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  But through the course of two years, I learned a lot about a culture that is straining to break free of the past outdated traditions while holding onto their heritage as a people.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.

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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!

Conclusion: Forging Unity through the Power of Diversity

Shining Your Light for Him was a perfect theme for this year’s retreat.  You can be a Baptist, a Catholic, an Episcopalian or Charismatic and if you let it, Christ’s light will shine through you.  There is no partiality with the Lord.  I saw Seventh-Day Adventists Spirit-filled worshiping God, Baptists praying next to Lutherans, a Methodist singing while next to them a Charismatic worshiped God with hands raised…and this was in the local church on Kwajalein, not just the missions group!  This was the unity of the Body of Christ like I had never experienced before in my life – it was beautiful, humbling, anointed and I was awestruck at the beauty of Jesus.

There will be a Church, too large to contain in structural buildings, that is comprised of people in unity, reaching beyond denominational lines and it will be spread throughout all cultures, crossing over oceans with no more fear of each other or of not being accepted by one another. If we are in Christ, we are all accepted. His Church is comprised of His servants not mine. Some may say, ‘Ashley, this really is not practical, not possible, not rational’.  That’s good.  I like to hear that.  Because God never does what is possible.  Only what is impossible.

Some may also say, ‘but we already are the Church, there’s nothing else to attain to.’ But I’ve seen (and myself partaken in) too many disputes, too many derogatory remarks concerning different denominations’ beliefs, from all sides, to believe that we have attained to unity the way the Holy Spirit originally intended.  Or do we think when Paul urges unity and peace between the brethren that it was intended only for the members within one church building?  They didn’t even have church ‘buildings’ before ~ 230 A.D.

In Romans chapter 14, Paul tells us, and I paraphrase, let not the one who eats [moves freely in all the gifts of the Spirit] despise the one who abstains [is unable to accept everything God has for them at this time.]  And let not the one who cannot accept pass judgment on the one who moves freely.

We have yet to attain to this.

But I have resolved to change my perspective and my confession on this matter.  I will welcome those who are weak in faith and those who are strong in faith without passing judgment.

As for the one weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions…be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”

Romans14, 2Corth1

Missions Retreat 2010: Forging Unity through the Power of Diversity (Part Three)

It’s profound.  Who could take millions of individual humans, with their individual tastes for worship, their own desires, their complex personalities and preferences, perspectives and pursuits and forge them into one body, one working organism, with one heart and one mind?  Taking on the very appearance of God Himself as He willed in His word would happen; who but the living God could do this?  And the question remains, has it yet been done?

There is freedom here somewhere, between the lines our denominations draw in the sand, which send a perpetual message of, don’t cross if you don’t intend to believe like we do.

But there is no question, it will happen, it is only a matter of time.  This fragmented Church will reconnect and function as one unit.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free [Catholic or Methodist, Presbyterian or Charismatic, etc. are implied because ‘Jews, Greeks, slaves and free’ all encompass the latter] and all were made to drink of one Spirit.”  1 Corth 12:12  (words in brackets are my own.)

A few of us convening during breakfast. Clockwise from noon: Lenka, Nyasha, Trecie, me, Justine, Malte.

Day 2: After a light breakfast Sunday morning, we headed off to the Micronesian and Marshallese Cultural Shop – wow, we were there for nearly an hour in these tiny stores simply because it had been so long since we’d had the privilege to ‘shop’.  And since it was my birthday, I got a little present from my missionary friends :) A silver fish ring.  Thanks Gem Ministry Team! You are such a blessing.

We headed back for church and I snapped a pic of this beautiful stained glass window at the back of the chapel.

Here’s an excerpt from the brochure about the chapel:

“This Island Memorial Chapel is one of four American buildings that have survived since WWII.  This chapel was built in late 1944.  It was built by volunteers from the garrison with surplus materials.  Although the chapel’s sanctuary retains its original profile, (it is completely open-air) the building has been enlarged and renovated several times since 1944.  The memorial stained glass window was installed as part of the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Kwajalein.”

The church has a long, sloping roof.  Other than that, it is open which is good because it really gets hot down here when there is no wind.

From left: Helga from Germany, Lenka and me.

After service, the ladies spread out a huge buffet for us.  It was soooo delicious!  I also got a surprise Happy Birthday song from everyone…God is good.  We then headed out to tour the sharks, sea turtles and eventually, Subway!

Sharkfest Viewers. From left, Lily, Love and Michael, Trecie, Pauley and Peter.

The Kwajalein lagoon is infested with these things because the Marshallese do not fish them.  I think I’m going to start praying about that…I’ve heard more shark stories in two days on Kwaj than I’ve heard all 8 months on Ebeye.  I think Americans are obsessed with Jaws!

Sea Turtles :)

A pic on the bridge over the turtle pond. From left; Lenka, Jonas, Love, Michael, Lily and James.

What a blessing this retreat has been for all of us.  It was refreshing and God opened my eyes to a lot a beautiful things.  My next post will be the ‘part 4’ conclusion to this series.  I hope I will have gotten at least some of what was on my heart across to you.  I’m excited for the church in the coming decade!

Missions Retreat 2010: Forging Unity through the Power of Diversity (Part Two)

Unity.  Who wants it, right?  People usually don’t want to conform, bring into harmony or agreement, be or become similar to each other because they fear, somehow, they’ll lose a certain amount of control. It’s all about being independent and different from everybody else.  Our focus, it seems, has been on the pursuit of individuality while ignoring the more important matter of being in harmony with one another as Jesus and later Paul urged us to be.

But the unity I’m talking about is not dressing alike with dead, dull personalities and a boring gray uneventful life to live.  There is no greater adventure than knowing God to the fullest extent.  With Him shining through a life, that person becomes exquisitely beautiful, a mystery, uncontainable and unstoppable in the pursuit of godliness and holiness.

One of my favorite pictures. On a whim, someone said “everybody…go point to your country.”  After getting back and putting everything together for these posts I thought, ‘God, you really know how to document a story.’  From Left, Philippines (Michael and Love), America (Trecie and Me), Germany (Malte), Africa (Nyasha), Slovakia (Lenka).  Beautiful isn’t it? I love the diversity.

It’s in unity that our diversity shines the brightest.  There is a specific anointing that God has retained for bringing about unity…not just within one church structure but between denominations. Before my eyes I saw multi-denominations, multi-cultural individuals coming together in unity, only within a 24 hour period, and God impressed upon my heart that our inability to cooperate with one another, failing to forge unity cross-denominationally, has held back a vast majority of blessing and power to the church.  I know some may disagree, “we all are separate because we all have different ways we like to worship God”.  And that has been acceptable, but we are going to strive for the blessing that comes from unity, that reaches to the other side and says, “we welcome you regardless of your individual worship style, as long as you celebrate Christ as your Savior”.  God is big enough to take care of the rest.

Evening Day 1:  Our first stop after the tour was the Marshallese Cultural Center.  Here’s an excerpt from the brochure:

“Recent Archaeological investigations suggest that Kwajalein Atoll has been inhabited for at least 2,000 years.  This has been supported with the discovery of an intact, prehistoric burial on Kwajalein Island.”

Here are some museum showcases that include various articles that were used by the Marshallese.  (You can click on the pictures individually to enlarge them and see the details.)

A model of one of the most important sea vessels in a family’s household, the Outrigger Canoe.

This description gives the viewer an idea of the integral part ‘working together in unity’ plays in being successful and holding any family together, spiritual or natural.  I would encourage you to click on the picture and enlarge it so you can read it as it complements the title acutely.

A front page article about the Strange and Wonderful Marshallese navigation. The canoe is illustrated. The date of the article was the year 1955.

Here is a photo case of pictures taken after the battle for Kwajalein.  Notice also the ominous red mushroom cloud looming in the upper left of the photo, foreshadowing a very horrific period of time to come.  If you can enlarge and magnify the pic, there is an historical document below the photo that tells a brief history during that time.

Ah, time to eat.  It was onward to dinner at Emon Beach where we all gathered to have wonderful fellowship and delicious food.

MaryLou, one of our hostesses and sponsors for the retreat.

We all gathered for a group pic.

Chatting after supper and listening to a Christian band. From left: Lenka, Malte, Treice, Me, John (our regular sponsor who just happened to stop in on the festivities).

The evening came to a close and after walking through the soft sand on the beach, we all headed back to the hotel for some sleep.  The next day would be filled (not necessarily in this order) with shopping, birthdays, breakfast, church and well…you’ll see :)  I’ll pick up part three next week, continuing our journey of unity from a tiny island in the Pacific.