Synnøve Jakobsen and Bernie Hradec (center) in March demonstrate how to use water filters in a Vanuatu village (PHOTO BY KJ Appelt).
By: Raymond Billy
The outreach teams for the winter Discipleship Training School, or DTS, at Port YWAM had already been set months earlier. Tickets had been purchased and housing plans made for the seven teams that were set to leave Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, the first week in April. Those plans were drastically upended for six students after a cyclone hit the impoverished Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on March 13 — a storm that the nation’s president, Baldwin Lonsdale, said “completely destroyed” much of the infrastructural improvements made there the last decade.
Sean Murphy, 49, who led the justice-themed DTS, challenged the students to pray and ask whether they should be a part of an ad hoc team to help bring relief to the storm-ravaged nation. Now back from the two-month mission there, Synnøve Jakobsen, of Norway, said she felt a clear calling to be a part of the team.
“God had never actually spoken that clearly to me before,” said Jakobsen, 19. “I read about the cyclone in the news and ever since then, everything I read about Vanuatu — I stayed updated on it — brought me close to tears. I was like ‘It’s in the Pacific. This is what YWAM Ships is about: Reaching the isolated.’”
Jakobsen said she prayed and fasted in search of guidance from God regarding her potential participation on the team. She said she sensed that God was leading her in the “yes” direction through “a lot of heavy heartbeats, I guess. I felt like ‘somebody has to go and, if I can, I want to.’”
Jakobsen — who had planned to go on outreach to Micronesia — was joined on the team by students who had originally signed up for outreaches in Cambodia, Haiti and Panama. The group left Port YWAM just over a week after the cyclone carrying relief supplies such as tools and water filters. Water sanitation ended up being one of the most important ministry focuses of the Vanuatu team.
After the cyclone, Vanuatu’s water-delivery systems became contaminated. The storm blew debris onto rooftops, which was collected into rainwater catchment tanks as lids were blown away. Nick Mason, of Virginia, said one of the team’s jobs was to restore those tanks to usability.
“Because Vanuatu is widely known for collecting rainwater as a source of drinking water, all of those drinking water tanks that got contaminated just needed to be cleaned. So, they couldn’t use their tanks until they cleaned them, which meant that they had to drain them and clean them and wait for the rain to fill them back up,” said Mason, 26, who was in Vanuatu for five weeks before joining his previously-planned outreach in Haiti.
The team helped clean rainwater catchment tanks, fixed broken rainwater catchment systems such as gutters and roofing, drilled shallow-bore wells and delivered water filters in conjunction with drilling the wells to maximize Vanuatuans’ access to clean water, Mason said.
One of the most challenging relief efforts the team participated in was food distribution, said Kirby Whitlock, who moved over from the Panama team to go to Vanuatu.
“We had these 60-pound bags of rice and we’d be walking on these trails that went straight up hills, straight down hills, across rivers and sometimes we’d walk for hours to get to a place,” said Whitlock, of North Carolina, describing the team’s time on Vanuatu’s Tanna island. “We’d drop some bags off in a village, keep walking for hours, get to another place. If we didn’t have the Holy Spirit helping us, it would have been very difficult for me, but it really didn’t seem as difficult as it should have.”
The team traveled to at least 20 villages during its time in Vanuatu. In addition to clean-water and food distribution ministries, the team provided medical care, preached at churches and helped rebuild Vanuatu’s YWAM base, called V2Life. The team provided most of the manpower to rebuild the base for several weeks. Jakobsen said she and her team members had a difficult time recognizing their positive contribution to helping Vanuatu recover from the cyclone, but are finding it easier on reflection.
“It’s making more sense now. I know my eyes are kind of opening up to the importance of how many people we prayed for,” Jakobsen said. “It didn’t really seem like anything special at the time, but now I see that that was something set up by God and He has a plan behind it.”
Mason said it was challenging to take on so many tasks in a short amount of time, but he hopes he hasn’t seen the last of Vanuatu.
“Jesus did relief work and Jesus did long-term work, so learning from that was good, but it was hard. I’m not really used to that kind of thinking process, but I am excited because I’ve decided I’m going back there for a few months,” Mason said in Kona. “It’ll be nice to get back there and catch up with the people I got to know and hopefully develop longer-lasting relationships.