The next day was a Sunday, and we went back to the church in the morning for a particularly special service. 7 of the local churches were joining together to celebrate the end of the year – some of the women had told me about it the day before, and explained what they were planning to make for lunch that day. The members of the church had dug a hue hole in the ground, filled it with rocks, spent almost a whole day chopping wood and wrapping things in banana leaves before submerging them in the earth. A service doesn’t just mean a sermon and a bit of singing to them – it’s a beautiful joining of worship, commitment and community, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
We arrived 15 minutes early to the service to ensure we were there in time to get a seat – but when we arrived, they were already there (and appeared to have been for some time), singing songs to prepare their hearts for worship. We didn’t have to worry about seats though – because at this special gathering, which was a once in a year event for them, they had saved us front row seats.
As if their hospitality were not enough, half way through the service I felt a cool breeze coming from behind me. I closed my eyes for a moment and just said ‘thank you’ over and over again in my head – I thought it was coming from the door at the back of the church. The weather that day was – in search of a better term – ‘insane’. It was hot, humid and extremely uncomfortable, and the breeze was amazing. But after a while, I noticed that it wasn’t a breeze. The girls we had met the day before were sitting behind us, eyes and mouths wide with smiles as they servant heartedly fanned us with leaves they had collected, sweat dripping down their beautiful faces as they gave up their own comfort to love us. It’s one of the most outwardly sacrificial and loving gestures I’ve ever experienced, and it blew me away. It still blows me away writing about it weeks later. As cliche as it sounds, I won’t ever forget that moment.
During lunch (which was incredible), we befriended some little ‘pikininis’ (children). They were so shy at first, but I couldn’t help myself… I had to figure out a way to talk to them. I found that the only way I could get them to trust me enough was to ask them their names and introduce myself – it seemed that I wasn’t a stranger after they knew my name. I asked one little girl , “what is your name?” She looked confused, so I said it again in Bislama that I’d learned the day before – “name blong yu?” She replied, and I told her my name and we were friends. She didn’t seem to speak any English, so we played hand games and laughed at our mistakes. After an hour we had about fifteen children playing duck duck goose and decided to change games. It wasn’t until I suggested Simon Says and then said out loud, ‘oh that won’t work. We won’t understand each other’, that the little girl I had met first piped up and said, ‘ha! Do you think we don’t understand you?’. They completely had me on.
One of the things I loved about the seminars that we did was how much I learned from our team. Even though we were talking to the people from Vanuatu, it was a blessing learning from people who have more experience than me, or different perspectives to me. I’ve taken so much from what people said there – down to how to write talks better, or how to better love my youth kids – it’s amazing what God can do when he opens your heart and mind to what He wants you to know.
It was really hard saying goodbye to the church. I have no idea if I’ll ever be back there again – I would love to, but God’s unpredictable to me. I don’t know what he has planned, or where he wants me to be – but I’m sure that he wanted me there at that point in time. They waved until we were so far down the dirt road that we could hardly see them anymore.
I thought that all my learning was done, but it definitely wasn’t. The next day was a ‘rest day’ – what else was there to learn? All I can say is that God really knows the meaning of the word ‘rest’, and I can’t imagine a better place to do it than in His awesome creation. That night there was an incredible thunderstorm. It was so demonstrative of God’s power – we sat in a park and watched for a while.
We visited Champagne Beach first on our rest day, and I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place. Even the drive to the beach was beautiful – there were so many farms and trees, and people living in simple houses that seemed so happy and waved at us as we passed them.
To give you an idea, I had to delete 27 photos of the beach because I got so over excited when we got there, and took so many that looked almost exactly the same. With that in mind, I hope you can enjoy this photo that unfortunately doesn’t even capture how beautiful this looks in real life.
I said to someone in the team that a part of me never wants to leave this place – part of me meant the beach, and part of me meant earth. They said something that will always stick with me – ‘I think we’ll be doing this in heaven’. There was more to it that I won’t go into in detail (feel free to ask me about it if you’d like to know), but it reassured me that even our wildest dreams or the realities of earth can’t ever compare to what God has in store for us – and if this is earth, I can’t imagine what heaven will be like.
The second place we went to was called the Riri Blue Hol – meaning ‘Really Blue Hole’. It seriously is REALLY blue. These photos are not edited.
The next day we spent the best part of the day travelling back home. I didn’t sleep at all because I got so ridiculously burnt the day before, but it didn’t matter. It was awesome being home, and awesome reflecting on the experience God had pre-prepared for myself and the other people in the team.
That’s about all for the Vanuatu adventure. I hope that someday I can go back and experience it all over again.
— Lauren x