“God has gone up with a triumphant shout!” – Ascension Day in Santo

Having worked as pharmacist and doctor for 10 years in the Solomon Islands and 3 years in Vanuatu, we were thrilled when the chance to return unexpectedly came in April and May this year. During 10 wonderful days in Honiara, we caught up with pharmacy, nursing and medical colleagues, while staying at Chester Rest House and St Agnes MU Rest House, both so comfortable and welcoming. An overwhelming welcome was also given by the Melanesian Brothers at Tabalia, where we spent two precious days in the quiet, sharing in Services in the beautiful St Mark’s Chapel, visiting the graves of the seven martyred Brothers and visiting Kohimarama Theological College next door (where Susan used to do a monthly clinic).

Flying on to Vanuatu, at Vila Central Hospital, we were able to participate with former colleagues, in a training session for the Tupaia Project. Through this project, tablet computers are to be supplied to all Rural Health Clinics, for their day-to-day requisitions, stock-taking and data collection and this will be piloted on Efate.

On the 9th May, we flew up to Santo, on the same plane as Revd John Bani and his wife, Alice. Revd John is priest at the Church of the Resurrection, Tagabe. We attended this church when we worked in Vila and the priest-in-charge then was his father, Father John Bani, who became President of Vanuatu.

Mr Joses L.Togas (Deputy General Secretary of the Anglican Church of Melanesia, Vanuatu), very kindly picked us up from Hotel Santo the next morning to take us to the Ascension Day Service -at the Church of the Ascension! We arrived before there was any congregation in the church, and Keith was introduced to Joses’ son, who is an Apprentice Car Mechanic.

We met a Mothers’ Union member, who was the wife of a former Bishop, Walter Sipa. The Mothers’ Union members then prepared the church for the Service as schoolchildren began arriving and the male choir in front of us sang choruses. Soon the church was packed; the Service began at 8.30, local Melanesian Brothers among the congregation. Joses lent us his Melanesian English Prayer Book with Hymns – we had unwisely left ours in UK to minimise on luggage!

We had the Ascension Day Psalm 47, which says ‘God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet… For God is the king of all the earth.’ The excellent preacher had made a wonderful crown of silver paper to illustrate the kingship of Jesus. The congregational singing of the Ascension Day hymns and choruses was out of this world – a wonderful exuberant praising of God in four-part harmonies. “God has gone up in a Triumphant Shout !” [Gerald Finzi, op 27, no 2], certainly applied!

After the Service, we were able to greet some more of the Congregation, before leaving to meet Dr Tim Vocor, former Medical Superintendent of Northern District Hospital. Then, after much searching and walking in the mid-day sun, we were thrilled, to find Sister Fay Timothy, (with whom Susan had worked on the Children’s Ward) and her husband Ramo (Male Surgical Ward). Sister Fay had been quite ill and we really wanted to see her again.

It really was a special re-visit to Santo – a beautiful place overlooking the Segond Channel, kind and friendly people, an amazing Ascension Day Service and a wonderful re-union, all remain vividly in our memories with thanksgiving.

Keith and Susan Williams