All I could hear was my heart thumping
The emotions of several months were finally coming to an end. The culmination of planning and phone calls was finally coming to a landing on the small runway of Malekula Island. I had been here one time before in preparation of the Church building program. I had walked its dusty road and met with the committed church members. But nothing had gripped me until this moment. Now was the appointed time; the hour when action had to happen. I was traveling with a special faith that had built up over a few years.
I would be gone from my hometown and family for more than six weeks to do this Fly-N-Build in Vanuatu. I knew that the funds I had been given were short of the required budget. I also knew that I was going to help build a place of worship for people who could not do it all on their own. For years this remote island was part of a place once called New Hebrides—where missionaries long ago went by boat, where people were cannibals and where killing others meant little. None of that mattered to me as I resolved that with the money in hand, by God's grace, I would help build either a bamboo shelter or a proper church building.
As soon as I checked in I knew I was in trouble with being overweight. I am not talking about my body being overweight but being overweight in the suitcase department. Mind you in Vanuatu they do ask you to stand on the scales for flight safety reasons.
The supervisor at the airline desk said that I had to pay over $1500 in overweight charges. As I had prayed about this beforehand, I asked the supervisor if he could find a better way for me. He instructed the agent at the desk to charge me $99.00 for overweight baggage and sent me on the way. I knew that was an answer to my prayer, and began singing praises within. I was not carrying my clothing in my suitcases as I had clothes already in Malekula that I had left there on my previous trip. My heavy suitcases were actually full of building materials.
Arriving in Port Vila I was met at the airport 14 hours after departure. The brethren gasped as I needed their help with all the heavy cases and boxes. They knew I was serious about my mission at hand. I was only sad that I had to leave behind a brand new chainsaw that had been donated to the Vanuatu Mission for use there.
With only three days in Port Vila I had to arrange materials and logistics based on the available funds given me. This was funds that were collected in a special appeal for the Malekula Island church building. I shared on that Sabbath with the brethren there how I was going in complete faith in the Lord that his mercies were great and that we would have enough funds to complete the building needed. Despite not having all the needed funding, I went forward knowing that the Lord would provide in due season.
The plans were reduced in size and many things were cut out of the plans for the building. Materials were removed from the List of Materials needed. Anywhere we could cut a corner in time saving measures we did. We reduced the scope of the building and even removed the concrete slab. To compensate, we paid a local driver to transport loads of gravel and black beach sand that we dug up from the local beach nearby.
Because of the plans being changed we had to scramble to order the main timber and roofing tin for the walls and roof. Instead of coming by boat transport from Port Vila the materials were ordered locally on the premise that they would be there in time for the young people who were coming from Australia to help on that phase. The materials were supposed to come two days before the fly-n-build team arrived. The local suppliers promised to have the materials there at a certain time, but as happens, “Island time” kicked in. A week later the materials arrived at our beach by a small boat which towed a very small dinghy behind it. We stood on the beach with a smoke signal fire burning, watching and waiting for the boat to arrive. A false alarm was given as another copra boat came by. Finally our boat arrived. We were able to unload most of our cargo until a piece of tin roofing material was dropped into the ocean. You see the small boat did not anchor off the beach but rather “drove” around in circles while the materials were being unloaded. As the wind picked up, it became too dangerous to unload the rest of the roofing tin. The captain said he was going to take it to the nearest port and leave it there.
I was sad that our most of the Fly-N-Build team members that had come to Malekula had now gone. But it was all providential. In one conversation I recall Gideon’s name was mentioned along with the teasing song sung…something like “nine little missionaries came and now there were three”. You see, when the timber arrived we thought we were getting New Zealand “S4S” timber—what they call in carpentry lingo “Surfaced on four sides“. But instead of New Zealand Pine, we actually received a local sawmill pine called Island Pine. The ends of the timber were cut out of square with a chainsaw. To our dismay every piece of wood had to be “squared-off” with a handsaw before being used. So when you see a better picture of this building you will understand how much work went into it.
During the week before the timber arrived to Malekula, the Fly-N-Build team, who originally came to help build, helped transport and load the sand for the floor. They also helped mix concrete for posts which would be the future Sabbath School classroom and Combination Dining hall. They worked very hard in the hot sunshine and the heavy downpours of rain to complete the task on hand. Once we had completed the foundation, it was decided that instead of sitting there wasting time, the Fly-N-Build team would fly back to Port Vila and assist in the church building program there. The Second planned Fly-N-Build program in Port Vila was going on simultaneously with Malekula. The work in Port Vila had progressed immensely by the time we came back there. The block walls were already up and waiting for trusses to be put on.
Back on Malekula, Bro. Luke Kneebone, who had come to run the Malekula Missionary Outreach program, was gracious to assist during his free time and together with Bro. James Yeomans, helped put the walls up and complete the roof framing. We had a saying that this building was built with one hammer, one handsaw and one wheelbarrow. One can accomplish much when one has little. In this case we had little. We prayed when we started and we prayed when we finished. We had brought the building close to completion and on the last Friday morning I was asked to make sure we could meet there for Sabbath meetings. The pulpit was not built nor the pews completed. Some portions of the walls and roof were not done yet. I asked Bro. James to build the pews on a design we had decided upon in Port Vila and with the materials on hand he attacked the task and the first pew built we named it after him. By the afternoon finishing time 95% of the pews were completed and I had built the pulpit. We raked the sand floor clean and took everything out and put it away.
On that Sabbath morning I had a special time with God. I had never in my entire life walked to church on a Sabbath morning along the shore of a black sand beach with the waves lapping at my feet and the sun shining behind the clouds. The coconut palms were swaying in the breeze and the Tamanu nut and mango trees were giving shade along the shoreline.
I shared that touching experience to that first Sabbath School that morning where I explained how it took us almost an hour to drive to church and how our hectic lives were in turmoil fighting traffic and such to get to church on time. I shared what a blessing they all had now and what we missed.
The following Sunday morning was a busy day as we knew we still had a few small items that needed to be done. We walked away with only a few scraps of tin and no pieces of timber left. Everything was used up in the final work. Even the prop of the borrowed ladder was used to create the final pew. We left behind some nails to help with the Sabbath School building.
As volunteers we had much to unlearn about living a hectic life and running here and there. Every one of us had to learn what it meant to live on “Island Time”, to smell the frangipani flowers and take things a bit slower.
I encourage everyone to not only assist in monetary means knowing that those who are benefiting from those donations are very grateful in the fact that some person far away sacrificed money to build a lighthouse for God. Small amounts go a long way and now there is still a small amount of money needed to complete this Malekula Island church. If you find the desire to help, $2000.00 is needed to finish the doors and windows for this building to be secure. $300 of this amount is needed to make a thatch roof for the Children’s Sabbath School building. In many ways I received more blessings than I deserved and am very grateful that many have given to this cause. Local members helped with food donations, cooking, washing and shelter. Vanuatu Mission gave logistics and monetary assistance, members in Australia gave money and time, Sister Dorothy Robinson of Western Australia created 3 boxes of Children’s Sabbath School materials which were left behind in three churches. The smiles of many “Tenk-yu Tumas” were echoed in the local Bislama language to each of us at the final good-bye feast held in Malekula. They said that perhaps we might not see each other again and so each sent their heartfelt love to all.
On behalf of Mission Projects Oceania, additional funds are needed for this new church, hymnals, and literature for distribution. Please keep this new church in your prayers and thoughts.
Director Welfare Department
If anyone wishes to donate towards this please address the funds towards Malekula Island Church Building Fund, c/- SDARM AUC, PO Box 132 Riverstone, NSW 2765, Australia.