Mission Team: Day 7 in Vanuatu

Our last full day in Vanuatu!

The morning gave us some time for reflection on our visit to date, Phil having gone to visit Onesua High School on the other side of the island. We had hoped initially to go with him, but this turned out to be impossible. We had already committed ourselves to returning to the PWMU Training Centre in the afternoon.

After lunch we caught a bus to the Training Centre. It is up above the area of Tebakor, which is where our motel is located. The centre is in Peter Morris Street, in the Anamburu area of Port Vila. The bus driver was unfamiliar with the location, so he had to rely on some guidance from passers-by. We got there without too much delay, though, and were welcomed by Enikelen on arrival. A short two day course in tourism had started in the morning, so we were able to sit in on some of the instruction. It was at a very basic entry level and the teaching today covered things such as basic telephone skills. It seemed the students this time were already employed, some in the tourism industry. The students for this course were staying in the hostel, which can cater for about 7-8 residents at a time.

This visit also gave us a chance to look at the suite of computers used for computer training. It was quickly obvious that some of them are beyond repair, needing new motherboards, graphic cards, memory upgrades, etc. There were 3 functioning computers when we started, but by the time Ron left around 5:30pm another two were up and running again. Enikelen was very pleased so she and another resident walked Ron back down the hill to the motel – Wynne and Alison had caught a bus back a little earlier.

The early evening was spent over a very nice meal at the Harbour View Chinese Restaurant, which is along the waterfront from the motel towards the centre of Port Vila. We were the guests of the Rev. Kalsakau Urtalo, the PCV Assembly Clerk, and his wife Wynne, who had two of their grandchildren with them. It was a nice way to finish the visit.

Dinner at the Harbour View Chinese Restaurant.

Dinner at the Harbour View Chinese Restaurant

Tomorrow is an early start. We will leave the motel at 5:00am for the return flight home. The taxi is ordered already. We are looking forward to sharing our journey with the parish council and congregations on our return home.


Mission Team: Day 6 in Vanuatu

Today was light in official duties!

This morning Phil had meetings at the PCV offices, so Wynne, Alison and I decided to visit the Activ Centre on the outskirts of Port Vila. It had been advertised in the in-flight magazine, but its location doesn’t seem to be well-known yet. We assume it must be on the list of stops for tour guide operators, but we don’t really know. It was a little hard conversing with the salesperson because he spoke French rather than English. Ron’s French and Alison’s French wasn’t quite up to the mark! The presence of both French and English speaking ni-Van people is a reflection of the country’s colonial past. The centre sells local handcrafts, particularly bags and carvings, on behalf of local artisans. It is linked to the Fair Trade organisation and comes under the umbrella of the Activ Association and Forum. The Association and Forum are active on a number of economic and environmental fronts: see http://www.activ.com.vu/ACTIV/activforum.htm. On the way back, we visited Computer World – just to check out how readily available computers, parts and service were in Port Vila. The news was encouraging.

In the afternoon, we went to Hideaway Island. It’s well-known for its reef and the varieties of fish that can be seen there. The island is another tourist asset owned by Mele village, but it’s leased to the tourist operator long term. It’s only a short ferry trip across the water from the mainland – the picture below was taken as we approached the island. On the island you can sign up for a guided trip over the reef in a glass-bottom boat, but we were too late for this. Instead we hired snorkels and flippers and accessed the reef this way. We were at varying skill levels, but we each got to see something of the colourful fish life around the coral reef. We decided to put this part of our day down to enjoying the beauties of God’s creation. We finished our time on the island with a walk around the island. It took us about 10 minutes, so you can see it’s not a big island.Image

In our time in Port Vila, we have learned to signal buses and taxis with a wave. We have deciphered signs in French and Bislama. We have even rated some of the signs and are unanimous that this sign takes first prize. It’s on Erakor Island and there’s a big heavy gong in front of the sign. We think you can work it out.Image


Mission Team: Day 5 in Vanuatu

Day 5 was Sunday, and it has been a full-on day. We spent morning and evening at two different churches, the first to the north of Port Vila and the second to the south. In between we fitted in a very enjoyable spot of recreation.

We were picked up at 9:00am and driven to Mele, the largest village in Vanuatu, in time for church at 10:00am. The main church is large and capable of seating 400-500 people. We arrived early so we had some time to spare. We strolled down the main street to see some of the village life, which included dogs, roosters, hens and pigs wandering around as well as people heading to one of the several churches in the village. We returned in time to shelter in the shade by the church before being taken in and shown to our seats. After the service started we were welcomed warmly, presented with garlands of flowers and asked to speak to the congregation. The four of us spoke. The service included a baby blessing, which is done when a new baby first comes to church, and the hymns were all in Bislama. The tunes were mostly familiar ones, including Crimond for “The Lord’s my shepherd.” We shook hands with everyone, children included, after the service and then lunch was provided – once again the hospitality was very generous.

Lunch at Mele

Lunch at Mele

The Mele village owns the nearby tourist attraction, The Cascade Waterfalls, and it is operated by locals. With Pastor Terry’s daughter, Maddy as our guide, we were taken to see the falls and have a swim under the waterfall. We climbed steadily on well-formed tracks, crossing the stream twice, for about 30 minutes to reach the viewing area below the split waterfalls. Leaving our bags there, we then climbed the remaining distance until we were right under the cascading torrent of water. We cooled off in the pool underneath before making the return trip, and then back to Port Vila. Maddy was enthusiastic and wonderful guide all the way.
On the way up to the falls.

On the way up to the falls

We were picked up in the evening at 5:30pm and taken to Pango village for our second service. We were again warmly welcomed, presented with garlands, introduced and asked to speak. The children present gave an item, and we were given a copy of the New Testament in Bislama and a hymnbook in the local dialect of Efate Island. After the service we were once more given refreshments and had a chance to talk with Pastor Brown, Elder Sopi and some of the other elders, and also some of the local PWMU women. They shared with us some of the challenges being faced by the encroachment of tourist resorts in their area, as well as the challenge of retaining their young people. We were then taken aside, first Wynne and Alison and then Phil and Ron, and given a makeover. Here’s the result!
New shirts and dresses for the team.

Pango Makeover

It has been a tiring but informative day, another great opportunity to learn something more of the PCV. Tomorrow we have pretty much a free day, and we hope to go to Hideaway Island.

Mission Team: Day 4 Afternoon in Vanuatu

This afternoon we visited Erakor, the visit being in two parts. We were guided by Pastor Balou from Erakor and some of his elders.

Alison, Ron, Jean-Pierre, Wynne and Pastor Balou on the beach at Erakor

Alison, Ron, Jean-Pierre, Wynne and Pastor Balou on the beach at Erakor

The first part was a visit to Erakor Island, a short trip from the mainland by ferry. Erakor Island is a small low-lying island, which is currently a leisure resort. It has however considerable historical significance for the PCV and particularly for the church in the Erakor area. The island was the centre of early missionary activity by the Rev. J. W. McKenzie, a minister from Scotland. He established a training centre there and trained local missionaries to take the gospel into other areas of Vanuatu. We visited the graves of his wife and some of his children – his grave is on the island of Ifira. We also visited the historic chapel, which is an open air chapel still used for special services and weddings. He was not the first missionary, however, because four evangelists from Samoa arrived before his. They are commemorated in a monument on the island.

The island is the traditional home of the people of Erakor, but the residents all moved to the mainland of Efate, specifically to the Erakor Peninsula, following the cyclone of 1962. Being low-lying, the island was deemed unsafe by the government and so the islanders were resettled. The second part of our visit entailed travelling onto the Erakor Peninsula to visit the village of Erakor. We had to travel over a mix of tar-sealed and dirt roads to make the journey.

The first stop on this part of the journey was to the site of the first meeting between the Samoan missionaries and the local chief. The site is now an open air church and it was decorated with bright flame red flowers, which was fitting for the celebration of Pentecost tomorrow. The site was some distance off the dirt road, so we were glad we didn’t have to find our own way there.

We arrived in the village of Erakor in later afternoon and were taken down to the beach, which is only a short stretch across the water from Erakor Island but much longer by road. We were then taken to see the main church in Erakor, which is a large impressive building completed three years ago. It sits next to the old church, which had become too small for services but is still used for other activities. After inspecting the interior of the new church, we gathered in the old church for refreshments and were joined by more of the elders. Samuel, one of the elders spoke to us about the challenges facing the church in Erakor and Pastor Balou presented Phil with a copy of the five-year plan the session has just drawn up for addressing these challenges.

We were later driven back to our motel. It has been a day of historical learning and of receiving generous hospitality, which has made us grateful for the experience. We have even had time for a paddle in the sea!

Paddling in the sea at Erakor Beach.

Padddling in the sea.

Mission Team: Day 4 Morning in Vanuatu

Pastor Jiva, Marcel, and the team outside the Ifira church.

Pastor Jiva, Marcel, and the team outside the Ifira church.

We have just arrived back from our visit to the island of Ifira this morning. Ifira is on the seaward side of the resort island of Iririki. We went across by ferry, strictly speaking a small boat propelled by outboard motor. We had booked with one of the boat owners, Marcel, yesterday – he lives on Ifira so he came to get us today, even though it was his day off.

We expected a quiet visit, but Pastor Jiva, the PCV minister on Ifira, was expecting us and so we were welcomed with a garland of flowers each. The main purpose of our visit was to see the church at Ifira and the graves, which are all associated with the beginnings of the PCV in Vanuatu. It is the third church on the site and is undergoing renovations and maintenance. It has just had its roof replaced with long run colour steel, which can be sees from the water at quite a distance. The church grounds have graves for some of the early missionaries and their families.

There are also two important memorial stones adjacent to the church. The first is a memorial for the founding of Christianity on the island in 1845. The second, erected on 9 August 1995, is commemorating the foundation of the PWMU on the island of Ifira on 9 August 1945 by Miss A. Skinner. The PWMU come to the island each year on the anniversary of the founding date to remember and celebrate this occasion.

After inspecting the interior of the church, we were taken on a walking tour of the island. The clusters of houses set in the lush green vegetation really did give it the appearance of an island paradise. We received a warm welcome from the people we encountered on the walk, and on the beach some young children showed us their haul of small shellfish. On returning to the church, a couple of the young lads showed us their skills by climbing a coconut tree so that we could sample the coconut milk and take back a coconut each to the motel.

We finished up our visit to the island by having lunch with Pastor Jiva and his wife Maryanne at the manse, which is adjacent to the church. We sat under the covered roof and shared food together. It was a very fitting way to end our visit to the island. It turned out to be a full, but very enjoyable morning.

Mission Team: Day 3 in Vanuatu

We began our day again with a walk in the vicinity of our motel. Yesterday morning we followed a dirt track that branched off the main road, past a traditional fruit and vegetable market. It gave us a little insight into the communal living conditions of the ni-Van people. We were welcomed cheerily by those we spoke to. This morning we headed in a different direction, around the side of the harbour. On the lower level we saw again some typical ni-Van housing, but on the higher level there were some much larger houses. We caught a bus to take us around this area and were told that these larger houses are owned mostly by New Zealanders, Australians and Chinese. We shared the bus for part of the journey with three women with tiny little babies, including one set of twins.

The official start of the day began at 11:30am at the PCV offices, meeting the moderators (PCV pastors) from the villages of Erakor, Mele and Pango on the island of Efate. The meeting was chaired by the Rev. Kalsakau Urtalo and the agenda focused on building partnership relationships with PCANZ parishes. It was interesting to find that they shared a number of concerns with parishes in New Zealand, such as, attracting and working with youth and particular issues around cultural change and the loss of a traditional church and village culture. We met in the Paton Memorial Church, which is adjacent to the PCV offices. It’s the main PCV church in Port Vila. We will visit each of the villages represented at the meeting over the next two days.

The team met with the moderators of 3 villages in the Paton Memorial Church.

Mission team meeting with local moderators in Paton Memorial Church

We filled in time after the meeting dining under a large tree outside the PCV offices. We bought a meal of rice, potato, cooked banana, chicken, carrot and greens at a very reasonable price from a food caravan there. We then wandered downtown to use up some time before our meeting at the Korvan Health Centre, where we were due at 2:00pm.

When we arrived at the Korvan Health Centre, we were met by Sun Kim, a Korean elder from Lord’s Church in Mangere, who is filling a number of roles at the centre and the adjacent Sutherland House, and Jara, the ni-Van on-site Principal. The mission statement of the centre is “to equip workers in healthcare and nursing with sound and modern medical skills at a level to provide primary health care” in the many villages and communities that make up Vanuatu. The students who complete the course successfully will come out with skills that fall in between those of a government trained nurse aid and a registered nurse. The centre was started in October 2008. It is currently in the final stages of its first 18 month course – there are 20 students on this course, 15 females and 5 males. They will graduate in August 2013. We learned of some of the challenges facing the centre at this time.

The team meeting with Korvan staff.

Mission team meeting with staff at Korvan Health Centre

The centre is growing in significance on account of the move of the Vanuatu government to give back responsibilities in education and healthcare to the churches. The churches were very active in these area prior to independence in 1980. The established church networks are particularly valuable for reaching out into the more remote villages and communities. This is also a focus of the World Health Organisation at the current time. The move poses big challenges for the PCV, but the commitment of the PCV to meeting the challenges is evident.

In the morning we are going to the small island of Ifira, which is in the harbour at Port Vila. We will be looking at some historical graves of the early missionaries.

Mission Team: Day 2 in Vanuatu

The mission team and the PWMU women.

Mission team and PWMU women

We started our official schedule of activities at the offices of the PCV at 10:00am meeting with the Assembly Clerk, the Rev. Kalsakau Urtalo to go over the activities and meetings which have been organised for us. We also met some of the other staff at the PCV offices before being whisked away by Cyrilline, PWMU National Secretary, and Melody, PWMU National Treasurer, to visit the PWMU training centre. It is a 10 minute ride from the PCV offices, so we had a chance to see more of the surrounds of Port Vila. We were introduced to Enikelen on our arrival at the centre. She is a live-in coordinator for training events, as well as the cleaner, gardener and matron of the small hostel.

Cyrilline welcomed us very warmly to the centre and the three women then proceeded to tell us about the history of the centre, its current work and the plans for expansion. We were pleased with how well organised the training centre is and impressed with the broad networks the PWMU has developed through the regional PWMU groups. The centre runs many short-term courses but also some longer ones, e.g., in computer skills and office administration. These longer courses often lead to attendees securing work in places such as Port Vila, which is great for confidence building. There is a strong, but not exclusive, emphasis on training trainers at the centre who can, in turn, go back into their communities, often on the other islands, and teach others.

In this area, the PWMU is doing some impressive work in training in literacy and numeracy skills. For example, Melody has just returned from running a three-day literacy workshop on the island of Espiritu Santo at the Bush Mission Centre. This involved training the bush missioners to teach literacy skills in the remote villages to which they will be sent after their training. A further workshop is planned for later this year, subject to the necessary funding being raised to cover the printing of the course book.

We were joined during the presentation by Neifai, the National President of the PWMU, who has recently taken office. Her husband is a PCV pastor in one of the villages on Efate. She thanked us for coming and for taking an interest in the work of the PWMU. We concluded our conversation with the PWMU by having lunch together and presenting some gifts to the PWMU. We hope to visit one of their training courses, which is beginning next Tuesday.

Ron and Phil returned to the PCV offices for some more meetings, while Alison and Wynne re-turned to the motel to reflect on the visit to the PWMU. Tomorrow we meet some of the moderators of the presbyteries and visit the Korvan health training centre.