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Monday, 13 December 2004

Spiritual Assistance for the Soloman Islands

In the wake of the turmoil and instability in the Solomon Islands, a spiritual assistance mission was organised with the help of Methodist Churches in the region and the Uniting Church in Australia.

With the help of Uniting International Mission Rev Sarah Williamson from New South Wales and Bruce Mullan from Queensland joined the Mission in the Solomon Islands recently.

"A jewel of the Pacific still reeling from devastating conflict," was how Queensland Mission Consultant, Bruce Mullan, described the Solomon Islands on his recent return.

In 1998 Guadalcanal, the island scene of so much violent warfare during World War Two, became the centre of a lawless conflict between the locally organised militias and the rival Malaitan Eagle Force. The fight was over land holdings but the ensuing warfare saw almost total collapse of government and society in the Solomon Islands.

"I spoke with one family whose son had been killed in the fighting," said Bruce. "His grave was in the village of Koleasi where I spent a weekend." Originally the young teenager had been airlifted to Honiara's main hospital with a gunshot wound and was recovering well when the opposing militia broke into the hospital and killed him.

Such reprisal violence was endemic in the villages, and people who had lived in peace since the missionary days in the first half of the 1900s found their communities reverting to the "old ways". "We were dying in spiritual death," said Rev Bromley T Chuchu, minister of the Koleasi Congregation in the Guadalcanal mountains. Revd Chuchu told how villagers were affected spiritually, socially, physically and mentally by the ethnic unrest and warfare. "It was all fear and panic," he said.

Led by Australia and supported by nine South Pacific nations, the RAMSI intervention force arrived in July 2003, deploying more than 2,000 men and women in the first wave to restore peace. Calling the operation "Helpem Fren" this Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands quickly restored hope to a country on the verge of political and economic collapse. Now over 3,800 people have been arrested, including militia leaders, suspected murderers and extortionists.

When Revd John Mavor from Uniting International Mission visited the Solomon Islands a year ago the United Church leaders praised the RAMSI but expressed the need for a spiritual assistance mission. The Methodist Consultative Council of the Pacific adopted this idea when it met in Samoa early in 2004.

In November 2004 ten church leaders from the Methodist churches in Fiji, Tonga and Samoa and from the United Church in PNG and the Uniting Church in Australia visited the Solomon Islands to bring encouragement and express solidarity with the United Church. The UCA representatives were Rev Sarah Williamson from New South Wales and Bruce Mullan.

"Just knowing that other churches had not forgotten them was a huge encouragement to the church there," said Mr Mullan. "There is a lot left to do, but God will use the church in the Solomons as an agent for the ongoing peace and stability that will be required after the RAMSI has returned home."

Moderator of the United Church in the Solomon Islands, Rev Philemon Riti expressed deep gratitude for this expression of friendship by other churches in the Region. "We thank God for this bond and the common concern for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ," he said.