The Tafea Province AG Conference was held this year on the island of Erromango, in the southern part of Vanuatu. Gary was asked to be the morning speaker and Jeremy decided to go with him for the adventure!
They were supposed to leave Port Vila and fly down to the island of Tanna on Friday, August 26th, but the cargo ship which was to pick them up on Tanna and take them to the island of Erromango was delayed. So every day we waited for word on the ship until Monday night we got news that the guys needed to be on the flight for Tanna the next day. Sleeping bags and mosquito nets were packed and off they flew to Tanna. On Wednesday, they boarded the T. Uaraken with about 100 conference delegates and set sail for Pongkil, Erromango. The sea voyage took about 4 hours.
T. Uaraken loading passengers and cargo for Erromango.
Jeremy on board waiting for the ship to set sail…leaving Lenakel, Tanna.
The ship was large enough for everyone to sit or sleep on deck during the 4 hour trip to Erromango. At Pongkil, Erromango (below) everyone was ferried ashore in a small boat.
Erromango, is the home island of our General Supt. Rev. Youen Atnelo. Pongkil village is situated in a beautiful bay by a wide river along the rugged western coast. The ship anchored out in open ocean and the delegates and their baggage were ferried by small boat to a rocky outcropping along the shore. It took many trips for all the people, a couple of goats, piles of baggage and cartons of food to be ferried to the shore and carried up to the village. A lovely Assembly of God church sits in the middle of Pongkil village and a large outdoor bamboo shelter and platform had been erected for the five days of special meetings.
Pongkil village, the church (above right) and delegates singing and marching to the official opening of the conference (below).
The conference opened on Thursday, Sept. 1st and continued for the next five days. Gary taught every morning for a total of 12 hours. Various pastors gave morning devotions and spoke in the evening services. On the Monday morning as Pastor Tom Ierongen was giving a morning devotional a 5.8 earthquake shook the place…they are so common here that he never missed a beat and just kept on speaking!
(L to R) Ladies bringing flower leis (called salusalu) to welcome the conference visitors. People listening to morning speaker.
Special choir music and evening crowd.
Prayer time and baptismal service.
The conference ended Monday night, Sept 5th, but the ship which was to pick everyone up was docked on another island with engine problems. A second, much smaller ship was then chartered to go to Erromango and pick up everyone but it too had engine problems and was docked in Tanna. By this time, we were wondering when Gary and Jeremy would get home. Communication was very limited as there are no landlines or mobile phone connections in the village. A twenty minute climb up a steep hill would put Gary in range of the national mobile network so twice he and Jeremy hiked up there and called to give us some much awaited news.
Finally, on Friday, I received a text message that they were already out to sea headed for the island of Tanna in a small boat, standing room only on deck for a seven hour trip! At one point I had a short phone connection with Gary, as he was telling me about the overcrowded boat and a big rainstorm up ahead, I heard several people scream and we were cut off! Needless to say, I was very concerned and went on FB to ask people to pray…thanks to so many who prayed and sent messages! What an encouragement you were to me! That evening they made it safely to Tanna (missing the storm completely) and the next morning caught a flight back home to Port Vila! They had been gone 12 days!
Thank you so much for praying for the conference and everyone’s safety while traveling! Outer island travel is anything but predictable in Vanuatu!