After a few hours of waiting and enjoying a beautiful Vila sunset, we headed back to the airport and took a propellor plane to the island of Espiritu Santo. To my great surprise, the plane was bigger than I expected, and I really enjoyed it despite it being completely dark outside.
Sam came and picked us up from the airport in Santo – Sam is from the church we were going to, and he also owns a mini bus that he uses as a bus service in the town. Driving through Santo at night was a strange experience for me. Some things were really western – the french bank was all lit up, and there was an ANZ across the road. But to me it looked like a western town that hadn’t had any work done to it in about 50 years – yet at the same time, there was something really interesting and unique about it.
The next day, I found myself in a strange state of mind that I didn’t really expect from myself. Our hotel was beautiful and clean, and it felt ‘sheltered’ in a way, and I was nervous about going out on the long shop-lined street. When we eventually did, I felt a bit overwhelmed. The heat was intense, and the humidity was getting to me, and I realised that we had to watch where we walked because there were large holes in the ground along the footpath. When we had landed the night before, one of the guys had outstretched his arms and said “I’m home!” – I kept thinking, “how can he feel at home here?” and wishing I felt the same way. At the same time, I continuously felt warmed by the smiling faces of literally everyone who walked past us. I thought maybe it was because I was obviously a ‘tourist’ here – my blonde hair and pale skin would give me away pretty quickly – but they smiled and waved at everyone they saw. By the afternoon, I started to find it refreshing that they had holes in their cars that they didn’t care about, and that a hole in the ground wasn’t the end of the world… you just walk around it. I think God was teaching me things even before we got to the church, but during the day I couldn’t help feeling like I would finally feel ‘home’ when we got to the youth group meeting that evening.
In the afternoon, we visited the markets. The markets were incredible! The fruit and vegetables were so cheap and so fresh – we got a huge bunch of bananas for 50 Vatu, which is roughly 50 cents in Australian dollars, and they tasted so much better than any bananas I’ve ever had. We got some coconuts as well, which was something I’d never tried before – at least not in the form we bought them in.
By the point that this photo was taken, I was well and truly excited about the evening. There’s something crazy about knowing that there are like-minded people all over the world – they might have nothing else in common with me, but they love Jesus. It’s beautiful how that’s enough to bond us together in a way that I can’t even describe.
Sam picked us up that evening and took us to the church. It was an uphill dirt road in the middle of bushland. The houses we saw along the road surprised me – these people really don’t have a lot. Our hotel now felt like the pinnacle of luxury.
A couple of years ago, when our church first visited Santo, the church we were going to were building a new hall, but they didn’t have the funds to put a roof on it. My church assisted them with this, and they actually named the building the ‘Pikinini Figtree Hall’ – ‘Pikinini’ meaning children and ‘Figtree’ part of our church’s name. I can’t even describe the feeling I had when we drove into the church and saw that written in high letters on the side of their building. I guess I felt proud of my church, and blessed to be there, and amazed at how we have a very real connection with these people who I’d been so anxious to meet.
Even though we were there to train them about how to lead youth group, I took a lot from what they did in their youth group as well. Even though almost the whole thing was spoken in Bislama, we could pick up on a lot of what they said, because Bislama is sort of a mix of English and French. I learnt to say ‘thank you so much’ by saying ‘tankyu tumas’, and ‘my name is Lauren’ by saying, ‘name blong mi Lauren’. I was amazed by how much fun the kids had – they had a debating night, and they all turned to their bibles to formulate their arguments. Not only that, but they sung together – the loudest, most beautiful and passionate singing I had ever heard – and there were probably only about 25 people in the room. We were greeted like family there – it was amazing.
The next day, we headed back to the church early to start the training. Now, my idea of early is 9 o’clock – but some of them had been down there since 5:30 and 6 to start preparing meals and things for the day. I was blown away at their commitment.
I had another ‘trust’ moment when we started doing the training. My sarong had been threatening to fall down all morning, and I felt sticky from the heat and nervous about my talk. I had so many questions – would they understand me? Would it be helpful? Was I actually supposed to do this? God somehow took all my questions away after a while. I got the opportunity to talk to some amazing people who completely took my mind off my nerves and made me feel like I was talking to friends, and not in some kind of seminar.
I feel like somehow my photos can’t really capture the ‘spirit’ of Vanuatu. There’s just this feeling there – and particularly at the church – of complete peace. Despite how scared I was at times, and how nervous I was about talking in front of people, the best way that I could describe it was that I felt like I was outside of time. The days feel long but they don’t drag on, and even though I felt far away, by the end of the second or third day I was beginning to feel comfortable with the crazy differences I was experiencing. I think I’d go back tomorrow if I could.