Have you heard of Vanuatu? There is so much to know and so much is half known. Many know of Pentecost Island the home of protobungee practice – actually about securing a good yam crop rather than the adrenelin rush.
We were there last over the last couple of weeks, for a little bit of holiday and to contribute both to student mission and the development of indigenous preachers. It was great to have time as a family snorkelling and relaxing on beaches but it was also brilliant to have Ines and the kids with me as I engaged in some opportunities for mission and ministry.
I spoke at a weekend for the Christian Fellowship, Emalus Campus, University of the South Pacific. More than fifty students gathered to hear what God’s Word has to say about relationships and transformed lives.
These students study law and so come from all over the South Pacific: Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and even a handful from Vanuatu. Many are from chiefly families and will carry leadership responsibilities into home cultures and governments. The campus, like many campuses around the world is full of distractions and temptation for Christian students. There are around 80 who attend the Christian Fellowship. There are around 600 students on campus in total. The CF has a huge impact where they live.
The students listened to God’s Word intently and with hunger. They sought it and discussed it, applied it and thought it through.
The students served one another with patience, respect and love. Their love for each other is remarkable – going above and beyond cultural norms.
The context in which we met was amazing. A resort that has seen better days in the most breathtaking lagoon setting. I joked about showing no photo’s of the scenery in case people stop praying for the work. God’s hand in delivering exquisite beauty (and of giving us the ability to see it and call it such) was not hard to perceive.
One student came to faith, many spoke of the challenge of the weekend and some spoke of transformed lives over this last year as they shared stories on Sunday morning.
I returned to speak at the CF meeting on campus the following Friday. This was a last minute invite and I almost didn’t take it. God guided through circumstances and I was glad to speak to the group again and (strangely) they were glad to hear me.
A missionary couple Steve Gibb and his wife Jane (and their children) have been supporting the work of the CF since they arrived in Vanuatu almost 3 years ago. They have no IFES background and their generous and gospel centred spirit is evident in as much as they are not really interested in building a student work for their church but rather supporting the work on campus: uniting students in gospel convictions for the sake of witness to Christ.
Steve was also involved in the other part of the work I’m was in Vanuatu to be part of. Earlier this year Paul Windsor asked me to help out with the Langham Preaching seminary in Vanuatu. The week last March has turned into an opening over the next 3-4 years of supporting local preachers to develop and transform preaching in Vanuatu.
So many training and mission programmes around the world import vast resources and inject high energy teams into what eventuates into unsustainable and external models of ministry development. Langham Preaching seeks to train pastors, elders and others involved in preaching ministry to teach well, confident of Scripture as the source of authority and to do so with an indigenous voice.
This time the gathering was of 20 men and women who have been picked by their peers as key trainers of trainers: facilitators who will be the ones to organise and implement the ongoing transformation of preaching across Vanuatu. It is tremendously exciting to hear of the impact of what is going on – hundreds of people being equipped to learn from and teach God’s Word to others through the eager passing on of the key principals of faithful Bible teaching.
It was powerful to hear the different preachers take stories and illustrations from Vanuatu to open up God’s Word: a letter from grandparents who had been stolen away by slave traders (just a hundred years ago) brining hope to those left behind; the marker stone indicating where home begins reflecting the scandalon of Jesus – cornerstone and crushing stone in one; the image of the outrigger canoe providing a model of marriage; the rat and the Kumala (sweet potato) illustrating the human propensity to return to sin and a story of rescue of drowning pilots during World War II illustrating the blessings that comes from a wise and servant hearted leader.
It was moving to hand these men and women three books that will provide useful resources to them and their communities in preparing God’s Word for public proclamation. I often take resources for granted, these books were precious gifts to these under-resourced saints.
Many of these men and women have walked with the Lord longer than I have walked the earth. Yet they are still willing to receive input, change the way in which they approach the pulpit and their preaching and seek to serve well. One of the pastors, who is more senior has a great sense of humour and a very gentle spirit said:
“before Langham preaching seminars, in church when I spoke for 15 or 20 minutes they would say that it is enough but now, I speak for 60 minutes and still they want more”
I will be going back to Vanuatu every 8-12 months to continue to encourage this group of men and women and to resource them as they engage in training others. It is humbling and privileged work. I can hardly believe I’m involved in it.
Let me share with you one of the great joys of spending time in Vanuatu with fellow believers. Without flash instruments, contemporary lyrics or even much hooha these men and women who love Jesus sing with a depth and a simplicity that shakes me and reminds me of the generations who have walked before us:
“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord”
persevere a little with the start of the video – the group takes a little time to ‘tune up’ before singing. Remember this is ‘Pacific Time’