A six-member team from the ACoM Office in Vanuatu and Diocese of Vanuatu & New Caledonia (DOVNC) are currently in Pentecost following reports received from the devastation caused by Tropical Cyclone Harold in April 2020.
Team Leader Fr. Benjamin Tosiro said: “During the visit, the team will be running training to equip Clergy, ACoM School Principals and their councils on various important topics to equip members of the Church during times of any disaster.
“COVID-19 hand washing awareness and distribution of relief supplies will also be carried out. Relief supplies include food, gardening tools, handwashing facilities for Churches, and Spiritual encouragement booklets for parishes,” Fr. Tosiro said.
“The ACoM Education officer who is part of the team will be accessing ACoM schools affected by the cyclone on the island,” he continued.
“Clergymen from four regions on Pentecost, including the Mothers’ Union Leaders, Youth Leaders, Sunday School Leaders and chairmen of the parishes will also be involved in this training.”
The team arrived in Pentecost on 24th June will be there until 8th July 2020.
MMUK friend and film maker Alex Leger, sent his memories of Sister Helen Barrett following the tribute in our Summer 2020 Melaneisa News.
I was very sad to read that Sister Helen had died but at 98 she had quite a long innings. I last saw her in 2000 in Brisbane when I was on my way out to the Solomons on the recce for the Blue Peter filming. She was as sprightly as ever and remembered me (thank goodness) from when I was the VSO at Alangaula in 1966. She was the Sister at Kerepei Hospital (her second stint).
In 1966-7 we had dinner on a few occasions and at the first occasion she told me that Father Brock was going dangerously deaf but refused to go to Honiara to be seen by a specialist. She wanted me and Doug Henry (who was a teacher at Alangaula) to ‘soften him up’ before she tackled him yet again! Thanks to Doug, Dan Brock went off about a month later. For me, with the headmaster gone, it was a wonderful respite from the irascible Father B!
I subsequently got the 1st Ugi Sea Scouts to trim the Kerepei Hospital grounds for her with a young Willie P in charge! I remember Willie chastising members of the troop who wanted to speak pidgin English while they worked. It was a school rule that only proper English should be used.
Later in 1967 some American scientists (seismologists) from Hawaii University stopped off for a couple of days before continuing to Honiara. They came ashore bearing gifts – fizzy drinks tablets. The boys ate them without putting them in water first and the gases swelled up inside them causing them to pass wind continuously. They flocked to Sister Helen in alarm for urgent medical treatment. She told me later that when she realised what it was she had trouble keeping a straight face!
She also mentioned her time in the Torres Strait and was very proud of still being useful in her 70s! She was always filling up shipping containers in Brisbane and shipping them out to the COM.
In December 1966 I travelled with her on the Southern Cross (when Captain Eric Healy was in charge) and we went from Ugi to Walande en route for Honiara. That was my first sight of the artificial island in the Port Adam Lagoon that has held my interest since. As we left the lagoon the sea picked up and we were literally ‘shipping it green’ over the bow. I had a deck cabin and I remember waiting between the waves before dashing into the cabin and slamming the door before the wave hit. The water spurted in around the door to about waist height…Sister Helen was no sailor and the evening meal was an interesting affair with waiters posted behind us to catch the plates as they flew off the table! She only lasted about 5 minutes before rushing off to be seasick. Poor woman.
The COVID-19 Pandemic, needless to say, is having a huge impact on the lives of people, families, communities and the nation, as it is globally. At the outset, the State of Emergency placed on the country, as declared by His Excellency the Governor General Sir David Vunagi and the Prime Minister Honourable Manasseh Sogavare, at very short notice awakened all citizens of the danger ahead. On the one hand it prompts people to take immediate action to safeguard lives, but at the same time the hasty decisions made by many town dwellers to be repatriated to their home islands, has caused death and many other challenges that will affect them in the long run.
This involved scaling down of services by the Government, Diplomats, Private Sectors, Churches, Non-Government and many Civil Societies. The prime issue here is the reduction of employees that involves either termination of employment or reduction of wages/salaries until the nation is declared safe in July 2020. Families of those concerned are badly affected and it will take a long time for them to settle down again.
There was the call by the Prime Minister at the outset when the State of Emergency was declared for citizens to be repatriated to their home islands in order to reduce the number of people living in the capital city, Honiara. Our Culture of one-talk is embedded with the praxis of overcrowding of homes in the city and in the event where the virus arrives in the country, it will spread very fast because of such situations in many homes. It was for this reason that repatriation was called for. However, when the mass exodus of citizens back to the islands took place, there is also over-crowding brought to homes in the islands and shortage of food might become an issue very soon. Many have raised their concerns on this because they have not planned to produce enough food for such unexpected crowds.
Secondly, in cases where hasty decisions were made, we lost 27 lives at sea when a passenger boat repatriated people to Malaita during Cyclone Harold in April. Those who died were washed into the ocean and were drowned when a huge wave hit the boat. Only seven bodies were found, and the rest are still missing today. Most of them were students who unfortunately were excited to go home, only then to lose their lives. The Government and the Church are still dealing with the survivors’ parents, guardians and relatives, helping them with their trauma and grieving.
Since the closure of the schools across the country on March 23rd, all children have been staying at home, while those who only study in the capital return to their homeland. The Solomon Island Government (SIG) announced all classes to resume on May 25th. In Honiara, though no COVID-19 cases are confirm, all schools still apply social distancing, so classes are split and pupils come to school on different days. So, I would say children and students attending schools in Honiara have had their learning affected, while those schoolings in the islands, classes have resume.
In terms of food security, families living in the capital are encouraged to engage in Food Management Programmes. It is understood that in the long run the economy of the country will be affected badly, and so growing our own edible crops is highly encouraged as a way to address the post-COVID era.
The government has distributed vegetable seeds and nurseries to town dwellers and stakeholders, including ACoM. The clergy in all the dioceses were made aware of their roles, should the deadly virus be confirmed in the country. In the meantime, all are expected to be alert and listen carefully on the radio and different media outlets for updates from the government regarding COVID-19.
The Mothers’ Union members, their programmes and activities at the grassroots level are continuing as usual, except for the Provincial Office (PMU), Honiara Parishes and the diocesan offices. However, other MU members in Honiara lately have reached out to satellite members and run cooking lessons on preparing simple breakfast and meals. The result was excellent as it brings women together by sharing their cooking skills with one another in such a time. Truly it promotes Christ’s love and care in his mission.
Overall, families and the church as a whole are embracing the situation of COVID-19 with nothing but continuous prayer for guidance. For whatever may happen we will put it all in God’s hands. It is also a time to reflect on our daily lives that nothing is permanent, but always to seek the mind of God as we continue to share this life with Christ Jesus.
Love in God’s Service
Pamela Abana, Provincial President, Mothers’ Union Office, Honiara, Solomon Islands
Before her evacuation from the Solomon Islands, Project Trust volunteer, Ellen wrote this for the Anglican Church of Melanesia
My time at St Stephen’s Community College, Pamua, has been better than I ever dreamed of. My friend Cerys and I arrived in Pamua at the end of August 2019 and have been working and living there since. We are from the United Kingdom and have come to the Solomons with the educational charity ‘Project Trust’. ‘Project Trust’ sends 17-19 year old volunteers around the world to 20 different countries, one being the Solomon Islands. Myself and 3 others were selected to come and teach in the Solomon Islands. Two boys are currently working at St Francis, Vaturanga and myself and Cerys are teaching at St Stephen’s, Pamua.
At Pamua, I teach both Form 1 and Form 4 Maths and Cerys teaches Form 2 Science and English. Aside from teaching at the secondary sector we help out at Pamua Primary in our free time. We also enjoy playing sports with both the students and teachers. For example, last year, we played friendly netball games against various local schools, such as Waimapuru and Campbell School, of course Pamua were victorious!
We also love being involved in traditional living and island customs. For example, we both danced custom dances with Bauro and Temotu ethnic groups for the school’s Saint’s Day in September, whilst wearing custom banana leaves. In October, we took part in the School’s Graduation Day, helping prepare local foods, and we both enjoyed celebrating the achievements of the school’s leaving students.
Whilst staying on Makira we have attended the island’s famous ‘Banana festival’. Here we were able to experience the many different types of Makira banana including the famous ‘torroka’. Additionally, we enjoy regular trips to Maworah Island, directly opposite Pamua. During these times we have learnt how to paddle banana boats and I have even attempted spear fishing!
Various Madams and students at the school have been teaching us the ‘Solomon way’ so we now know how to scratch coconuts, peel cassava and cook pumpkin. It has been good fun trying new foods that we do not have in the United Kingdom such as Makira’s famous 6 month pudding. Madam Lucy, the school’s home-economics teacher, has taught me how to make island kaleko, such as dying lavalava and making pacific dresses. I have also learnt how to plant kumara, cassava and pana, when I help my Solomon family in their garden. Many students have also taught me how to brush and chop firewood. We truly have been fully immersed into the ways of island living.
We have both loved our time in the Solomons, everyone has been so kind, welcoming and friendly to us. I would like to send out a special thankyou to everyone at Pamua for making our experience at the school so incredibly special and something we will never forget. I will take what I have learnt from the amazing people here in the Solomon Islands back to my friends and family in the United Kingdom, sharing my stories and adventures. As a result of these experiences, both Cerys and I now consider ourselves to be true ‘island girls’ and I feel as if I am half English, half Solomon! Pamco nao best!
A little over a year ago, two members of the Melanesian Brotherhood came to my school to give a sermon during our morning chapel service. They talked about some of the history of the Brotherhood, the work it does now, and closed off by encouraging us to spend part of our gap year working with them in the Solomon Islands. This caught my interest, as at the time I was deliberating whether or not I should take a gap year. I was able to meet the brothers, along with some other boys who had expressed an interest, where we were able to hear in more detail what a gap year would entail, as well as ask some questions.
Following this, I was put in to contact with the Melanesian Mission UK, as well as Brother Alphonse, the secretary for the Brotherhood, who helped me organise the 3 months I planned to spend there. All of this came as something of a surprise to my parents, but when I explained to them what I would be doing, they were very supportive. English is the official language of the Solomon Islands, but the most commonly spoken language is Pidgin. Therefore, I agreed to teach English to the novices at Tabalia Central Headquarters, on the main island of Guadalcanal.
At the start of my gap year I spent some time working to raise enough money for the flights, and in mid-January, flew from Gatwick to Honiara, via Honk Kong & Port Moresby. Upon arrival, I was greeted by three of the brothers, including the Assistant Head Brother, as well as the sweltering heat of the tropics. Although I had arrived towards the end of the wet season, it was still extremely hot and humid. We were driven to Tabalia, with a short stop at Chester Rest House, where I was introduced to the Head Brother and the novice in charge of guests, and treated to some local delicacies, including fresh fruit and coconut, and given a flower garland.
On one of the first Sundays after I arrived, a Saint’s Day feast was held. This involved a great deal of preparation, including grating cassava for a pudding with which I helped. The feast itself was very impressive, laid out on palm leaves, and preceded by some excellent singing. Several brothers from other parts of the mission had also travelled to Tabalia for the feast, and to bring greetings from their stations.
The general routine of my day included chapel in the morning and afternoon, meals in either the guest house or the dining hall, and teaching English to the novices on Monday & Thursday. Teaching and getting to know the novices was a very rewarding experience, and the main feature of my time there. Their classes were separated into Year 2 and Year 3 (new novices having not yet arrived), who each had a double English lesson once a week. My lessons included explaining grammatical concepts, and then having the novices answer questions about them, both verbally and on the blackboard. One area I particularly focused on was explaining tenses, as Pidgin has no real equivalent. Towards the end of the lesson, we would usually play a few games of Hangman, which the novices really enjoyed, as well as being a good way of improving vocabulary and spelling. I also set the novices several essays to write for homework, to allow them to practice writing longer pieces, as it helps them prepare sermons.
Of course, it wasn’t all work. I greatly enjoyed taking part in the Sunday football matches (admittedly with more enthusiasm than skill), including one memorable match in the pouring rain, which resulted in some very entertaining tackles. It was also very refreshing to be able to walk down to the beach, through the jungle, to go for a swim. Along the path to the beach, one can also see the remains of a WW2-era Japanese tank.
While I had originally planned to stay for three months, unfortunately I was forced to return home after only two, due to the coronavirus pandemic resulting in borders shutting and flights being cancelled. While of course I was very happy to be seeing my family again, it was a great shame to not be able to stay the full three months, as there was still a lot to do and see. For instance, I would have spent Holy Week staying with some of the novices in one of the local villages, helping out with their teaching. I hope to be able to visit the islands and the Brothers again soon, but in the meantime, I aim to encourage others to do the same, particularly those from my school who are considering taking a gap year.
SERMON DELIVERED ON EASTER SUNDAY APRIL 12TH, 2020
John 20: 1-18 – “New life begins while it was still dark”
Alleluia, the Lord is risen – He is risen indeed, Alleluia.
May I warmly welcome you all again to this Easter service. I am indeed delighted to welcome, on your behalf, the Head of State, the Governor General of Solomon Islands, the Rt. Rev. Sir David Vunagi and Madam Mary who have come to join us for this Easter Service. I further extend our welcome to those who are joining in from their homes or other places throughout our country, Solomon Islands. Easter is a great day; it is the day of the resurrection of our Lord; the day we are given hope and assurance for our own resurrection and new life.
Secondly, I wish to take this opportunity to thank the leaders of our nation, Solomon Islands, the Governor General, the Prime Minister and our national leaders for their very important decision for our Churches to continue their services, despite the enormous fear we all have of the corona virus. We pray that God will bless our nation through that State decision.
The story of the resurrection of our Lord is a story of renewal, transformation of life, new light and is a journey of faith for nations, communities, families and individuals. We pray that it will be the story of our nation as we, as a nation continue to live with the fear of the Covid-19. Fear that was increased by Cyclone Harold last week, which led to the tragic and painful death of 27 beloved lives in the sea on 3rd April. But also fear of the many untold painful stories of communities, families and individuals. We pray that the new light of Christ’s resurrection will renew and transform those fears and take us on a new journey of life.
Allow me to take you through the story of the resurrection from when darkness and fear reached its highest climax. The story of the resurrection began on Good Friday when human beings thought that they have successfully locked Jesus down. Let us make justification for this with the words of scripture. The last word of Jesus on the cross ‘Father into your hands, I place my spirit’, affirms it. For us others (Clergies or catechists) to do it for us, but Christ did it for himself before bending down in death. What happens……, explain. It is common knowledge that resurrection is God’s activity; no dead body can raise itself.
The story of the resurrection began very early on the first day of the week, Sunday, ‘when it was still dark’. The moment of time carries John’s contrasting theme of darkness and light or vice versa. The statement ‘it was still dark’ bear connotation on what happened on Good Friday. There was still confusion, fear, doubt, frustration, anger, darkness still cast over the lives his followers and those who became his believers. But in the midst of all that, a new story has begun, though it is still concealed by human lives, it has actually begun.
The statement ‘when it was still dark’ sets a strong back for God whose power destroyed sin and death. He raised his Son to new life by bursting from the dark tomb of death. Being filled with the power of the new life breathed in him by his Father, Jesus destroys our fears, doubts, confusion and darkness. He breaths upon us his breathe of new life, (peace be with you) he destroys our darkness forever, clears our doubts and reorder and recreates our confused order of life once and for all.
The darkness John meant, therefore, was not just the physical darkness before sunrise, but the spiritual darkness, we encounter every day through the different situations of life at all levels.
The first resurrection morning looked very bleak for Mary Magdalene. She had been with Jesus almost from the beginning of his ministry. She had seen lives changed, people healed, and eyes opened. But on Good Friday, just a few days before, Jesus was crucified. Nails had been driven into his hands and feet. A sword had pierced his side. Mary stood at the foot of the cross hopeless and helpless as her Saviour dies slowly in agony, but with love. She was heartbroken to see in the most-cruel way the very person who had given her hope, wholeness and new life dying.
In the resurrection morning, Mary came to the tomb with heart still heavy, ‘it was still dark for her. But there is more, her wholeness has fallen into pieces again. She didn’t have a life she wanted to go back to; she still longs to experience the goodness of Christ. Sadness, disappointment, and emptiness consumed her. Her soul languished in spiritual darkness. We all feel that way; we all have days where our hopes, faith and wholeness fall in shambles around our feet. We all have failed expectations, deep moments of fear (now the Covid-19), when our lives were going so well and suddenly faces a darkness, with uncertain ending.
Mary was consumed by that seemingly endless darkness, not realising that the story has changed. A new light that shines forever is illuming over the horizon. A new life that knows no end has been won for her. The way for her to experience Jesus forever has been made possible. The power of sin and death has been destroyed completely.
My sisters and brothers it is easy to believe when everything is all sunlight and happiness. Our belief changes very quickly when it is dark and is still dark. It is easy to believe that God is for us when all about life goes well, but we naturally incline to feel rejected, guilty, or abandoned. Anyone can walk in the sunshine; but only few faithful ones can walk in the dark. Life is not just all sunshine; sunshine with no dark clouds to make rain produces a desert, not a garden. In other words, there is no glory without suffering.
Because the resurrection of Jesus took place when it was still dark, all four gospels record it differently. Even the synoptic gospels have variable differences in their records. All were giving us evidences from the human point of view, but the resurrection of Jesus is done by God alone, out of human sight. We can only see, witness and experience the traces (clothes, angelic announcement, and empty tomb). It is exactly the way we respond to the belief and experiences of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is both for corporate and personal lives. On the personal level, it can disfigure (into a gardener), it can figure differently.
The empty tomb, (they have taken….), she came back the second, stood crying at the tomb, mistaken Jesus for a gardener are all reference points of personal incomplete story of a complete story. It is the same us; sometimes the complete story of the resurrection becomes incomplete through the lanes of our lives.
In June 18, 1815, during the battle of Waterloo, the British depended on a system signals (called semaphore) to convey the latest news from the battlefield. One of these signal stations was on the tower of Winchester Cathedral. Late on 18th it flashed the signal: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N—DE-F-E-A-T-E-D- -.” At that precise moment a cloud of fog rolled in and blocked out the signal. The news of defeat quickly spread throughout the city. The whole countryside was sad and gloomy when they heard their country had lost the war. But just suddenly the fog lifted, and the remainder of the message could then be read. It consisted of four words, not two. The complete message was: “W-E-L-L-I-N-G-T-O-N- – -DE-F-E-A- T-E-D- – -T-H-E- – -E-N- E-M-Y!” It took only a few minutes for the good news to spread. Sorrow was turned into joy; defeat was turned into victory!
This is exactly what happened to Mary that first resurrection morning – all was not as expected, but the fog of Good Friday lifted when Jesus called her by name. Sorrow was turned into joy, defeat turned into victory, darkness was overcoming by light. Mary had a new lease on life. It is the same for us when we stumble through periods of spiritual darkness. Jesus is there, whether we can see him or not. God’s plan for our lives is still moves forward, even when we cannot see a way forward, we need to have faith.
Today, if you are in one of those spiritually dark places (and we all are at one time or another), I want you to know there is hope; remember the first verse of our text today…. “While it was still dark, Jesus had already risen”. He walks with us through our faith.
Jesus was there with Mary in the darkness on that first resurrection morning. The tomb was empty because Jesus is with us, with our nation, our communities and families in this uncertain and fearful time of Covid-19. The story of fear of the Covid-19, though seems to surpass the story of the resurrection, it is only a dark overcast. The complete story is that Jesus calls us name, calls Solomon Islands by name; our part is to recognise his voice. We pray that as he calls us by names, call Solomon Islands by name, we shall turn in repentance and humility.
St. John, the writer of our text this morning knew this, so he gave us these words of hope at the very beginning of his Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never put it out!” (John 1:5). The Lord has risen!
The Lord has risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.
Most Revd Leonard Dawea
Archbishop of Melanesia
Bishop of Central Melanesia
Greetings in the name of our risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. I believe that each one of us has been preparing ourselves and our lives during this Lenten season.
Particularly as we end this Lenten season and look towards our Easter celebration it again gives us hope after walking through the tragedies and uncertainties of Good Friday. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ has proven that God is the creator and author of human lives and no tragedies can turn God’s faithful people away from the love of God.
However, during this Holy Week it has been a challenging time for us as followers of Christ, as we are faced with this Tropical Cyclone Harold.
Also as we are still in the period to keep measures as imposed by the WHO through Ministry of Health ( MOH) in Vanuatu, I would like to send our sincere condolences to families who have lost their loved ones caused by this COVID-19 Pandemic in a shocking short time. We then appreciate how small and how connected our world really is.
This pandemic has taught us that unity and the duty to care for our families and our neighbours is a responsibility that each one of us must take seriously. We must remain safe and observe social distancing, hygiene protocols and hand washing with soap and water at all times and in all places.
This Good Friday, I am speaking to you from the town of Luganville, on the island Santo in the Diocese of Vanuatu and New Caledonia. With our country facing the devastation of the second Category 5 cyclone in a space of 5 years, I come to you today with both a heavy heart and open hands.
Tropical Cyclone Harold has wreaked havoc upon our communities in Santo with over 500 households completely destroyed and others in dire need of repairs and renovation. Our villages have been left without water, communication and food shortages are expected in the coming weeks. Over 5000 people are homeless.
Our Anglican Church of Melanesia and Diocese of Vanuatu and New Caledonia has activated its Emergency Operations Centre to respond to the growing needs of individual parishioners, parishes and communities within which we live and serve. The need for spiritual fortitude and faith could not be more tested and I appeal to you our good fellow brothers and sisters, our partners and our members of the church to communicate with our Emergency Operations Centre based at the ACOM office in Luganville to provide any assistance to this response period and the recovery phases.
Our Parish working parties have started clearing the debris throughout each parish. Our clergy are deploying as members of the Health Cluster Emergency Medical Team to provide COVID-19 awareness and spiritual encouragement to affected communities and people living with disability.
I am in contact with the Vanuatu Council of Churches to ensure our churches are working together to respond to this mounting disaster.
I have made the decision to postpone Easter celebrations by one week to allow for families to take stock of the damage to their homes and properties and settle into the long road to recovery. We are in a State of Emergency.
This Easter season has brought its own challenges but the human spirit and our faith in an almighty and eternal God must never falter.
The trees and gardens may be destroyed, but our spirit remains intact. Our homes and families may be struggling but our faith and our Church remain standing.
We are untied as a church and a people. We have seen this magnitude of devastation before and we have recovered. We will do it again.
And so I call on all partners of the Anglican Church and the Anglican community at large to assist us in this time of great need. So that we may rebuild, we may build back our communities and we may resume the mission of the church.
I, therefore, as the Bishop of Central Vanuatu and New Caledonia, wish to communicate Christ’s humility and greatness expressed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians’ in Chapter 2.
“Your life in Christ makes you strong and His love comforts you. You have fellowship with the Spirit and you have kindness and compassion for one another. I urge you, then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind” (Phil: 2: 1-2)
May the spirit of our resurrected Lord Jesus Christ find peace and hope in our hearts as we continue to face these challenging situations of this recent disaster and the COVID-19.
Grace and Blessings
Bishop of the Diocese of Central Vanuatu and New Caledonia
On the 1st of September 2019, I left the UK for Solomon Islands, where I spent six months living and experiencing the simplicity of everyday village life. In my village, different responsibilities belong to women, men, girls and boys. The girls learn their role from older women, and the boys learn theirs from the men. They learn through involving and, in that way, everyone passes on their knowledge from generation to generation. A villager must know about everything since the entire world is in his/her hands. For example, one needs to have the skills of planting and growing different types of crops. A girl must learn to weave baskets and mats. The boys must learn to fish or dive. Learn to build a house with local materials, build a canoe, hunting skills as well asskills for climbing coconut, breadfruit, nut trees and sago palm tree.
Every villager must have a general knowledge about everything in a villager’s world. There is no such thing as specialized work even though some people are and can be more skilful than others. While in the village, I noticed a massive change in people’s lifestyle. I saw the influence of modern technology had increased immensely – the use of mobile phones, solar panels, the internet, water supply, sanitation & transport.
Village Sharing - This is one of the most excellent values in village life in Melanesia. Everyone shares and helps one another in every village activities and gatherings; for example building houses, crop planting, weddings and funerals. Hence I will always treasure the joy and the richness of community life.
Climate Change – Today the impact of climate change is horrifying. Ihave seen in the past 20 years to date the unpleasantness it has caused on my late mother’s village of Fanalei and Walande. The shoreline has changed dramatically as wellas the weather. It appears there is an increase in irregular rainfallsand floodings, land erosion, bleaching of coral reefs and extremely low tides and high temperature. As a result it changes the way people do their gardening, fishing and living lifestyle.
Fanalei village was privileged to host a PhD student from Southampton University, Marie Schlenker.The purpose for her trip was to research the impact of climate change and costal hazards on the Solomon Islands. She carried out interviews and participatory workshops with the locals about their insights, experiences of climate change and its impacton coastal areas. She also taught the locals how to do measurements of rainfall, temperature & water levels of the shorelines. My role was the interpreter. Coming from this area myself I was able to help the locals to understand the questions and the purpose of this research.
I am delighted that this study is taking place in the Solomon Islands where a lot of places are experiencing the same effect of climate change. People who are being displaced from their environment and are forced to move to new settlements which can cause a total change of lifestyle and traditions. They could experience rejection and discrimination from the people on the main land. The other is the loss of certain skills and knowledge from where they used to live.
In conclusion we are so grateful and thank MMUK and the University of Southampton, for sponsoring Marie Schlenker to carry out this scientific research which will be very useful for the future.
Having entered another year, we started going through the liturgical seasons of our Christian calendar. We have now entered the season of Lent; the forty days preceding Easter. Lent is observed with fasting, almsgiving, acts of penance and other forms of disciplined spiritual devotion. It naturally inclined us to reduce in remorse, reflections and prayers for the frailties of our life that estranges us from God. In the Church, the absence of joyful music, alleluias, and the omission of the Gloria in excelsis featured the solemnity and seriousness of the penitential reduction. Relatively, the surrendering of habitual lifestyles during Lent appropriately aligns with this natural impetus on individual lives.
Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness after his baptism has been observed throughout the Church as the prime emphasis of Lent. John’s baptism is of repentance of sins, which disqualified Jesus, but he volunteered to undergo the baptism of John for the sake of our sins. Though, it was an entire contradiction given the sinless nature of Jesus Christ, he did so for our sake. Taking this background into consideration, it is appropriate that we begin each Lenten season with the imposing of ashes crosses on our foreheads. This reminds us of the spiritual baptism of repentance we all go through in Lent as we look towards the resurrection of Jesus where we shall all receive spiritual rebirth.
I have decided to make this Lenten reflection on the scene of Jesus’ activities; the wilderness. It was where he fasted, encountered temptations while praying and being alone with God. It is why this brief reflection is entitled, ‘The Wilderness of Lent’.
Geographical wilderness is not common in our part of the world; hence it needs some outset explanation. What is wilderness? Wilderness is basically land that is mostly wild and rarely inhabited or unfit for permanent human settlement. In the Near East it is characteristically dry, rough, uneven, and desolate and largely intertwined with dry watercourses. But it is not altogether dry or barren, during wet rainy season, it provides seasonal pastures for flocks.
In the Bible there are several wilderness lands identified by name and related to cities, persons and events. Hagar wandered in the land of Beersheba – Genesis 21: 14. The Israelites went through several wilderness lands on their way to the Promised Land. David escaping Saul hid in three wilderness lands, Ziph (1 Sam. 23: 14-15), in the wilderness of Moan (vv. 24-25) and in the wilderness of En-gedi (24: 1). And in the NT Gospels, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judea after his baptism (Is. 40:3; Matt. 3: 1-3; Mark 1: 2-4; Lk. 3: 1-6; John 1: 23).
The ambiguity of the wilderness
Taking the above texts into consideration, we come to terms with why the wilderness becomes a prime theme occupying both testaments of the Bible. It is important to note that while the wilderness is a dry, barren, rough, dusty land etc.., it also provides pastures for animals. This geographical scenario provides the background context of the ambiguity of the wilderness. It was there that Hagar and her son Ishmael were cast out and abandoned, possibly to die (Gen. 16. 1-16); but it was also exactly where they God met and saved them (Gen. 16: 17-20).
In the wilderness the people of Israel found both refuge and protection from the Egyptians (Ex. 16: 1ff). They went through about nine wilderness lands before they finally entered the Promised Land, where they achieved nationhood. They feared they could die of hunger in the wilderness (Ex.16:3), but right there God fed them with manner from heaven. The wilderness is both great and terrible (Deut. 1:19). But though terrible, lifeless, empty, mountainous and dusty, the wilderness is where God was expected to return (Is. 40:3). It remains in the Bible a place of ambiguity; holding both danger and salvation.
The wilderness of Lent
The season of Lent in various respects is like a wilderness. Though, it might impact natural inclination on Christians, it is a spiritually rich season, which elevates us towards God. Though Lent may feel as a threat to our life because we don’t usually want to expose the deep secrets of our lives, even in confession, it is our prerequisite for salvation. In being reduced to humility and remorse, Lent helps us to let go of the impasses of life that continually holds us captive. We are challenged to be courageous in facing our own vulnerabilities that we normally shy away from. It invites us to inward discovering of ourselves against the goodness and holiness of God. It calls us to learn about ourselves; who God calls us to be and who we want to be through our response.
Since Lent is like the wilderness, we encounter discomforts when we face the realities of the humdrumness of our lives. This is the truth about Lent. We discover no easy way to deal with the shortfalls of our lives; no shortcut to deal with ourselves in Lent. The best way is to be honest in repentance before God. The first truth Jesus told Nicodemus is that, ‘no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again’ (John 3: 3). There is absolutely no other way around it, hard as it may be, it is the way to receive God’s grace and mercy. We are reminded as Christians by the ashes we receive each Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. In doing that, we explore and discover our own lives. In that discovery, we find the spaciousness of God’s grace and love; our discovery therefore, does stop in terror, but in hope for the very salvation we crave.
Lent has often been taken as a time to escape or avoid unwanted habits for 40 days. Nothing is against this tradition, but if we are not careful, it can turn into a ‘spiritual disaster’. Some people experience greater adverse and harm from what they gave up than the good it impacts. What we do in Lent is far less important than who we become. Our Lenten emphasis should not be too much on what we surrender, but who are we becoming. We leave behind our old landscapes; our patterns and attitudes of life as we move with Christ towards Calvary.
In that spiritual movement, we lift our eyes upwards in faith beyond our humdrum lives and experiences to God, our loving Father who awaits to restore us to himself in a new way of relationship. It is the relationship that Jesus have with his father that helped him overcame the three most hazardous temptations enticingly posed to him by Satan to derail him. It is the new relationship which Jesus engraved on us Christian to live by.
Best wishes for a deep and meaningful reflection, meditation and prayers as emulate Jesus on his wilderness journey of the Cross. May we, during this Lent rise or descend to the level Christ sets for us as we wait to meet him anew in the resurrection morning.
At the moment the Solomon Islands have officially recorded no cases of COVID-19. However, this certainly is no guarantee that the virus has not arrived here, as suspected cases have to be sent off to Australia for testing and take 4-5 days to be returned. We are currently awaiting the results of a several tests and have already begun lockdown procedures across the Islands. Additionally China is the Islands main trading partner, with a significant population of Chinese as well as Philippines, Malaysians and Vietnamese all regularly travelling back and forth for the last several months- it is more likely that the virus has not been properly tracked here due to the lack of an adequate and organised health care system.
Currently the government have already begun a lockdown, with people being sent back to their home islands, schools, shops and markets all closing. The threat of the pandemic is considerable here, with generally poor hygiene practice and understanding, people living closely in communities and many living under one roof means the option of self-isolation is not viable and with only one hospital on the main island and no ventilators, an outbreak of COVID-19 will likely hold extremely severe consequences.
Furthermore, and potentially more of a threat than the virus itself, is the economic impact. Being a collection of islands, the Solomons is especially reliant on outside trade for food and medicine supplies. However, with several neighbouring countries stopping or reducing their shipping and flights, there is a real threat of food shortages and other essential items becoming inaccessible. At the moment there is a plan for a weekly humanitarian cargo flight from Australia organised by WHO and Australian Aid. However, if restrictions are in place for too long this could pose a serious threat to the social and economic stability of the Solomons. Moreover, the closure of the markets here in Honiara means that in lots of cases people’s sole source of income has been removed overnight.
In light of this, the Brotherhood and the local church are preparing to step into the breach should the situation overwhelm a government who simply does not have the organisation or communication systems available to control the situation. Particularly given the Brother’s role during the ethnic tensions in the early 2000’s (for which they were awarded a UN peace prize), the Brotherhood are a central and trusted community for the people of the Solomons and they are already playing a crucial role in relief efforts- through their spiritual support, but also in practical guidance in modelling and sharing best practices of hygiene and health care as well as helping people financially who have no income following the closure of shops and markets. During the tensions the government and other authorities were unable to do anything and the people turned to the Brothers. So now with the virus, the Brothers are preparing spiritually and practically to support the people through this.
Alphonse Garimae Secretary of the Melanesian Brotherhood