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.