The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vanuatu is trying to remain positive as they look to rebuild after Cyclone Pam but the situation is dire. Fifty-three churches have been “lost” according to latest reports, six schools have had multiple buildings destroyed, 20 pastors and 100 teachers have lost their homes, not to mention all the other church members.
The rebuild may take years as many church members themselves have lost homes and income sources to the cyclone. Tithes and offerings will be significantly reduced for some time, as 80-90 per cent of church members are subsistence farmers, who operate on a cash crop economy. For many, their crops and livelihoods are wiped out and will take a long time to recover.
“Yes, the devastation to our church properties is great. Many churches, both permanent, semi-permanent and temporary, have all been destroyed—some partly, some complete destruction,” said Mission president Pastor Nos Terry Mailalong. “That is a big blow to the members, for most of these people in the rural areas they would not have any source of income because their source of income is completely destroyed.”
While the government may provide support to rebuild the schools and agencies like the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) are working to keep people feed, sheltered and healthy, there is no money to rebuild the churches that have been destroyed.
Pastor Terry, has called for groups who want to do fly‘n’builds to come and help (email NMailalong@adventist.org.vu).
The Vanuatu Mission only had insurance for its head office.
“None of the churches, schools and clinics have any insurance,” said Francois Keet, CFO for the Trans-Pacific Union Mission. “The biggest need is . . . for the Church in the South Pacific to stand together to rebuild the loss to the Church. Our biggest need is funds to provide building materials, fly and build teams willing to go and reconstruct the lost church infrastructure. This is probably one of the disasters in the Pacific Islands where the Church has incurred the biggest loss ever.”
“[In the short term] For most of our churches that are destroyed [we need] tarpaulins that can be used to provide temporary shelter for worship, and even to house some of our pastors/ministers who have lost their homes,” said Pastor Terry. “About 20 of my ministers/pastors have lost their homes, personal belongings and books. So I am appealing for anyone who has spare books that you think can be useful to my pastors out here in the islands, will be very much appreciated.”
"This is probably one of the disasters in the Pacific Islands where the Church has incurred the biggest loss ever."
Adventist Church leaders around the Pacific are calling for prayer and support for the Church in Vanuatu as it starts to rebuild.
“We would need our brothers and sisters to help to rebuild our churches and schools at least, not to mention our homes,” said Pastor Terry. “The extent of the damage is beyond our capabilities.”
Pastors through the ministerial associations of the South Pacific Division and Australian Union Conference are helping provide Bibles and books for those pastors who have lost their resources and Adventist schools throughout Australia are hoping to do the same for teachers and schools.
The president made it clear that his report only covers the churches and church properties and doesn’t include the “hundreds of homes of our members throughout the islands of Vanuatu”.
“Of course the people are resilient, trying to do something to rebuild their lives but I can tell the spirit and morale of some of our members is down,” said Pastor Terry. “So please do remember us in your prayers, that the loss of earthly temporal possession will not have an adverse impact on the spirituality of our people, especially the newly baptised members. Instead this experience will strengthen their commitment to the Lord, this is what I pray would happen.”
Last year, Vanuatu experienced it’s highest number of baptisms ever, and the churches swelled to overflowing after the Port Vila Evangelism 2014. The challenges of nurturing and finding space in churches for all these members has been heightened by Cyclone Pam’s destruction.
A special fund is being set up to help with the reconstruction of Adventist churches and schools that have been damaged. These non tax-deductible donations can be made at www.hop.ec/vanuatu.
ADRA have also established a Vanuatu Disaster fund, but money donated to this fund will be used to support ADRA projects throughout Vanuatu and not to rebuild churches that have been destroyed.