Friday, November 6, 2015

Home Assignment and Continued Relief Efforts

Newly rebuilt Black Sand Nazarene Church
Black Sand Nazarene Church after Cyclone Pam

Disaster relief efforts following Cyclone Pam were still in full swing when we left Vanuatu for our 4 month scheduled home assignment.  Pastor Peter Isaac and his team of district leaders continued to assess needs in communities and purchase and distribute supplies.

One team of national Nazarenes took rice, boxes of canned fish, tarps, and building supplies to the island south of us, Tanna, where the cyclone had done the most damage.  The compassion of Jesus was also shared with the people on Aniwa, just east of Tanna, as Pastor John from Black Sand Nazarene Church took relief supplies and Christ’s love to share with the people there.

The two Port Vila Nazarene church shelters that were destroyed in the cyclone have been rebuilt, as well as the Nazarene church shelters on Aniwa and Tanna.  We are thankful for the financial support of people around the world who generously gave to the Nazarene Compassionate Ministry disaster relief fund and for the generosity of others like Youth With A Misssion in Vanuatu who also partnered with us to provide food, shelter, and clean water for thousands of people! 

Newly rebuilt Prima Nazarene Church including the gutters and
 rain tanks donated by the YWAM -Vanuatu team.

One of the most frightening things about going through a category 5 cyclone was knowing how many people were going through it with no safe shelter.  So, one of the long range recovery goals is to work with our church communities to consider the possibility of constructing “houses of refuge” where people can find safe shelter during a violent storm and can also be used as a church and community gathering/training place.  Please pray for God’s guidance as we work together on this goal.

We had a tremendous home assignment traveling from Alaska to Florida, Michigan to Colorado, and from San Francisco to San Diego, and many places in between!  We were overwhelmed by the generosity and hospitality of the Nazarenes who welcomed us into their homes and churches.  We met with many people who were eager to be connected with God’s work in Vanuatu.

David's family including his 94 year old father
Sylvia's family gathered around her parents for their 60th anniversary
While we were home in the USA, we were able to be with all of our children and grandchildren, our parents, and our siblings.  David’s family met together for a reunion on Orcas Island, and Sylvia’s family met in northern Michigan to celebrate her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary.  Along our way, we were delighted to meet up with many of our friends which made the time at home so satisfying!  We also celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary!  We are so incredibly blessed!

So happy to be with our kids and our four grandchildren!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Water Wells, Pumps and Things

We don't have very many pictures to share of the continuing relief efforts, but we wanted to pass along the news that we've heard of how the disaster relief efforts have continued.  Pastor Peter Isaac with the District Advisory Board for the Church of the Nazarene continue to assess the needs and make plans for how best to help.

In mid-April, Youth With a Mission in Vanuatu (YWAM) was contacted and plans were made to dig wells in two of our church communities where clean water was not easily accessible.  YWAM has developed a technique for drilling wells by hand and then attaching a pump to provide clean water for communities.

 Pastor Peter reported in April that 500-600 people will benefit from the new wells and pumps in Black Sand and Prima communities.

Along with the new well, YWAM also provided water filter buckets so that the water can be further purified for drinking.

At the end of April, Peter e-mailed us to say, "On Sunday we were dedicating the water pump at Prima. All the community were witnessing the opening with YWAM members. And some of the elderly people among the YWAM team were convinced to put up our church building again. Yesterday they started working and the project is underway now."

There was lots of work still being done throughout the month of May.  Peter reported that a team of nine people including five YWAM volunteers went by boat to Tanna with tarps, chain saw, roofing irons, lumber, and nails to help with re-building.  They also took many 50 pound bags of rice and cartons of canned fish to help with food relief.  Pastor Gideon remained longer to help build the first Nazarene Church and baptize eight new believers!

Another Nazarene/YWAM team sailed south to the island of Aniwa to distribute food and to witness.

In addition, tarps, bags of rice, and cartons of canned fish have been sent to six different areas.

At the end of May, the Nazarene congregations in Port Vila came together and contributed a generous offering for their brothers and sisters in Nepal who are facing a huge disaster.  

It has now been nearly three months since Cyclone Pam devastated the islands of Vanuatu.  It usually takes about 3-6 months for cassava to be ready for harvest, so we are hopeful that the gardens will begin to provide for the food needs of the people.  We have heard reports from various people in Vanuatu that the food market in Port Vila is beginning to have more fresh garden produce available.

Thank you for your prayers for Pastors Peter and Jenny as they lead the pastos and leaders in the Church of the Nazarene in Vanuatu.

One Month Later...

Celebrating the Resurrection
Dave and Annette Merki with Taku, Sunday School teacher at Vila North Church
Just a few days before we were scheduled to head back to the United States for our 3-month home assignment, we welcomed our friends, Dave and Annette Merki, to Vanuatu.  Dave and Annette are our daughter in law Kristen's parents, and we had been looking forward to their coming for nearly a year.  We were sorry that they didn't see Vanuatu in all its lush beauty.  They arrived eager to do what they could to help with disaster relief.  One of the ways that they helped was by bringing loads of plastic Easter eggs filled with candy to share with the Sunday School children in an activity called Resurrection eggs. We got them out on the road within just an hour or so of the arrival to get the eggs in the hands of the Sunday School teachers in time for Easter Sunday morning.
Prima Nazarene Church's temporary shelter

Pastor Gideon

We took Dave to Prima Nazarene Church on Easter Sunday morning.  There were many new adults and young people and lots of children.  How wonderful to celebrate that Jesus is alive!  And, because Jesus lives, we can have hope and life in the midst of our challenges!

Pastor Kidhly and Rachele with their little daughter Angela shared a special song.

David shared the Good News.

After the service, the children closed their eyes while the parents hid the Easter eggs.

 Most of the mamas had never hidden Easter eggs before, 
so they had almost as much fun hiding the eggs as the kids did in finding them!

Most likely none of the kids had ever hunted Easter eggs before, 
but they needed no instructions about what to do.

As the children opened their eggs and found the 12 pictures, 
we talked about the story of Jesus' death and resurrection.

"Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live,
even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.
Do you believe this?" 
John 11:25-26

Our Final Days

There was plenty of clean up left to do, and to be honest, it felt rather strange to be preparing to leave Vanuatu to head to the United States for home assignment.  We are thankful for our ministry partners and the pastors of the churches who would continue the next phases of disaster relief after we were gone.  Dave and Annette lent a hand to the efforts as well.  David and Dave spent time out in our yard trying to get some of the fallen trees cleared.  It will take a long time before this yard looks as lush as it did before!

Annette helped Sylvia with laundry and getting the house ready for the couple who would housesit while we were away.  

We took one day to visit the beach and found the cyclone had made some changes there too.

April 8th came and we drove to the airport, our friends flying on to Australia, and us toward the USA.

As we were waiting to depart, we noticed that one of the big Hercules planes from the US was on the tarmac - evidence that the country is still in disaster mode with much work still to be done.

The jet we flew away in is more the size of the one to the left of the Hercules plane.  

We praise God for his faithfulness and for the love and compassion expressed by so many people as they have contributed toward the relief work in Vanuatu!  Much has been accomplished in the last four weeks, and Peter and Jenny will continue to guide our churches in reaching out to their communities with the compassion of Christ.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

God's Protection through the Storm

The Vanuatu team of Nazarene pastors, leaders, DS and missionaries met together all afternoon, some coming from outside of Port Vila. We prayed, laughed, cried and sang together as the stories poured forth of God's graciousness and protection for all our members through the intensity of this storm. Those of us in this meeting will never forget the gratitude and praises uplifted to God from this group of leaders from Vanuatu, for His shielding from the immense power of this Category 5 tropical cyclone.  God is so merciful!

The testimony of Seul, one of our leaders, was an inspiring and powerful reminder to us all:

"I want to say thank you to God.  If it weren’t for the power of God I wouldn’t be here to tell my story to these leaders.  On Friday afternoon, around 5-6 pm we were ready for family devotions.  We took Psalm 148 – that talks of heaven, the world and the hurricane too.  God made the hurricane too.  
"The door of our house was open but we weren’t feeling any strong wind at that time.  We put the shutters up around 7 pm.  Our house is just masonite and kappa roof [corrugated steel].  It got very strong about 11 pm.  We were all together inside and we prayed together.  All the children were shaking and asking where we should go.  The children were sent back to bed and thankfully they slept.  The rain came in through the walls and under the tiles.  We pushed a bed into the middle of the house and I told my wife, Letin, to sleep on the bed because she was tired.  I also told our son to go sleep on my bed.  My son told me that now he has seen the power of the cyclone for the first time.  He has seen the power of God.  I say thank you to God for all those who were praying for us, and that they have come to hear our needs.  My house is not damaged.  We will be short of food and water.  Thank you for the Church of the Nazarene who have provided food and water in this disaster."
The Isaac Family Faces Their First Cyclone
Our missionary partners, Revs. Peter and Jenny Isaac
It is great to be around Peter and Jenny. They continually rejoice that God has preserved their lives! Here’s their story:
"Now we can see far.  It makes us think about how God is so big.  This is the first time for us to face a cyclone.  Once, while we were still in Papua New Guinea, at the place where the Nazarene work is, a big wind came and a big tree fell down straight onto our house but did not kill Jenny or Bennett.  The wind then was short, so we thought this cyclone would be short too.  Our boys wanted to watch, They thought it was something exciting.  We prayed 'God don’t let this thing come' but the boys wanted to see it so they could experience it.   They kept opening the door when the cyclone wasn’t strong.  I put up the shutters and locked the doors.  Around 8 pm we shone a torch outside only to see that the big tree was down.  We heard the wind and saw how dark it was.  We couldn’t really see very far.  Then we thought a tsunami was coming.  We thought about how we had given our lives to God in mission to save others.  Who would save us?  We just stayed and resolved if we die, we die.  We prayed and the boys went to bed.  Jenny and Bennett continued working to sweep the water out, to stop it from flooding our home.  Then eventually Bennett slept and I also slept.
"In the morning we looked out and saw that it was as if someone had used a chainsaw to cut down everything.  I now can see the power of people praying around the world.  Some people have lost their lives in this storm.  We thank the Lord that he has held us in his hand.  God can use this to help people.  In the 10 years we have lived here, we’ve never faced anything like this.  I felt like my head was going to explode, but I thought about Jenny and the boys.  Then I was thinking about all of our Nazarenes here on Vanuatu who were sleeping in houses that aren’t brick houses.  I just prayed that God would hold them in his hands.  I see that he has answered prayer.  This has made us ready to go and reach out to others to bring them to Christ."
Pastor Meriam (R)
Pastor Meriam and Family Find Shelter in a Cave

There are so many praises and words of gratitude being lifted up to God for his direction and protection through this cyclone. Meriam and David pastor the Vila North Church but live outside of Port Vila in an area called Etas, a place that was hit very hard by the winds. 
Meriam: "I’ve never seen the power of the cyclone.  Some cyclones have passed but they were not as strong as this one.  I thank God for prayers and I have seen the hand of God's protection.  No matter which direction I turned, the wind was hitting us.  I rang Rona [their daughter attending university in Fiji] on Tuesday and she said the cyclone would hit us on Friday.  When the wind came, we didn’t see any sign that it would be strong.  I was praying for God to keep us safe.  I kept waking David and our son Sam to not sleep.  I began packing up everything…. bed sheets and clothes.  If the wind comes from that direction everything is going to fly.  I told them to gather up your clothes because we’ll run with just what we are wearing.  The first wall lifted.  Then the next wall. Then the roof.  
The cave where Meriam and her family found shelter
"We were running from one side to the other.  Then David said we should go to a small place in the stone.  I was ready to go but bricks were falling down near me.  Many trees had fallen.  We had to find our way.  David cut a way for us to go to the cave.  We made our way and got to the cave.  We were down there and then one kappa [corrugated roofing sheet] flew down and we thanked God for it.  It was such a sad thing.  But we thank God that while we were down in the cave.  We were all wet.  God protected us in that cave.  We were so wet in the cave, waiting for the daylight. I got so cold.  We came out and the wind was still strong.  The wind and rain were hitting our son all night.  There was one shelter that didn’t get blown away.  
David standing where their house once stood
"Our house was strong but it got blown away.  At least we had a place of shelter.  The door blocked the wind.  There isn’t a post that is left standing.  The story of Job, he lost everything, but he praised God.  Like in the story of Job, we will still love God and serve God and do his work.  We thank everyone for your prayers.  I have seen the power of God.  I wasn’t sure how I would get the yard cleaned of fallen limbs.  This week some boys from Ohlen came and helped cleaned the yard, then the small congregation from Vila North came today to do some more work.  I just thank the Lord for the local church.  They have seen what God has done.  I knew that we couldn’t do it alone.  But God has provided.  I just want to give praise to God!"

Finding Shelter in a Shipping Container

The congregation at Prima is tiny and the members live in an informal settlement not far off a main road that leads back to the city. Many of the structures in this village were flattened in the storm. Jimmy and his family are part of the church. He has a heart of gold!

Even though his own home lost its corrugated roofing sheets in the wind, and his own household items are still scattered in his yard, Jimmy worked hard in this community after the cyclone to help many people to restore the roofs on their homes. Although Jimmy has been unable to speak for many years, he related to us through gestures what had happened on the evening that the cyclone descended on their community.

None of the structures in their little settlement at Prima were sturdy enough to withstand the force of the wind so Jimmy directed adults and children to take refuge inside a 40' shipping container located in a nearby construction yard.  

He carried some smaller children to the container and went back again and again to the village for more. When there were about fifteen people huddling in this big container it began to be shaken and rocked vigorously by the cyclone. Jimmy was afraid it would fly away so he led the people into another container that was located in such a way as to be less likely to be tipped by the wind -- eventually the group shifted locations once more until all the people were sheltered in a cement block residence located in the construction yard. In the intensity of the storm, one young man in this group was injured; he struck his head on the container door and he fell unconscious inside.    

The 40' container he was in began to be tossed by the cyclone and the wind rolled it across the yard where it crashed up against the construction yard security wall -- destroying a section of the wall.

 After reviving, the young man found his way out of the container and to the group.

After the storm subsided some villagers took the injured boy to the hospital where he was treated; Jimmy indicated that the boy has since been released and is doing well back in the village now. Praise God! 

 All the time that Jimmy was 'narrating' this account to us, he would pause and press his hands together in praise of God, the protector of those under his care!

The congregation is so very grateful for the rice, water and tarpaulins that the Church of the Nazarene brought to the church at Prima - immediately after the cyclone had passed. The chief of the village expressed his deep gratitude to God and to the church for the needed provisions that arrived at a key time in the life of his community. This was the first help that they received. 

The little church structure they were originally worshiping in was knocked down by Cyclone Pam but the church has worked hard to clean up the area. The congregation has faith and optimism that God will help them to know the way forward. 

Pastor John Looks for Safe Shelter at Black Sand
Pastor John relates the following: "I was at my house when the cyclone came.  I rang my leaders to ask them if they could come to collect us but they said they were not able to because the cyclone was already affecting their area too.  So I took all my family to a nearby cement block house then I came back to our house. However, the cyclone was already strong.  My brother was there with me.  Then the cyclone took out the roof, but we decided to stay inside the walls of the house.  The rain came and got the mattresses wet. We decided to leave but all the trees were falling so we went into the church. The first corrugated roofing sheet was already gone from the church roof.  I stopped to pray and told God that my life was in his hands.  The second roofing sheet flew off.  Then the third one.  I asked my brother where he thought we should run to. Every tree seemed to be down and blocking the road.  We waited for a bit.  A large tree fell right beside us and shook the ground -- I was shaking too!  "Don’t worry" I said to my brother, "just think about where we are going to run to". 
 "A big wind suddenly came, pulled out some of the timbers of the church and carried it up to the top of the huge nabanga tree across the road.  We stood beside the door against the flat steel siding but the siding began rolling towards us.  We knew then that we had to run.  I told my brother to go first and that I would follow. "You worry about just going forward", I said.  So he ran first and kept calling out my name to guide me! The wind kept lifting me up as we were running.  
"Lots of trees and branches blocked our road. We thought maybe we were going too far to one side so we began calling out but there were no houses.  The road was covered with coconuts and when we went by one coconut tree, the tree was bending down so far from the wind that we had to bend down too.  I told my brother we had gone too far to the left and that we had to go back to the right.  
"Then we saw a house that was standing even though the wind had been blowing.  All the windows of the house were locked.  We just stayed outside because it was someone else’s house.  If the wind blew on this side we ran to the other side, then we’d run to the other side. We stayed there for hours until the cyclone passed.  I think it was God’s plan to take care of our lives."
Black Sand Nazarene Church after the storm

Pastor John standing where he hid inside the church
The road to the church has been heavily affected by the storm; a bridge was washed out and the waterway is now a tangle of trees. The people of the Black Sand church came through the cyclone relatively unscathed from the violent winds but their church structure is a shambles …and the building materials are mostly unsalvageable. 

After visiting the pastor and looking at the severe destruction all around, the only explanation to arrive at is that the hand of God has preserved the lives of these people. This was emphasized again to us when we met a man out in front of the Black Sands Church who had just returned from a remote island situated quite a distance north of this main island. He told us that on that outer island, the wind forces were so immense that anything not made of concrete was completely flattened by the cyclone. The buildings, trees and other structures obliterated…yet he reports that not one life was lost up on that island and only a few injuries were sustained. He attributed it to chance... but we offer our praise to the Father!

"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the LORD, 'He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.'"
Psalm 91:1-2

We thank you for crying out to the LORD for the safety of the people of Vanuatu.  And, we give God praise for hearing our prayers and answering in his wonderful mercy!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Week after Cyclone Pam

Our backyard before Cyclone Pam
Immediately following the cyclone we were without electricity, water, and internet, but our friend, Antoinette, graciously offered for us to come to her house to use her internet and fill containers with water for ourselves and others.  Now, we are back in the USA and are currently speaking in eastern Kentucky.  We've got internet everywhere now, so we'll start getting the story published.  From the start, we want to say thanks for praying with and for us!  Read further to know how your prayers were answered!

Our backyard after the cyclone
We woke up Saturday, March 14th, the morning after Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu, and looked outside to a scene of incredible devastation.  Huge trees were on the ground with their roots lifted 15-20 feet into the air.  So many of the trees in our yard were broken off or uprooted.  The driveway was completely blocked with large broken limbs.  It took all afternoon for us to tow the limbs off the road in order to make it to our gate, only to find that two huge trees had been uprooted and were laying across the road that took us out of our subdivision.  As we cleared the brush from the area around our gate, our neighbors came up after having walked  around the loop.  They were safe and only minor damage to their home, but some houses on our loop were completely destroyed.  As we stood talking our missionary partners, Jenny, Bennett and Junior Isaac came walking along the slippery, muddy alternative road that bypassed the fallen trees.  We can’t describe the joy in coming together in that moment.  They had survived the storm with a river of water flowing through their yard and into their home, but no structural damage.  There was no cell phone service and they were coming to check on us.
The container was completely blocked by big limbs.

Our neighbors were kept safe during the cyclone.  Pastor Jenny on the right.

We began Saturday afternoon traveling to some of the areas where we have friends, making sure that people were safe.  The following day, Sunday, we were able to make it to most of the church communities in Port Vila with rice and bottled water.  Huge trees and large pieces of roofs blocked many roads.  In all our traveling, it was amazing to see the extent of the devastation, not just a small area, but everywhere the same devastation!  What is more incredible is that as we asked the question, “Do you know of anyone from your village or family who was injured or killed?”, there were only a few reports of injuries and no reports of death from among the Christians that we met.  God obviously had his hand of protection over us!

We began to take basic supplies like bags of rice, bottled water, hammers and nails and tarps around to the areas of our churches to begin to offer God’s comfort to scared and hurting people.  How thankful we are for Nazarene Compassionate Ministry Disaster Relief and the funding that was made available to offer relief immediately after the disaster!

Peter and Jenny had a lake around their house.
One week after the cyclone, Harmon Schmelzenbach (South Pacific/Melanesia Field Strategy Coordinator) and John Watton (Asia Pacific Regional Nazarene Compassionate Ministry Coordinator) arrived in Port Vila, as well as representatives from Heart to Heart International to make assessments and guide us in making plans to assist in the recovery for the people of Vanuatu.

We had electricity to our house as of Day 5, but were still waiting for water and internet.  

We thank you all for your prayers!  One thing that we realized as we listened to the roar of the cyclone is that as incredibly powerful as that storm was, our God is stronger still!

Please continue to pray! 

Celebrating LIFE!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cyclone Pam Threatens with Category 5 Power

We are literally sweating as we anticipate the arrival of Cyclone Pam, not just because we’re not sure what to expect, but also because of the heat and humidity that comes with the storm.  It was predicted nearly a week ago that this cyclone would be the most severe hurricane/cyclone of the Pacific.  It didn’t look at first like it would eventuate, but it has moved slowly south from the Solomon Islands and all the conditions have been ripe for it to become more and more serious.  We are watching about 4 or 5 different online weather sites to try to be the most informed about its progress.  The picture above is the forecast track that helps us know where Pam is currently located, the direction it is heading, and when it can be expected. Yesterday and during the night, the cyclone’s progress toward the south pole slowed significantly and it has again intensified.  The cyclone has reached a Category 5 this morning with sustained winds of 115 knots and gusts to 140 knots.  They are predicting that the winds will get even stronger as the central pressure of the cyclone continues to drop.  The weather forecasters are never entirely sure about the track that the cyclone will take, but what is concerning us is that it is aiming to hit us directly or narrowly miss us to the east – either prediction will bring very severe winds that will be very destructive.

We traveled to visit the people in our Nazarene churches yesterday that are living in homes that would never stand up to the winds.  When we arrived at these various places we found people completely unaware of the danger that was approaching!  They had heard rumors that the cyclone had already passed.  We did our best to convince our friends to begin preparing and looking for safe housing.  We are thankful that the Vanuatu army helps to relocate people to schools and safe shelters during situations like this.  The people in Vanuatu are for the most part entirely dependent on the food that they grow in their gardens, most of which are root crops which take 3-6 months to develop.  The winds and heavy rains that come with a cyclone can ruin gardens and the available food supply.

We have never faced a cyclone in our present house since we moved-in 7 years ago, so we aren’t really sure whether our home will stand up to these fierce winds.  David is screwing plywood sheets over our huge windows all around our house today.  It is so hot and humid that closing up the windows sounds terrible, but it looks like the weather will be somewhat calm to handle the big sheets of wood today. 

Sylvia has been teaching an SPNTC class every evening for the last week and a half, and will teach this evening if the winds and rain hold off.  You can’t imagine how hard it is to concentrate on preparations for class and for the students to focus on what she is teaching with a cyclone breathing down our necks!

Please be praying with us for this situation:  
·        We are asking God to do as Jesus did on the sea of Galilee – to block the wind and waves so that people’s lives are spared. 
·        Pray that people will be wise in preparing for the storm even as they pray and trust God for protection. 
·        Pray that we will know what to do and how to help people during this time.

We may very likely lose our internet service and possibly phone service as we move into the thick of the storm on Friday or Saturday (Thursday and Friday in the US), so please know that we will keep you posted as soon as we can.

Thank you for standing with us in the storm.

"The disciples went and woke him, saying, "Master, Master, we're going to drown!"
He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.
Luke 8:24

"Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for men."
Psalms 107:28-31