The first church to be rebuilt in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam devastated the South Pacific island nation and destroyed 53 Seventh-day Adventist churches last March has met for an inaugural worship service.
The Pang Pang church was filled for the Oct. 17 dedication service. Construction is under way for two more churches, Epau and Moso.
Elder Freddy, who goes by one name, said the new church in the village of Pang Pang was an answer to prayer.
“It's like manna falling from the sky,” he said.
He thanked the wider church family for giving offerings to support the construction and said the church members were very happy.
“It is the best church building in the whole village,” he said.
The church was designed by Peter Koolik, an Adventist builder in Brisbane, Australia, and can be constructed in five to seven days.
Koolik’s prefab iron buildings are rated to withstand a category five cyclone and can be insured. They come in two sizes: 40 by 20 feet (12 by 6 meters), which seats 70 people, and 40 by 30 feet (12 by 9 meters), which seats about 110. The smaller church delivered to the site for construction costs US$11,400 and the larger one costs $17,150.
The buildings can be adjusted and used as school classrooms. ADRA teams from Australia and New Zealand are funding and constructing new schools.
In September, 10 prefab churches were shipped to Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, from Brisbane.
Last year the Adventist Church in Vanuatu experienced its highest number of baptisms as churches swelled to overflowing following the several months of evangelistic meetings in Port Vila. The challenges of nurturing and finding space in churches for the several thousand new members were heightened by Cyclone Pam’s destruction.
A total of $643,000 has been raised for new churches, with funding coming from the South Pacific Division, General Conference, Trans-Pacific Union Mission, Adventist Risk Management, Australian Union Conference, Southern Asia-Pacific Division, Hope Channel, Pacific Adventist University, local conferences and missions and many individual donors.
The Trans-Pacific Union Mission and the Vanuatu Mission, which it oversees, have expressed gratitude for the assistance.
“This is an amazing effort, and the church needs to read, see, and hear about this,” said recently elected South Pacific Division president Glenn Townend, who served as president of the Trans-Pacific Union Mission until July. “TPUM and Vanuatu Mission would like to give a huge ‘thank you’ to God’s people and to God. We are well on the way to really supporting Vanuatu.”
But much work remains to be done. Adventist Volunteer Services sent a team to construct the first churches, but other teams from local churches and schools are also welcome, Townend said.
“We just need more teams to do the work,” he said. “That is the major need.”
Church leaders also recognize that rebuilding churches is not the only need faced by Adventists and the communities in Vanuatu. Rodney Brady, treasurer for the South Pacific Division, noted that many crops were lost and people were left without their livelihoods when Cyclone Pam flattened much of the country. About half of Vanuatu’s population of 125,000 people was affected.
“The effect is lower incomes and lower tithe,” Brady said. “The mission may have to lay off ministers and close schools.”
He said the division saw a large drop in income from Vanuatu immediately after the cyclone, and it decided to allocate significant funds to the Vanuatu Mission to sustain it if revenues did not bounce back. But the recovery may occur more quickly than anticipated, he said.
“It was reported to me that there has been a drop, but the recovery of jobs and income may be happening faster than expected,” he said.