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Vanuatu

A thin, elderly woman sits on a low stone wall, rocking back and forth to combat the pain. Dr. Rick Honderick, a team member from HealthCare Ministries, one of the International Ministries of AGWM, kneels in front of the woman and examines the third-degree burns that extend from her knee to her ankle.

Dr. Rick sighs deeply and gives me one instruction: “Tell her this is going to hurt.”

Gently and carefully, Dr. Rick begins to cut away the dead tissue from the wound.

Soon the entire village of Bonlap is there: young girls in thick grass skirts, boys and men in tattered T-shirts, grizzled old chiefs stoically sucking on hand-rolled cigarettes, and mothers with naked babies on their hips.

All photography by Gaylon Wampler
All photography by Gaylon Wampler

In the far southwest part of the Pacific Ocean, the islands of Vanuatu lie in a Y-shaped strand, halfway between Australia and Fiji. The nation is home to 250,000 people who speak a collection of 120 languages.

 

Pentecost Island

The HealthCare team has made their way to Bonlap, a paramount village of the Sa people on Pentecost Island, Vanuatu. The Sa language has four distinct dialects, making communication challenging.

In 1946, Sa residents in the village of Ranwas left their traditional religion — called Kustom — to follow Christ. No Sa villages have done so since. Instead, the line between Kustom and Christianity has calcified, creating a gospel-resistant barrier.

For a week we waited for the Sa from Bonlap to come to us. Each morning we beat a wooden drum to announce the clinic’s opening for the day. Twice we sent messengers to Bonlap to inform residents of the opportunity for medical care. But no one came.

Dr. Honderick, a member of the HealthCare Ministries team, treats a village woman's burned leg.
Dr. Honderick, a member of the HealthCare Ministries team, treats a village woman's burned leg.

Finally I asked for volunteers to make the trek to Bonlap. Dr. Rick and nurse Silvia Cale stepped forward.

Now Dr. Rick is kneeling before the old woman, carefully cutting decaying tissue from her leg.

The HealthCare team spent two weeks treating the wounded and sick, pulling teeth, and dispensing glasses in various Sa villages. They endured outhouses, torrential rains, and terrifying trips over narrow mountain roads.

During those two weeks the team provided care for 500 Sa. More than 200 Sa prayed a simple prayer for salvation. Thanks to Light for the Lost, each new believer was given an audio Bible. Believers are praying this group of 200 will result in several village churches being planted in the Sa region of Pentecost.

Members of the HealthCare team take a break from treating the sick on Pentecost Island.
Members of the HealthCare team take a break from treating the sick on Pentecost Island.

 

Tanna

The old village chief’s face is deeply creased with age. He stands proudly in a nakamal (open-air courtyard) in the middle of his village. I have come with four national pastors to visit remote areas on Tanna Island.

The chief stands with his hands spread wide in friendship. With kind words he welcomes us and grants us the right to visit the three surrounding villages under his authority.

A local chief welcomes Bryan Webb to villages under his oversight.
A local chief welcomes Bryan Webb to villages under his oversight.

For the next week, we sleep in tiny thatch huts, accompany village men on hunts, pray with the sick, and share the gospel repeatedly.

A local chief welcomes Bryan Webb to villages under his oversight.

One night I awaken to the sound of the four national pastors praying fervently. I glance at my phone for the time: 3 a.m.

Four hours later, as our group walks down a jungle path to meet the tribe’s paramount chief, I ask Pastor Obed what he and the others had been praying about so early.

“We were praying the chief would grant you an audience,”he replies.

The paramount chief, a man of more than 80 years old, has been bedridden since suffering a stroke. We enter his hut, and I thank him for allowing me to visit.

“Why have you come?”the chief asks me.

I explain that God formed a covenant with his ancestors and planted a law within their hearts. But none of them were able to completely fulfill this law.

As I speak the chief stares at me intently, his white beard and grey hair framing his face. He presses his lips tightly together and nods slowly, acknowledging the truth of my comments.

I tell him that God is calling all men everywhere to repent and believe on the name of His Son. God sent me to his village to call him to repent.

“Do you want to repent?”Pastor Obed asks him.

When the chief says he does, Pastor Obed leads him in a sinner’s prayer.

 

Back to Pentecost

We conclude our journey back on Pentecost Island as the HealthCare Ministries team prepares to begin ministry in Bonmil, another Sa village located high in the mountains.

A local chief welcomes Bryan Webb to villages under his oversight.

The road to Bonmil is framed by high, thick grass and towering trees. Heavy clouds settle on the tangle of branches as figures appear and disappear in the windblown mist. Sometimes it seems the sun will never shine and the dripping fog will always linger.

Out of the haze, the chief of Bonmil suddenly appears. He holds a massive banana leaf over his head for protection against the persistent drizzle. His eyes peer at us with suspicion, revealing centuries-old distrust that has kept the Sa in spiritual darkness. For a moment I wonder if the Son will ever shine here.

Suddenly the clouds break, and brilliant sunlight comes streaming through the gloom. And I remember God’s promise that one day every nation, tribe and language will worship around the throne.

That promise includes the Sa.

Missionaries Bryan and Renee Webb, shown with their sons, Nathan and Drew, have served in Vanuatu 13 years.
Missionaries Bryan and Renee Webb, shown with their sons, Nathan and Drew, have served in Vanuatu 13 years.

 

Bryan Webb is a missionary to Vanuatu who also writes on assignment for AGWM.

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