Travelling to another country, another world, is always startling and almost always positive. Vanuatu is a beautiful place – rich in culture, language, history, story, spectacle and experience. It is also a poor place – poverty in opportunity, resources, historical exploitation, education and sense of self.
After only a week there I’m not going to pontificate on Vanuatu and all of it’s complexities but reflect briefly on what I saw.
Poverty is a gospel issue… and so is wealth
It is hard not to apologise for the wealth of resources we have in the west when those in the majority world, those just a short flight away, lack SO MUCH that we regard as basic. Not only in terms of water, shelter, etc but also in terms of biblical resources to help preachers. We have an abundance and others lack much.
Someone is reading this thinking ‘but you will always have the poor’ YES but we, having so much, bear much responsibility for our stewardship of what we have been granted. If you’re reading this you have more time, resource access and opportunity than the vast majority of the pastors and teachers we worked with in Vanuatu and some of them are pastoring 6-8 congregations with less resources than a cleaner in most of our churches. Yet in all of this there is much joy in Jesus, thankfulness for salvation and for God’s simple provision. It is profoundly humbling.
Their poverty should shake our comfort. Our wealth should provide for their needs. Poverty and wealth are gospel issues.
Faithfulness trumps resources every time
These men and women face extraordinary challenges: cultural hurdles as well as practical barriers. On the island of Santo alone there are 120 languages. Many of the communities are isolated and take days to reach by foot. One pastor spoke of their Bible school out in the bush and the risks taken to tell others of the gospel: reaching a particularly isolated and close community by wading through the ‘valley of death’ river where one of the frequent flash floods could kill those who travel through that part of the river because of the high sided cliffs either side. This same pastor swam in a swollen river to make it to the training seminar – being carried along in the flood waters for 3 miles and praying to be deposited on the right side alive – in order to get training. He shook his head when I said rain often prevented people driving to church in New Zealand. I felt shame.
These men and women are faithful in ways that shake us in our easy faith and our multiple translation and our cars and homes and concern for comfort. Their faithfulness trumps our resources.
A little goes a long way with wise stewardship.
Langham Preaching invests over a period of 3 years in a good group of church leaders, elders, pastors and teachers. Last week in Vanuatu was the third of the training weeks. The men and women had taken their training and like yeast in a batch of dough increased and more than doubled the impact of the teaching. In the north of the country the preaching club which formed has been training others in the observation, interpretation and application of God’s Word in teaching others – in their turn they had travelled to other islands. A school college principal has started a preaching club (alongside the other social clubs) in his school – this one group has blossomed into 8 and is producing fine young teachers of God’s Word. The women in Port Villa have met weekly to pour over God’s Word despite indifference and discouragement from their brothers in ministry. They have encouraged one another in faithful handing God’s Word. The stories could continue… each giving glory to God as men and women wisely steward the little they have and see it increase in God’s power. Oh that we who have much would stop moaning about how little we have and how much more we could do if God provided!!!
The next phase of support and development begins later this year as 20 of the group continue to receive input and training – this time to train others and support the ongoing work of the preaching clubs. I’ll continue to partner with Langham Preaching over the next few years in supporting these trainers and will also use the in country opportunities to support the student work there.
Student Work is profoundly encouraging… the world over
I extended my stay by just over 24 hours to meet with the students at USP. These leaders of the Christian Fellowship gave up a Saturday morning to meet and study Daniel.
These men and women are among those who will take up positions of leadership and privilege around the pacific nations. They come from Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and the Solomon Islands. They being supported by Steve Gibb (3rd from left) an American missionary who is pastoring a nearby church and is seeking to encourage the students on campus. Like Daniel these men and women face choices about serving God or giving in to the cultural and religious pressures around them in Port Villa and in their home cultures too. Meeting them, seeing their earnest desire to know, follow and honour Christ Jesus reminded me that God is at work in campuses all over the work.
I was humbled and refreshed – reminded of the privilege that it is to be involved in God’s work through God’s Word.
There is much in place that speaks of His Strength. There is much in evidence of human weakness. There is HUGE encouragement in seeing young leaders beginning to live, like Daniel, in a way that determine a path of faithfulness in the long term.