists came to ask questions. It would not seem that much was accomplished. They brought forth their typical verses in an effort to show that Christians today should still hold to the Sabbath Day. Aaron explained each verse clearly and calmly refuted their arguments. No one got upset, but after about an hour, seeing that they were not able to uphold their beliefs against New Testament scripture, they thanked Aaron for the opportunity to come and left. More often than not, these “debates” seem to be fruitless, as the people are so burdened by false teaching that they cannot see the truth no matter how clearly it is presented. However, as always, we are hopeful that at least a seed has been planted in one or two hearts that might one day lead someone to the Lord’s church.

It rained off and on all day Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but thankfully the rain was not so heavy that it hindered our activities. It was light rain for the most part and would just come and go all day. I was thankful for the rain for the simple fact that it was helping to fill up Tom and Margaret’s rainwater tank, as I knew we had to be using quite a bit of water with so many more mouths to feed, dishes and clothes to wash.

The local children managed to catch a small bird on Friday, and Melia and Kaela both were delighted by it and eager to hold it. However, as most often happens in the village, these birds are passed off to the smaller children who want so much to hold them, but have no idea how to be gentle. Eventually, the poor thing was just loved to death. Literally. Which brings me to my story about Melia. I had been resting in our little room when I heard Melia and Stephanie outside at the water tank. The water tank sat directly against the side wall of our room, so I could easily hear them. I wasn’t paying them much attention until I heard Melia chattering to Stephanie about how they were giving the birdie a bath! With dread, I ran out to check on them and sure enough they had filled a large dish about halfway and were “bathing” the bird, dunking it under the water over and over. Of course I was horrified! However, being as how I detest birds so very much (to the point that I refuse to touch them) and when you add that to the fact that it was dead, all I could to was stand there declaring that Melia stop bathing the bird at once, but could not bring myself to go over and take it from her. I just could not do it! Thankfully, Tom’s daughter, Estelle, was playing a short distance away and I called her over to come take the bird. Then, I made Melia wash and sanitize her hands and we had a talk about how we don’t give birds a bath no matter how dirty they are or how much fun it might be. Ugh. I still am unsure as to whether the bird was dead before the bath or after. If it wasn’t dead before the bath…the repeated dunking was sure to have finished it off!

Well, if that wasn’t bad enough. The next morning I got up, dressed, and start off for the toilet. However, I felt myself step on something kind of firm, but soft. Thinking it was a piece of mud on the ground, I looked back to find that even more decrepit-looking bird lying on the ground…featherless. Ugh. Thinking that I would psyche myself up, find a shovel, and take the initiative to go dump the thing in the bush, I went ahead and went to the toilet, then stopped off at the kitchen on my way back to say good morning to my friends. When I was approaching our house again, I noticed that the bird was gone. Upon entering the house I found Aaron kneeling down in front of Kaela giving her a good talking-to about why we don’t touch dead animals. Ugh. What is it with kids and dead animals?! First Melia and then Kaela. Well, thankfully, Aaron took care of the problem and we didn’t see that bird again the rest of the weekend.

Each day, either in the morning or afternoon, I got some water and washed a few of our clothes in a bucket. It wasn’t the easiest method of washing clothes, but it got the job done. Kaela and Melia’s clothes (and mine too, for that matter!) get so much dirtier in the village, so it is nice to be able to just fill a bucket, add some soap and set to scrubbing whenever we have need.

We had several visitors during our studies. And we are happy to say that two were baptized on Sunday after lunch. Antwan, who is Tom’s brother and Meriam’s husband (both whom are already Christians) had been thinking of being baptized for some time so we were pleased that he was ready to become a Christian. Also, Margaret’s sister, Ruth, was baptized, as well. There are a few others who came to the studies who expressed an interest in knowing more about the Lord’s church and we are praying that in the coming months the church in Yatekun will continue to grow.

You never know what it is going happen when you are living in the bush. On Sunday afternoon I went to the outhouse only to find a crab sitting by the hole. He was a rather good size and since I couldn’t pick him up for fear of getting pinched I used a stick and rolled him out of the toilet, up the hill to some waiting children. I thought they might throw him in a pan of boiling water and I’d get some fresh crab meat, but once again, the local children played with him until he was in pieces. Fabulous. Not to worry though, Martha found one of the legs sitting on a table, cracked it open and ate the meat…raw.

It was again a wonderful five days in Yatekun. We enjoyed our time with Tom and Margaret, Anwan and Meriam, for one last time. Margaret, Meriam, Martha and I had an especially nice time and we bonded well together, laughing and talking as we cooked meals (which we spent about 60% of our time doing) and got ready for Bible studies. Aaron thoroughly enjoyed his time with Tom and Miswel who are two men whom he counts as friends.

All in all it was an emotional visit because the whole time we were counting the days until Monday. We all knew that Monday would mean good-bye for Aaron and I. We are not certain when we will see these young Christians in Yatekun again. We hope and pray that we can make it back to check on them again next year. But, that is in the Lord’s timing.

At the sound of the transport truck coming to pick us up, the tears began to flow. I could not hold them back and neither could Meriam or Margaret. In reality we have spent little time together, but the bond we share in Christ, is solid and strong, joining our hearts even when our cultures separate us. I am now beginning to understand Paul’s anguish in leaving the people with whom he worked and studied with. I ache to think that these people who we have grown to love might lose hope and fall away because there is no one here to help them in their spiritual growth. And yet we cannot stay.

I am not exaggerating when I say that several times Meriam and Margaret thanked us for coming and teaching them the truth and about how to live the Christian life. I have passed on Bible studies and materials to them in hopes that it will aid them in their growth. But, each time as they are thanking me, I know in my heart and I tell them, it is not me. It is not Aaron. We aren’t special. We are not great. We just brought a message. And that message is what is special. And that message is what is great. We might have had a small part in their receiving it. But, we aren’t the ones who have changed their lives. On Saturday, as Meriam was telling me how much their lives have changed since they learned the truth and obeyed the gospel, I couldn’t help but feel awe. How perfect is the plan of God. To save souls and change lives. Its power works the same way in America as it does in Italy, as it does in Africa, as it does in Vanuatu. I am humbled that I have been able to be a small part of that.

As our tears were falling Monday morning and each of us was sobbing on the shoulder of the other, I prayed for them, my sisters in Christ. I prayed for them to be strong in the faith, for God to be with them until I can be with them again. How do you say good-bye when it feels like you have barely said hello? Riding home in the back of the truck sandwiched in between people and bags, I realized that this is all part of marching on. My heart was breaking, but the time has come to march on. God be with my brothers and sisters in Yatekun. I love them so.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life in Crazytown

By Cindy

We are well aware that our blog has been sadly neglected in recent weeks. And for that we are sorry. This is due to the simple fact that time seems to be speeding by and Aaron and I are scrambling along behind, doing our best to keep up! The blog just happens to be one thing that gets pushed to the end of the list more often than not, with more pressing matters taking precedence over it. However, in the attempt to make up for lost time and update you on the goings on here in Tanna…here goes. Hang on to your hat.

The main reason I have found myself with extra time to write this is because some of our friends from Etas called us this morning at A QUARTER TO 5:00! They wanted to pass what I felt like was a not-so-urgent message to Abu Iata. And I guess they figured that since they were up before 5:00, we would be too! Why they couldn’t have waited a couple hours, I do not know. But, I’m not at all bitter about it…Ha!

Aaron’s teaching (Bible and Computers) at the RTC has been stepped up from four mornings a week from 7:30-9:00 to five mornings a week from 7:30-11:30. These are the last two weeks of school so we are now in cram-mode as the RTC is working to cram everything in before the school closing on November 30th. We are continuing our Sunday night small group study with Harry and Tess and also the mid-week Bible studies in Loun village. Only now, instead of studying on Thursday evenings, the study has moved to Wednesday during the day. We leave as soon as Aaron is finished teaching one of his RTC classes and walk 45 minutes to Loun, study for about an hour or so, then eat lunch and fellowship with the Christians. We try to head for home about 1:00pm because it takes about an hour to walk back, being as how it is slightly uphill on the way back and a much more tiring walk in the mid-day sun. By the time we reach home we are all four ready for a bit of rest!

In addition to all that, Aaron is also carrying the heavy weight of making our plans to move back to the USA. It is a stress on us trying to figure out how to make our Vanuatu work mesh together with a Stateside work, how much salary we will need to live on (which is bound to be different as a family of four than when we left seven years ago as a young couple with a small baby). We also have to figure out how much work fund we need to accomplish the work we want to do for the Vanuatu church and are fervently seeking congregations and individuals who will continue to stand with us in the Vanuatu work despite our change of address. If we wanted our lives to be easier, we would just chuck the Vanuatu plan and seek a local work that can provide our full income. However, we fully believe that we are in a position to fill a need for the church here and so we are willingly subjecting ourselves to the additional stress which comes with working out all of those details.

This week on Thursday the women from the Lorakau/Loun congregation (myself included) are taking a truck to town and having a picnic on the beach. This will be our first ever “planned” women’s fellowship and we are all looking forward to it! All the women are pitching in to pay the transport fee and we will take our food along, and swim in the ocean. Tess wants me to help her organize some games, so we will see what we come up with in the next two days! It will be a fun time though, and it is being held as kind of a special gathering because I am leaving soon.

After that, our family plus a few other Christians leave for Yatekun village in south Tanna next Wednesday. We will be there until Monday, holding Bible studies and working to encourage the three Christians that live in that village. If you recall, the church was started in that village in August. We will return on Monday the 28th.

As I said, the closing of the school is on November 30th (Wednesday) and there will also be a goodbye kakae meal for our family. It is sure to be an emotional time! Then, December 3rd (the Saturday following) is the goodbye kakae for our family given by the Lorakau/Loun congregation (more crying for me, I am sure!). And since I just won’t have cried enough…the very next day, December 4th, is the girl’s and my last Sunday in Tanna. Then, Monday morning we leave. Wow. I think I’m going to need a whole box of Kleenex or a giant handkerchief just to get through that last week!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Back in the saddle…though a bit rough ridin’!

By: Cindy

We arrived back in Tanna to gray skies and heavy rains on Monday, October 5th at 11:30 am. Unfortunately, one of our bags didn’t make it on the flight. We were faced with a decision to make. Now that we don’t have a truck (we’ve sold it already), getting around is a bit more complicated. Because of the heavy weight of our bags plus three boxes, we really needed to charter the truck to our village. The downside of the chartered truck is twofold. 1) The hill up to Lorakau is bound to be a muddy mess. We have nicknamed that hill “Will Hill”, as in you’d better write your will before going on it (don’t tell my Mom!). 2) The bed of the chartered truck has no protection from the rain. The truck is a single-cab and while the girls and I are blessed to ride in front, our bags and boxes are sure to get soaked in the back. The airport promised that our bag would be on the flight the next morning. So, we considered staying the night in town at Pbles and Ruth’s house, get the bag the next morning, and then head home. But, all of us are anxious to get home. Plus, staying the night with the locals is something I like to prepare for beforehand (as my overwhelming need-to-plan quirk kicks in!), not something I want to do on the spur of the moment, if it can be helped. What to do? Aaron and I talked and debated our options and finally decided it would be best to just brave the rain and “Will Hill” in order to get home in the shortest amount of time.
After a short stop in town to refill our gas bottle, buy eggs, bread and noodles, we hit the road with Sasen, the man who drives the charter transport truck that makes the trip to our village. Sasen, apparently, has no qualms about the muddy hill (or he has a death wish!) and basically barreled his way up the hill, down the slippery roads all the way to our front door. I sat in front with Kaela and Melia, shut my eyes on the hill, praying fervently that we wouldn’t slide off the side. Thankfully, we didn’t. God granted us yet another safe journey home.
Despite the downpour, it was good to be home and back to the familiar faces of our village. Tess and Harry and their kids were glad to see us, all except Baby Ron-Jon, who cried at the sight of us. I guess it will take time (again) to win him over. Our boxes and bags were thoroughly soaked! While the girls re-acquainted themselves with our house, Aaron and I set to work drying off some of our belongings and hanging others from the rafters to dry. We weren’t able to dry things properly until the rain stopped and the sun came out, which wasn’t for two days.
It has been nice to be back, see the people, and get started again on our life here. However, we’ve had frustrations too. It is now Thursday and our bag still hasn’t made it here to Tanna – in fact no one seems to know where it is. And honestly, the possible loss of it is making me feel sick with sadness. It was my bag and I had some invaluable things in it: my two most frequently used Bibles (the one I use for studying and the smaller one that I cart with me everywhere), my Bible studies that I developed specifically for women with hand-drawn pictures to aid those that I study with who are illiterate. I do not have a copy of those studies and they will be a great loss. It also contained the hard copy of the current book I’m working on complete with my notes on corrections that I want to make, and also the packets of Bible class songs and lessons that I copied and put together for the women here. Not to mention, a handful of home school materials and books for Kaela. There were other things too – all replaceable - and their loss is of no great sorrow to me. However, the Bibles and study materials I have wept over – that may seem silly to some, but I put hours of work into those study materials and painstakingly made notes in my study Bible. And I just ache to have them lost. Not to mention the sentimental value – there was something comforting and nostalgic about opening my Bible to 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 13 and seeing the smudge of dirt on the page where I accidently dropped my Bible on the ground during a Wednesday evening Bible study in Etas way back in 2006.
I should probably stop writing about this. I’m depressing myself and maybe you, as well! I just wanted to share my sorrow over this loss.
The frustration of it all comes in that our efforts at locating this bag have been fruitless, thus far, as the airport employees would rather waste our time and phone credit passing us from one person to the next than deliver the bad news that my bag is indeed and officially lost! Customer service is a foreign concept here. In addition to that frustration, last week we put 10 boxes of Bible study materials, home school and household supplies, and food supply stock for the next two months on the ship to come to Tanna. We received word on Monday that the ship left Port Vila on time, got about halfway to Tanna, but had engine trouble so it turned around and went back to Vila. Apparently, they moved all the cargo for Tanna onto another ship that arrived on Wednesday. However, when Aaron checked on our cargo, it wasn’t there and is “supposedly” coming on the next trip. Responsibility taken for property on the ship is as sketchy and inept as the airport and we fear that these supplies will be lost, as well. They will also be a great loss to us and while most of it is replaceable in theory – it is only replaceable in Port Vila or the USA and most definitely not in Tanna! If the food supplies, particularly, don’t make it – that will cause us other problems, as any food we purchase in town has to be carried home on our backs each week.
I told Aaron this morning that “each day has enough trouble of its own” – and since this week each day seems to have about twice the amount that it should, then next week we ought to be smooth sailing!
Although we are enduring hardship right now, life will go on and we are putting forth the effort to make the best of it, so we can continue our work here in Tanna unhindered. In the meantime, we are fervently praying that we will see that bag and those boxes again soon!

Monday, August 29, 2011

15 Captivating (I am sure!) Blurbs about our Trip to Yatekun Village

General Blurbs
• We thought we would be taking a small campaign group (maybe 10 or 12 of us?) to Yatekun. There ended up being 30 of us all together! 10 from the Etas congregation came on the ship, 16 from the Lorokau/Loun congregation, plus our family of 4. What started out as a campaign trip took on more the feel of a family encampment. Good thing that in Vanuatu it is “the more the merrier”!
• The classes Aaron held each morning were excellent. And I was amazed again at how reasonable the Bible is when you study it. Heavy topics that are often confusing such as the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Holy Spirit today versus the 1st Century, are so easily understood when you apply basic logic as you study them from Scripture. I can see why the book of Acts puts a lot of emphasis on how Paul “reasoned” with people to bring them to an understanding of the truth.
• Our diet was basically the same for five days straight. Tea and crackers for breakfast, Rice and cabbage soup for lunch and dinner with either simboro (like laplap cabbage rolls) or a boiled root crop on the side.
• We were blessed with beautiful weather the whole 5 days of our trip! And every afternoon we were able to walk to the river to bathe (that water was COLD!) and to wash our clothes from the day before.

Wednesday Blurbs – Day 1
• For me, the best surprise was finding out that three of the women from the Etas congregation came on the ship to join us on our trip to Yatekun. I was absolutely thrilled (to tears) to see Leimawa, Nipina, and Iagan again!
• Back to Yatekun village means back to the “short” drop outhouse (I SO wish it were a long drop!) which was, again, a most unpleasant aspect of our visit due to its overpowering odor. As Aaron says, “The stench is like a punch in the face!”

Thursday Blurbs – Day 2
• After the Jule Miller DVD video one night, Aaron showed some pictures of our families back home in the USA. One of them was of my sister, Jill, and me. It happened to be a pic that made us look very much alike, enough that the people had a hard time telling us apart. I was touched when they finally figured it out and said, “The one on the left is ‘blong yumi’ (ours) and the one on the right is ‘blong olgeta’ (theirs).” There was something touching about my local friends taking ownership of me in that way, saying that I belong to them. I’m not sure if that makes sense to you all back home, but it put a lump in my throat just the same.
• On this night Kaela woke me up with the most urgent need to go to the toilet. I’m not a big fan of trips to the outhouse at night, but since she was nearly squirming with need, I had to go. However, in our haste, I forgot to grab the toilet paper. Now, on the cement floor of the outhouse there are coconut husks that have been broken open. Here’s an education for you…the locals use them as TP. Here Kaela was asking me what we were to do about TP and for some reason I thought picking up that coconut husk was a good idea. Only I had no clue how to use it as toilet paper! Which got me giggling to the point that I was laughing so hard I was crying. Kaela didn’t find it very funny, but as I tried to explain to her…I didn’t have the slightest idea how to use a coconut husk for TP on myself, let alone on her! Oh, the situations we find ourselves in sometimes! Hahahahaha!!!

Friday Blurbs – Day 3
• Great news! Tom (who Aaron has been studying with for several months) and his wife, Margaret were baptized this afternoon! The beginning of the church in Yatekun village!
• Sam (from the Etas congregation) impressed both Aaron and I in how much he has grown in the last year (and in the last 6 years). He did an excellent job of encouraging the people in Yatekun to listen to the message of the Word and obey it. He was a great evangelist!

Saturday Blurbs – Day 4
• This afternoon we had a wonderful and encouraging women’s program with devotional talks given by Mariana (Loun), Leimawa (Etas), and myself. I was most impressed with Mariana as this was her first time ever to speak to a group of women. She has only been a Christian about a month and she not only volunteered to give the talk, but also took the lead in giving the welcome talk – a responsibility that I was certain that would fall to my shoulders. I was delighted at how well she presented the material that she and I had worked on together (about the various - and many! - works of women in the church) and her willingness to step up and try something new!

Sunday Blurbs – Day 5
• Another great Lord’s Day! Miriam (who is married to Tom’s brother) was baptized after worship today. She has impressed me with her interest in studying the Bible and her desire to follow Christ since the time that I met her on our last trip in June. We are praying that it won’t be much longer before her husband, Antwan, decides to give his life to Christ, as well.
• Tess (Lorokau) took on the task of teaching the Children’s Bible class this morning. She and I had several talks as she was planning what she was going to teach. She hadn’t taught a children’s class for several years and was feeling a bit nervous about it all, but still willing to take on the job. She ended up doing a marvelous job and was very inventive in her visual aids – using a coconut with a face drawn on it as Goliath - because you can’t break the skin of coconut with a knife (similar to Golaith’s armor) and she used a susut (or gourd) as David because the skin was soft and easily damaged (like the young David). Very creative!

Monday Blurbs – Time to leave!
• We only had one particularly bad thing happen on the whole trip and that was that Sunday night Melia got sick (in our bed!) in the middle of the night and continued to vomit and have diarrhea through the night. Kaela came down with it Monday night after we were home. I got a touch (thankfully, just a touch!) of it on Monday night, as well. But, the girls have been battling the stomach flu for the last three days. Finally, things are beginning to dwindle down and hopefully we are on the road to recovery!
• We are praising God for the three souls who were saved in baptism during this trip to Yatekun. And almost as wonderful was the impact this trip has had on the members of the church in Lorokau/Loun and in Etas. It has drawn them closer together as a family and to the new members in Yatekun. It has pushed several of these young Christians to step up and teach and lead for the first time. This trip was an encouragement to all – making the stinky outhouse, the stomach flu, and the monotonous diet, well worth the time we spent there! We are thanking God for the increase!