I was on my way to Epi Island with Pastor Meriam Naunga and her husband David, who is a man-Epi (from Epi Island). It had been over 10 years since David had been home, and even more than that since Pastor Meriam had been there. The purpose of our trip was to join with other people from Epi and some from New Zealand and Australia at the small village of Nikaura to celebrate with the people of the Lewo language as they dedicated their newly published New Testament in the Lewo language. We were also eager to spend some time with David's family at a different location, White Coral, near Laman Bay.
Here are some pictures to help tell the story:
And we are up in the air with a nice view of Bauerfield International Airport in Port Vila.
A quick trip to the north and we are landing on the tiny airstrip at Laman Bay on Epi. Yes, the beach was just as close as it looks!
Laman Bay Airport
David immediately was recognized by relatives and friends and warmly greeted.
We waited for several hours so that a couple more loads of people could be delivered to the island before we began the trek across the island to Nikaura.
It was market day at Laman Bay! People from other places on the island had come to sell produce to the passengers of the Big Sista inter-island ferry which was due in any moment. Pastor Meriam was greeted by a nice woman who turned out to be her sister-in-law!
Hard to believe, but there are smart phones on this fairly remote island and the little ones know how to use them.
We all loaded into 4 pickup trucks and began our one hour trip to the eastern side of the island. The road was not paved in most places, but the steep hills had concrete tracks which made the trip possible.
Debbie Early, the lady in the blue dress, moved to this island in the early 1980's with her husband as missionaries with Summer Institute of Linguistics to begin the work of translating the New Testament into the languages of the people. You can see the remnants of the foundation of their house.
Ross and his wife Lyndal are the current SIL missionaries living on Epi to help the people learn to read their New Testament and to guide the people in using it.
After passing through several small villages we arrive at this lovely place called Nikaura. This is where Ross and Lyndal live and one of the locations where they are working.
This big building is called the nakamal. It is the meeting place of the village and the place where we joined for a welcome from the chief of the village and later for our meals.
The beams of the roof are trees - big ones! I could not imagine how they got them lifted up and also wondered how they would stay when it seemed like they were held in place only with ropes. I learned that although many of the homes were flattened in the big cyclone of 2015, the nakamal withstood the category 5 storm!
Some of the chiefs and leaders of the village wore their traditional dress the day of the dedication as part of a drama.
School was canceled for this big day!
There were many people who walked and came by truck to take part in the dedication.
Special salusalus (flower leis) were prepared to hang on the special guests.
Robert Early has worked together with several national translators over the last 35+ years to translate 3 different languages on the island of Epi. He was warmly welcomed by everyone!
The dedication day began with a drama enacting the arrival of the light of the gospel to the island of Epi by way of missionaries.
The chiefs received the Word of God and are carrying it to their people.
I tried to imagine what it would be like as one of these islanders to have the Bible in English or French or even Bislama (the trade language) but not be able to read God's Word in my heart language. This is an important step for these people. We had a real photographer present who is a Christian living in Vanuatu helping to promote the work of translation.
Robert Early shared some words and then read publicly the first words from the Lewo New Testament. The older man standing beside him was the chief who welcomed him to his village and gave him land to build a house. He sang "Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee" in the Lewo language.
These people from the western side of Epi are cutting down a banana tree - a small drama representing the challenge they are receiving to be the next ones to dedicate their New Testament in the Baki language.
This is the sales office where people could buy their first Lewo New Testament and MegaVoice audio Bible.
Our last morning in Nikaura I rose early to see the sunrise and discovered that the island of Lopevi was smoking. It is a volcano island and has been erupting until just the last few years. It was easily visible from Nikaura, as well as another island to the north called Ambrym which had two bright red glowing volcanoes which could be seen at night.
Lopevi on the left side of the picture and the sun rising in what seemed to be the south - I'm somewhat directionally challenged.
Soon after sunrise, Pastor Meriam and I boarded a pick-up truck and drove back to Laman Bay to join David who had left yesterday after the dedication. We were dropped off at the market which we had visited a few days before and began walking along the black sand beach to David's family's home.
I was delighted to meet David's family. This is the burao tree (a type of hibiscus) that stands in the center of his father's yard. Wherever a branch touches the ground, it takes root. Hence, its crazy shape.
David with his adopted father, Joseph, and his wife. Joseph is a translator. He has dedicated many years of his life to translating the Bislama hymnal to his language Lamenu. He is now 73 years old, diagnosed in 1986 with diabetes and also now with some vision problems. He is hoping that the hymnal will be dedicated along with the Lamenu New Testament next year.
David was sad to see that fiberglass boats are much more plentiful than the hand carved canoes that lined the beaches not too many years ago. I thought you might like to see Willie, David's nephew, pull the canoe out to the water and climb aboard to deliver a crowbar to David so he could harvest some anemones for our dinner.
That's how you do it! You can see David's head sticking out of the water on the left side of the picture below.
There were three people on the canoe in the center!
This is what David harvested from the sea for us. Seeing it didn't make me feel really hungry! I trusted him that they were edible. He told me they were the thing that Nemo lives in, so I figured they were anemones. He also roasted the pretty pink shell to the right.
Lucy is married to David's brother and Martina is their youngest. She sat with Pastor Meriam and I on the beach along with her other sister-in-law, Naomi.
Martina taking a ride in the canoe.
They called to her and told her to wave at me. She did!
Preparation for the evening meal was a complicated affair. Pastor Meriam used a particular shell to literally scrape those giant bananas at the lower left of the picture until she had a bowl of pinkish mush. Then she spooned a dollop of it onto one of the big leaves (island cabbage) and carefully rolled it and placed it in the pot. Lucy and Irene got the privilege of washing the sand out of the anemones and then slicing them so they would lay flat. Naomi at the back put together the lapalp kolan (a very special kind of cooked pudding). She took banana mush placed on a big flat leaf, then plunked some anemone on top. After that she carefully rolled it up and then tied it with some bush rope. Last, it was placed on the fire that had been getting hot nearby.
The sun went down before dinner was ready so I didn't get a picture of my dinner plate which was actually a blessing. I was given a big serving of laplap kolan. I think it might have been more difficult to finish it if I was able to look at it. I was asked multiple times what I thought of it. I kept saying that it was good and I wasn't really lying!
The day ended with the family gathered together. David shared God's word and Pastor Meriam prayed for all. The next morning everyone came to say good-bye. Hopefully, it won't be 10 years before this family is able to get together again.
When we got to the airport, David and Meriam took a walk over to the beach where they had a good look at Laman Island where David's family came from originally.
We got back on the same plane that we arrived on. The ceiling was still held together with duck tape.
I praise the Lord for the privilege of traveling with these two ministry partners to an event that represented a lifetime labor of love. Pray for Ross and Lyndal who will remain on Epi helping to get the islanders engaged with their New Testament and hopefully walking with Jesus more and more everyday. Pray for Bible translators around Vanuatu who are working hard to learn one of the 110 different languages in Vanuatu, get it written down, and then work with the people to translate the New Testament into their language.
Ross shared a devotional from Psalm 119:18-20 when we were together in Nikaura. Verse 20 says, "My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times." Pray that all of us will long for God's word with a consuming desire to know Him.