Thursday, December 15, 2016

From Pioneer Area to Phase One District


With great excitement, Nazarenes from five congregations in Port Vila gathered at a rented municipal hall in November 2007 to celebrate what we thought was our first District Assembly.  We were joined by Rev. Jesse Middendorf, the General Superintendent in jurisdiction over the Asia Pacific region at that time, Rev. Verne Ward, the Asia Pacific regional director, Rev. James Johnson, the Field Strategy Coordinator for South Pacific Field, and their three wives.  The Church of the Nazarene in Vanuatu had 17 members at the time and two organized churches and three preaching points.  It was a grand celebration with special music presented by the various congregations, a big meal together, and our hearts were encouraged to continue moving forward.  We weren't really a district yet.  We were a Pioneer Area.  We had some growing to do!

L to R: Rev. Verne Ward, Jr., Rev. James Johnson, Rev. David Potter, Rev. Dr. Jesse Middendorf.

Mary Tasso and Pastor Meriam Naunga prepared the food for our meal together.

Rev. Peter Isaac joined the Tebakor and Fres Wota congregations in a special song.


On Saturday, November 26, 2016, the Churches of the Nazarene in Vanuatu met together for their 10th annual assembly this time on the district land located at Erakor.  It would be our last time to gather as a "Pioneer Area."  A large canvas tent had been rented for the occassion and the local congregation had worked hard to construct a beautiful corrugated tin church for some of the activities.  For the weeks leading up to the assembly, work crews showed up almost daily to build a toilet facility and to lift up every valley, make every high place low, and the rough places smooth.

A two-stall toilet block being constructed at the district property.

Working together to level the land for the large tent.

The assembly began on Thursday night with all the churches meeting in the newly constructed Erakor Central Nazarene Church - the seventh Nazarene Church to organize in Vanuatu.  

Ladies like the two pictured below decorated the inside of the church with beautiful blue and white fabric and gorgeous flowers.  This is Pastor Meriam on the left with her daughter Ronah who had just returned from university studies in Fiji.

All five Port Vila Nazarene churches were represented along with members from the church on Aniwa Island and Tanna Island.  Yes!  The Nazarene Church in Vanuatu has grown!  This year there are 179 members attending seven organized Nazarene churches on three islands with four congregations who are not yet organized as well as four other locations where people are receiving the Word of God!  Praise the Lord!

Music has been an important part of our gatherings since the beginning!  After the preaching on Thursday night, each of the congregations were given time to share the special music or dramas that they had prepared.  In the picture below, the children and pastors of Black Sand Nazarene Church shared Bible verses that they had learned and what each verse meant.

The District Assembly began Saturday morning, November 26th.  The ladies helped to make the tent that was rented from the government disaster office look as beautiful as possible.  It was exciting to see not only adults arriving for the assembly, but lots of young people and children too!  

Our Field Strategy Coordinator, Rev. Harmon Schmelzenbach and his wife, Cindy, were able to be with us.

District Superintendent, Rev. Peter Isaac led the assembly with great enthusiasm!

Harmon shared lots of encouragement and Peter translated.

During the breaks, there were opportunities to fellowship together.  

Pastor Timothy and Pastors Gideon and Aline from the Prima Nazarene Church.

Pastor Letin from Black Sand Nazarene and Pastor Meriam from Malapoa Nazarene Church.

Bennett Isaac and Malapoa Nazarene Sunday School teacher, Christopher.

District assembly means LOTS of reports!  There are also new district leaders to be elected and district ministers' licenses to be given.

Pictured above, the nine pastors who received a district minister's license for this next year.  There are also nine locally licensed pastors.  The number of women who are feeling God's call to be pastors is growing.

Before the assembly closed at the end of the day, the pastors had prepared a special drama showing the Light of the gospel being shared first by the missionary and then by each new person that received the Light.

At a strategic point in the drama, Harmon stepped forward to declare that the Church of the Nazarene is officially a Phase One District!  This was met by enthusiastic cheers from the congregation!

The pastors who had performed the drama then shared a specially written song for the occasion expressing their joy in this important historical moment.

The next day, Sunday, all the churches gathered again at the tent to worship together and to celebrate the graduation of Pastor John Nato from South Pacific Nazarene Theological College.  

As principal of SPNTC, David had a few words to share.

Pastor Anthona led a student choir.

Pastor John shared his testimony.

For the first time in his life, Pastor John has completed an educational program - the Pastor's Course of Study - and earned a Certificate in Ministry.  When he was in grade school, the family had no more money to pay his school fees.  So he dropped out of school.  This was a very proud day for him and his entire family as he was recognized for this huge achievement.

One of the traditions in Vanuatu is to hang a flower ring or a long piece of cloth around the neck of someone you want to honor and to douse them in baby powder.  John stands nearly covered in "honor!"  His mother and father stand beside him, as well as his sisters and their children.  Pastors Seul and Letin (right) have co-pastored with John at Black Sand Nazarene Church for the last 2 years.

Following the graduation we all shared a special meal together.  The graduate was seated at a table with his father and missionary leaders.  Even though the day was very warm and humid, he refused to take off his graduation gown.  This was a special day like none he had ever experienced before, and it seemed he wanted it to go on for as long as possible!

One of the Erakor Nazarene Church members is a chef.  He is also a gifted food artist.  When he saw the preparations being made Sunday morning for the meal, he went to work carving some papayas to decorate the head table!  What a blessing!

These are exciting days for the Church of the Nazarene in Vanuatu, but we anticipate the coming days to be filled with even greater things!  The Vanuatu District wants to move to Phase Two in just one year!  What does that mean in specifics?  It means that there will need to be more than twice the members as this year, the number of organized churches should at least double, and we will need to be ready to ordain 10 pastors as elders!  That is a very ambitious goal, but the pastors and Christians were eager to work together to do their best to reach it.  Please partner with us in prayer to see these incredible goals realized.  Pray that as we grow in numbers, we will grow stronger in our faith, deeper in our relationship with Christ, and more like him in his love.

"I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth."
Psalm 57:9-11