We first arrived on the field in 1994, so it has been 25 years since we made that first journey with our five children. A lot has changed over the years but I will focus on a few areas of ministry and a few areas in relation to the family, plus a few other general changes. Change requires a response. I trust that in most cases the changes have produced a response of positive growth — albeit with growing pains a part of the package. I’m going to look at the following areas: security, technology, growth in ministry, our spiritual journey, family changes, and finally a concerning world trend that affects us. Enjoy the journey!
Security: In our first short term (1994-97) we lived in a high-density housing situation and the community really looked out for each other, so security was quite stable. It was just after we left that the country had a very violent transition from one president to another. I visited during the following weeks and saw tanks stationed beside the main road and troops were very prominent. During our absence, sectarian violence began and it rocked the country from 1999-2002. We arrived in 2001 to work in refugee camps, and when we moved islands in 2002 we were often woken up by bombs exploding and living somewhat ‘on the edge’. Infrastructure was ruined, there were no mobile phones and very little public transport. We lived for a while in a house that had been firebombed and we sometimes bathed in the ruins of other houses. There were homemade firearms in our yard under the mud, and we had to negotiate plenty of army checkpoints. There have been a number of tense moments since then, but it has been a joy to see the island being rebuilt. Powerlines were restored, most buildings rebuilt and lots of public transport running once more. Stability has caused an overall rise in the standard of living. We feel quite safe again.
Technology: When we first arrived we used a fax machine and basic emails. Our main line of communication was still the post. Now we have smart phones (still only patchy mobile signal) and much communication is via Messenger, WhatsApp and email. We rarely post a letter. We have internet banking and can order some of our needs on line. However, technology threatens to steal time from us. In fact, we don’t allow our children to have phones and devices because we see where these things are freely available children struggle to interact with each other or with adults. There is a sweet innocence that comes from being ‘technology-ree’. The school that has been established here is also a mobile phone-free zone. Learning and community are the winners from that decision.
Growth in ministry: We arrived in our second term (2001) with just our family and one single lady who home-schooled our crazy bunch. We soon added a number of locals to help us serve in the refugee camps. We were able to maintain a feeling of family, all living in the one house. After moving to this current island our team grew to 140 over the next few years. We added a school, a TB, AIDS and Leprosy work, 10 small, family-based children’s homes, and several other ministries. The ‘family’ became an organisation and responsibilities had to be shared with many others. The old ‘family’ team grieved the loss of that close-knit group, but members stepped up to take on leadership themselves. Growth causes growing pains. Some did leadership well and some didn’t. Some handled money well and some didn’t. All along the way it has been a refining time. As I write this our team has been met head on with funding challenges that have meant wages have been slashed. Quite a few have left but those that remain are solid gold. This is team growth in quality, not in numbers. This particular kind of growth is painful, involves sacrifice, but is very necessary.
One of the interesting things is that because a larger organisation requires funds to operate, this has made us a target. We have suffered two significant burglaries in the last twelve months or so. We had all our cattle stolen and we were used by a businesswoman who put in a proposal to the government to seal our internal roads (worth over $200K) but she stole the funds. She is now in jail but we have no sealed roads. The process of checks and balances, auditing, checking and re-checking are all so important. We understand now why in some department stores on the main island you have several people involved in the purchase you make. Developing a strong financial recording and checking system is vital in a country where corruption is throughout most levels of society. It even comes down to teaching our schoolteachers not to give out the answers to exams prior to the exams!
Family: We came to the field with our five birth children. They have all grown up and left the nest and we gained a second family (some of them grew up side-by-side with our birth children) of seven children — two of whom have also grown up and left home. We also have six grandchildren in Australia and eleven grandchildren here, fostered by our children and children-in-law. Three of our birth children are in full-time ministry — one based here, another about to come, and one based in Australia. So we have seen many changes, experienced lots of sadness and lots of joy during those years.
Spiritual journey: I think this is one of the most exciting things to share about. When we first left Australia I guess we felt quite enthusiastic, pretty committed and ‘on fire’ for God. We were thrown in the deep end with the demonic world and had to learn so much, we realised we were very much rookies — we are still learning. But I think the really exciting thing is that our journey has been getting richer and deeper over the years, especially the last five years. Three of these years have been years of revival here and in other villages, we have seen many baptisms, miraculous healings and lives dramatically transformed. One night after one of our services 58 people were baptised. We were away at the time it happened and it certainly caused ripples with the conservative church here – in fact when we returned we had to front the leaders, and one of the meetings was like a trial the Sanhedrin would have run! God miraculously diffused that tension.
It seems heaven has invaded earth to some extent. Things like visions, prophecies, dreams and miracles happen now in our team more than at any other time before. Some of our staff have been so transformed by God’s saving power that they just leave me in awe of our great God and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Ex-drunks who beat up and cheated on their wives are now sharing the good news! One guy in particular was one of our security guards, a tough guy who was often drunk and violent. He is now a full-on healing evangelist and has a heart that is soft and hungry for more! On a personal level we continue to learn so much — the more we learn the more we know what there is to learn. With revival came a new level of opposition in the spiritual realm — we spent weeks dealing with people who were possessed by evil spirits and some of the stories would make your hair curl or stand up on end. We really feel like we are living in the pages of the book of Acts at times.
A dangerous trend: Being away from Australia and receiving visitors from different parts of the west we have been shocked that some of the things that were black and white when we arrived (and still are here) are being debated in the church back home — issues that go against God’s Word, like same sex ‘marriage’, abortion, divorce and euthanasia. We feel more and more that the west needs a revival where sin is called sin, repentance is genuine, and people fall in love with their Saviour again. Here we meet five mornings and five nights a week to pray, worship, learn and seek God’s heart and His face.
Other dangerous trends include a belief that Christians are perfect and therefore do not ever sin again — this would be wonderful if true, but proponents of this thinking become proud and stagnate. They figure that they don’t have to submit to leadership because they know better because they are sinless. Believe me, I’ve seen it all! One more dangerous trend is the teaching that there is no eternal hell, which completely strips away the urgency of the gospel. Another dangerous trend is how Christians who do actually pursue holiness and who do not want to live compromised lives are more and more being called bigots and right-wing haters — and sadly some of this is coming from inside the church.
Another very dangerous trend that has crept into many churches is to push away caring for widows and orphans. This is a UN trend and sadly the church is following it. The UN is not exactly a beacon for the gospel. We have had funding stopped from supporting churches telling us they do not support residential care for children. The children we have here have horrific stories, some are orphans, some have been terribly abused, some have been starved, some have been born out of incest/rape — their stories are tragic. Yet we have been told to abandon them and send them back into abusive situations. Some are 15-year-olds now and they have been with us since birth in stable loving homes. How sad to see the church following the world in these cases. We need another great awakening. Before the great awakening in the USA in the 1800s it was hard to find true believers in the ‘Christian’ universities. Now some of the overseas aid groups that were started as Christian aid groups have lost their way and now advocate for worldly values (including sinful lifestyles). We need to love sinners but absolutely hate evil. The gospel is offensive to some, but it’s life-transforming. We need to hear the words ‘repent’, ‘sin’, ‘forgiveness’, ‘holiness’ and ‘sacrifice’ today more than ever before. The gospel of the New Testament is being watered down by so many and we watch it happen. It’s time to speak up, but will we do so to the same extent as the New Testament believers? I’ll just leave you with 2 Timothy 3:12 — “All who live godly lives in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Are we ready for that? If we are, we will also be ready to see the real power of the gospel. That is the real change that matters!
by Peter & Esther