Rex Morgan and Epeli Nakautoga visited our members in Vanuatu September 21-30, 2022. Here is Rex's report on the visit:
After a break of three years caused by the pandemic, it was great to be able to see our Vanuatu family once again. On this year's trip, I was joined by Epeli Nakautoga from the Suva Church. We visited John Davies and Eveline Kanas in Port Vila before flying to Rory, the village on Malekula Island where most of our members are located.
We spent five days in Rory, enjoying our annual celebration, with 40 members in attendance, around 20 adults and 20 children (or “pikinini” as they are called in the local Pidgin language, Bislama). The weather throughout was fine during the day, with rain every night.
There is no electricity in Rory, but this year we had purchased a solar unit that powered some lighting at night and (slowly) charged our mobile phone batteries. There is also no running water in the area, apart from a community supply that suddenly starts up at random times, usually for around 5 minutes each day, at which point everyone rushes around collecting water in buckets. Rainwater is also collected in two large tanks that were provided by the church some years ago. There has been plenty of rain this year, so there was an adequate supply of water in the tanks to be run into buckets for use in the bathroom and kitchen.
Weekend services were held at 10:00am, followed by a shared meal for everybody, generally consisting of rice, meat, local vegetables and pawpaw. Services on the weekdays were at 6:00pm, so the children could spend the day at school and still be able to attend. There was a buzz of excitement amongst the pikinini as they enjoyed the novelty of meeting at night under solar powered lights.
I gave sermons on the Covenants, the Christian Calendar, and Healthy Church; William Davies spoke on the Great Commission, and Epeli Nakautoga reminded us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd. These sermons were ably translated from English to Bislama by William and Lindy Davies. The local members provided worship leading, sermonettes, prayers and readings.
On the last day, William Davies announced that this would be his and Carmen's final trip to Malekula. He is now 84 years old, and for health reasons, his family has asked that he discontinue traveling. William has suffered four recent strokes and is experiencing difficulty with his knees, and Carmen is suffering from lymphedema in one arm. William and Carmen have rendered a long and fruitful service to the Rory Church, traveling from their home island of Santo regularly to help the Malekula members ever since the congregation was founded there by Billy Taren 30 years ago. I have long marveled at the depth of William’s scriptural knowledge and spiritual maturity, and his unstinting devotion to serving Jesus and his church.
Marius will still be able to phone William for help and advice, and Lindy will continue to visit Rory to help with translations for visiting ministers. The last time I was in Vanuatu, I was thrilled to be able to ordain Marius Taren as an elder. Soon afterwards, I received his ordination certificate from the USA. I was pleased to be able to present this to him at the final service, about three years late because of Covid! Marius and his wife Elvise have been doing a sterling job of leading the congregation over that period.
Marius is keen to plant a crop of kava to make some money to help the congregation pay its way. He has been offered 200 free kava plants, and I gave him some “seed money” to cover the planting and care of the crop as it grows. It will be harvested in three years' time, when it should be worth a considerable sum. Marius promised to send regular updates and photos of the crop as it matures.
Coming from a similar cultural background, Epeli fitted in well with the Rory environment and was able to help the members in various ways, including using his computer skills to introduce Lindy and Marius to the world of emailing. From now on, I'll be able to email updates to them, and for the first time they will have access to the “Equipper” and other church resources. This will save printing and postage and enable them to be right up to date with developments in GCI.
After the final service and group photo, the congregation relaxed on mats outside the hall and enjoyed a celebratory meal, featuring the Vanuatu specialty of laplap, a mixture of yam, taro and chicken wrapped in banana leaves, cooked in a stone earth oven and liberally coated with coconut cream. A big kaekae (meal) and plenty of toktok (fellowship) were a fitting way to conclude a wonderful time together!
As is common on these trips, we experienced several miracles along the way. For a start, Epeli almost didn't arrive in Vanuatu! He realised as he was about to depart Fiji that his passport was expiring in two months' time. Vanuatu requires that passports expire no less than six months after entry. So a number of last-minute phone calls were set in motion, and thankfully Epeli was granted permission to fly – at the very last minute.
Later, Epeli left his phone charging at a power point in Santo airport when he boarded a flight. When we reached Malekula, he tried to arrange for the phone to be rescued and returned. Lindy was able to find a friend at the airport to pick it up, but the pilots refused to take it to Malekula because they figured that if anything went wrong, they would be blamed. As it happened, a friend of the Davies happened to be a passenger on a flight from Santo just before our return flight, and was able to bring the phone to reach Epeli – at the very last minute before he boarded the flight home.
Fiji Airways decided to bring forward Epeli’s return flight by a day, leaving him with an uncomfortably short connection time to fly back from Malekula to Vila to meet his flight home. Everything depended on domestic flights, which since Covid have been irregular and undependable. But God answered our prayers and remarkably all of the flights were on time.
I was granted a miraculous intervention at one stage when needing to meet up with Eveline Kanas. I had been told that she was in Fiji for a week and I would miss her. But as I walked down the main street of Port Vila, I suddenly heard a voice saying “Mr Morgan, Mr Morgan”. Of all the people that could have been walking towards me in bustling Port Vila that day, she was the one I needed to see – and there she was, unexpectedly unable to go to Fiji!
Another special blessing from God is that we avoided having to pay excess baggage charges on our domestic baggage. I was carrying three years' worth of books and other gifts for the Rory members, so my bags weighed 30 kgs. This was okay for the international flights, but the maximum allowed domestically is 10 kgs and often they are very strict with their excess baggage charges. John Davies gave us two or three more bags of supplies to take to Malekula, so Epeli and I were loaded down with luggage, but the providential way things worked out meant that we didn’t get charged anything!
We serve an awesome God! Thanks for remembering our Vanuatu members in your prayers.