Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Counseling and Consulting

One thing we’ve learned about Vanuatu culture is the value placed on mediated communication, to perhaps coin a phrase ;). While in the West we value the ability to confront a situation head-on, grabbing the bull by the horns, and “manning up”, these are quit undesirable characteristics in group-centric cultures such as Vanuatu. Here they prefer a more beat-around-the-bush, indirect approach, always eager to invoke the services of a mediator. With that in mind, our most recent trip to Northwest Malekula saw Shawnda and me taking the role of counselor and consultant.

I continue to be hesitant about putting details in such a public forum, but our counseling was an effort to mediate between a married couple that has been facing some significant problems in their relationship, including all manner of hatefulness and selfishness … a vicious scenario. In fact, it’s my opinion that the only reason they’ve stayed together is because, ironically, it is the easiest option available to them. Had either one been presented with a “reasonable” option to leave, they would have taken it. The situation has caused a lot of consternation for the church as well, both internally and within the community as the members have become the recipient of much gossip and scorn because of this situation. We spent time talking to the couple individually, and also with congregational leaders. The whole process is somewhat counterintuitive to me personally, because I would just assume the locals handle it themselves, but they value an outsider’s mediation, and so we did our best. By no means have all the problems been solved, but I do believe that a plan has been put into place that can have positive results. It’s going to be a long and arduous road.

We put on our consulting hats as well during the visit. Many of the churches here get into a rut of “we believe the right things and do the right things on Sunday” and never allow Christ to influence them much beyond that. I’ll be the first to admit that the mindset is largely the fault of missionaries such as myself, but it’s a mistake we are endeavoring to rectify. During the week, Shawnda met individually with the women and I with the men. We had asked them beforehand to think specifically about one “internal” ministry idea, one “external” ministry idea, and what changes/improvements could be done to the children’s and youth Bible classes (which had obviously both become quite stagnant). Beyond those three items, they were invited to share anything else that was on their minds. While we heard our fair share of complaints and blame-gaming, it turned out to be a positive and beneficial experience. Having compared notes with Shawnda throughout the week, I used our assembly time on Sunday to share some of the ideas that we had been presented, using Matthew 25:31-46 as our study text. Hopefully and prayerfully, 2015 will see the church in Tulwei Village take a more active approach to ministry and service within the congregation, in the community, and beyond.

As always, your prayers are appreciated...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Note to self

I’ve made this note several times before, but apparently it’s necessary to do so again: don’t schedule things in December or January. Things just don’t tend to work out during those months. It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over, but we made a reporting trip to New Zealand in December 2012, and we were finishing up our Visiting Missionary role at OC in December 2013, and so I’d forgotten.

Why is work so difficult? It hinges on the fact that Vanuatu’s school year follows the calendar year, and since our summer months are January-March here in the southern hemisphere, schools are on holiday in December and January. Anytime school is out, the rest of the community tends to check out a bit too. Some businesses even close for entire weeks or even a month during the holiday season. 

With all the closures and resulting free time, you’d think it would be a perfect time to schedule something extra: a workshop, a study series, a campaign effort or a church picnic. But to the contrary, it means that everyone scatters, many going to visit family in other villages or islands. It’s only reasonable, really, as it’s the only time of year they are free to do so. It actually makes perfect sense when you think about it.

Live and learn, Eric, live and learn ;)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Two interesting questions

We always offer a time of Q&A whenever we are teaching publicly, and two questions really stood out during our recent trip to Tanna Island...
  1. "What does 'b@*tard' mean?" (writing it in the blog was almost as shocking as hearing it live). This one came in the context of our Biblical Parenting studies. The woman who asked it (following a session on ineffective parenting methods...yelling, berating, etc.), said "I call my daughter that all the time when she doesn't obey, but it dawned on me just now that I don't even know what it means ... I just heard it on a movie once." For starters, I suggested that we not use words that we don't know the meaning of. Secondly, I explained the meaning of the word. Finally, I encouraged us all to refrain from using expletives at all, especially when irritated with our children, suggesting some healthier alternatives. Whew, that was a first!
  2. During a casual conversation with a Christian and another man who's been visiting the assemblies recently, they began asking about Sabbath-keeping (always a go-to Q&A topic in Vanuatu). That discussion led to a very interesting question along the lines of "what about people who respect Sunday but don't go to church or even call themselves Christians ... will they go to heaven?" It took me a while to understand where they were coming from, but I eventually realized that they were coming at God's judgment from a very legalistic standpoint. It was as if they thought if you do this set of things (e.g. respect Sundays) in the prescribed way and subscribe to the right side of a series of belief-questions, then you've successfully appeased God to the point that he will be willing to save you... actually very pagan, really. It was a great avenue to talk about the true meaning and effectiveness of faith in Christ, and that while the first day of the week has special significance and assembling has great value, it really has little (or nothing) to do with one's salvation, per se. 
I continue to see a significant cultural-disconnect between the Christian faith (as generally taught/acted out here) and ni-Vanuatu reality. We continue to strive to find a way to be able to seamlessly blend the two, as Jesus would have it. It's a learning process, but one that we are committed to.

Interestingly, this was the site of my discussion where question #2 was asked - the village nakamal (or "meeting place"). The houses were built for the boys to live in during their recent month-long circumcision festivities.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Oh my Vanuatu: Police Report

During our recent court proceedings for Grayson's adoption, the judge required Shawnda and me to get local Police Clearance as part of her vetting process. Sounds easy enough, right? Oh, and she wanted it by close of business the same day ;)

The procedure serves as an exemplary model of how these sorts of things are done in Vanuatu. Here's what I did...
  1. Go to the Police Station general inquiry counter (I mean, you would think you would get a *Police* Clearance at the *Police Station*, right?). The officer on duty said that I needed to go and get an application form at the VANSEC House up the road.
  2. Go to the VANSEC House and retrieve an application form.
  3. Return home to fill out form and gather necessary documents (Passports, Birth Certificates)
  4. Go to town to get copies made of relevant documents.
  5. Go to the Government Finance Building and pay the fee ("Urgent" fee for same day processing available for twice the cost).
  6. Take receipt and application form back to Police Station, for them to run us through their system.
  7. Take signed application back to VANSEC House for them to print out official Police Clearance forms.
  8. Come back in a few hours to retrieve the forms.
  9. Submit to the Supreme Court clerk
Whew, made it! Oh, my Vanuatu ;)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A new approach

It's taken me awhile, but I'm continuing to grow as a Bible teacher in the Vanuatu culture, praying daily that God's Spirit will gift me with the ability to teach well, and relying heavily on my most faithful (constructive) critic, Shawnda ;).

Most notably, I've recently implemented a more discussion-based approach to my lessons. I've noticed that this keeps my students much more engaged, and seems to increase retention and effectiveness as well.

For instance, I recently led the Vila congregation through a study on the Sermon on the Mount after a meal on Wednesday nights, but instead of teaching through the material, I prepared to actually *lead a study* on the material. The results were quite amazing, as people really got into answering questions, sharing thoughts, and suggesting applications.

The brethren in Tanna Island had requested that I focus on Biblical Parenting as a topic for my most recent trip there. Once again, instead of teaching through my material (something I had done twice previously in other locales), I led a study through my material, taking time to really delve into the passages and asking them questions about the texts. This was an especially helpful approach for this topic, as they were able to supply lots of actual child rearing experiences and frustrations, which we all then discussed.

The change has had such a gratifying effect, and I pray that God will continue to use us to share his word and wisdom in effective ways.
Inside the church building in Loun Village

Monday, December 15, 2014

Oh my Vanuatu: Can You Hear Me Now?

Digicel, a cellular communications company, came to Vanuatu back in 2006 and made a significant impact on the country, installing cell towers on all the major island and now touting a 80+% coverage of the population.

They installed a tower in South Tanna, that was subsequently pulled down by irritated locals who thought that THEY should be receiving royalties (ah, land disputes, a-whole-nother OMV post topic). Consequently, there is no cell reception in Iatukun Village. Unless, of course, you are willing to climb to the tip-top of the breadfruit tree on Tom's property, where, on a clear day, you can get one or two bars on the Telecom Vanuatu network.

Knowing that Tom often calls me from up there, I decided to give it a try during my recent trip to Tanna. Chalk it up to a testament of my love for Shawnda? I climbed up to the top of the tree, swaying in the wind and able to see for miles and miles (including the ocean and the storied Yasur mountains), and my knees were literally weak with fear. I couldn't decide whether to hold on tighter to the phone or to the tree. It was great to hear her voice, but it was a short conversation (and my only one of the trip)!

My heartbeat has increased just blogging about it ;)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Bittersweet Departure

Titus and I spent a couple of weeks in Tanna last month, visiting Christians in Iatukun and Loun Village. Jack, Anna, Saing, and Ralph traveled with us from Port Vila to Iatukun. Their family came to Port Vila last November, after baby Ralph rolled into the cooking fire, causing significant burns to his legs and feet. They spent a few months in the hospital (five toes amputated and several skin grafts on his legs), and then several more months with Anna's family.

With Ralph back to good health, it was time for the family to go back home to Tanna. After spending a week with us in Iatukun (Jack's sister, Margaret, lives there with her husband, Tom, who originally taught and baptized Jack and Anna), we took them to their home in Green Pointe (South Tanna). I can say that a few tears welled up in my eyes as we drove away. God really used their trials to ultimately be a blessing. They've grown so much in the past year (closer to the Lord and closer to each other), and have been such an encouragement to the Vila congregation and our family. Jack has been a great study-buddy ... we made it from Genesis to 2 Peter, studying together several hours every week (we plan to finish up the NT next year). At the same time, I am excited to see what God will do through this young couple, in a village that is still a very dark place. Please be praying for them to let their lights shine, and for the continued health of their boys.

Lord willing, we will make our first visit to Green Point to work with Jack and Anna in March of next year :)

My last study with Jack this year. His younger brother, Joseph, who is Mormon also joined us.

Jack, Anna, Saing, and Ralph at their gate in Green Pointe Village, South Tanna Island