Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Exam in Progress

After eleven weeks of studying an eleven-point outline of the Bible Story with the youth group in Etas (taught each week by Atison), exam day came. The kids were nervous (hey, you aren’t supposed to have tests at church school, right?!?), but they had been digesting the material well, and I know that they studied their outline a lot. We had also performed an activity that lead them through the story physically, focusing especially on the movements of Israel, Judah, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, and ultimately Jesus.

My ultimate goal, of course, is that they solidify this information in their minds as a foundation for current and future Bible study. I have become a firm believer in contextual/narrative understanding for effective Bible study, and believe grasping this big-picture is an initial step (after learning the books of the Bible and their general groupings).

The majority of them (we average 10-12 kids each week) did very well, with only the younger ones having some trouble putting things down on paper (I think they knew the material better than their scores proved). These youth show such promise and potential, and they are exciting to be around. Be praying for them!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sowing seeds

I was recently presented with a unique seed-sowing opportunity, both literally and figuratively. But first, some background info… Back in 2005, Aaron and Cindy met Sam and his family in town. They are originally from Tanna Island, but came to the Vila area many years ago for work. They live in Etas Village, and through Sam and Leimawa’s conversion to Christ in January 2006, much of Sam’s family has been impacted by the gospel message he lives and preaches, both here on Efate and back in Tanna.

Sam’s sister, Nepina, is one such example. She subsequently set her family on a course for Jesus, with two of her six children having been baptized into Christ (Ruth in 2010 and Jimmy earlier this year). Her remaining four boys are active in the church and/or youth group, and show signs of growing faith in Jesus. This is an especially big deal because her husband, Iapsei (“Yop-say”) is known as a “Kleva” (i.e. witch-doctor). He is a local medicine man, whom locals visit so that he can have dreams and visions based on their condition, prescribing activities and potions to run out the evil spirits that are causing the issues. As you might imagine, he has little interest in (holy) spiritual things, but thankfully he has not prevented his wife and kids from following Christ.

Prior to the event reported below, the only encounter I have had with Iapsei is when I saw him passed out drunk on the sidewalk in town one afternoon, with Nepina standing beside him almost in tears, having no idea how she was going to get her husband back to the village before nightfall. A couple of men and I threw him into the back of our truck and I took them home. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great first impression, as I spent the next several minutes cleaning vomit out of the truck. Nepina was mortifiedly embarrassed, but grateful.

Fast forward almost a year, and Sam informed me of an interesting request (and one I still don’t totally understand, but I’m going with it!). He told me that Iapsei had asked something of me… that I get him some watermelon seeds to plant in his garden. “Whaaa?” you ask. Me too! But Sam tells me that this is Iapsei’s way of initiating a relationship with me. Apparently, while he is actually interested in learning more about being a disciple of Jesus, he has to go about it in a roundabout way. I have now delivered four packages of watermelon seeds to Iapsei, and pray that these “seeds” will ultimately find soft soil in which to produce fruit. God is working, and it is exciting to be a part of. Would you be praying with us?

Nepina teaching Bible class in Etas, including her son, Richard (blonde hair)

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Preaching Jesus' sermon

A few months ago the congregation we work with in Vila decided to begin meeting together on Wednesday nights. We weren't sure how many people would be able to attend, but decided that even if only a few could gather together it would still be beneficial. The primary purpose of our time together is to share a meal and visit - taking a break from the everyday worries of life and fostering spiritual relationships.

I do very little preaching on Sunday mornings (the native brethren are entirely capable), and so they asked if I would be willing to share some studies during our Wednesday night gatherings. I didn't want it be something where I stand up in front and talk for 20-30 minutes, and thus decided to make it less formal and more interactional. We all simply remain casually seated around the room and I lead the group through a study with a fair amount of questions and discussion. We are now in the final phases of going through Jesus' sermon on the mount from Matthew 5,6 and 7, and I have been so very pleased with the participation and interest shown.

I taught on Mt 7:1-6 recently, and for the first time it struck me that in v.1 Jesus says "do not judge" but in v.5 He says that there is a time to "take the speck out of your brother's eye." The difference would seem to be one of attitude. When we [a] recognize our own sinfulness and need for forgiveness, and [b] foster genuine relationships with others, only then are we truly in a position to humbly help them deal with sin and shortfall (rather than indignantly judging them). I understand this to be the point of Jesus' proverb in v.6 - it's an utter waste of time to judge superficially (e.g. wasting food on dogs or pearls on pigs), and actually ends up causing more harm than good. Being a former tax collector himself, I see Matthew focusing a lot on the Pharisees' (who were well-known for speaking disparagingly of tax collectors, Mt 9:10-13) negative attributes in his gospel account. It appears that chief among their problems was prideful judgmentalism of others, which stemmed from self-righteous arrogance and a lack of concern for their fellow man.

Lord, please help us refrain from such Pharisaistic tendencies. Remind us of our sinfulness and help us foster relationship, a combination that will facilitate our working together and building up one another. Thank you for the premier example you have shown us in Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

At the farm

Being stationed back in Vila as we begin "Phase 3" of our mission work in Vanuatu is affording us the opportunity to spend time with a lot of different Christians. One such instance is our going to the farm each Thursday evening to be with Patrick, Ruth, and some of their extended family.

Both originally from Tanna Island, Patrick and Ruth moved to Efate back in 2005 for work. Mike met and studied with them, and they were both baptized into Christ that December. Patrick initially assisted his dad on a cattle farm, but late last year was promoted to manage a new addition to the operation, overseeing 1,000 head of cattle. The change meant that Patrick and Ruth moved to a different plantation, and allowed him to hire two new workers to assist him. He chose two of his cousins to come and work with him - Frank and Yao.

Patrick and Ruth have lived "in the middle of nowhere" since being on the main island, as most of the cattle are run in the center of the island. Nevertheless, they've been letting their lights shine amongst those they are around. They've always assembled together on Sundays, along with their two young children, and they are regularly joined by their coworkers. When we returned to Vanuatu earlier this year, Patrick asked if I would conduct some Bible studies at their house, primarily focusing on teaching Frank, Yao and their wives. And so we've been going out to the farm for a few months now. We drive on the "big road" (tar-sealed) for about 20 minutes, turn off on the "white road" (gravel) for about 10 minutes, and finally through the gate and across the pasture for another 10 minutes of bumpiness. What a difference a few minutes drive makes when compared to the relative hustle and bustle of Port Vila!

The three families live in a small corrugated steel house (with detached kitchen - on the right side of the second pic below), and run a generator each evening to pump water up the hill for the cattle. That means we have an electric light for our studies. Following our study and discussion, we eat dinner together and visit, while the kids play. Every week is a new experience, and I always come away with a newfound appreciation for the ways in which God uses His word and His people to further His cause and kingdom. We are praying that fruit will be born from these efforts, and that God will continue to bless Patrick and Ruth as they serve.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Whew! We made it...

The title of our blog is "Afta" and it's intended to be a medium of communication through which we tell you what's happening on a regular basis. During the (northern hemisphere's) summer months, I haven't been posting as often as I like. Sometimes I feel like I don't have much to say (our routine seems rather...well, routine), and we've been really busy with lots of visitors. By my count, we've had 24 people come through since June. We've had tons of fun, been greatly encouraged, and feel like much good has been accomplished. We don't have any more visitors scheduled between now and the end of the year, and we are looking forward to getting back to our normal schedule of Bible studies and outer island trips. Of course, we have a "new normal" now, seeing as how we are a party of five!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Youth for Jesus

One of the highlights of our week is always the youth group meeting in nearby Etas Village. Though the group was formed only a few months ago, much good has come about. I've blogged recently about Atison teaching and leading the group, which continues to go really well. The teens are inviting their friends regularly, and we are enjoying 12-18 youth in attendance each week. We've come to think of the regulars as our own kids!

Now we are very excited to share that, over the past two weeks, three of the youth have made public confessions and have been baptized into Christ. Jimmy, Martino and Meriam are also leaders in the youth group, and show a lot of promise for both the present and the future.

Please join us in praying for these young Christians, that they will be faithful and active for Jesus all their days. We are so proud of them. To God be the glory!!

Martino, Meriam and Jimmy - our newest brothers and sister

Martino and Meriam, with their proud parents, Sam and Leimawa

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Special Announcement...

You’re gonna think we’re crazy, but …

We’ve welcomed the cutest little bundle of joy into our family today. Grayson Brady was born yesterday, and over the next several months we will be working to finalize his adoption. All are healthy and well, and of course we are all very excited.

We covet your prayers, and appreciate your support and encouragement very much…