After months of anticipation and preparation, Vanessa and I finally landed in Solomon Islands on Wednesday, 13th December to commence our appointment as the Officers in Charge of The Salvation Army in the Solomon Islands. We were greeted by a warm and enthusiastic welcome from CSM Wency Ramo’oroa and some members of the Honiara congregation, many of whom delayed or cancelled their annual trip back to their home provinces just so they could meet us! Along with the Honiara Corps welcome party was Pastor Mary Vasula from the Honiara CRC church to greet the incoming Salvation Army Officers as a demonstration of support from the local churches. After some initial pleasantries, the welcome party ushered us to a garden rotunda adjacent to the airport car park where Wency addressed us with some formal words of welcome, giving thanks to God for our arrival. It is truly a humbling experience to be told that your arrival is an answer to the prayers of a congregation.
During our first two weeks in Solomon Islands we have approached our new role in a three-fold manner - Look, Listen & Learn!
Persian poet Moslih Eddin Saadi once said, "A traveller without observation is a bird without wings." As travellers in a new land our senses have been overloaded by the reality of life in Honiara. From the onlookers perched on top of the airport roof, to the gauntlet of crater sized potholes turning the 10 kilometre trip from the airport into a two hour drive, to the splattering of red spit all over the pavement from the incessant chewing of betel nut, the sights of this city are a world away from what is normal for us. Yet, the moment our passports were stamped with our residency visas, this became our reality too. The only way we are going to effectively navigate this new reality, is through keen observation that looks beyond the 'what' to see and understand the 'why'. Only then can we effectively engage this new culture and really see where God is already at work.
One of the dangers for any missionary entering a foreign land is assuming the posture of an expert with all the answers. There is no doubt that we have been appointed to this role for a reason and we bring a certain level of experience, training and knowledge into this space. However, as cultural outsiders living and leading in this new environment we are barely students. According to Andy Stanley, "It is next to impossible to hear the voice of wisdom if we are not really listening for it to begin with." Therefore, the prayer of King Solomon feels very real for us right now - "so give [us] the wisdom and knowledge [we] need to lead these people." Such wisdom and knowledge not only comes from listening to God but also listening to the people entrusted to our responsibility. Only then can we effectively engage this new culture and really hear what God is already saying.
For the past six years I have been a part-time student of mission studies while leading in a culturally diverse community that has provided me with a real life laboratory to apply everything I have learnt. This journey of learning does not stop with a degree. In fact, as leaders "the learning process is ongoing" because "successful leaders are learners" (John C. Maxwell). Every observation, every conversation, is contributing to our learning experience. The cultural insiders here in Solomon Islands are the real experts and are our partners in mission. Taking a learning posture enables us to filter everything we think we know through an appropriate cultural lens to ensure 'how' we lead empowers those with local knowledge. Only then can we effectively engage this new culture and really discern where God is leading His Army in Solomon Islands.
Even in this short period of time, this posture of Looking, Listening and Learning has revealed to us an alignment of vision with the Salvationists of Honiara Corps and a shared desire to journey together to discover what The Salvation Army will look like as we, by God's grace, expand its presence and impact throughout the Solomon Islands.