An Island Emerging

Looking On

Generations.  That one word embodies a wealth of power.  One generation can change the way the world thinks, operates and advances forward into the future.  One generation can hold the key to a better life for all.  Some generations have been nearly swept away by disease and war – the civil war in America claimed almost an entire generation, leaving us with a void, taking with it any ideas, creations and leaders that it may have offered.  When I think about Ebeye, I think mostly about its children.  Half of the island population is comprised of children.  Precious generational changers.

I remember reading about Ebeye when I first decided to commit to a year of teaching there.  I  remember thinking that so many good things were happening in the way of communications and technology for a small island that was struggling under the weight of many economic, social and political problems.  But of all that I was reading, I wondered…what do the Marshallese people want? While so many technological advances were being made, what weighed on their hearts in importance?

Well, I didn’t take a formal poll or interview anyone, though it was something I had hoped to do.  It just didn’t materialize.  But through the course of two years, I learned a lot about a culture that is straining to break free of the past outdated traditions while holding onto their heritage as a people.  And where you have 17,000 people, you have just as many opinions, perspectives and solutions to the problems.  There are those who would not change, and those who desperately strain for it.  There is an old mindset and a new one – each with their own advantages and failures.  It is an island of people emerging.  And along with the people spring forth the ideas and….ideologies.

There are many on Ebeye who are left without hope.  And there are those who hold tightly to it.  Hope for a better future than the past has offered.  There are those who dream of being a self-sustaining island again, which is novel but by all practical purposes now impossible.  Developing small islands into towns is too expensive and time consuming to warrant the effort, much less maintain the upkeep of such developments.  And economically speaking there is not much in the way of exports to support the society.  You might think fishing, but there are no commercial seafaring vessels that belong to the Marshalls.  They instead lease out their waters to foreign fisheries who cultivate the profits instead.

Many put hope in their upcoming generation to exact a change and begin to turn things for good. I found that there is an energy among the youth that could set many good things into motion for the small island.  I hope to see it. I hope to see some of my own children rise up and be leaders, changing the scope of the future.  But they would have to decide if they want to advance or stay rooted in tradition.  Are they going to look backwards or forwards?  To new ideas or only historical redundancy? It is a delicate line to walk, but the course of time changes many things including turning over generations and their ideologies, allowing for the next generation to step up and be counted.

Practically speaking, the island is very fragile, in many aspects. There is no one answer that will solve all the difficulties they are now facing.  But the people are not as active or engaged politically as we are here – they have a history of King-People mentality which is only natural to them.  The forces that be are quite confusing, even for me to sort out how things should be done: there are kings, queens, governments, land owners (who have much power), national governments and many other rules and regulations.  But I believe this course will change as the children learn and grow into this mile-long world they call Ebeye. I believe in my heart change is coming. I have to believe it…

I believe in God and the plan He has for all the Marshallese and their islands.  I pray the very best for the Marshallese, my families in the islands and my friends. I will see you again by the grace of God.  And I will be watching to see what good things are happening in your part of the world, praying earnestly for you all.

Gem School Awarded $91K Grant from Embassy of Japan

It is official, Ebeye Gem Christian School has been awarded $91,000 from the Embassy of Japan to be used toward the building of three additional classrooms for the school.  On average, construction costs for one classroom runs about $38K due to labor costs, logistics of shipping construction materials to an island, and the cost of materials in general.  Construction will begin the second week of June, just after the school’s end of year graduation activities.

Here’s a short excerpt from The Marshall Islands Journal April 15, 2011 issue, written by Isaac Marty:

Japan recently held three Grassroots Grants ceremonies for Ebeye and Rairok schools, and Aur Atoll Local Government at the Japan  Embassy last month. For Ebeye, an agreement was signed for a $91,767 grassroots grant to build a three-classroom building in Ebeye for one of the private schools known as the Gem Christian School…officials from Ebeye that were at the ceremony were vice principal Noble Ned, Abita Joram, Kiton Loibwij, Tim Ned, Joel Clinton and Abring Jilly.

Gem School is a rapidly growing educational facility with over 170 students running grades K-5.   Next fall we will be adding a sixth grade and the classrooms are greatly needed to increase our capacity to hold this many students.

Currently we are holding four classes in the three classrooms pictured above due to limited space.

The island of Ebeye is so overcrowded that most children do not attend school at all due to lack of space in the school system.  Sometimes, due to lack of teachers and volunteers, there are schools where the students show up in class with no one to teach them.  It’s a dire situation and nations like Japan are doing what they can to assist Ebeye in their pursuit of a better life.  I personally find this admirable, as Japan is going through their own national crisis right now.

According to the article, Japan’s government has funded nine grassroots projects this year (April 2010-March 2011), and the total contribution to Republic of the Marshall Islands educational system at large is $811, 560.

Those of us here at Gem are incredibly thankful to God and to the Embassy of Japan for their monetary support. It is a blessing to us and to the children of Ebeye.

Cool Stuff Happenin’ at Gem

Here  are some pics from our previous Education Week activities.  Just some random shots of us playing concentration and having a good time with our kids.  I know every second counts for me, as I am likely not to see them again.  Perhaps on Facebook we can superficially keep in touch but really, it just won’t be the same.  I’ve developed such a love for them in my heart that it will really take the grace of God to help me not to… kidnap them all!

Here’s Jon playing the concentration game.  He was really good at it!  Well, until we realized that some of the kids were more than happy to offer their help when they had the matching card!  But it’s all in a days work with the kiddies.

We had a visit from Kwajalein High School students last week who donated several boxes of items, including a volleyball kit for the school.

There were boxes of folders, binders, artist pencils, pens notebooks and plastic sleeves to name a few.  The kids received all with joy and excitement.  It’s so much fun working with these precious little people :)

The third quarter is coming to a close at the end of next week.  One more 43 day stretch with my babies and it’s done.  Gotta work, work, work so we can finish strong!  But we’ll leave plenty of time for playing too :-)

God’s Tapestry

It’s been a lazy Saturday with the rain drizzling softly on the roof.  I’ve been in a reflective mood concerning God’s hand moving in this season of my life.

It’s amazing how things accelerate in our lives when God steps in.  It’s been a time of seeing the end results on matters I have been seeking God for and it’s been a time of Him birthing whole new areas in my life, bringing them full-circle in just weeks.  It’s been a time of struggle and deep sorrow, as God worked out areas in my character that were of no use to Him or myself.  A time of letting go and learning new ways of approaching problems and relying on Him to offer support when I needed it most.

When we seek first the Kingdom of God, all things are added to us.  Like gifts that we’ve been waiting for and suddenly, we’re living in them.  It’s a wonderful and beautiful thing.

I’ve found that being open to the leading of the Holy Spirit has allowed Him to birth new avenues in my life that never existed beforehand.  One minute I’m single with no children – then next I’m part of a team with nearly 200 kids I can call my own.  One minute I’m working a typical office job –  the next I’m on a tiny island helping other people in this world.

An awakening is occurring.  I wish it had taken place in my twenties.  But thank God it’s taking place in my thirties.  Some people drudge through their entire life thinking one thing about themselves, only to realize their life hasn’t been all that fruitful afterall and they don’t really know who they are anymore, much less what might make them happy.  That would be me today had it not been for Jesus.

I told a friend once that our lives were like tapestries being created by God which represented the people, experiences and changes coming and going over a lifetime.  Various yarns and fabrics, colors and shapes He works together seamlessly to broaden, enhance and embellish our lives.  As God chooses the colors to weave in, it’s up to us to yield to His will for our lives; which at times can be scary, uncertain and possibly disappointing to us.  But God knows what is best for us.  He knows what colors to choose, where they should go and where they should end.  Some colors are weaved throughout the entire piece of work; with us from the beginning to the end.  Others are just accents, meant to leave a positive impression, a new hope or comfort when we need it most.  And still others may be worked in and out of our lives consistently.  Sometimes I can get in God’s way by weaving in things that I shouldn’t.  Gently, God will begin to take those threads out – that Ashley thought were so important but were beginning to take their toll on her well-being – and lovingly He replaces them with threads of joy, peace and blessings.

Life is change and we need to embrace it.  I’ll be closing a chapter that has defined a pivotal change of course in my own life shortly.  The people here have been some of the most beautiful colors that God has worked into my tapestry.  My experiences are likely to be shared by few others in this world.  I am thankful.  He has shown Himself to be faithful and merciful.  And I’m happy to let Him create the tapestry of my life as He so chooses.  I’m looking forward to these last few months here on what seems like the edge of the earth.  And I’m also looking forward to what lies ahead – what new colors, shapes and designs God will be working into my tapestry next.

Celebrations Under the Sky

Here’s a video I shot of a Marshallese Christmas Dance.  This was taken outside in the new church building which currently has the open night sky for a ceiling.  Absolutely gorgeous.   Hope you enjoy!

Rusted Ghosts

The workers are clearing a portion of land for the school’s new trailers which will be the home for the missionaries coming next school year.  It’s going to be sweet, let me tell you!  The location is right on the lagoon; wake up and the ocean will be smiling at you.  According to Pastor Hone they will be building a wall around the front to prevent any spill over from high tide and also adding a dock there.

With the land leveled and the rusted machinery moved around, I decide, out of curiosity, to go for a walk around the perimeter.  I snapped pictures of what was left of the abandoned rusted ghosts along the shoreline of the new trailers.  As I made my way along the break I noticed a large thrown-together wooden cage through the brush.  As I made my way over I noticed something pink tripping around inside.  To my surprise I had stumbled upon a happily snorting pig!  I didn’t know pigs wagged their tails but this one did.  He made me laugh.

There’s a crane here on the island which the Patricks used to clean off the whole area on which our school now sits.  It takes time and effort but this whole island could be cleaned up.  The profile of this same stretch of land looked like this before they cleaned off all the rusted ghosts.

Here’s the new and improved version.

There is hardly any stretch of beach that is without these junked machines.  They could be anything from moving equipment such as backhoes and forklifts to jeeps, tires and boats.

Being so close to the salty ocean water poses a problem for any metals.  If you’ve put two and two together you already realize the potential health hazard.  And kids get scratched by these rusted metals.  They’re just kids wanting to swim, play and have fun.  Some of the things they deal with on a daily basis can be frustrating at best trying to figure out how to keep them protected.  Hopefully one day, as we all are working towards the goal of development on this beautiful island, both the aesthetic and health conditions will improve dramatically.  Because only God knows what the people have to deal with concerning health matters.  I’m not even sure the people know.

A huge link chain that has rusted and corroded together on the shoreline.

This island with its people and children are in God’s sight.  There are so many things that could go wrong that just don’t.  I see miracles everyday it seems…in the simple things.  Then again, there are miracles that happen all around us no matter where we are…we just have to look up and take notice of God’s wonderful love towards us.

The Twelve Hour Year: 9 O’clock AM

It’s the third hour…already 9 a.m.  It’s early still, the mist is only now lifting from the surface of the path I walk upon, the sun peeking over the mountains and warming this sometimes chilled body.  The crisp morning air in my lungs gives me strength for the next stretch…and then it will be High Noon.

He’s calling to me…“And the foundation of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called…”

I feel a reorganization; a subtle slowdown, if only to wait on Him to show me what’s next.  Meanwhile, as my soul rests the world whizzes by me in notes, school papers, broken pencils, chalk dust, salty ocean winds, sticky fingers and blue, blue everywhere.  He is all I’ve got.  Everything I might have is because He has brought it to me, made room for me, or shared it with me.  My Friend, how you have my heart…

I have seen many wonderful things these past few hours but the price has not been cheap.  Only in losing my life do I find His…even if only for the moment.  The sun is up on this clear day and it looks to be a beautiful one at that.  There is much to do in preparation of the coming hours…not the least of which is to pray.  Pray. Pray.

Lunchtime!

I’m happy to announce that Gem School is now offering a lunchtime menu complete with snacks, drinks, soup and ice candy.  Because we have two grades which are running all day long, we didn’t want the kids to have to take a taxi home and then back to school for the afternoon classes.  Mrs. Grace put together a plan and it has worked out wonderfully.  Anything Mrs. Grace or this church puts their hands to, prospers!

The lunch consists of chicken, hotdog or ham with rice, cucumber slices and an orange slice.  I’ve had a few myself and they are really good!

We also have a fifteen minute break in the morning where the kids can get out and stretch a bit.  They have a choice of chicken or fish soup, ice candy or boiled eggs, any one just a quarter.

Other side items include a split baked potato with a slice of ham, donuts with chocolate frosting and on Fridays, popcorn!

It’s so exciting to see this school growing and such a privilege to see it happening with my own eyes.  I am so grateful to God for this opportunity to make an impact, to see a future changed for good, to be a part of someone else’s vision coming to reality.  It has so changed my perspective on life and the way I want to live out the rest of my time here on this earth.  It truly is much better to reach out and help others.

Radioactive Red Snapper Part I

The Marshallese are avid fishermen.  Most of their diet consists of fish and rice.  And in the outer islands, you can add coconut to that.  Twyla was telling me that sometimes, when the small planes are delayed and unable to deliver food to the outer islands, the people have to eat shaved coconut until more supplies arrive.  It can be a stressful dilemma.  Sometimes the same anxiety happens to residents on Ebeye when they run short on rice.  I remember watching the documentary of how a movie (Pirates of the Caribbean maybe?) was made on an island and the crew and director kept talking about how difficult it was to feed everyone, provide water and shelter and sanitation for around 1000 people simply because everything had to be brought in on a boat…I was like, ‘Tell me about it…”

My friend ran into some workers who had gotten their hands on some Red Snapper which is pretty rare on this chain of islands.  They offered him some of their wares and he excitedly accepted.  Whether his joy was slightly tempered or not by what he knew was the reality of eating a Red Snapper caught in this portion of the reef, I do not know.  But regardless of certain consequences, he was going to eat good tonight…

One of the larger catches fished in these waters is the Marlin.  The fishermen can get a fairly good wage out of selling one of these big fish to the local fish market here on the island.  There are not many shell fish that come through here.  Every now-and-then you’ll see a crab for sale and sometimes little baby octopi.  They are served cold.  I’m not sure if they are cooked…they don’t cook their fish which generally reflects the Asian influence of the Japanese whose customs were intertwined with Marshallese culture.

Then probably the biggest would be shark.  I’ve not seen shark caught by fishermen yet but Nyasha did last year.  What did they use for bait, you ask?  Oh, you really don’t want to know, I promise.  But somehow, they lured the shark in and pulled it out of the blue waters about a hundred yards from my house.  The lagoon is infested with sharks.  If they could find a way to ship them to China efficiently, they could probably make some big bucks.  Or maybe that’s illegal…

But, back to the fish, namely, the Red Snapper.  My friend had secured a rather tasty meal for that night.  Happily he prepared it; then happily he ate it.  He knew he shouldn’t have.  He knew what was going to happen to his body in the hours to follow.  But the craving of good fish meat trumped his better judgment, and so he ate.

Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy,

Do not desire his delicacies,

For he is like one who is inwardly calculating.

“Eat and drink!” he says to you,

But his heart is not with you.

Prov 23.8.9

Reaching Out

Earlier this year a friend of mine, Ashley Waddell had it on her heart to start a small ministry for the kids in her neighborhood.  So she, along with several other friends, began inviting the kids on her street to her house every Sunday afternoon and sharing the love of God with them.  I got in on it when I returned this summer from the islands and it has truly been a blessing.  We usually have ice cream or food to share, along with games and a ministry time.  The main goal is just to show the kids we love them and let them know that God loves them too.

This past Sunday was special because we were preparing backpacks full of school supplies to give out free  to the kids before the start of school.  We handed out over 40 supply packs to the children.

Ashley located the district’s supply lists for each grade and God supplied EVERYTHING!  We just made sure the word got out and people started to donate: UK Healthcare backpacks for each of the children, paper, folders, binders, glue, pencils, sharpeners, candy(extra!), rulers, erasers, etc.  Due to the response from people like YOU we were able to supply their need.

Everyone eating pizza, donated from Pizza Hut.

The kids gathered around to hear PJ as she talked about a special friend, Jesus, who is always with them and ready to help them with everything, including school :)

Taking a peek…

Thank you so much to everyone who donated and/or came by to help in the fun; we really can make a difference in people’s lives by  shining the light of Jesus and just Reaching Out.  As Marie put  it so simply, “Today we’re being the church”.

Ashley and Jeremiah.

It’s all about His love flowing through us and into the lives of others.  Whether people are in need, or are well-off…we are called to walk in love towards them, regardless of where they are in life.

When we reach out, God’s grace is there to meet us.  He works the desire in our hearts then He gives us the ability to complete that vision.  And this vision travels through our neighborhoods, far and wide, rooted in consistency and dedication, spanning continents and oceans.  We as individuals can do our part, but we can’t do it alone.

We need the five-fold ministry to raise up the body of Christ.  But in this hour, it won’t be enough to just have pastors, prophets, evangelists, apostles and teachers doing all the work. It’s going to take more than just a few men and women to get the job done that God has for us.  It’s going to take the whole body flowing together with one heart and one mind…

And that takes unity.