Winter in the South Pacific Region can be deceptive if you are not used to it. The days were warm for building work and the nights and early mornings were cool enough to sit by a wood fire outdoors. Enough cold chill to have to warm up. It was interesting to see peach trees in blossom where one never expected to see them. Tropical fruits were expected and yes, lychees and mangoes were in bloom too. Coconut palms held their tall sway and supplied us with their fruits. This is how one can describe the location of the Fly and Build held from July 30 – September 1, 2017.
The local members have been meeting in a converted house for many years on the Island of Mare, (pronounced Maa-ray). There are two languages spoken there, French and Kanaky. French was used predominately to communicate and some English in between. Kanaky is the local dialect spoken in the homes and church.
Our work started a week before the official start date with the Arrival of Bro. Keith Robertson who flew from Townsville into Noumea and then on to Mare Island. With him he brought his tools to lay out the foundation for the church. The land had been cleared prior to his arrival but in preparing to dig the foundations, a major difficulty now presented itself. The topsoil was only 100mm thick in most places and a coral bedrock lay underneath it. We surmounted the difficulty by hiring a backhoe with a rock breaker attachment to break out the foundation area. The entire footing area was chipped out bit by bit in order to achieve the required depths. Once that was completed, formwork timbers were purchased and delivered. This same formwork was re-used in the building work several times including as scaffold planks.
A week of work went by quickly to dig and form up the entire foundation area and shift all un-needed rocks and dirt away. On the first official week of work two brethren from Tahiti in French Polynesia and myself arrived to start our work. Upon our arrival, we finalized the wooden formwork and collected any wheelbarrows we could find. With two shovels and a hired mixer we started mixing the concrete needed for the foundation. Having attended to several Fly and Builds previously I saw the mountain of broken rocks which had been delivered as “gravel”. The two tipper loads were just torn up coral rock which we had to than sift on a large chicken wire mesh screen to bring down to a more manageable and appropriate “gravel” size. This accomplished, we mixed the concrete footing in one entire day. Everyone was organized and the work moved at a fast pace. It wasn’t easy for many, as this was a first-time experience in mixing and moving concrete at a fast pace. The following days sped by with the Sabbath proving a wonderful day of rest.
Week two was marked with the arrival of Brother Terry Barnett who came from Brisbane to install the concrete block work. What should have been a three-day job for him took a week and a half worth of hard labour. The blocks had to be brought by boat to Mare Island and then delivered to a local hardware store which was handling them and finally brought to us on site.
The moulds used for them were not a precision mould and so their squareness was not best at times. In addition, the blocks had a bottom to them and that created a dilemma as in many places we had to core fill the columns to give vertical strength to the building. Labourers spent their days chipping out the block to create a void space in them.
Once the walls were complete the floor slab area needed sand brought in to level the rough ground and be poured. Again, this was a large undertaking and many men were used to sift, mix and carry concrete. The slab was poured in two days of work. Brother Morris Marango arrived from Port Vila, Vanuatu in time to help with concreting and truss building. His experience along with the experience of Brother Keith worked well together in building the balance of trusses needed. With all hands available the trusses were lifted up into place and bolted in. They were braced and another Sabbath arrived. The local manager of the hardware store supplying us building materials heard that we were doing something special and never done before so quickly and he came out before lunch to bring all the workers cold drinks. And when there he kept saying in French “Incroyable” which translates as you can imagine into “Incredible”. By this time the rear facing veranda area framing and roof was completed and us workers were able to eat lunch under it. Each day the local sisters prepared and brought out sandwiches for each worker on site.
The following week was interesting as we had to work on a Sunday for the first time as typically this is not done here. Our deadline for substantial completion was arriving and due to some generator breakdowns and delays we were behind in the schedule. However, the first rains of the season came down hard on us, one roofing iron sheet before the end. Not only compounding this, the island was on an electrical blackout for the day and no fuel for the generator was available to purchase.
I prayed that I would be successful in finding some to buy. I went to the hardware manager which by now was on friendly terms with me. He had a drum of fuel for his generator use. I thought if he could sell us some we could have enough to finish the roof. However, upon meeting him he said he was not allowed to sell me any or give me any. I went away feeling very down. My face was really long as I sat in the car with sad thoughts. A few minutes went by and my driver had not returned. I thought nothing of it. But upon his return he opened the car door and handed me the fuel can with about three litres of fuel in it. The incredulous look on my face must have been impressive as I had prayed for success but, in not getting it, I was sitting in the car pouting. I was told in French that the manager gave us the fuel. I turned around to see him at my side of the car and I rolled down the window. He told me in French to go “finish my building”! I offered to pay but he said, “No”. So off we went with a new happy look on my tired face as nobody had believed we could get any fuel whatsoever. It was a happy occasion to see the final sheet of iron go up on the roof. It was a big push to finally complete the ridge cap and window frames in between the first rains of the season. Until now the rains had held back.
One by one the brethren left to go home to their respective countries. Many tears of sadness were shed by the local brothers and sisters over their departure. The love was felt by all with the sharing of food, homes, vehicles and time by all the members there.
As all things must end, so does the building. However, the waiting for a dedication day is not yet over. The funds have run out no matter how frugal we were it just wasn’t enough to complete the structure for dedicational purposes. Several thousand dollars are needed to purchase things like paint, windows, flooring and materials for partitions and the building of a double toilet room. The slab has been poured in preparation for that work. Love offerings are needed to complete this project so the local brethren can meet in their church.
It has taken many years of effort here to get to this place in time, and a beautiful place of worship has been raised as a lighthouse on this island. Please consider giving any sum to complete this project.
–John Lausevic, Welfare Department Director.