In my previous blog entry I gave an abbreviated account of some of what I did during my seven-month assignment to the Solomon Islands. I returned home to the USA three months ago and set about transitioning to the “next thing.” As I transition, I thought it would be useful to readers of SAMS’ blog to learn about what I will be doing next, and more importantly, why the SAMS Bridger program has been such a helpful component of my discernment process. I should add that I am in no way under compulsion by SAMS staff to write this blog entry. The opinions and thoughts expressed here are my own, but I hope that they will be an encouragement to SAMS staff and supporters.
Shortly after returning to the USA I married my long-time friend Kyria. You can read about her life and work on her blog. The two of us met as volunteers at Uncommon Grounds Cafe in 2010. Since then Kyria has been serving as a long-term missionary with Mission to the World (MTW) in West Africa helping with Bible translation research, and in the United States receiving training at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics. As of our marriage we have begun transitioning into the MTW family as a married couple. We don’t know where God is calling us to specifically, but we have expressed our willingness to serve in a majority Muslim context. We hope to combine our diverse gifts and experiences and return to international work sometime in 2019. Over the next year we will be exploring potential field locations and continuing to raise support. You can partner with us by giving by following this link (please note: for security reasons our number shows up, 13703, and not our names).
Kyria and I in Crete meeting with MTW international workers.
How has the SAMS Bridger program helped prepare me for the road ahead?
Before Kyria and I were going to get married, we knew we would be facing roughly seven months apart as she conducted literacy research for her Master’s thesis. I set about thinking of ways to utilize the time to get myself some further training and experience working internationally. I had finished my MAR from Trinity School for Ministry, and had several years experience working with faith-based non-profits in the USA, but I only had short-term experience serving internationally. That’s when I was reminded of the SAMS Bridger program.
The Bridger program was recommended to me by a former colleague whose son was a Bridger. As I looked into it, I realized it was exactly what I was looking for:
- Instead of a short-term trip, the Bridger program offers highly flexible opportunities ranging from 1 month to one year. This allowed me, with some advanced planning, to schedule an internship during the time my fiance was away.
- SAMS Bridger program involves mentoring for individuals seeking to explore missionary service as a vocation. This was a very big draw for me. My Bridger mentoring experience taught me a lot about team dynamics, met and unmet expectations, and the daily challenges of international life. I formed close relationships with my teammate/mentors that will last for a lifetime.
- My Bridger experience was highly personalized–through conversations with my mentors before arriving in-country we found work that would utilize some of my previous skills and experiences. I also had opportunities to try new things such as preaching and teaching cross-culturally. Every Bridger will have have a uniquely designed missionary experience.
Beyond these program qualities, God’s providence was evident throughout my whole experience–from Bridger training, to support-raising, arrival in country, and returning home–God’s plan was continually confirmed in my being sent and my coming home. God raised up supporters. God kept me safe. God gave me the strength to preach, teach, and live. I may be transitioning out of the SAMS community, but I will never forget the experiences I had as a SAMS Bridger in the Solomon Islands, nor the genuine relationships I formed with SAMS staff. Moving forward Kyria and I hope to collaborate with SAMS workers wherever it is possible.
Who is the SAMS Bridger program for?
In the 9th chapter of Matthew we are told that Jesus went throughout the towns and villages, full of compassion, preaching good news and healing the sick. He told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”(9:37b-38). If you are considering longer term missionary service, or if you have considered it in the past, then this is a program for you. Don’t let money be a worry that keeps you from pursuing a God gifted vocation. I think this is a program especially suited for college age (in between semesters), recent grads, graduate students, or even second-vocation adults. If you are interested in learning more about the program from me, or if you are a Bridger raising support looking for advice, don’t hesitate to email! You can also contact the Bridger program coordinator directly.
In August of 2017 I began a seven-month missionary assignment in the Solomon Islands. At the time I had very little idea of what exactly it was that I would be doing. I wrote a blog about that ambiguity before I left.
I completed my assignment in late February and returned to the US. As I begin reporting back to churches and individual supporters, I have found that it is far easier to share what I did in retrospect than it was to speculate about what it was I would be doing. There is probably a lesson or two to be learned there, but I am happy now to share some of what I was involved in.
1. I lived among the people of Malaita, especially at Trinity School for Theology and Ministry. I was an active member of the Airahu community. I was involved in the religious, social, and physical life of that community. I sweated in the gardens around the community, I hauled water for bathing, cooking, and drinking, and I ate local food. I attended daily prayer services in the Anglican tradition as well as faculty meetings and social events. I traveled by foot or by the same public transportation as other community members, and I ate the same local foods as they did, which I purchased at the same local markets.
2. I tasted many new local foods (coconut crab, reef fish, cassava pudding, “milked” vegetables or bananas) and enjoyed some familiar favorites (fresh pineapple, bananas, taro, yellow fin tuna, roasted pig, local chicken). I drank fresh coconut water and was refreshed by rainwater, crystal clear rivers, and the occasional swim in the ocean.
3. I taught Christian doctrine concerning the nature of humanity, and human’s relationship to God and to creation. I also preached in local churches. In return, I was taught many things about local language and culture. I learned about many local customs and traditions from friends and acquaintances whom I met. I attended a “Kostom” wedding and heard traditional local music. I learned a few phrases in various local languages and became conversational in Melanesian Pijin.
4. I listened to stories and shared some of my own. Sharing stories—humorous, tragic, or interesting—is the favorite form of entertainment on Malaita. After a meal, betelnut was passed around, and stories were shared late into the night. Sometimes in the afternoon, over a cup of hot tea, more stories were shared.
5. I shared life with my Melanesian host family as well as my missionary colleagues. I shared in the daily chores with these two families—cooking, cleaning, even changing a few diapers. I also prayed and worshiped with them in their local Christian expressions. Our lives, I believe, were a mutual encouragement to one another.
Nearly three months ago I returned to the US to transition into the next stage of my career. I will elaborate on “what’s next” in my next blog entry. I look back at my time in the Solomon Islands with gratitude. I am thankful for the opportunities I had to learn and to teach. I am thankful for the loving hospitality that was lavishly offered to me. I am thankful for God’s protection and provision and for the many ways God seems to have confirmed my gifts and calling to serve the Church as a missionary.
I am also thankful for your prayers. Thanks for sending me to the Solomon Islands! Please continue to pray for Jonathan and Tess Hicks as they return to the USA for furlough this year!
Below are a few more pictures of my life and work in the Solomon Islands:
If you ran out of food at your house today, chances are you’d hop in your car, or walk down the street, to the nearest grocery or convenience store, pay some money and come home with enough food to feed your family. Otherwise you might order a pizza or go out to eat at a restaurant. But what would you do if the grocery stores and restaurants were closed, or, as is the case in many places in Malaita, the stores were too far away to walk to or drive to?
In many of the villages in Malaita, especially in the East and the South where there is little road access, families must eat what they can hunt, gather, and grow. Fortunately, the natural ecology of Malaita provides a smorgasbord of well adapted species of plants and animals that are suitable for human consumption—many of which grow and run wild!
In this picture my new friend is showing me an amazing creature—the coconut crab! Coconut crabs receive their name from their main source of food—coconuts. The crab has strong pincers both fore and aft allowing it to husk and crack open the coconut’s shell. Coconuts can be cut in half and set out as bait to catch the crabs in the middle of a tasty lunch.
Another wild food that grows in many places is swamp taro, or kakama in the local language. Kakama is an “emergency” or “poverty” food that is planted as an insurance crop. It is planted in swampy land not suitable for other forms of cultivation. Once planted, it requires no maintenance and can keep for over ten years. Kakama is not an everyday food, but is often harvested for inquisitive guests (such as myself) and is always available in the event of calamity, thus making it a staple for basic food security in the Solomon Islands.
Growing up in the United States it was easy for me to take for granted clean, fresh water from the tap. My family has a spring on our property, but even beyond that, freshwater in the US is typically as close as the nearest sink and faucet. The average American household is equipped with a water pump to automatically fill up the toilet, the hot water tank, the washing machine, even our refrigerators!
Water in the Solomon Islands is a different story altogether, especially in the village. The picture featured above shows part of the quaint village Lololo along with the primary water source that runs through it, the Lololo River. In the village, the river is a fundamental component of daily life. It is used for drinking and cooking water, and washing clothes and dishes. It is also used for personal hygiene and even for entertainment–the children love to swim! The river—downstream from drinking, washing, and recreation areas—carries human waste away to the mangroves where it is filtered before it reaches the ocean. In short, a day does not go by in which the river is not used for the flourishing of village life.
Overlooking the Airahu Campus is the Chapel of the Martyrs of Melanesia. Here, morning and evening prayer is held seven days a week, and Holy Eucharist is celebrated on Thursdays and Sundays. It is a beautiful blend of Melanesian and British cultures, just like many features of the Anglican Church of Melanesia. Here Jonathan and Judah Hicks, and I are seen walking to morning Eucharist.