Mission Accomplished November 2008

Johnsonville Uniting Church’s three year “Vanuatu Venture” has been achieved with stunning results.
What started as a one-off week long visit to enable some of the younger members of the JUC to experience village life ended with realization of a long held dream for the people of Lelepa Island - the rebuilding of their Presbyterian church and the forging of special relationships between people in both parishes.
With the help of the then Global Mission Office representative in Vila, Pastor Roy Pearson, a 14 member visiting party enjoyed the hospitality of the people of Natapu Village on Lelepa Island and their then Minister – Pastor Kalsakau Urtolo - for five days in November 2005.
“Unlike some church groups who travel to such places we weren’t skilled trades people so our practical contribution to helping build the church was very limited. Luckily the community on Lelepa Island had plenty of skills themselves,” said the immediate past chairperson of the JUC, Michael Player.
“We had a great time getting to know each other and our visit seemed to reignite the enthusiasm of the local building and fundraising committees. Even before we had left the local men had felled one of the largest trees on the island for roof beam timber.
“That enthusiasm proved infectious back in Johnsonville where the whole parish decided to come on board and raise money to help put a roof on the church.
“We were stunned that within a few months we had raised $25,000 for materials to roof the church and provide guttering which would be valuable for water collection desperately needed by the local people,” said Michael.
John Craig was appointed as convenor of a liaison committee and in 2006 he returned to Lelepa Island to ascertain progress and to establish direct contact with the suppliers of the building products, Port Vila Hardware.
Over the three years, John has made four trips to Vanuatu and Lelepa Island as well as maintaining regular email contact with the building committee. He has observed noticeable changes in that time with the declaration of the area as a World Heritage Site, establishment of further tourist boat ventures to provide employment and the rebuilding of the main road around Efate.
“The people of Lelepa are very skilful and resourceful. While their per capita income might be low their ability to fish, garden and raise chickens and pigs makes them far more self reliant and in tune with nature than we are. The unpredictable nature of the global economy reinforces the importance of the maintenance of traditional skills in Vanuatu “ said John.
“Over the three years of the project 16 people in total from Johnsonville have visited the island. JUC has raised $40,000 which paid for the roof, guttering, paint, pews and generator. Books and other donations have also been made to the Sunday School, Youth Group, Presbyterian Womens Movement and the primary school.
“Late last year it all came together with the opening of the church by the Moderator of the Efate Presbytery. Over 400 people attended. It was a wonderful, colourful and uplifting event.
“Presentations by the various committees showed that the local people had raised two-thirds of the cost of the church building and Johnsonville Uniting had contributed one third.
“Not only did we help reduce the fund-raising burden on the villagers but the village now has a fit for purpose building in the centre of its community which will be a venue for many groups, provide shelter in cyclones and significant additional water collection.
“But it’s been about more than bricks and mortar. We’ve forged some very close friendships reinforced by a shared faith between the people of both the Lelepa Island Parish and the Johnsonville Uniting Parish, “ said John.
“We can strongly recommend the development of similar mutually beneficial relationships between parishes in New Zealand and the wider Pacific. Gone are the days when missionaries went from New Zealand to the likes of Vanuatu to teach the local people about Christianity. Their bible knowledge and faith is likely to be even stronger than our own. Now we travel to each other’s countries and enrich each other through sharing different perspectives and relationship building,” said John.