Solomon Islands Ministries Newsletter (Issue 1)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - Salvation Army Convention

While visiting the North Malaita Fellowship soon after our arrival to Solomon Islands in January, I met with their leadership team and asked the Fellowship Leader Charles Akwastaloa what his vision and goals were for this year.  He expressed to me a very strong desire to bring the churches together from the surrounding villages to present the mission of The Salvation Army in North Malaita.  After follow-up conversations, his vision developed into an opportunity to also bring together the three Salvation Army congregations from around the Solomon Islands for worship, fellowship and witness in North Malaita.  Six months later, Charles and his family turned this vision into reality by hosting the very first Salvation Army Convention in the Solomon Islands.

Over the weekend of the 19th - 22nd July Salvationists from Honiara Corps and Moscom Fellowship joined with the Kwai Fellowship in North Malaita and with other Christians from surrounding villages, including Lolu and Capernaum where new Salvation Army missions are soon to commence.  The Territorial Commander, Colonel Kelvin Alley from PNG, was our invited guest for the weekend.  He flew from Port Moresby to Honiara where he met us for a connecting flight to Auki in Malaita, followed by a four hour drive on the back of a truck up the North Road to Kwai.  Along the journey we stopped at Forcem Market, about an hour out of Auki, to pick up the group from Moscom who had traveled by mosquito/banana boat from Maro'upaina Bay to Atori the day before, and then embarked on a three hour drive along the East Road that morning.  For all of the Moscom group this was their first time ever on a truck and their first time travelling to this side of Malaita.  The time and effort expended just to get to the convention was indicative of its significance in the lives of those who attended and in this season of growth for The Salvation Army in the Solomon Islands.

Upon arrival we were greeted by an enthusiastic crowd, along with some local cultural dancers who ushered us into the conference area prepared by Charles and his family for a very warm welcome. Beautiful floral leis were presented to the Territorial Commander, Vanessa and I, as well as the Moscom contingent.  We were then blessed by a heart-felt welcome song by the Kwai congregation before words of welcome were given by Charles.  The rest of the evening was a vibrant celebration of worship with all three congregations participating through various musical items.  Colonel Kelvin Alley gave the opening address, setting the tone for the rest of the weekend by outlining his theme - "Foundations for a Rock Solid Faith."  It was a truly inspiring evening with nobody wanting it to end, despite their tiredness from a long day of travel.

In addition to some amazing teaching and fellowship over the weekend, the convention reached a climax on the Sunday morning with the Territorial Commander officiating three very significant ceremonies during the worship service.  These ceremonies commenced with the enrollment of two Junior Soldiers from the Kwai congregation.  The enrollment of Webster and Rebecca has brought the number of Junior Soldiers for this relatively new Salvation Army congregation to 12 young people, who are being discipled by Junior Soldier Sergeant Phillip Omelengi.  Immediately following was the enrollment of 17 new Senior Soldiers from the Kwai and Moscom congregations.  Three of these new soldiers traveled from Moscom for this special occasion and the other 14 new soldiers represented a number of surrounding villages in North Malaita.  Unfortunately, the 4 recruits from Honiara, 4 from Manao'oba Island and another 7 from Moscom were unable to make the trip over for the convention.  They will be enrolled in the coming weeks at their respective home churches.  After the enrollments, Colonel Kelvin Alley called to the platform Kwai leaders Charles and Judith Akwastaloa for a history making announcement for the Solomon Islands.  The Kwai congregation has been operating under the banner of the North Malaita Fellowship since it commenced in July 2017.  Over the past twelve months this congregation has become a spiritually vibrant and evangelically active Salvation Army church growing in membership and mission.  In recognition of this growth and development, an application was sent to THQ for the North Malaita Fellowship to be given Corps status, officially recognising it as a fully functioning church in The Salvation Army.  The Territorial Commander took great delight in presenting a Certificate of Recognition of Corps Status, making this the second Corps in the Solomon Islands.  From that moment the 'North Malaita Fellowship' became known as the 'Gateway Corps, Suafa Bay.'  This was indeed a momentous occasion that reflects something of the mighty movement of the Spirit in Malaita.

One of the highlights of this convention for me was seeing the pure expression of joy on the faces of everybody in attendance, especially from the Moscom congregation.  The Moscom Fellowship live and worship in one of the most remote parts of Malaita and rarely have the opportunity to interact with anybody outside of the four villages on Maru'upaina Bay in East Areare.  To come together with other Salvationists in such a way opened up the internationalism of The Salvation Army to this congregation, even in this small corner of the world called Malaita.  All of a sudden they were not alone!  Now they feel as though they are a part of something so much bigger than just their small Fellowship.  They built friendships and made spiritual bonds that will last a lifetime.  We witnessed the Moscom Fellowship leader Miriam come alive and emerge out of the timid cocoon of uncertainty seen in our previous trips to Moscom.  She danced and laughed and cried during worship and boldly declared her passion for the Lord in such a way that Vanessa and I turned to each other at the same time and asked, "Who is this woman?!"  Then there was the row of four young girls from Moscom whom I captured through the lens of my camera during the Friday night worship service.  This was truly a divine moment I will never forget!  Rarely have I seen this depth of worship and unrestrained passion pour out from the hearts and mouths of such young lives.  Words seem so inadequate to describe the full impact of this event, but I am certain it will be spoken of for years to come.

We are immeasurably grateful to Charles, his family and the congregation in Kwai for all their hard work to host this event and for their gracious hospitality; to the Territorial Commander for making the trip to North Malaita and for providing the right word for the right occasion; to Paul Harohau who funded the transportation of the Moscom contingent; to the neighbouring churches who joined us in fellowship and provided musical support; and to those who travelled all the way to North Malaita. Most of all we give glory and honour to God for the mighty movement of His Spirit throughout this weekend!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - Red Shield Appeal Dinner

It all began with an accidental encounter from tagging along to a social event where we weren't invited.  In other words, we gate-crashed a party! 

To put this into perspective, a friend of ours who was the Interim Country Director of World Vision in Solomon Islands back in January, asked us to tag along to a double birthday party he was invited to attend for two Australian High Commission employees. Near the end of the party (where we were graciously made to feel very welcome) Vanessa and I were approached by another guest who is an Australian Federal Police Officer.  He introduced himself and asked us how we were connected to the birthday boys.  After a bit of a laugh about how we came to be at the party, he inquired further about our role with The Salvation Army.  This conversation revealed that the AFP Officer, Darren McClelland, was looking for a 'project' outside of his work role to engage in while in Honiara that would make a difference in the lives of the people he is here to serve.  A follow-up coffee appointment at the Lime Lounge Cafe (aka our 'Office') found an alignment of opportunity between Darren's desire to engage in a philanthropic project and our vision to explore the possibility of starting a Red Shield Appeal in the Solomon Islands.

An accidental encounter and an alignment of opportunities led to the formation of the very first Red Shield Appeal Committee for the Solomon Islands with Darren appointed as the Chairperson.  Darren wasted no time in recruiting three other committee members from among his AFP colleagues working with the Solomon Islands Police Development Program (SIPDP).  This brought together some powerhouse volunteers who have expertise in procurement, planning and event management.  It was truly a pleasure working with such a motivated team who leveraged their networks to obtain some amazing sponsorship for our first RSA event, a Fundraising Dinner at one of the premier venues in Honiara, the Heritage Park Hotel.

After a couple of months of planning, the Red Shield Appeal Fundraising Dinner was held on Friday, 13th July with 115 people from local businesses and community organisations in Honiara gathering to support the The Salvation Army Solomon Islands Ministries.  A very fine buffet dinner was accompanied by the musical talents of local band 'Set Wan' and followed by the auction of sponsored items, which included:  3 night package for two including double/twin share bungalow, continental breakfasts and return airfares (Sanbis Resort & Solomon Airlines); 3 nights accommodation package (Papatura Resort); ten $100 vouchers (Bulk Store); designer chair (Ozdesign Furniture); Garmin 64s handheld GPS (Y-sato Marine); $3,000 donation, Samsung Galaxy phone, Huaweii Y3ii phone (Our Telekom); 2 night weekend dive trip for 1 person (Bilikiki); Smootharc Welder (BOC); personal care package & spa vouchers (Jings Spa); remedial/therapeutic massage vouchers (Charles Gauba); gift baskets with soaps, oils & lavalavas (Kokonut Pacific & Salvation Army); aluminium framed mirror (Tropic Glass & Aluminium); WW2 Guadalcanal Battlefield tour for 4 by former US Marine.

The dinner and sponsored items raised a combined total of SBD$89,200!  This is a phenomenal result for our inaugural Red Shield Appeal event.  The money raised will be used by The Salvation Army to purchase a DME (Direct Micro Expelling) set-up from Kokonut Pacific to establish a coconut oil plant at Gateway Corps in North Malaita to provide employment for the surrounding villages, foster community development, and generate income to resource our rapidly growing mission and ministry across Malaita.

We are delighted with the success of this event, not only for the money raised, but for the new networks established that will provide a platform of ongoing supporters for the future development of The Salvation Army in the Solomon Islands.  All of this because we gate-crashed a party six months ago!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - Territorial Leaders Conference

Last month Vanessa and I had the opportunity to spend some quality time interacting with Territorial and Divisional leaders from The Salvation Army Papua New Guinea Territory.  Our time in Port Moresby commenced in response to an invitation to attend the Territorial Leaders Conference, which gave The Salvation Army Solomon Islands Ministries representation at the TLC for the first time.  While Solomon Islands has been a part of this Territory since it's launch in 2011, the TLC ushered this relatively new expression of The Salvation Army into a new era of growth with an announcement by the Territorial Commander that IHQ had approved a name change for the Territory, which will now be known as The Salvation Army Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands Territory, with the Solomon Islands being granted 'District' status.  So the Solomon Islands Ministries is now officially the Solomon Islands District, which means Vanessa and my position has been changed from 'Officers in Charge' to 'District Officers'.

The TLC was led by Commissioners Willis & Barbara Howell from the USA Southern Territory, with Colonel Julie Alley from PNG setting the tone for the weekend with the keynote address by declaring, "The kingdom of God does not rise and fall on our ability.  We are to lean into the supernatural ability of Jesus Christ."  This powerful introduction was followed by two days of amazing teaching from the guest leaders who spoke around the theme 'Following Christ, In Leadership.'  In the opening session, Commissioner Willis spoke on the importance of 'guarding your heart' from Proverbs 4:23 - "Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do."  Later, Commissioner Barbara led an interactive session inviting the leaders present to share the characteristics of leadership we found most inspiring and then spoke about the nature of servant leadership.

On the Sunday morning of the conference Vanessa and I gave a presentation about the growth in the Solomon Islands over the past six months, which was enthusiastically received by everybody present.  During our presentation, Vanessa spoke about our new Solo Army Lavalava project and presented the Commissioners and our Territorial Leaders with a lavalava each as a gift from the Solomon Islands. This gift made a real impression on Commissioner Barbara who ordered 40 to take back to the USA Southern Territory for a Divisional Women’s Weekend. 

During the week following the TLC, we engaged in a number of meetings at THQ with Cabinet Secretaries and department heads to discuss some of the new initiatives ready to launch in the Solomon Islands.  These meetings proved very productive with a strong commitment of support coming from THQ for the ongoing development of The Salvation Army in this emerging district of the Papua New Guinea & Solomon Islands Territory. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - Return to Kwai

After teaching the newly written Soldiership Training Course to our congregations in Moscom and Honiara, it was time to return to Kwai to conduct the final test round of this new material.  The timing of this trip was two-fold:  To finish the final edit of the Soldiership Training Course for presentation at the Territorial Leaders Conference in PNG and to prepare the next round of recruits for enrollment at the upcoming Salvation Army Convention in North Malaita.

Since our first visit to Kwai in January, we have been delighted to discover that the mission outreach of the North Malaita Fellowship has extended well beyond the Kwai River into the neighbouring villages to further north onto Manao'oba Island and down south into West Kwara'ae.  This outreach brought eager recruits into Kwai for the Soldiership Training Course from Lolu, Kolefe, Tabarara, Ona and Manao'oba Island!  Praise the Lord for this extraordinary mission growth, which we pray will produce many new congregations in Malaita!!

The beautiful simplicity and deep spirituality of this village provided the perfect atmosphere for our ministry trip with early morning prayer meetings and evening worship services creating a spirit of anticipation among those gathered.  Once again, the words of the chorus "You are my God, You are my Father, You are my King and I worship You" in both English and To'obaita languages united our spirits with the Spirit of God and became an anthem for the weekend, just as it did during our ministry trip to Moscom. Another song that added to the tone of the weekend was 'Mighty Man of War', which was introduced by my ministry partner Joshua Henry from Honiara Corps.  It somehow seemed very fitting to our purpose to train new Soldiers of The Salvation Army - "Mighty man of War, Lion of Judah.  We bow down and worship you.  Yahweh Yahweh, come and do what only you can do." Well, we are certainly seeing what only God can do with the rapid expansion of The Salvation Army throughout Malaita!

Our schedule for these trips is always fluid to fit into the rhythms of village life.  This weekend was no exception, with our course being moved from Saturday to Sunday morning after the worship service to allow time for those traveling from afar to arrive in time.  The resulting four consecutive sessions in one day didn't seem to phase the very enthusiastic recruits who were eager to engage with the new course material.  Their eagerness was matched by the enthusiasm of the existing Soldiers from the North Malaita Fellowship whose curiosity about the new material had a number of them stay behind after worship to join in.  Of the 22 participants who completed the Soldiership Training Course all 13 of the new recruits signed up to be enrolled at the Convention in July by the Territorial Commander.  

Beside the numbers, the feedback from the participants was equally encouraging.  To hear consistent comments that the material is easy to understand, well formatted and culturally appropriate (my paraphrase of their comments) affirmed the reasons behind the rewrite.  More helpful than the encouraging words were the comments and questions that have contributed to minor edits along the journey.  It is our hope that the final draft will provide a resource that will serve The Salvation Army in the Solomon Islands well into the future with a new generation of well-equipped Salvationists rising up in every Province! Joshua's presence was also a real blessing as a translator (when necessary) and an evaluater to assess the effectiveness of the course.  It also served as a training opportunity to prepare him as a future facilitator.

We left Kwai with a deep sense of satisfaction that our purpose had been achieved and God was glorified!  Our expectations were exceeded and our excitement for the mass enrollment of 10 recruits from Moscom, 5 recruits from Honiara, and now 13 recruits from Kwai is almost akin to the early church who celebrated that "the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

Monday, May 21, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - Return to Moscom

During our previous mission trip to Moscom Fellowship in January, we determined that a follow-up ministry trip was necessary to fulfill our commitment to provide ongoing training and support for this remote congregation.  Moscom is located on the Maro'upaina Bay in East Areare, which is one of the most remote parts of South Malaita. Access is only by boat via a direct 24 hour journey from Honiara through the Maramasike Passage and up the east coast. Alternatively, an indirect trip can be made by truck along the precarious east road from Auki to Atori where a mosquito (banana) boat is then caught for a two hour journey down the east coast of Malaita.  Both routes are long, expensive and not without their risks.  Therefore, any contact by visiting groups is received with great enthusiasm and appreciation.

This time, I was delighted to take a larger team from Honiara Corps, including Vanessa who overcame her fear of small boats to participate in this trip.  Vanessa and Elizabeth conducted the Home League Leadership Training Course with some of the women in Moscom, as well as the Junior Soldier Preparation Course with the children who belong to this Fellowship.  Joshua was our worship leader and I the preacher throughout the week at the evening Fellowship Meetings and Vanessa preached at the Sunday Morning Service, which happened to be Mother's Day.  I also took the opportunity to introduce the new Soldiership Training Course that I have rewritten specifically for the Solomon Islands cultural context.  Alongside these programmed training opportunities was the informal interaction with village life where just as much ministry occurred as each of our team members spoke into the lives of those present.  I had a lot of fun interacting with the children who eagerly took me snorkeling in the bay and loved the little games we played around the village and Vanessa really enjoyed observing and learning some of the day to day duties performed by the women.

The addition of Vanessa and Elizabeth to the team meant that we could connect with the women at a deeper level than was previously possible with just Wency and myself.  The Home League Leadership Training Course created an intimate learning environment where the women opened up about the issues impacting them personally and their participation in village and congregational life.  One story shared that made us angry was that a Pastor from another church in one of the neighbouring villages told our women that it was inappropriate for them to speak in the church and that they did not have a valid voice because they were "pencil breaks" (uneducated)!  Vanessa spoke strongly into this space, reinforcing the gender equality message of The Salvation Army and reaffirming their value in Christ by having them declare daily, "I am strong, I am courageous, I am beautiful and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

Joshua’s presence also added great value to the team.  He led worship throughout the trip, offering strong and sensitive spiritual leadership that stimulated an atmosphere of worship that greatly encouraged the local leaders.  Joshua also came alongside a number of the men who were previously absent as they do not normally engage much with the congregation.  His interaction resulted in some of the men attending the weeknight Fellowship Meetings, with three participating in Soldiership Classes and two committing to become Senior Soldiers.  This trip laid the foundation for a future leadership role we have asked Joshua to fulfill as the Area Officer for Malaita to oversee and support the rapidly expanding ministry of The Salvation Army in this province.

The introduction of the newly written Soldiership Course was very successful and had a real impact not only on the recruits but others in the village as the course manuals were passed around.  We were encouraged that 10 recruits have committed to being enrolled as Senior Soldiers at the North Malaita Conference in July, alongside other recruits from Kwai and Honiara.  The Junior Soldier Preparation Classes were very enthusiastically received by the Moscom children with 18 new Junior Soldiers being enrolled during the Sunday Service.  These are the first Junior Soldiers for the Moscom Fellowship and the second group of Junior Soldiers for the Solomon Islands.  A Junior Soldier Sergeant was identified from among the women who participated in the Home League Leaders Course and was given a crash course in teaching the Junior Soldier lessons beyond our visit.

Joshua and I had the opportunity to visit the Hydroelectricity plant for the three villages on Maro’upaina Bay (including Moscom), which revealed how vital and vulnerable this resource is for village life. This involved about an hour hike through the other villages and up a jungle track that led to the base of the mountain where the Hydro dam was built.  Not long after our previous visit to Moscom the Hydro generator broke down and has not been working since.  The impact of this breakdown has had a significant effect upon the economy for this area.  For example, the fishermen who depend upon the income from the sale of their fish to pay school fees, can no longer refrigerate their catch to sell at the markets.  Therefore, there is no income and they cannot afford to pay school fees, which means their kids are out of school.  The flow-on effect is that dad then has to go to Honiara looking for alternative employment with mum back at the village carrying the load of managing the family and farms alone for long periods of time.  This was a very common story across all three villages!  I suspect the way the children attached themselves to me throughout our visit was evidence of them craving a father-figure who will interact and play with them beyond the provider role of a father.

While a number of challenges remain for the Moscom Fellowship, it was clearly evident that our trip was timely and had a real impact on this congregation.  We left with a sense that these Salvationists are better equipped for ministry and we look forward to reconnecting with many of them again soon as they attend the North Malaita Conference and engage with the wider Salvation Army of the Solomon Islands.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - Easter

Throughout our ministry we have always placed a special emphasis on Easter, creating an atmosphere of worship that engages the whole person with its significant redemptive message.  Typically for us, this commences with the Passover on Maundy Thursday, a Good Friday Service, a sunrise Dawn Service on Resurrection morning, climaxing with a celebration Easter Sunday Service.  In each of our appointments these services have taken on a different shape as we have sought to lead people on a journey of discovery through a teaching series and a dynamic encounter with God through a visual display.  Our first Easter in the Solomon Islands has been no exception!  

This year our teaching theme leading up to the Easter weekend was "Fo Mekem Yufala Biliv" based on the Gospel of John, exploring the reason he wrote his gospel:  "These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name" (John 20:31).

On Thursday night we held a Passover Service at our Quarters where 35 people from Honiara Corps gathered to participate in the liturgy of the Passover that Jesus would have shared with His disciples during the Last Supper.  Unlike other years, we opted not to have a full meal (for practical reasons) but nevertheless we had a meaningful time of worship around the Seder plate.  We incorporated a scene from the animated movie 'The Prince of Egypt' to help tell the story of the Exodus, which really captured the attention of both the kids and adults!  The outdoor setting and tropical environment provided a very pleasant atmosphere for such a special evening.

The next morning the congregation that gathered for the Good Friday Service in the same location increased to 50 as we continued our journey through John's gospel, drawing upon his own testimony at the cross, "The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe" (John 19:35).  Our youth led a powerful time of worship, the crucifixion story was read by a number of our soldiers and everyone was challenged to become one of the witnesses at the cross by taking a small cross made of palm leaves to share with someone who does not yet believe.

Easter Sunday morning commenced with a very early start before dawn at the American War Memorial on top of the Skyline Ridge.  A few of us joined with Kukum Campus SSEC Church for an Easter Sunrise Service to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As we watched the sun rise our hearts were joyful as we lifted our voices in praise and shared in fellowship with other believers on this significant occasion.  Later that morning we returned to our regular place of worship at the Rock Haven Inn for our Easter Sunday Service, with 90 people packing into the conference room.  The atmosphere of worship was electric as our youth once again did an amazing job at leading worship.  It is hard to describe the extraordinary sound when Solomon Islanders express themselves in worship, except that the presence of God is tangible!  Easter Sunday was one of those God-honouring occasions.  Our Easter series was brought to a fitting conclusion with the witness of Mary Magdelene declaring, "I have seen the Lord!" (John 20:18).

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Solomon Islands Ministries - Auki Mission

Over the past few weeks there has been some exciting movement around Auki in the Malaita Province concerning The Salvation Army, which does not yet have a presence in this town.  The movement I speak of is the activity of Holy Spirit who is stirring the hearts of some local pastors who are feeling restless, as they have been disconnected from any real denominational alliance for some time (that is a whole other discussion for another time and place).  Their restlessness led to a meeting with their spiritual mentor Joshua Henry who happens to be a Salvation Army soldier at Honiara Corps.  Joshua met recently with seven of these pastors to respond to their call to learn more about The Salvation Army because of their respect for his leadership and his strong witness.   

Throughout their time of worship and sharing together Joshua felt the Lord speak the following prophetic words for this group of pastors:

"As far as the Solomon Islands is concerned, The Salvation Army is the newest move of God in this country for NOW!"

"As far as The Salvation Army is concerned, everybody in the Solomon Islands who are Christians could all be citizens of the Kingdom of God already.  But to join the military of a nation there is a separate recruitment.  The Salvation Army is now that recruitment for a mission movement of God in the Solomon Islands."

"The Salvation Army is the fresh stream that is flowing into this country and out of this country."

As Joshua relayed these messages to me I felt both excited and terrified by the potential implications of such utterances!  Imagine if all seven pastors responded to Joshua's message by saying, 'sign us up!'  Well, we have dared to imagine such an outcome, despite not having the resources at this point in our journey to support an immediate burst of growth like this.  We dare to believe in a God who "is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine" (Ephesians 3:20) and who "will meet all [our] needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19).

Alongside this prophetic word from Joshua we have proactively stepped into this mission space to pursue a couple of social enterprise opportunities to build a foundation for sustainable growth throughout the Malaita Province by developing a mission base in Auki.  We continue to look and listen for where the Spirit is at work so we can join in on His mission activity.  We continue to trust God to lead the development of His Army not only in Malaita but right across the Solomon Islands.  We continue to prioritise the development of future leaders and financial sustainability as we develop further ministries.