A history of God at work in the Solomon Islands
BY GARTH R. HENTZSCHEL
The Salvation Army impacted the Solomon Islands many years before the movement’s official commencement in 2011.
On multiple occasions, from 1895 to 1998, people from the Islands requested the Army to work in the region. During this time, Solomon Islanders were enrolled as soldiers in Australia, and some returned home taking Salvationism with them.
Prior to the permanent presence, the Army offered tangible assistance in the Islands during times of emergency. The Red Shield Defence Services operated on the Islands throughout World War Two and again in 2003 with RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands).
In 2000, when evacuees were pulled from the Islands, Cairns Corps (Qld) provided food and clothing. After a tsunami hit Gizo Island on 2 April 2007, financial support from Australia and New Zealand saw Captain Gaina Vali and Major Soddy Maraga from Papua New Guinea Territory (PNG Territory) reconstruct 15 residences.
In 2001, after increased requests for the Army to commence in the Solomon Islands, the PNG Territory investigated the possibility. However, the move was put on hold due to civil unrest in the Solomons.
A few years later, Peter Maeatua, a Solomon Island government official and businessman, met an Australian Salvationist in Singapore. Peter vigorously requested the Army to commence in his homeland. From this request, the PNG Territory conducted a feasibility study on the Islands in late 2005. A report from this visit was sent to the Army’s International Headquarters (IHQ), London, which “gave provisional approval in 2009”.
The Army sent Maraga to the Solomon Islands in 2009, which led to IHQ approving the work to commence in January 2011. IHQ listed the ‘official opening’ as ‘1 February 2011’, yet an ‘official opening weekend’ did not occur until 5 and 6 November 2011.
On this weekend, Commissioner James Condon and Commissioner Raymond Finger represented the then two Australian Territories and promised both territories would financially contribute to the Army’s work in the Islands for five years.
Commissioner Andrew Kalai, from the PNG Territory, also attended as this new work came under the jurisdiction of his territory. Major Soddy Maraga became the first ‘Officer in Charge’ of the Islands, and Peter Maeatua, along with 20 other Solomon Islanders, became the founding senior soldiers in the Islands.
For a time, this work, which mainly focused on Honiara, was conducted by Candidates Tony and Rose Kinikoroa. The Honiara Corps activities included Sunday meetings, Home League, Bible studies, youth group gatherings and prayer evenings.
When Tony and Rose entered officer training in 2015, Majors Malcolm and Laurel Herring took leadership of Honiara Corps. At this time, a ‘Salvation Army’ village on Malaita was linked to Honiara Corps. In 2016, people from North Malaita, Te Motu, and other Islands requested the Army to come to their location.
In December 2017, Majors Robert and Vanessa Evans were appointed to lead the work in the Islands. From this time, additional locations throughout the country received an official Salvation Army presence. This growth was recognised in 2018 when the PNG Territory name was changed to Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands Territory.
The Army’s goal in the Solomon Islands quickly became ‘self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating’. Self-governing saw an increase in soldiership and leadership training and the establishment of links with the local and expat communities. Self-supporting saw funding sources established, which included the sale of ‘Salvation Army Lavalava’ and low-cost fuel, and the establishment of coconut oil plants and an aluminium foundry. These were in addition to the usual Red Shield and Self-Denial Appeals.
For self-propagating, Bible study weekends, school ministries, brass band training and mission trips throughout the islands are but some ways this goal was being met. Under Major Robert Evans, a new structure for the growth of spiritual work was established. Like the traditional Army corps and outpost, the Solomons developed corps, fellowships and missions.
Missions were created when a village invited the Army to commence or a corps initiated ministry in a new location. In 2021, a decade after the official launch of the Army, there were two corps, two fellowships, and 27 missions, as well as other new openings.
The growth in the number of locations saw a need for the housing of officers. In 2021, Major Robert Evans drafted a design for officers’ quarters, much along the lines of Commissioner James Hay when he designed simple halls in the 1910s. ‘Hay Halls’ helped the Army in Australia grow rapidly. It is hoped the ‘Evans Quarters’ will have a similar impact in the Solomon Islands. Go to https://my.salvos.org.au/making-it-happen/
for more information on this project.
By the conclusion of 2022, the number of Salvationists on the Islands had increased to 300! The latest development, in 2023, reflected the integration of the Army on the Islands. The Solomon Islands Ministry Newsletter became Tok Stori, this use of a Pijin term further speaks of God’s good work in the region.
*Garth R. Hentzschel is a Salvationist from Brisbane (Queensland) and is a freelance historian and writer.