Vanuatu churches begin relief efforts

Updated March 19

Tropical Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm, slammed into the Vanuatu islands on the Melanesia South Pacific Field late in the evening of Friday, March 13. As winds started to subside in the early hours Saturday morning, a trail of destruction was left behind. Dozens of deaths were reported, and heavy winds and rain destroyed many homes and crops.

On-the-ground reports state streets are littered with debris and upturned trees, and entire villages were blown away. At least two Nazarene church buildings were destroyed.

Cyclone Pam came ashore with 160 mph winds, gusting to 195 mph (257 kph gusts to 315 kph), according to reports. The Bureau of Meteorology is calling Cyclone Pam "one of the most intense cyclones ever recorded in the southern hemisphere." 

The Church of the Nazarene, which has 11 churches in the country, began responding to the disaster immediately.

"We have at least one Nazarene church building that survived completely intact," said Todd Aebischer, Asia-Pacific regional communications coordinator. "It was packed full of people during the storm and it has remained full of those families, which continue to be sheltered and fed there."

Local Nazarenes are currently clearing debris, helping rebuild homes, sharing supplies, conducting Bible studies at shelters, distributing food, and praying, counseling, and encouraging residents.

Asia-Pacific Nazarene Compassionate Ministries Coordinator John Watton and Melanesia South Pacific Field Strategy Coordinator Harmon Schmelzenbach arrived in Vanuatu to assess the situation and conduct evaluations. Immediate response will focus on potable water, food, and shelter. At the same time, response will also focus on ministering in the name of Jesus to the non-physical needs of individuals, couples, and families in the wake of this life-changing and traumatic event.

Long-term response will work on deeper infrastructural needs of homes and church buildings. As normality begins to be restored, the church hopes to help encourage and facilitate organized preparedness for future crises.

David and Sylvia Potter, missionaries to Vanuatu, provided the following update March 19:

Last Friday, March 13, the most severe Category 5 cyclone in the history of Vanuatu tore through our tiny South Pacific nation. Those of us in Port Vila on the central island of Efate experienced its fury from about 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Prior to the cyclone's arrival we did everything we could to warn people of its coming. But, not everyone heeded the warning, so on Friday afternoon, as the winds were becoming strong and the Red Alert had been issued, we began getting phone calls from people asking for us to tell them what to do.

We woke up Saturday morning and looked outside to a scene of incredible devastation. Huge trees were on the ground with their roots lifted 15-20 feet into the air. So many of the trees in our yard were broken off or uprooted. The driveway was completely blocked with large broken limbs.  It took the afternoon for us to tow the limbs off the road in order to make it to our gate, only to find that two huge trees had been uprooted and were laying across the road leading out of our subdivision.

As we cleared the brush from the area around our gate, our neighbors came up after having walked  around the loop. They were safe and only minor damage to their home, but some houses on our loop were completely destroyed. As we stood talking our missionary partners, Jenny, Bennett, and Junior Isaac came walking along the slippery, muddy alternative road that bypassed the fallen trees. We can't describe the joy in coming together in that moment. They had survived the storm with a river of water flowing through their yard and into their home, but no structural damage. There was no cell phone service and they were coming to check on us.

We began Saturday afternoon traveling to some of the areas where we have friends, making sure that people were safe. The next day, Sunday, we were able to make it to most of the church communities in Port Vila with rice and drinking water. Huge trees and large pieces of roofs blocked many roads. In all our traveling, it was amazing to see the extent of the devastation, not just a small area, but everywhere the same devastation! What is more incredible is that as we asked the question, "Do you know of anyone from your village or family who was injured or killed?" there were only a few reports of injuries and no reports of death from among the Christians that we met with. God obviously had His hand of protection over us!

How to help

Continued prayer is requested for all affected and those participating in relief efforts.

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries created a bulletin insert with prayer requests from Vanuatu for local churches to use in their Sunday services. Individuals can also send prayer messages or notes of encouragement to local churches in Vanuatu. To download a bulletin insert or send a prayer, visit ncm.org/vanuatu.

To support Nazarene disaster response efforts through Nazarene Compassionate Ministries, give to the Asia-Pacific Disaster Relief Fund.

To send donations by mail, make checks payable to "General Treasurer" and send them to: 

Global Treasury Services
Church of the Nazarene
P.O. Box 843116
Kansas City, MO 64184-3116

Be sure to put ACM1200 in the Memo area.

In Canada, make checks payable to "Church of the Nazarene Canada" and send them to:

Church of the Nazarene Canada
20 Regan Road, Unit 9
Brampton, Ontario L7A 1C3

Be sure to put ACM1200 in the Memo area.

--Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in cooperation with the Asia-Pacific Region

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