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From crucifixion to resurrection in the Solomon Islands

By John Roberts
Mission and Ecumenical Secretary

Holy Week in the Solomon Islands began with the traditional Palm Sunday observances. In the country’s western region United Church Bishop Rawlinson Zapo travelled to the island of Simbo to induct a new circuit superintendent minister.

On the morning of April 2nd he was having breakfast with his host in the village of Tapurai when a magnitude 8.1 earthquake struck, followed by a massive tsunami. The bishop, his wife, and host ran uphill as fast as they could. Unfortunately the bishop was overwhelmed by the waves and drowned. His wife was seriously injured and is now in hospital.

Tremors continued after the quake and people still live in fear of another tsunami. The number who died approached 40. This may be well below the actual figure because the western Solomons include some small, remote islands. Many more were injured, a lot seriously. The worst affected provinces were Choiseul and Western.

At Choiseul, United Church member Ruth Liloqula reported deaths, destruction of houses and contamination of water sources. The Choiseul capital on Taro Island was evacuated. In Sasamugga village, where NZ Methodist Deaconess Lucy Money worked for many years, more than 200 houses were destroyed.

At, Gizo, capital of Western Province, there was massive destruction. Buildings collapsed or were severely damaged. The hospital was destroyed and a makeshift one created in the hill above the town. On Vella Lavella Island several villages were affected. The copra shed at Vonunu funded by Methodist Mission and Ecumenical sustained damage.

On Banga Island, the United Church’s Goldie College was badly shaken. The pupils’ dormitories and staff houses are now unsafe to live in. Classrooms have been severely damaged and science laboratory equipment destroyed. The school is now closed till repairs can be carried out.

At Munda, on New Georgia Island, where the assembly office of the United Church is located, wharves and the fuel depot were damaged.

The church’s Helena Goldie Hospital was inundated with water and all patients evacuated to the Kokeqolo High School buildings. The hospital building is now functioning again, caring for victims of the disaster. Munda airport has now become the major staging post in the relief effort.

In all affected areas roads are blocked, bridges damaged, houses wrecked, canoes washed out to sea, outboard motors swamped by sea water, and gardens affected. There is a lack of clean water and sanitation. People suffered from diarrhea, and there is risk of a malaria outbreak. The United Nations has said up to 30,000 children could be affected, including 15,000 under the age of 5.

Projects of the United Church funded by Methodist Mission and Ecumenical will be set back. These include work at Helena Goldie Hospital and a youth centre at Kokeqolo. To assist in the longer term reconstruction Mission and Ecumenical gave $3,000 to the Christian World Service emergency appeal.

Easter was marked by the United Church. On Good Friday there were large outdoor gatherings for worship with choirs singing in all affected areas. On Easter Saturday there was bible study in the morning and programmes for young people. Easter Sunday was celebrated by congregations in every village, around their bush tents in the hills.

There have been reports of some preachers said the catastrophe happened because people strayed from Christian ways. In Malakera, a slogan was painted on a smashed water tank: "Sin - contributing factor to destruction."

Fortunately there are other views. John Pihavaka, minister of St Lukes Anglican church in Gizo chose a message of Easter joy in the midst of disaster, seeing God as a source of strength. He called on his parishioners not to sit and wait for relief supplies to come, but to get out and work to rebuild and renew their lives.

The United Church assembly office formed a mission relief team to visit Gizo Island, Simbo, and Choiseul. The 22 people on the team work under the banner ‘Carry one another’s burdens’.

In Holy Week, Choiseul and Western Provinces experienced the meaning of crucifixion. Our task is to assist them to achieve resurrection through prayer and practical concern.