“Mop water and pray,” she said. “Mop water and pray.” I listened, mesmerized by her words. Sister Laura Long stood and recounted what it was like to endure the magnificent power of a category five cyclone. It hovered directly above the Bible school, where many sought refuge from the wind and rain. For hours, mothers clung to their children and flinched as the storm pounded the doors and windows. The shrill of the wind was deafening. Sister Long’s husband used his body to brace the door. Water shot in through the bottom. Both AIMers, the Long’s were stationed in Port Villa, Vanuatu to serve with missionaries Peter and Robyn Gration. At the mercy of a storm raging at 200 miles per hour, all they could do was “mop water and pray.”
But that was over a week ago. Along with two others, I had landed in Port Villa to form a CSI response team. Over the coming days, our job was to assess the damage done to the national church infrastructure and develop a disaster relief plan. After being briefed by the Long’s, our team hired a local pastor and together we drove around the island. On day one, we counted three churches that were either completely or mostly destroyed.
Talking with local pastors and saints, we discovered that the cyclone had destroyed Vanuatu’s system of crops. Because it was a country built on subsistence agriculture, the lack of crops was the most devastating result of Cyclone Pam. Even if families planted new crops immediately, it would be 6—9 months before sustainable harvests were available.
Analyzing the situation, the CSI team decided to create strategic locations to store food, tools, and other goods. Just as Joseph in Egypt stored goods in the seven years of plenty in preparation for seven years of famine, we established “The Joseph Project.” In time, we were able to stock multiple pallets with rice, flour, dry noodles, canned meat, and crackers in expectation of national food shortages.
After hearing of damage done to other islands, the CSI team along with a local pastor and missionaries Long and Gration chartered a plane to establish multiple Joseph Project sites on Epi Island. After a shaky plane ride, we landed on a bumpy grass runway. A truck met us onto which we loaded our gear and supplies. While sitting on bags of rice in the back of the truck, our delegation drove an hour into the bush before arriving at a village called Nuvie. There, we presented dry goods along with hammers, nails, saws, and tarps to the village. Before flying out later that day, we presented resources to a second village.
During our two week stay in Vanuatu, the CSI team worked alongside men in Port Villa’s churches to demolish the destroyed church sanctuary located on the Bible school’s compound. Lastly, we were glad to provide the necessary materials to help rebuild two homes.
In all of the damage done by the cyclone, there was great beauty to be seen. I will never forget the pulpit that I saw after walking into the mangled sanctuary of the headquarters church. Though covered in debris, wires, and metal beams that had fallen from the roof, it stood ever so stalwartly. As we began to cut down the twisted beams and shovel the sheetrock and insulation moistened by the rain, I kept looking back to the pulpit. Like a soldier tired by battle, it was bent but not broken. To me, it stood as a testament to the church. What a sermon it preached. Yes, the church in Vanuatu was weakened by winds and rain. It was weakened, but not destroyed. Like the pulpit which stood and preached in the sun that day, it holds true. As the pulpit was bent but not broken, the church in Vanuatu will continue to shine reflecting Christ and his magnificent glory. In the end, after the ceiling had fallen it landed and found a resting place on top of the pulpit. In like manner, God’s great church scattered among the many islands of Vanuatu will hold together a nation and be the hope that rises in the remains of the storm.