Vanuatu: Stories in the sand

The student crowd watched closely as Uncle Edgar drew his finger through the sand. The skillfully etched patterns and shapes represented characters in the story he was telling: two people, in a precious relationship that had been broken, now joyfully reconciled. With an accompanying tune played on his bamboo flute, Uncle Edgar used the ancient storytelling art of sandroing to bring home four central stories from the Gospel of Mark to students at Vanuatu’s regional university campus.

The national IFES movement, Gud Nius Yunivesiti Felosip (GNYF), asked Uncle Edgar to create this novel presentation of the gospel as part of their ?Huia Jisas? outreach (“Who is Jesus?” in Bislama). It was one way of addressing two pressing issues: How do you help students in a culture of churchgoing to personally encounter Jesus? How do you enable students in an oral culture to engage with the Scriptures?

Vanuatu, a cluster of islands in the South Pacific, is populated by small, subsistence-farming communities, where most profess Christianity (90%+) and where the few who are involved in tertiary education (<1%) prefer to learn by hearing and talking rather than extensive study of texts. Joel Atwood, GNYF National Director, notes: “Many students come to university having grown up in churches their whole lives, but they haven’t looked closely at the Bible and are still unsure of who Jesus is, what he has done, and what that means for us”.

This is why GNYF strives to be intentional about sharing the gospel with friends and classmates in ways that fit their relational culture. In 2021, their ?Huia Jisas? outreach was a Melanesian form of Uncover (a Gospel distribution project used in many IFES movements). It not only equipped students to share stories from Mark’s Gospel with other students but also went a step further: by connecting with Uncle Edgar – a local expert in sandroing – they devised patterns to help communicate key themes of sin, forgiveness, reconciliation, and rule.

Now, in 2024, the movement is organising another ?Huia Jisas? outreach, this time using John’s Gospel. Sency, a student leader at a relatively new campus group, is looking forward to it: “We want our classmates and friends to dig deeper into discovering who Jesus is. What exceeding joy to know that the God of the universe loved us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us so that anyone who believes should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). I pray that more and more young people here in Vanuatu schools, colleges, and universities will encounter Jesus and develop a personal relationship with him in daily life. What an awesome adventure it will be!”

Since many student leaders are new, the first semester (February-June) will focus on training and planning; a cross-campus team will choose stories, develop the booklets, and plan events. “With John’s big metaphors for who Jesus is, we could have some real fun using traditional art forms like sandroing, weaving, and dancing,” says Joel.

Let’s pray for students in GNYF Vanuatu:

  • Give thanks for the creatively contextual way the gospel was presented in 2021 and pray for the student leaders as they plan ?Huia Jisas? 2024 over coming weeks – that the Holy Spirit will give them inspiration, wisdom, and anticipation.
  • Pray for GNYF students who are anxious about inviting friends or classmates to read the Gospel or attend talks and events. Ask the Lord to use the “support events” to equip them and give them courage.
  • Pray for the Gospel distribution and public events in late July and August – that students will engage with Scripture, encounter Jesus, and enjoy an ever-deepening relationship with him.
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