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!

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