When I started uni in 2012, I made a few pacts with myself. Study 2 majors, get HD’s and study overseas for 6 months. In mid to late 2013 I dropped a major and picked up a new minor, and the week afterwards I found myself crying in my bedroom with the realisation that maybe studying overseas for 6 months wasn’t the crazy whimsical thing I was meant to do after all. With less than an ideal number of HD’s, no big 6 month exchange plans and a weird uni timetable I found myself crying out to God about why my ‘uni experience’ wasn’t living up to my expectations. “What? What did you want from me…?”
For some weird reason which I didn’t quite know, God put mission on my heart. I found myself letting go of my hopes for some crazy study experience and promised God to take up the next mission opportunity, no matter what it was. It was the following morning that my phone buzzed when I was in Spotlight. For some reason I opened the email and I literally felt sick when I read that it was mission-related. I think I replied with some babble about how it was a God-thing and immediately said I was keen.
Basically the ‘mission’ was to go to a church in Vanuatu that my home church has a connection with. We were going to go over and run some youth leadership training – cool, teaching. I love teaching – but I didn’t expect to BE taught as much as I was. When going on island mission, everyone always talks about how you’re going to be taught so much more than you’ll teach, so I knew it would happen. I wasn’t, however, aware of how overwhelmingly moving it is stepping out of your norm and sharing life with people who are just like family, hours and hours from anywhere that looks like home.
I told myself I wouldn’t have any expectations about Vanuatu. Nope… nothing. I pushed it aside in my mind’s eye, but unintentionally, I westernised it in my head. Nothing had prepared me for the fact that we were heading to a developing country… not a post card paradise. I did, however, discover that they co-exist in an incredible way.
The ‘taxi’ drove on the wrong side of the road – aren’t Americans the only people who do that? There were no seat belts – isn’t that against the law? The roads had random holes everywhere – isn’t that an OH&S problem? People were burning their rubbish on the side of the road – surely that’s a safety risk? Suddenly I felt a really, really long way from Australia. And the heat… as one person said, “the humidity makes me feel one with the air.” We got very used to being sweaty.
My First Feelings
On the plane on the way over, one of our team members (there were 6 of us) told me that they were one of the most ‘Christian’ nations in the world – not in faith, but in action. This kind of confused me at the time. Where I’m from, people often have the ‘faith’ part, but struggle to find the time and energy to practice it. I know that I do. When we arrived in Port Vila on the first day, and in Santo later that evening, I could tell what they meant. The people were beautiful in every single way. This sounds cliché, but I’m not sure how else to describe such inexplainable joy and servanthood. It overwhelmed me to the point of shock, particularly for the first two days. It occurred to me that I could wave at anybody – literally anyone – and they would smile back with the most genuinely happy face you could possibly imagine. It’s ok to smile at people in Vanuatu. I’m used to assuming that people think you have an agenda.
The other thing I noticed was that people were WITH each other. Mobile phones are quickly becoming more widespread in Vanuatu, and unfortunately I think they’ll influence their culture as they have ours – but for the most part, they were hanging out in parks together, playing games, singing and playing music. The children were climbing trees and pushing each other into the ocean, and… well, waving at us.
Unfortunately, our plane was delayed by hours. I love flying, I can’t get enough of it. But I have to admit that the propellor plane that was taking us from the main island to Santo was freaking me out before the delays – and the delays just played in the back of my mind, making me wonder if they were having engine trouble. Sometimes I feel like God likes to test me on the little stuff and nudge me just beyond my comfort zone to make me trust him. When I asked God for more trust earlier in the year, I learnt that he doesn’t just GIVE you trust – he puts you in situations where you need to trust in him. My favourite verse comes to mind – and certainly did a number of times in Vanuatu.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
It’s from Philippians 4:6-7. As my dad would say, “whenever you’re in a fix, Philippians 4:6″. Gold.
It turns out that they had a delay in Fiji (I could have sworn they said they were waiting f
or someone – do planes do that?) and we got to experience an absolutely amazing sunset over Port Vila.
I have so much more to write about, but I’ll try and break it up a bit and write this in 3 parts. I hope that some of the abundance of encouragement I received in Vanuatu can be shared here in some way!