One of the most interesting cultural/geographical features I have seen in the Solomon Islands are the man-made reef islands that can be seen in and around various lagoons. Many of the original builders/settlers of these islands were displaced from the bush-lands many generations ago. Slowly, canoe load by canoe load, these settlers brought pieces of dead coral and piled them upon one another, until their islands were built. This picture is taken at mid-tide–the water level will rise a bit higher than seen here. Historically, these sea people would catch fish and create shell-money (still an active currency) to be traded with bush-people for sweet potato, cassava, taro, etc.
A couple weeks ago I was asked to fill in as a homilist at Sunday Eucharist. I was given about 48 hours notice, which is considered “advanced” notice in this culture. It was an opportunity I was grateful for. The chapel is called “The Chapel of the Melanesian Martyrs.” In an upcoming post I will share a bit more about the martyrs to whom the chapel is dedicated.
Worship in the Anglican Church of Melanesia tends to be Anglo-Catholic in style, and features incense, vestments, and familiar hymns and creeds. There are, however, many distinctive Melanesian features (you can probably see my bare feet!) that I continue to discover.
Greetings from Trinity School for Theology and Ministry at Airahu Training Center! I have been in the Solomon Islands about four weeks now—though so much has happened that it feels as if I have been here much longer! This is a beautiful land, with beautiful people, and I hope in my newsletters and blog posts that I will be able to convey just a glimpse of these beauties.
I have begun to settle in at Airahu, an Anglican center that hosts a monastic order, a rural training center, and a theological school. This institution is quite unlike anything I have experienced in the United States. Each component—the Melanesian Brotherhood, Trinity School for Theology and Ministry, and the Rural Training Center—function independently of one another. Yet, they share the land together, regularly come together for times of religious activity, social events, and occasionally meals. There is no sense of competition among the groups, and each seems to be working toward the same goal—to tangibly apply the teachings of Jesus to life in the Solomon Islands.
Continue reading below to learn a little more about each of the three programs at Airahu
Rural Training Center
Education is a real social challenge in the Solomon Islands. Most of the Islands have no secondary schools, so teenagers travel to the capital city of Honiara for high-school education. There are increasingly limited and highly competitive opportunities for students the further they go in their education. Nor does education does necessarily lead to employment—many good jobs are given to “friends and family.”
The Rural Training Center provides vocational training to students throughout the island of Malaita. There are several different tracks available—agriculture, carpentry, homemaking, etc.
The students and staff at the Rural Training Center are eager to learn different styles of agriculture. In the image below I am explaining a permaculture design to a few of them. The Banana Circle (pictured below) will be a feature in a future newsletter or blog.
The Melanesian Brotherhood is a religious order that was started by Anglican Melanesians in the 1920s. Brothers take a vow to chastity, submission, and evangelism. They are a missionary order, regularly traveling two-by-two across the countryside providing pastoral care. They are an asset and an aid to the parish priests who serve throughout the villages. At Airahu, several brothers live and help teach at the Rural Training Center. Some are students at the school for Theology. The Brothers also host morning and Evening prayers daily, and a Eucharist service on Sundays.
In the image below, one of the Elder Brothers expresses his gratitude for those who prepared lunch for us.
Trinity School for Ministry and Theology
Not to be confused with Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA (where I just graduated from!), TSTM offers a diploma program in Theology and Ministry also located at Airahu Training Center. Students attend for three years before graduating. After graduation, most students are ordained to the diaconate before becoming parish priests. Students at TSTM come from all over the Solomon Islands. Many are from Malaita, but some students come from as far away as the Western Province, Guadalcanal and San Isabel. In this picture, I am teaching some of the TSTM students at the Chapel of Melanesia at Airahu. Jon and were the speakers at a campus retreat a few weeks ago, facilitating discussions about the Lord’s Prayer.
By far the most frequent question I was asked over the last 6 months was, “What will you be doing in the Solomon Islands?” A seemingly straight-forward question turned out to be much more difficult for me to answer than I expected. There were several factors in my particular situation that led to this difficulty.
Practical factors such as communication, instability, and financial resources were influential.
Communication between me and the Hicks (Jonathan and Tess – missionaries with SAMS-USA and CMS-New Zealand who I will be working with) was limited. It seems that Malaita—the island I will be living on in the Solomon Islands—has, thus far, kept clear of the entangling web of high-speed, reliable, accessible, and ubiquitous internet. Over the seven months of planning, I was able to exchange a few emails and have one Skype call with Jonathan.
Instability was an ingredient in both my inability to plan and the Hicks’. Up until June, I was not sure if the dates I hoped to be in the Solomon Islands would work for me, or for the Hicks. Jonathan’s own role working with the Anglican Church of Melanesia was potentially shifting. He and Tess were also planning some time outside of the country. In danger of stating the obvious, I find it difficult to plan what a team can/should do together when the players are not sure when they will all be in the same place!
The ambiguity associated with raising financial support (not to mention visa applications!) was a factor in my own instability. The length of my stay and the date of my departure were both dependent upon how much was in the piggy bank, so to speak. Also, what I would end up doing was probably linked to how much money I would have available to me.
On the whole, I did not find it too difficult to explain to most people the practical factors limiting my ability to plan what I would be doing. What I soon discovered, however, was that it was difficult to answer, “what will you be doing?” because I was not thinking about six months in the Solomon Islands in those terms. I was certainly imagining what daily life could be like on an isolated island in the Pacific. What I was realizing, however, in six months of struggling to answer this simple question is that, from my perspective, what I will do is different than why I am going.
Why I am going is easier for me to answer.
- I am going because I want to learn what it is like to live in another place, among people who engage the world differently than we do in the United States.
- I am going to get a taste of living internationally because Kyria and I are considering long-term international Christian life and work.
- I am going to learn what it is like to be a Christian on the Island of Malaita and to see the ways in which it is similar and dissimilar to being a Christian in the United States.
- I am going in order to see if I have an aptitude and an affinity to longer term life and work in another culture.
How I will accomplish the “why I am going” is the answer to “what I will do,” but much of it will be, frankly, quite banal. It will be the nitty-gritty of daily life, for the most part. I will be eating and drinking foreign foods, and sleeping in a foreign place. I will be learning to speak in a foreign language. I will be acclimating to a foreign climate, hearing unfamiliar sounds, and seeing unfamiliar colors. I will be taking care of basic hygiene. I will be employed to some (hopefully useful and meaningful) capacity. I will be doing a lot of observing and writing, taking ravenous notes in multiple (pen and ink) notebooks. I will be taking pictures and recording sounds and conversations. I will be forming relationships with people. I will be attending/participating in local (Christian) worship services, and learning to worship according to the local (Christian) custom.
There is more that can be said. Like poetry and prose or the WHY and the WHAT, maybe being and doing shouldn’t be separated too tidily.
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Last week Lynn and I authorized the purchase of my plane tickets to and from the Solomon Islands! I am humbled and grateful for the financial support that has come in from individuals and churches. Support raising did not always seem plausible/possible, but God has certainly been good! Opportunities for me to share about my upcoming work in the Solomon Islands continue to arise and support continues to come in. The opportunities to preach, teach, share and connect with people have been encouraging to me.
During the six months I am in the Solomons I will have limited (possibly no) reliable access to the internet. I am a millennial, but I am also a semi-Luddite, so I am not too worried about this. On the other hand, it is important for me to keep folks at home updated. If you would like to sign up for my email newsletter, please click here and fill out the form. I’ll be working with some folks back home to send out periodic updates.