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It is always a wonderful privilege to participate in God’s mission. On Pentecost Sunday, I experienced the joyful celebrations of the whole Anglican Church of Melanesia as they installed and welcomed their new Archbishop, Right Rev’d David Vunagi in Honiara’s St Barnabas’ Cathedral.
After the three hour liturgy, which included the gospel being carried in procession to the sanctuary in a symbolic canoe by the Melanesian Brothers – a reminder of how the gospel first came to these islands (and, I guess, to most nations outside of the Holy Land), there was singing, dancing and feasting, and the presentation of traditional gifts, including a live pig in its own pen.
The new Archbishop spoke of the need to address the material and spiritual needs of people in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. These include problems of substance abuse among young men and women, high levels of domestic violence, poverty, lack of education and training, and continued pain following the ethnic tensions earlier this decade. The church is involved in many aspects of the lives of the people whom it serves.
Just two days earlier, I had visited the Christian Care Centre, which is run by the (Anglican) Sisters of the Church and the Sisters of Melanesia who provide a refuge for women and children who are victims of domestic violence, and who have nowhere to go. ABM supporters will be aware that this is the only such refuge in the whole of the Solomon Islands.
On the day I visited, it was pouring with rain. The mothers and children and most of the sisters were having their afternoon siesta. Sister Daisy, currently in charge of the Centre, said that women and children come to the refuge for a number of possible reasons – sometimes they are escaping a violent household, and have been recommended to the Centre by the Police. Sometimes they have been asked to leave their homes because their husband has found a new wife. Some women and children stay at the Centre just a few days, others a week or two.
While I was there a husband had arrived to take his wife and daughters back. Sister Daisy spent some time negotiating with him outside the compound. Some men see the error of their ways and commit to providing a safe home for their families to return to. But just as often it is to their parents’ home that the displaced women return, children in tow.
I saw the little school house attached to the Centre, where the children can follow regular lessons, enabling them to reduce the disruption to their lives. There is also a playground, and plenty of space to run around. In the main building is a DVD player, sewing machines for the mothers to use, and a calm environment to relax in. The women are encouraged to chip in and do their own cooking and housework, and counseling is provided in the calm of the chapel.
There is always something needed here – whether it be new steps to replace those that have rotted in the wet weather, or a permanent roof over the sister’s refectory, to replace the one made of leaves that has to be re-made each year, and which is beyond even the sisters’ extensive capabilities. Sister Daisy had recently persuaded the government to rebuild the road after recent floods filled it with potholes and made it almost impassable.
On Monday I met up with Helen Barrett, an Australian Nurse Educator from the missionary days. Helen was also here for the enthronement. She had worked at Puauba Health Centre on the Island of Malaita from the 1960s to the mid 1980s. It was wonderful to meet someone so full of life and energy, still very dedicated to the interests of Solomon Islanders. ABM is fortunate indeed to have such people still working for it, via membership of the Auxiliary.
On my final day in Honiara I caught up with Ollie Pokana. Ollie, as many of you know, heads up the Melanesian Board of Mission’s Inclusive Communities Program (ICP). ABM donor funds are being used to support this program. Ollie was very excited about how the program, which began a new five year phase in March this year, is going. They have adopted a strengths-based approach to community development which is already proving to be extremely positive for the communities they are working with.
The strengths-based approach basically turns traditional development models on their head. Instead of going into communities and analyzing problems, the ICP team goes into communities, divides them into four groups of youth and elders, men and women, and encourages them to think about things that have GONE WELL. The team then gets the groups to DREAM about how they see their community in the future – “Close your eyes and imagine the future of this community”.
Having done these two things, the next step is to get the groups to map their resources. “What things and people and skills do you ALREADY HAVE in your community that you can use to achieve your dreams?” And finally, only once all of these steps have been gone through, the community is encouraged to articulate resources that they might need that are outside the current community capacity. These might include literacy training, or advising the provincial government on supplying water, or a chainsaw to assist with building a community hall.
The program will be rolled out to all five of the Solomon Islands dioceses of the Anglican Church of Melanesia over the next two years. I came home reflecting on how fortunate the Church of Melanesia has been in its people – from the expatriate missionaries whose hearts remain in the hearts of the people they served, to the current bishops and national professionals and overseas volunteers who work in such dedicated ways to further the good news of Jesus Christ by humbly serving their neighbours.