Response to ‘The Syncretistic Rabit’

Here’s a response to The Syncretistic Rabbit from Bethann Carlson – it’s worth posting in full. Bethann and her husband Greg and three children lived on Tanna for many years while they worked as consultants on the North Tanna (Naka) Bible translation.  They now live in Port Vila and are good friends and a wealth of information and experience.

By Bethann Carlson

I’m so glad you landed in a benevolent position towards my Easter chocolate.  Though I celebrated the Resurrection without chocolate this year, I do love my dark chocolate!  And I agree, given our situation, the Easter bunny isn’t really syncretism, but he is a cute little fuzzy distraction.

Yams, on the other hand, have been a very serious Easter contemplation of my adult life. Today, 2 April, is the “traditional” Nup Wi  for our village.  As always, I pray as I wonder what dramas are taking place there today.  Continue reading

The Syncretistic Rabbit



Credit: Revivals Cakes, via Wiki commons

There are no rabbits on Tanna.  There are also no chocolate eggs in the stores.  That’s cool with me, I don’t like chocolate much anyway.  For those who do, I have been able to get my hands on two packs of Tymos – much like the Australian Tim Tam but better because they come in coconut flavour.  Personally, I would prefer the rabbit itself, but as I said, none of them either.

Eggs aren’t a part of Easter here.  Why would they be?  Even if people did know what a rabbit was, I’m pretty sure they could take a fair guess and say that they don’t lay eggs.  An egg-delivering fur-ball just isn’t part of their past.  But it is part of ours of course. Continue reading

Book Throwing and the Mission of God Pt 1

Interaction with Don’t Throw the Book at Them by Harry Box

The church in VanuatDon't Throw The Book at Themu (then New Hebrides) was first established on the island of Aneityum. Nova Scotian missionaries, John and Charlotte Geddie, arrived in 1848 and by 1849 they had produced the first ‘primer’ and then ‘book after book of literacy aids, scripture portions, catechisms and hymnals, until finally the whole Bible was available in Aneityumese in 1879 after Geddie’s death’ (Miller 1978, 80). In other words, the mission here was founded on a whole lot of book throwing!

This pattern continued on Aniwa, Tanna and many other islands until the work of the Geddies and countless others resulted in the formation of the Presbyterian Church of the New Hebrides in 1949, which in turn became the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, with whom I work today. And that pattern, as far as I know, has never really been questioned.

When I arrived in 2013, I joined a church that assumes its members will read hymnals and Bibles. It has a written worship book, constitution, rules and documents. Reports are expected to be printed even though few people have a computer and fewer still have a printer – while fewer again have any ink for the printer. I took up work at a Bible College that had its curriculum written on a piece of paper that was … somewhere. Students are expected to have four exercise books and do something with them. If you want to be a church leader you really need to be literate, or at least very good at pretending you are. Continue reading

How to help in Rural Fiji after Cyclone Winston: What I observed in Rural Tanna after Cyclone Pam


Living on Tanna Island, Vanuatu during the response to Cyclone Pam, I observed a lot of excellent disaster work done by skilled, knowledgeable and dedicated people.  However, not everything that was done was helpful. There were instances when, in the mad scramble for a slice of the response pie, some organizations ignored local knowledge, the work of others and even the National Disaster Management Office.  Subsequently, some who sought to ‘help these people,’ inadvertently discouraged replanting, self-reliance and future preparedness as well as using resources inefficiently.

As images of Fiji emerge and are beamed around the world, people will rightly want to help and wonder with whom their money will be best spent.  Here is my 10cents-worth on the subject…

I should stress that I am only an observer not an expert, and that these thoughts are based on rural Vanuatu, not Fiji.

1) Give to organisations that are already working in Fiji – check if they have an established office and have a record of successful projects there.  These organizations already know the situation, can assess change brought about by the disaster and are in the best position to respond.  Other organizations may also have expertise to offer, but it will be best used supporting those who are already on the ground.

2) Give to organisations that are already employing local staff.  The make-or-break point here seemed to be whether an organization had local staff and whether the globe-trotting experts listened to them.  These people had the necessary language skills and could assess and interpret information given to organizations.  Again, check out what an organization has done in Fiji in the past – who were the staff?

3) Give to organisations that have expatriate staff who are already working in the country.  Expat workers have a role too, however people who already have experience working in Fiji will have the ‘heads-up’ over those who don’t.

4) Give to organisations that are working closely with the government. This shouldn’t need to be said, but, well … it does.  This would be very difficult to gauge from the outside, but again, check the form guide.  What were their past projects?  How did they fit into the Fijian government’s policies?

5) This last comment is for Christian givers.
If your aim is to get practical support to people efficiently, it doesn’t matter if the organization is Christian or not.  Christian organizations did not perform better than non-Christian (or no longer very Christian) ones here on Tanna – and were not stronger on the above four points.  Preaching the gospel while giving aid was not successful and was perhaps confusing at times. 
If however you want to spend your money rebuilding a specific Christian work, then give your money to that work.  Church buildings, Bible colleges, Christian schools, etc. might be off the radar of mainstream relief work.

Cyclone Ula and Tanna’s Spiritual Beliefs

Vanuatu, Tanna, Naka, Cyclone Pam 30At the moment winds are blowing at about 165km/h close to the centre of the category 4 cyclone, Ula, about 210km southwest of Tanna. The courses of cyclones are difficult to predict, but at present the best guess is that it will miss Tanna and continue to head in a southwest direction, however there is more to think about here than the direction of the storm.

We are in Port Vila (on another island further away) at the moment waiting to go home to Tanna tomorrow, but from our experience with Cyclone Pam last year, it is likely that many people on Tanna at the moment will be in a state of great anxiety. Most people on Tanna do not view a cyclone and an event controlled by an all-powerful God, nor as a result of explainable physical phenomena; but as a physical occurrence controlled by certain people who manipulate spirits/gods through their magical ability and mental state. That is, they believe that some people can ‘pull’ a cyclone to Tanna or send it away. Continue reading