Australian officers ‘making it happen’ in the Solomon Islands
BY CLIFF WORTHING
Bringing solutions to local issues is driving growth and awareness for The Salvation Army in the Solomon Islands, according to Major Robert Evans, Solomon Islands District Officer.
Even though 94 per cent of the population identifies as Christian, there is a growing desire to engage with The Salvation Army’s ethos and way of doing things.
Robert and his wife, Major Vanessa Evans, are Australian officers who have led The Salvation Army’s work in the Solomon Islands for the past five years. The Solomons are part of the Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands Territory.
“We are showing that Christianity is more than singing nice songs on Sunday,” Robert said. “People have seen how a church can improve their quality of life, which is what is so attractive to them!”
The Army is active in 11 villages, and 19 other villages have asked them to establish a presence in their communities. Robert said the Army was not competing or duplicating what other churches do but looking for the gaps to fill, individuals in the “too hard basket” or groups not affiliated with other churches. “They are our people,” Robert said.
One of the most significant areas of mission and closing a gap is a literacy program run by Vanessa. She has set up four learning centres targeted mainly at children not in school and women who have missed out on educational opportunities.
“The program is helping our women gain the skills and confidence to contribute to society and gain greater equality,” Vanessa said. She mentioned how satisfying it was to see females write their names for the first time or come out of the background to make a difference.
The learning spaces are places where children and women in the communities can gain confidence not only in their reading, writing and speaking but also increase their self-esteem, as well as reduce their vulnerability to sexual violence and human trafficking, according to Vanessa.
“One of the highlights of this program is seeing some of our women who were my first students now become teachers,” Vanessa said. “The flow-on effect of just one activity is producing great results.”
To see one of our women stand up in public and read from the Scriptures is amazing, and watching other women come up to her and tell her that they want to be like her is so heartwarming,” Vanessa said. “Learning spaces is one way that The Salvation Army Solomon Islands is changing lives.”
Each week, an average of 161 women and children attend the learning spaces.
Everywhere the Army establishes a presence, it creates social enterprises to build a self-sustaining component for the church group. Fishing, coconut oil production, low-cost fuel, and an aluminium foundry are just some money-making enterprises.
Making it Happen project
Another priority in the Solomon Islands is developing Indigenous leaders. The Evanses have identified four couples as candidates for officership. Once they become officers, they can be appointed to one of the church groups.
To prepare for those appointments, quarters need to be built in each location. The Australia Territory is supporting the cost of building one of the officer quarters through this year’s Making it Happen project. Three priority locations in Malaita Province have been proposed because they have the greatest mission development potential. The estimated cost is $A120,000 to build and furnish the officers’ quarters.
Robert’s background in architectural design contributed to the drawing up of plans. The Evanses have consulted widely with village leadership to ensure the quarters suit village life. The quarters will have a private upstairs living section and a downstairs living area, traditionally accessible for community meetings, prayer meetings and Bible studies.
“The village pastor’s house is the gathering place, is open to foot traffic and is integral to village life,” Robert said. “We are trying to cast a vision of what quarters in this part of the world can look like.” The plans will be submitted to Territorial Headquarters soon for approval.
The Evanses are discussing a partnership with Rural Training Centres to help build the quarters. The students would gain valuable real-life experience in building a project as part of their studies, making gaining employment easier once they graduate.
The training centres save money because the builds will be in rural areas, which is cheaper for them than sending students to the capital, Honiara. The Salvation Army receives free labour while providing experienced builders as supervisors. The local corps will support the workers with accommodation and food during the building process.
“We are really excited by this partnership because everyone contributes and gains from it,” Robert said. “In trying to do good, we don’t want to take away the resilience of the people by just throwing money at the locals.”
Fundraising ideas, promotional materials, and resources for a Making it Happen Sunday are available at www.my.salvos.org.au/making-it-happen