It all started on a twin engine eight passenger plane, piloted by a VERY young lady to whom I entrusted my life for the 75 minute flight. She did an excellent job flying us from Port Vila, the capital, to the island of Tanna (see map above). In the photo above, the pilot had climbed up on the wing to check the one of the engine’s fuel level. (Hover over the photos to read their descriptions.)
The longest and most harrowing part of the trip was the three hour boat trip up the west coast. Sixteen pastors with their backpacks piled into an 18 foot boat that shouldn’t have had more than nine passengers aboard. Then they asked me to pray for a safe journey! I felt like we were tempting God! We had hardly gone a few hundred feet when a wave came crashing over the side of the boat. I was trying to decide whether I should attempt to save my camera equipment if I needed to swim to shore – O, great was my faith!
The waters soon calmed a bit, but as we traveled up the coast, we would stop periodically as church members along the way brought us food which we piled into our very full boat. It soon became apparent that we needed another boat to make the rest of the trip, much to my relief!
Finally, after three hours, we arrived at North Gate Bay:
The above photo is actually a composite photo, but it gives you a better idea of the area. You see our little yellow boat and some of the buildings where the church is located on the hill.
The Great Commission and
the Great Omission
Wednesday evening was an evangelistic service for the village, so I preached on the God who is looking for true worshippers, based on the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4.
On Thursday and Friday mornings, I had the privilege of speaking for some seven hours to about 25 pastors concerning the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations. On Thursday, we took an in-depth look at Matthew 28:18-20. Far too often the emphasis has been on evangelism and altar calls as if that were the goal. It may be the starting point but it is not the finish line. The mission which Christ gave the church is far greater than evangelizing. We have not done what Christ mandated us to do when we’ve distributed tracts, preached sermons, had altar calls or even baptized new converts. He will evaluate us on the basis of whether or not we have made disciples by teaching them to obey everything that he has commanded us.
On Friday morning we considered the biblical characteristics of disciples as described in the New Testament and had to ask whether we as pastors are true disciples; we reproduce what we are. We also dealt with the process of how we are to make disciples and the need to evaluate all church programs and ministries in terms of whether they are accomplishing the mandate to make disciples. It was evident that the Lord was dealing with hearts and challenging them to obey him in the task of making disciples.
Beware of the sharks!
Early Friday morning afforded some extra excitement as one of the pastors insisted that I come down immediately to the beach with my camera. On Thursday they had slaughtered a cow for the conference. That evening they took a hunk of beef a couple hundred yards out to sea. They secured it with a large fishing hook and high test fishing line. Tied to the end of the line was a plastic sack with a small hole in it, containing cow’s blood, enough to lure something big. The line was then secured on shore. They checked the line at about 1:00 am. Something had taken the bait. They pulled in a three meter (10 foot) tiger shark!
By the time I got there, there was a good crowd of people and the shark had already been disemboweled. During our five and a half days together, we enjoyed wahoo, tuna, black fish, parrot and other fish, and of course, the shark!
Final Sunday Service
Our final service was Sunday morning. Once again it was my privilege to bring the Word, a message on the responsibility of pastors to lead the church to full maturity in Christ Jesus from Ephesians 4:7-16.
Final Trek Back
I had noticed soon after our arrival that there were about ten pastors with us who had not been on the boat. When I asked them how they got to the site, they told me that they had trekked in over the mountains, a hike of two and a half to three hours. I definitely wanted to go back with them to see what I had not yet seen!
Sunday after church, we had a hearty meal and began the trek up the mountain. I carried only a small sack with water and my camera; I had sent my 30 lbs. backpack with the boat!
The scenery was remarkable. From certain points we could see at once Mt. Yashur (Tanna’s volcano), the islands of Futuna, Aniwa and Erromango.
Coming down the other side of the mountain, we passed through villages, were greeted by children playing in the jungle and saw where some of our pastors serve. It was nearly two and a half hours before we found a dirt road. It would be another half hour before we found a truck which would take us the rest of the way to meet the other pastors that had taken the boat. (I was happy to know that they had not capsized with my backpack!) I spent the night in Lenakel and returned to Port Vila by plane on Monday morning.
We have 30 churches on the island of Tanna. Being able to meet with the pastors and help renew their sense of mission was vitally important to the work of the Lord here. I believe that the Lord directed me specifically to speak about the priority of making disciples and the pastors expressed the appreciation for the way that the Lord dealt with them.
Please pray for these pastors that they will continue to grow in the Lord and be the shepherds that God has called them to be. And pray for us that the Lord will continue to enable us to speak discerningly and boldly into the lives of pastors and church leaders in Vanuatu.
You will find more photos of my trip to Tanna here.