Tom worked in Vanuatu in 2002 and 2003 and had told me many stories about it. But I went last month for the first time on a trip to further investigate mission work there and I will share with you some of my first impressions of what the country is like and then a couple of reflections.
Vanuatu is an amazing country, so green and so… ‘living’. When we landed on Tanna, it was the vegetation that I noticed first. It is a mountainous island covered in bright green jungle and fringed by coral reefs and calm blue ocean.
Being volcanic, the soil is so dark and rich that it seems like you could break a stick off anything, stick it in the soil, and it would sprout the next day. It’s not uncommon to see fence posts which have started growing.
In many ways the people’s wealth is their soil and it seemed like some part of every plant could be eaten. People grow foods for their families in gardens near their village, carefully planning each year what they will need.
Mostly they eat root crops like sweet potato, yams, taro, plus Island cabbage and many delicious fruits. Pigs, chickens and some cows roam freely around for occasional meat. – We will certainly have to adjust to different foods.
Villages are scattered every couple of kilometres joined by a few rough (and in some places very rough) dirt roads. Houses are built from the bush (bamboo and coconuts) and are grouped together into communities of people who grow up together, play together, farm together and in Christian villages worship together. In this sense it is quite unlike our Perth culture.
The one small town on the island, called Lenakel, has a bank, post office, a small hardware, and several stores where we could buy some western-style supplies if we wanted to.
From Lenakal to the college where we will live is about an hour’s drive. It is right at the top of a steep hill with a village and beach at the bottom so we will be getting plenty of exercise going up and down for swims and plays with children from that village.
The children we met on our visit were very keen to play with our children and include them in their games and fun. Babies are popular with everyone, and people are very friendly. I am looking forward to getting to know the students from the college and the families from the villages nearby.
I came home from the trip with two main reflections.
Firstly, it started to sink in how big a thing it is to actually move our family to this new country. There will be many challenges to overcome, many different lessons to help our children through. There is a different culture, different language, new foods to get used to, different housing, no electricity at the moment, fewer communications, and a thousand more subtle differences.
I could really feel how it was going to be missing people here, especially our family and our Christian family. We are going to need so much wisdom from God and so much strength – so please pray for us.
But on the other hand it is such an exciting opportunity, and this was my second reflection.
I could see that the work that we will be involved in at the college is so worthwhile and worth working hard for. I know that Tom is a great person to teach at this college because of the knowledge, experience, and gifts that God has given him.
Living in Vanuatu will also be good for our family in so many ways. Our children will be exposed to a different culture, there will be many opportunities for great family time, and most importantly there will be so many opportunities to trust God and grow in faith and discipline. We hope that we will really be able to teach our children what it means to live a life of dependence on God and joy in loving and serving him.