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Solomon Islands tour shines despite cyclone

Methodist Church of NZ (MCNZ) vice president Lana Lazarus says a Maori proverb sums up her recent visit the Solomon Islands: He taonga rongonui te aroha ki te tangata – Goodwill towards others is a precious treasure.

"The people we met were lovely, hospitable, and very appreciative of the support from our church. They asked us to take their greetings to New Zealand Methodists and to thank them for their help," Lana says.

Lana accompanied Methodist Mission and Ecumenical secretary Rev John Roberts to the Solomon Islands March 13th to 21st.

MCNZ supports a number of development projects through its partner churches in Papua Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and every year John visits one of these countries to follow up on them. This year Lana joined him because she is both vice president and a member of the board that oversees Mission and Ecumenical.

Their visit was timed to coincide with the opening of the Uniting Church of the Solomon Islands’ (UCSI) new national children and youth centre at Kokeqolo, near Munda on the island of New Georgia.

During their stay John and Lana also visited other projects MCNZ sponsors on New Georgia, Banga and Choiseul Islands. This included the youth training centre at Tabaka that a group of Kiwi church people led by Rev Trevor Bennett helped build in 1991-1992.

Lana and John’s first assignment was to attend the day-long opening of the UCSI’s new children and youth centre. The centre incorporates part of the old Jubilee church built in 1952. The centre has an office, kitchen, ablution facilities, and guest accommodation.

Lana says very high percentage of UCSI members are children and young people, and this was very much in evidence at the opening of the centre.

The crowd was led to the new building by a procession of Sunday school and Girls’ Brigade members and other young people. Lana and John then cut the ribbon and led everyone into the building.

John handed over the keys, and UCSI moderator Rev David Havea dedicated the building and declared it officially open. Feasting and singing then went on well into the evening.

During the service the next morning, John acknowledged the contribution the late Gladys Larkin made to the centre. A former nursing sister and tutor at Helena Goldie Hospital, Gladys left half her estate to the work of Mission and Ecumenical in the Solomon Islands’ Roviana district. A substantial part of her bequest went into the construction of the children and youth centre.

Two days after the opening, Lana and John visited the Tabaka Rural Youth Training Centre on Banga Island. Both were impressed with the range of activities students are engaged in under the leadership of principal Rev Wilson Agiri. These include carpentry, agriculture, mechanics, and life skills.

Cyclone Ului brushed by the Solomon Islands on March 15th. While it left the nation largely unscathed, it did make for some fairly wild canoe rides as John and Lana travelled to some of the stops on their tour, including Sasamunga Hospital on remote Choiseul Island. The rough seas did prevent them from making the trip to Vella Lavella Island to visit a UCSI copra project.

Lana says she quickly learned to be flexible in the Solomon Islands.

"Things didn’t always happen when and how they were scheduled. Our travel plans were disrupted or delayed because the airline suddenly cancelled flights and we were supposed to stay in the guest rooms at the children and youth centre but the plumbing wasn’t quite finished.

It was also necessary to be flexible and open because the theology of the UCSI is quite traditional and patriarchal. All but one of the Assembly staff are men.

John was very good in including me. He made it clear that in the MCNZ, we work in partnership between men and women, young and old, and lay and ordained."

Lana says John is highly respected in the Solomon Islands. She thinks this is because he is honest and tells people when he doesn’t believe the MCNZ can help them. She and John are grateful for the generous hospitality they received during their visit.
Lana Lazaruswith UCSI Assembly staff. From left: moderator David Barakana Havea,
George Alu,
Eddie Pratt, John Sisiolo, Caleb Saiqoro), Lana, Eddie Kotomae, John Eto,
Amon Bobai, general
secretary Isaac Dakei, and Frank Barikana.

MCNZ projects in the Solomon Islands

Other Uniting Church of Solomon Islands initiatives that the Methodist Church of NZ supports include:

Timber dressing plant, Kokeqolo.
UCSI owns a facility where local builders would pay to have timber dressed. New machinery has been purchased, and the project now generates 20% of the UCSI assembly office budget.

Helena Goldie Hospital, Kokeqolo.
This is a 78 bed hospital with four doctors and a dentist. MCNZ provides the salary for director of nursing Chris Leve, contributes to the cost of relieving nurses, and has funded building projects at the hospital.

Sasamunga Hospital, Choiseul Island.
MCNZ has helped buy a boat and outboard motor so staff can visit outlying health clinics. MCNZ has also provided building materials, refrigerators and a computer and future assistance will underwrite construction of staff houses and upgrades to the hospital’s birthing room and laboratory.

Vella Lavella Centennial Agency’s copra project.
MCNZ aid has helped purchase a storage shed and a boat as well as provide capital for the project.

Goldie College, Banga Island.
Following the devastating April 2007 earthquake, MCNZ provided funds to build staff housing. In 2008 MCNZ bought and shipped science equipment for the school. An Australian Rotary club has built a classroom suitable for a computer lab and Mission & Ecumenical is running an appeal to buy computers and a solar panel to power them.