Where There Wasn't One Before
SIL* leaders hiked around Southwest Tanna, Vanuatu, (formerly New Hebrides) in 2002, looking for a suitable village where Mendy and I could begin advising a translation of the New Testament. They looked at a couple of other villages, in addition to Yanemilen. Chiefs of Yanepkasu, another large village in the Southwest Tanna language group met together and decided that they would not allow an SIL advisor to work in their village. They didn’t want a church, or a missionary or a white person (who would represent the West and the church to them) to live in their village.
But last week I went to Yanepkasu with a group of pastors and mission workers to witness the opening of the village’s first church.
In the early 20th Century people in Southwest Tanna were either attending or at least aware of the Presbyterian Church, but in the 1940's, the Jon Frum Cargo cult swept through the language group. Virtually all of the congregations in SW Tanna fell apart.
This cult taught that Christianity would cause sickness and disasters, and would impede the “cargo” from coming. Men in Yanemilen and Yanepkasu villages took an oath sealed in pig's blood that they would never send their children to church, school, or the hospitals, lest they become Christians.
That covenant lasted until 2000, when Elder Eliud, a Tannese believer from another language group, came to plant a church in Yanemilen. By 2002, several families had joined the church, opening the door for an SIL project there. Mendy and I moved in to Yanemilen in February, 2003 to begin Bible translation.
As the church in Yanemilen grew in Christ, they became concerned for the spiritual welfare of their relatives across the mountain in Yanepkasu. A handful of people in Yanepkasu had become Christians and began attending churches in nearby villages.
In 2004, the church in Yanemilen sent one of their elders to live in Yanepkasu and plant a church. Two years later, they had enough people attending services to construct their own building. Now Yanepkasu has its own church. (The other two villages that would not allow SIL workers -- Yematukwa and Yenfitana -- also have churches now!)
But there’s work to be done. Only a handful of people in Yanepkasu attend the new church and even those have not really had a chance to become clear about what the Good News of Jesus is.
And how could they? They have heard very little of the Scripture in their own language—but help is on the way! They now have 21% of the New Testament.
Praise God for the new church in Yanepkasu and pray they will grow in their faith and knowledge of God, and that they will be full of the joy that comes from knowing Him.
--Ken and Mendy Nehrbass
* SIL International is a partner organization to Wycliffe, a branch of which is facilitating translation, literacy and related work in Vanuatu.