Hello Pacific Islands! Island breezes, fishing lifestyles, beautiful blue waters here we come! This month I was able to talk to the ladies in the Pacific Islands; Solomon island, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Chuuk (Micronesia), Guam,Vanuatu and American Samoa.
These are mostly all very small islands. I believe Papua New Guinea is the biggest, which is a little over half the size of Texas spread out over a few different islands with about 7 million people.
The cultures of these islands all include the similarities of being an island nation but they all have developed into unique personalities. In Vanuatu, the missionary wife said the people were like an onion. Always surprising you with more to learn about themselves and how they think.
In Kiribati, the islanders were said to be rarely shy people who have been largely protected from the outside world's influence. They love family and suffer some persecution any time they go against the family way. However, they are a very friendly people.
In Guam, they are a very family oriented culture. Every part of culture is entertwined by the family unit and even the salvation decision is looked at through the eyes of the family as a whole. Sarah Leclerq said,
"If you can get where a family will accept you and take you in you can minister to a large number of people. Getting them to see the need is also a struggle"
In Chuuk the missionary wife speaks of the clannish culture and how it makes it difficult to reach out into neighboring islands. Papua New Guinea is known for being extremely open and friendly to others and the gospel. However, the Gray family is serving in an area,Kerema, where the culture has been described as greedy, violent, and skeptical. 20 years ago Papua New Guinea was a wildly violent area that was quite challenging for missionaries. It has since very much improved including a large scale bible project that is being run by BIMI, to put 50,000 thousands of Bibles into the hands of school children by the request of the government. In the Solomon Islands they are described as very friendly and laid back and not too concerned about tourism. The island of American Samoa is an American protectorate, so it has a large American influence while many Polynesian cultural roots.
Catholic or "Christian" seems to be the prevailing religion in all these areas, except the Solomon Islands which is predominantly Anglican and Vanuatu which has a huge conglomeration of different religons and cults. All of these have been intertwined with the native religion in some form or fashion, leaving the difference between one cult from another indistinguishable. These islands range in population from 51,000, Chuck, to 7 million in Papua New Guinea. But most all of them are only a few hundred thousand for the whole country.
The amount of professing Bible believing Christians in these countries range from 1%- 30% in Papa New Guinea. In Kiribati, the percentage is 1% due to the Protestant churches that no longer teach salvation by grace. This is a quote by the missionary, Brooke Daku, serving there,
"Our church is the only church in the entire nation that teaches Salvation by grace without works."
Another quote given by the missionary wife in Vanuatu,
".. devoutly religious people, including pastors of churches of the various denominations have no knowledge of Christ's saving power."
This should give us a glimpse for sure into the situations these ladies are serving amongst. Many of these ladies are the first or only church on their small islands.
All of these places have less than 10 missionaries except Papua New Guinea. And the Solomon Islands missionary I talked to was on deputation to be the first missionary to that island. These islands vary in receptiveness to the gospel. While Kiribati and American Samoa seem to be places where they are a little more quick to receive the gospel message most of these islanders take a year or more. In Vanuatu Mrs. Hirtzel, spoke about how it takes years for them to accept and believe the gospel message. They have a school ministry to reach out into the community that has given them an effective long term outreach. She said that even those children if they will come every year from K -5, it won't be till 4th grade that they accept Christ, and the parents take even longer.
Something that I find exciting is that a lot of these missionaries are farely new to the field. With some only having served there a few months up to the longest two being at 7 & 12 years. It is exciting that God is calling and guiding new missionaries to reach these Pacific islands that have a great need for the gospel. Especially when you think that islands such as Vanuatu were cannibalistic as recently as the late 60s.
Most all of these countries are described as third-world with struggling economies. This is a description I found online about a Pacific island,
"Kiribati is one of the most remote and geographically-dispersed countries in the world, consisting of 33 coral atolls spread over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean; an area larger than India. The half a million residents of the Solomon Islands live across 90 inhabited islands, 78 percent of whom reside in rural areas."
The island countries are many and largely spread out. For the many small islands their natural resources are limited and outside resources are sparing.
I always ask the ladies to share with me something that is a struggle for them. Something to help you understand them and their ministry and to help you all pray for them more effectively. These ladies talked about their struggles adapting to culture, dealing with sorcery, being lumped in with lots of other religions or cults or aid groups, and also getting the people they serve with to truly see their need for salvation and fighting the devil as he seeks any foothold to discourage! These are some pretty big challenges. It is definitely the grace of God that works in us to enable us to adapt to a drastically foreign culture and live and serve there fruitfully. And definitely his daily grace and power that gives a missionary the discernment, wisdom and power to overcome wicked influences and harden and decieved hearts. All these things are aided by your prayers and support. Please remember these categories as you pray for the missionaries in the Pacific islands.
They also said that these were their favorite things that uplift and encourage them; care packages, snail mail and faithful prayers, godly music and the relationship with their spouse and church groups visiting. This is a quote from Brooke Daku in Kiribati, "The faithful prayers of God’s people around the world(are my biggest encouragement). We have faced some very trying and scary times but the prayers of brothers and sisters in Christ have seen us through those dark days." What an encouragement to us as prayer warriors, that we are making such a difference in the lives of these faithful messengers as they brave the battle on the front lines.
But Brooke Daku, Kiribati, shared one of their outreach tools that I found very powerful. This was her quote,
" Training church members to reach their own friends and families is our most successful way of reaching the lost."
I find this completely simplistic and yet super powerful! Just as we teach our church people in the states to be fluent in the sharing of the gospel, it is also essential that we take the time to empower and educate these fledgling Christians we have led to Christ to also be powerful and effective wittness'. I believe that most missionaries would say that a national empowered with the gospel and boldness is 100x more effective than a foreigner with the same message. So what an encouragement as we all serve either as missionaries, laymen or Christian workers to train those around us so that they may reach their sphere of influence as only they can do.
Great big thank you to all the missionary wives who lended their brains to me for this article.
The LeClercq family