Day 1 (Thursday 19th)
We touched down at Honiara Airport on Thursday afternoon and after a slight delay with one of our number (Vanessa de Sauty) being interrogated by the Solomons Customs Authority under suspicion of looking generally suspicious, we were picked up by our friend, Jair, and transported on the back of our 3 tonne truck to our new home, the SWIM (Short-term Workshops In Mission) base centre.
That night we were welcomed to the Solomons incredibly warmly by the Elders of the SSEC (South Sea Evangelical Church) with songs, speeches and a great meal. In the course of the evening it was also wonderful to hear of the special connection between this denomination and Moore College. We heard how the woman who first evangelised the Kanaka workers of the North-Queensland sugar plantations and who set-up the South Sea Evangelical Mission (as it was then) was Florence Young, the close relative of Broughton Knox.
Day 2 (Friday 20th)
The team split into smaller groups as we visited the first two of twenty-five churches we would see over the week. This was a great first experience of ministry here. Along with preaching and testimonies we provided some singing of our own which – despite our very best efforts – couldn’t match the music and dancing of our hosts! We also began what has become our usual pattern. A (long!) service followed by a delicious local late night feast before heading home to SWIM.
Day 3 (Saturday 21st)
After a day trip to the beach (complete with snorkelling around WWII sunken ship wreck followed by a fresh grilled fish and rice road-side lunch!) and an afternoon getting supplies at the market, we went again to visit local churches. The resources of these churches are minimal (concrete floors, wooden benches for pews, no projectors or AV desks) but there is a hunger for the word of God and a joy in salvation among Christians that is incredibly rich.
Day 4 (Sunday 22nd)
Our preaching at churches in the morning and the evening has been gratefully received here with a number of ministers and elders speaking to us about their appreciation of our expository preaching. The need to mature congregations through careful and consistent teaching through books of Scripture is something that leaders are becoming increasingly convicted about here in no small part due to the efforts of our host Eric Maefonea at SWIM who spends much of his time going around to local SSEC churches modelling expository preaching. Eric was the pastor of SSEC Central Church for 13 years and then did theological training in Melbourne at MST before he returned to head up the SWIM centre.
Eric has an important role not only in the SSEC but in the country itself. He was recently appointed by the Governor General (who here plays a more actively political role than in other Commonwealth countries) to train leaders in key government and business positions in Christian leadership. There are major problems here with corruption, domestic violence and substance abuse among professing Christians (90% of the population identify as evangelical Christians) and Eric plays an important role at the upper echelons of Solomon society in challenging the country’s leaders to live lives of integrity and godly example. It is interesting for us to see the different challenges that gospel ministers face here with such significant nominal Christianity which has such devastating impacts especially on the lives of the (majority) poor.
Day 5 (Monday 23rd)
This morning we visited the SITAG bible translation centre where Wycliffe missionaries do their work. This was a fascinating and eye-opening experience where we were given an insight into the challenges of working in the most linguistically diverse region of the world where in the Solomons alone there exist over 70 distinct language groups. There is an enormous task here with human resources limited and translation challenges acute. How exactly does one translate ‘sheep’ in the Bible when the people group you are translating for have never seen that animal.
Unity among teams is always under threat as the work is very hard and the Enemy consistently seeks to frustrate progress especially just at the point where a new translation is on the verge of being released to a people group who have never had the Bible in their heart language. As with so much of the ministry here, the perception of the reality of a fierce spiritual battle is far keener than in the West where we have perhaps bought into the materialistic assumptions of atheism more than we realise.
Again this evening we had the privilege of visiting more churches and sharing our testimonies, preaching and singing (badly!).
Day 6 (Tuesday 24th)
The men in the team this morning visited Rove Prison where the inmates range from ordinary violent criminals to former Parliamentarians to the key leaders in the country’s civil war. This visit brought to our attention in a vivid way the ongoing impact of this conflict that was fought between the two major ethnic groups on this main Solomon Island and that continues to influence so much of life here. The SSEC along with other churches played a crucial role both in the establishment of peace between the leaders of warring parties (many of whom were professing Christians and members of the SSEC) and continue to play a crucial role in maintaining peace in the country. Eric’s son, Josiah, recalls how as a child the family lounge room became the place where the armies deposited their machine guns in the amnesty that their father brokered and how this was not as popular with Mrs Maefonea as it was with the children.
Again the singing of the prisoners put us to shame yet we were glad to be able to preach on John 14.6 calling fellow sinners to turn and trust in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. We later discovered from our host, Jack, that the leader of the Guadal Canalian uprising faction, who was himself responsible for the sniper-shooting 10 Anglican bishops as they approached Honiara port on a boat, was the very friendly, tall gent who greeted us so warmly at the end of our trip and who seems to have been converted during his stay in Rove. This same man asked Jack for a copy of the sermon. We pray that he will take its message to heart and himself become an agent of a godly uprising in Rove of men joining the Lord’s army!
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