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Les & Kaye Evans Visit Vanuatu

NZ Update – 28 July 2023

Warm greetings from a chilly Auckland. Dennis is visiting Auckland at present, and will be speaking at services here tomorrow and visiting our Hamilton group (meeting at Hone and Jo Gerrard’s home in Tokoroa) on Sunday.

Vanuatu Visit, 10-21 July: Thanks very much to Les and Kaye Evans for sending the following report on their trip, and for all of their help to the members in Vanuatu:

After a week spent with our family on the Gold Coast of Australia we were able to visit Rod and Ruth Matthews, have a meal out with them and visit their Church on the Gold Coast. This was very enjoyable as we (along with the NZ brethren) have a long association with them. Then we made preparations for travel from Brisbane to Vanuatu. This was now four years in the making because of Covid and lock downs etc. Now we were waiting for our departure to visit once more with the church in Malekula. As we waited in the airport in Brisbane we had the chance to talk to two returning Ni-Vanuatu men who had been working in the Northern Territory feeding crocodiles on a farm. They had spent 9 months there then home for three months and then back again to continue with this work.

Our first visit was to Evelyn Kanas after arriving in Port Vila, so off to the shop she had owned in downtown Port Vila to try to locate her. She had sold the clothing shop and was now working from home. We were told of the general location of her home so we set off not knowing where this was as many of the streets of Vila are not named. A friendly bus driver said that he could help us look for her so, along with his wife as co-driver, we set off along many new streets looking for her address. Several stops later and with help from a local resident we found Evelyn and spent some time talking with her. Evelyn is now older and a little frail but in good spirits and now only takes the bus on rare occasions to go downtown. She has a grandson living with her and we met with him and were able to tell him that we knew his mother as she had attended Otago University many years before. Evelyn said she needs someone living with her because of break-ins and general rowdy behaviour in Port Vila. A lot of young people and others coming from the outer islands to Vila for work doesn’t help the situation.

For dinner that night we went over to Erakor Island. The waiter was a man by the name of Daniel from Tongoa, an island not far from Vila, so we asked if he knew a man called Mark whom we had met years ago. Yes he was still on the island and still running a School of Carpentry, teaching young aspiring builders. Mark was the builder on the Habitat home we first went to Vanuatu in 2003 to help with, so we sent our best wishes to him as we remembered that time we had together.

The next day saw us off to Santo - a northern island - to meet up with William Davies and pick up supplies for our stay on Malekula. Our accommodation was to be in downtown Santo but ended up about 20 minutes out of town. After the taxi dropped us off we were stuck there for the night as transport this far out of town was trickier. Such is Vanuatu. However we found a cafe offering chicken and chips 15 minutes’ walk down the road, otherwise it was going to be just a look around then bed. We met up with a couple from Sydney staying next door and they were there for a couple of days to see the sights so we were able to tell them a little about the town and how to get around. They also seemed surprised to find themselves so far out of town! It was a bit strange because Rex was under the impression that he had booked us into a motel right in the centre of town! (Editor’s note: that’s what the motel information said!)

Off to Norsup airport on Malekula in the afternoon - along with William Davies who was coming with us to help with translations. Everyone at the village was pleased to see us. The weather there and in Santo was much cooler than we've experienced in the past and we needed a blanket at night. William, now in his eighties, has said it may be his last visit to the island as this is quite an old age for people over there - also his wife Carmen does not keep good health and he was concerned for her in his absence. Malekula was windy with not much rain so the water supply was low. Washing and toilet had to be by bucket brigade from the tank which is dependent on a piped water supply which is supposed to run for an hour a day but often doesn't. Our drinking water came from another tank which is dependent on rainwater. Either way we had to be careful with water. Apparently another dam is near completion but usually by the time one is completed the demand is way beyond its capacity.

Kids were all excited with the small gifts we bought over - a rugby ball, exercise books, T shirts and torches etc. We had three services to take in the Celebration along with a Communion service. Les’ sermon was translated by William and other services were in Bislama. We had services Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Monday was an evening service - after dark - as the children aren't home from school till 4pm and most had to work. We had a shared meal on the veranda after that. Darkness is 5.30-6ish most of the year in Vanuatu. People from other villages joined in the church service and about 35 attended each service. We caught up with some of the people who had moved away over time but were back in the neighbourhood. It was nice to see familiar faces as quite a few of the villagers were away working - especially the young men.

Whenever you think work may begin on one project or another there was always something happening that we didn't know about. This time Marius was called away to a court hearing as he was to give evidence in a case that involved his time as a security guard. Work started on the guest house with the foundation laid.

The main work for the next two days was to fill and level the floor ready for the concrete to be laid. This was to be done after we left and then the concrete block walls will be put in place. The dirt for the filling was sourced down the road from the village and was brought back in wheelbarrows and bags - very slow and heavy work. They seemed very focused on this project with Marius soliciting several men from other villages to help while we were there. The roof will be a lean-to and a local politician has offered to donate the iron for the roof. They plan to use this building as a short term rental as well as being used by the church as required.

Observing the comings and goings of village life, we saw just how much has changed over the time we were away. Kumara are a staple now and we saw first-hand four years ago how they planned to expand their plantings. This time the kumara were being harvested and planted on a continuous basis. From planting to harvest is only three months and this allows up to twenty baskets of kumara to be sold at the market once or twice a week, returning a good income for the village. Around $12 per basket. All dependent on weather of course. If we understand it correctly the '3 month' kumara was first brought over from Fiji by Isei Colati some years ago.

It takes many small business ventures to develop a good continuous income flow. While there we saw several little wild pigs they have captured and are raising. One pig had the good fortune to attend a wedding feast - being sold from the village for a custom wedding in another village. Pigs are very valuable for extra cash. We don't know why he didn't look happier to be going! The labour drain is felt in all villages as the young men travel to New Zealand and Australia to work as seasonal workers picking everything from tomatoes to avocados, pumpkins, grape-pruning and many other occupations as needed. Although the money is good, the unintended consequences are the breakdown of marriages and family life - as men in particular are away for months at a time. Troubles are often not a lot different to other parts of the world.

All in all they are a happy lot, always laughing and singing despite the fact that we would think they had a much harder, more basic life than us. There are fewer now in the village although still plenty of children. This should ensure a future workforce but it’s not necessarily working out that way. We would estimate that the economy of the village has improved since our last visit. The roads are much improved, with many more sealed roads now within a radius of the airport and the small settlements of Lakatoro and Norsup. This has apparently been provided by the Chinese government.

Marius runs the village as chief since the death of Billy Taren and he is very capable and a hard worker. He and his wife Elvise and the other people in the village certainly need our prayers.

Rotorua Retreat: Thanks to all who have returned your registration forms for Ngongotaha. The Affordable Willowhaven Camp is now totally sold out, so we will have the entire camp to ourselves. But if there is anyone who is really keen to stay there and hasn’t yet booked, please let me know and we may be able to make adjustments to include you.

Inside Life: Last weekend an “Inside Life” reader turned up at services in Wellington. Dennis Gordon noted that “He had been reading the magazine for a while and his confidence in the articles encouraged him to come and check us out.”

Fiji Youth Successes: For the denominational conference, in order to reflect God’s faithfulness through the generations, this year GCI hosted the 2023 “Healthy Church Challenge”. The “Healthy Church Challenge” prompts GCI members aged 8-17 to creatively express what healthy church means to them. For this challenge, we focused on our theme “Remembering our First Love”.

We’re excited to report that the youth from GCI Fiji came second in this worldwide challenge. First prize was taken by Montreal, Canada, and the youth from Melton, Victoria, Australia placed third. Congratulations to our Fiji youth, who put together some wonderful videos!

On top of that, Epeli Nakautoga sent the following great news from Fiji yesterday: “Congratulations to our very own Charissa Panuve for swimming a fantastic 2.20.00 to break her own Tongan National Record in the 200m Freestyle at the World Aquatics Championships that are currently underway in Fukuoka City, Japan. Her events were the 200 freestyle, 4x100 relay and 100 freestyle - all achieving personal bests and national records. Charissa has been preparing super hard for this competition and she's extremely grateful for all your prayers! All Praise to our Triune God!”

Tasmania: From Phil Hopwood: The Tasmanian members would like to invite you to join them to celebrate Advent in the beautiful Tamar Valley from Sunday, November 27th to Thursday 30th. The location is a replica Swiss Village just north of Launceston. There will be lots of time to sightsee, fellowship and relax in the quiet and idyllic environment. We plan a service and two Bible Studies as well as a full day outing exploring the local sights. There is a variety of accommodation available. We plan to eat lunches and dinners together at the meeting location or at nearby restaurants. It might be a good event to invite a friend to who would like to see Tasmania and become acquainted with our church and the faith, hope and love we share.

Zoom: Our national Zoom service on August 6th will be presented by our Fiji members. We will join the Suva service, so our service that day will begin at 10am rather than the usual 2pm.

Warm regards to all,



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