Fiji Relief Trip Day 7

This morning we were able to make contact with two pastors on Kioa Island to confirm that we could come over and distribute the fishing gear I brought to Fiji. They would pick us up in a skiff and take us on a 30 minute boat ride to the island. The rain stopped during the night and so the ocean would be calm. It was a wonderful trip.

There are 72 families with a total of 400 people living on this small island just off Vanua Levu Island where I’ve been staying. Every one of them depends upon the ocean for their livelihood. At least a dozen small boats with outboard motors were in the water near the beach as we landed. On shore were several handmade outrigger canoes.

Typhoon Winston hit the back side of Kioa particularly hard, with massive tidal swells. Virtually all crops were destroyed, though most animals were spared. They made their way into the forests above the village and so did not drown. Since there are no root crops, people are forced to buy rice, if they can afford it. And of course they fish.

Yesterday I was in a marina shop on Vanua Levu and had a chance to look at the lures for sale there. The prices were outrageous and the quality was not the best either. So what we brought was a real treasure. I looked into a couple of tackle boxes some of the men had on their boats. All their lures were homemade. They work, but not as well as the pricey manufactured lures.

You should have seen the eyes of these professional fishermen light up when they saw the excellent selection of lures I had arrayed on a table in the church. They were like kids in a candy shop as they picked up lures and discussed how well these lures would work for them. After they had taken everything I had, they were profuse in their thanks.

One fisherman is on the ruling council of Kioa. He said it was hard to explain how important this contribution was to the well-being of the families on the island, especially in light of recent losses.

Aisake and I are spending the night on the island and leaving in the morning. We had a lovely fish dinner. Fresh caught wahloo among other items.

Thanks again for all your prayers and support.

Fiji Relief Project Day 6 Monday 2016

We had quite a bit of wind and rain throughout the night. A bit of a squall. I had to close all the louvered windows in my room and move stuff away from the outside walls to keep everything dry. The sound of the surf was pleasant, though, eventually lulling me to sleep.

This morning we drove into Savusavu to buy the last of the relief food supplies we need for the churches in this area. We left half of the food at the home of the local pastor to distribute to the families closest to the main church. Then we hired a 4-wheel drive vehicle with driver to enable us to take the rest of the food to the most remote of the highland congregations.

The trip up reminded me of so many other off-road adventures over my years of ministry in various countries. This road was really quite nice compared to some I’ve driven on.

There are 8 families in that church. Like so many, they lost all of their crops and sustained significant damage to their homes. We met the pastor and his wife at the store in town where we were loading up the food. These two do not draw any guaranteed salary from their ministry in their remote location.

This afternoon we will head back to town to buy fuel for the boat that will take us to the fishing villages on two islands where we will distribute the fishing gear I brought with me. If it’s still raining, we’ll most likely have to postpone that trip to another day. If that is so, we will drive to the Dreketi area on the other side of the island. That’s where we will check out our bee projects and plan for our December medical outreach.

Thanks for your prayers. Blessings!

Fiji Day 5–Sunday June 19 2016

Up early again this morning to eat breakfast and head to the church in Savusavu where I delivered the message. There had been a wedding at the church the day before, and a number of folks who were family and friends had travelled from Taveuni Island to be at that event. Several stayed over to attend church, which meant there was a fairly good sized group filling the pews.

There were four individuals who had just sailed into the harbor on a round-the-world tour who also joined us. One couple was from Virginia, a retired naval officer and his wife who will be staying in Fiji for about 3 months. Interesting people.

This is a day to relax before we begin relief efforts again in the morning. It’s a lovely Fiji day with a fantastic sky and a brilliant, multi-colored ocean.

Thanks again for your continued prayers. Blessings!

Day 4, Fiji, Saturday, June 18, 2016

Aisake and I began the day early as we needed to catch the 7 a.m. ferry from Taveuni Island to Vanua Levu Island where I am based during this mission. We were staying at Aisake’s daughter’s house at the Taveuni Hospital. She and her husband are both doctors and they basically run the hospital. We had arranged for a cab to pick us up early enough for our boarding time. The cab did not come, so at the last minute, we caught another cab that had delivered someone to the hospital. By then it was after 7 a.m. No worries. The ferry didn’t leave until around 8:30 a.m. Fiji time.

The crossing can be nasty, I’m told. There is an extremely strong current running through the coconut strait and often there are high winds. But we had another very smooth crossing. There was a bit of chop but nothing worth mentioning.

The hour bus ride from the landing to Aisake’s house was also unremarkable. Though the road is unpaved for over half the trip, the suspension is excellent on the express bus and the seating is comfortable and fairly wide. My seat mate was a farmer from Taveuni who farms about 300 acres. Like so many others, he lost his entire crop and his house was more than 50% destroyed. He says it is like starting all over after so many years of farming.

We got to Aisake’s house in good time, had some tea and then headed into town to buy iron roofing material for the house of one of the pastors we work with. His house was badly damaged during Typhoon Winston. This pastor does not receive any guaranteed income from his congregation, so he definitely benefits from this help. I say we bought the roofing material. To be more accurate we ordered it. The hardware store is completely out but we are told a supply is expected this coming Thursday.

I have often wondered why there were so few deaths as a result of this storm, the most powerful ever to hit land in the South Pacific and the 2nd most powerful to hit land anywhere in the world. The sustained winds were clocked at 186 mph with gusts up to 235 mph. The tidal surge was routinely 10 ft and up to 60 ft in some locations. It was over 200 miles across. Yet there were fewer than 75 deaths from across the nation on all the multiple islands that were hit by the storm. I firmly believe it is only by God’s grace that hundreds more people did not die in this storm. There can be no other rational explanation.

I told you yesterday about the village of Navakawau and the 5 waves that were flattened by winds just before they could destroy the village and kill most of the inhabitants. Let me tell you another story that drew national attention right after the storm.

In another coastal village, Nakodu, there was one small, fairly well constructed house that was on a slight rise within the village. Everyone from the village crammed into that structure in order to be safe. Once everyone was inside, people were packed so tightly they couldn’t open the doors.

However, as they fled in panic to take refuge in this house, they forgot about a crippled man who lived in the village. They accidentally left him in his house down by the beach. As the storm began to rage and grow stronger, this man crawled out of his house on his stomach and made his way inch by painful inch to the place of supposed sanctuary. Someone inside saw him through a window. Everyone was too fearful to try to go out and get him and they couldn’t open the doors even if they had wanted to.

Then they saw a massive tidal surge rushing toward the village. It swept through, destroying everything in its path. The house was not on high enough ground to survive the onslaught. The man meanwhile had reached the door, could not get in and was beginning to crawl back down toward whatever shelter he might find.

When the wall of water reached the spot where he was crawling, it split and went on both sides of the man and of the house which was now immediately behind him. The wave wrecked havoc to the entire village as it surged around the man and the house. Destruction was everywhere. As the wall of water receded, it again parted around the house and the man, leaving them untouched.

How many stories like this must there be that we will never hear? Stories like these provide some evidence to the truth of my belief that God intervened to spare lives.

Thanks for your continued prayers. Blessings!

Day 3 Fiji Report, Friday, June 17, 2016

This morning we caught the express bus in front of Aisake’s house for an hour ride to catch the ferry from Vanua Levu Island to Taveuni Island. I was last on Taveuni, known as the Garden Island of Fiji, around 2009 to lead the final Global Day of Prayer held on the International Dateline. The trip across the Coconut Strait took 1 ¾ hours. The ocean was almost as smooth as glass.

We arrived just before noon and immediately hired a 4-wheel-drive cab-behind-cab truck and made our way to the stores to purchase relief food supplies for one of the churches we work with. There are 14 families in the congregation of around 90 people. Six families had their homes destroyed, two totally and four damaged more than 50%. The pastor’s mother’s home was destroyed except for the cement block walls.

It is almost impossible to buy building materials, as all the hardware stores are almost sold out of all essential supplies. It is also very difficult to find a carpenter, as they are all engaged rebuilding the multitudes of destroyed or damaged homes on the island. Virtually all crops were destroyed as well. Tens-of-thousands of coconut trees have been stripped of nuts. It will be some time before the Garden Island lives up to its well deserved name.

Pastor Peni told me an incredible story of God’s grace to the villagers who live in the village of Navakawau. Navakawau is on the utmost southern tip of Taveuni, right on the beach. Most of the people there attend one church. When Typhoon Winston hit, almost all the villagers were at home, having decided to ride out the storm in their houses. When the eye of the storm came over the village, all the winds ceased, bringing an errie silence. People ventured out during this brief respite to assess the damage to that point.

When they got outside, they looked toward the ocean and saw an immense tidal swell that was higher than the tallest of the coconut trees, meaning it was over 30’ in height. It was rushing inexorably toward them at immense speed. They cried out to God, because they knew they were all doomed. Immediately a powerful wind from the opposite direction blew into the face of the wave and flattened it. This happened five times, as wave after wave attempted to wipe the village and all the inhabitants into the sea.

Is God incredible or what?!

We leave here by ferry at 7 a.m. tomorrow to return to Aisake’s home. I will preach on Sunday at the church Aisake attends.

Thanks for your continued prayers.

Day 2 Fiji Thursday, June 16, 2016

Today we began our relief efforts by purchasing and delivering food to two church groups in two remote village areas. Aisake had arranged in advance with the pastors of these congregations that we would be providing food for members of their congregations. Both of these churches have about 50 in attendance from about 7 families each. All the members are subsistence farmers who lost all of their crops during Typhoon Winston. Because they are in such difficult to reach locations, they were overlooked by such aid as has been provided by the government.

These folk mainly depend upon two root crops, dalo and cassava as their primary dietary staples. Those crops take from 9 months to a year to reach edible size. However when the crops are destroyed as thoroughly as they were, farmers need to get new tubers or slips to begin to grow for a new harvest. Presently they cannot obtain the new starts as all crops were destroyed and no one has anything to replant from. This will be an issue for months to come. In some cases, the roots of the old plants will begin to sprout by themselves and ultimately produce new plants that will mature over time.

We can provide rice, flour, sugar and canned fish. But this will only sustain them for a brief period. They still face long-term hunger issues. It is also not advisable to provide too much food at one time for various reasons. So we will look into trying to set up some sort of reserve food base in a location that can serve the needs of these families over a longer time period until they can get back onto their feet and begin to harvest their own crops again. They have planted some other vegetables. Those that have sweet potatoes have planted those and can get a crop in four months or so. But most don’t have access to any kind of potato.

It is sad to drive by thousands of coconut trees that have lost all their nuts. Coconuts provide oil, milk, copra and dried coconut meat. I am told it will take over two years for the trees to begin to produce again, and many will simply rot and die instead. It is interesting to see that not all trees lost their fruit. There will be a long stretch of trees that have been mostly destroyed and then there will be trees that look just fine. However the destroyed trees far outnumber the good ones. I recall seeing a similar pattern of destruction after tornadoes where I used to live in the Midwest. Blocks of homes were destroyed and then there would be a few homes that were not touched at all.

Tomorrow morning Aisake and I will take a bus to the end of this island and catch a boat over to Taveuni Island to provide relief to some of the congregations that we have a past relationship with over the years. We’ll spend the night there and return to Vanua Levu on Saturday morning. As we head over, we will meet with a group of fishermen and distribute some of our fishing lures and gear.

Appreciate your ongoing prayers. Thanks and Blessings!

Fiji Day One, Wednesday, 6/15/16

It’s about 36 hours since I last slept, though I did doze a bit during the 11 ½ hour flight from LAX to Nadi, so this will be brief. The trip over was a bit bumpy, but not too bad.

PTL, Fiji Airlines did not charge anything for the extra trunk I brought over. The woman who was checking me in recognized me from previous medical mission trips and on her own initiative got permission from her manager to check the extra trunk for free. One trunk was full of water filters, the other of fishing tackle that we are giving away to those who lost everything in Typhoon Winston. I was also allowed at no cost to check an additional 15 lb. item previously approved for humanitarian supplies.

I’ve come through so frequently bringing in medical teams and have talked with these people about what we have been doing here since 2003, that we have served over 17,000 Fijians around the nation with free medical services. This is a face-to-face society. When folks know you, they really pay attention to who you are and what you do. I guess the statement, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify God” means what it says.

Tomorrow a.m. Aisake and I will begin to visit some of the most severely damaged villages on this end of Vanua Levu Island, the 2nd largest of the Fijian Islands. We will assess needs and begin to provide such assistance as we are able. We will distribute some of the water filters to homes we visit. We also hope to be able to get over to one of the main fishing islands to begin to distribute the fishing lures and tackle to those whose livelihood is based on fishing.

I can hear the lovely sound of the surf nearby. It is gently raining. I can no longer keep my eyes open. But this was a truly blessed day. So appreciate your prayers as we move from place to place.

As we say in Fiji, “Vinaka vaka levu” Or “Thank you very much.

Medical Matters–Prayer Requested

I was supposed to leave for Fiji last Tuesday, 5-31-16 to deliver relief for victims of Typhoon Winston. However I have had to postpone that trip because of my wife’s illness.

I took her to her primary care doctor on the morning of the 31st. The doctor thought from the symptoms Judy was experience that she might have appendicitis. I had to take her to the ER for further evaluation because of how her insurance works. She was admitted to the hospital for a number of tests. The diagnosis was bacterial colitis. She was badly dehydrated, having lost 20 lb. in 3 weeks. She had not been able to keep anything down for the 30 hours prior to my taking her to the doctor. She has had severe hip and leg pain for the past 6 weeks and was due for a spinal block on June 7.

She had an MRI yesterday which revealed she has an extremely severe bulge in the L-4/L-5 area of her lower spine. In the doctor’s opinion this, and not the unusual curvature of her lower spine, is causing the pain in her hip and leg. She will have a nerve block injection in her spine in surgery tomorrow (Saturday) at 11 a.m. Pacific time, at Los Alamitos Hospital where she has been for the past 3 days. The procedure takes about 1/2 hour and then she is in recovery for up to 2 hours. If this blocks the pain, it is still only a temporary solution which might last up to 6 months, and if there are no complications, she should be released to return home either tomorrow evening or Sunday a.m.. If it increases the pain or does nothing to reduce the pain, a neurosurgeon will review the case and she will most likely be scheduled for surgery within a day or two to resolve the matter.

My trip to Fiji has been rescheduled for June 13 and will last for a little over 2 weeks.

Appreciate your prayers.

Cyclone Winston Hit Fiji Hard

On Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, Fiji experienced the most devastating cyclone ever to hit land in the South Pacific. By a margin of only 6 mph, Cyclone Winston was the second largest storm ever to be recorded hitting land anywhere in the world. The news media in Australia described the combination of events as a “worst case scenario” for creating widespread destruction.

This was a class 5 storm with sustained winds of 143 mph and gusts up to 202 mph. When it made landfall on the largest island, Viti Levu, the sustained wind speed was 180 mph. Winston was moving at 12 to 16 mph, which is fortunately a fairly fast pace so it did not linger over any one area for a long period of time.

The destructive area of winds around the eye stretched 211 miles across, as large as Fiji’s two main islands combined. The central air pressure was 915hPa, making it extremely devastating to structures. It created waves and a tidal surge up to 40 feet high on some islands, dropping torrential rains that caused massive flooding in many inhabited areas.

Fortunately, the reported loss of life is only around 70 people, though some remote areas cannot be reached even two weeks after the storm. Communications are still down and it has been impossible to get to many places to access the circumstances.

The top half of Viti Levu (the main island), and the bottom half of Vanua Levu (the 2nd largest island) were exposed to the most destructive forces of the winds. In addition, the cyclone went directly over and through at least 10 other sizable inhabited islands as it approached the two main islands. The Coral Coast and Nadi, the main tourist areas, experienced quite a bit of flooding, but did not take the brunt of the winds.

All power on the two main islands was knocked out for over a week. Though power is now restored in most large city areas, some rural locations may be without electricity for weeks or even months to come, so widespread is the destruction to the power grid. Schools were closed for up to two weeks throughout the nation while a preliminary assessment of damage could be carried out. Many schools and rural clinics were completely destroyed or damaged so badly they cannot be used without extensive repairs.

In a number of villages only 2 or 3 structures remain standing. All other homes and businesses have been destroyed. On the islands affected, virtually all crops have been wiped out. The loss of livestock, especially chickens, is almost total in a number of villages and on a number of islands where we have accurate reports.

Despite the fact that the U.S. news media have ignored this story, I’ve waited to report to you because I’ve been trying to get news from friends and ministry partners in the places TUtP has worked over the years. None of my contacts have lost loved ones. All of my contacts have their homes intact, or they suffered only minimal structural damage. Most have lost all their crops and most of their livestock. Our bees seem to have survived with only minor damage.

I just heard a few minutes ago from a pastor friend in Suva who pastors one of the largest churches in Fiji, that at least 50,000 Fijians are still in relief shelters two weeks after the storm ended. The entire nation has only around 850,000 citizens.

I would like to raise at least $10,000 to help those who have been affected the worst by this event. I will work directly with my church and government contacts to get funds to those who have the greatest need. We may not be able to do much, but we can do something. Let me know if you can help. When funds are available, I’ll travel to Fiji to deliver what we can make available.

Thanks and Blessings!

Final Fiji Report Sept 2015

This is the final report regarding the latest Fiji Outreach trip from August 11-Sept 14, 2015. I have been home for a week recovering from the trip and catching up on the mound of things that piled up at home and in my office while I was gone.

This was a very difficult trip in many ways, as I was seriously ill during much of my time there. I got pneumonia at the beginning of my first full week in-country during our medical outreach, and I totally lost my voice for two weeks. Our beekeeping trainer and my assistant, Aisake Emmanuel also came down with the flu or cold that was going around. Nonetheless, God did great things:

During the Dreketi Outreach we treated a total of 242 patients:

All 242 received eye and ear examinations
124 pairs of glasses were distributed
52 dental patients had extractions—many had multiple extractions
53 individuals were prayed for regarding various requests
11 individuals rededicated their lives to Christ
84 people received Christ—24 were Hindus and 4 were Muslims.

Our team in Dreketi is now following up on those who received Christ to begin the process of discipleship.

During our youth camp in Savusavu, six campers gave their lives to Jesus during the first evening. After a week of evangelism training on the last full day of camp our newly trained campers led nine individuals to the Lord during their practicum at a local hospital. This was the first time these kids had ever done any witnessing. What an encouragement to them to see the Lord honor their efforts.

As a result of what happened at the camp, our team has been invited to be the speakers at a massive youth camp in May of 2016 on Vanua Levu Island. This is a camp that is held every two years by several congregations throughout the island. They anticipate over 200 youth attending from the four major islands of Fiji and from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. What a marvelous opportunity the Lord opened up.

During our two weeks of beekeeping training near Labasa, our team taught eight two-day training sessions that reached about 230 existing beekeepers. We worked together with the government, particularly the Ministry of Agriculture, the Commissioner’s office and the Northern Development Program. We also worked with ITC, an AID agency. We visited Fijian villages, Indian settlements and urban areas. Throughout the sessions we were able to explain that we do what we do for the sake of Jesus Christ and hold devotions prior to each training period.

Providing this training has positioned us very well for future work within these locations. From among those we trained, we hope to identify at least 20-25 mentors for more intensive training so that they will be able to continue to help advance the skills of those we helped during this year’s activities.

During our final week we assessed the beekeeping project in Lomawai and made a decision to move all our assets to Labasa on Vanua Levu to advance our activities in that location under the direction of Chuck McCay and Aisake Emmanuel, our coworkers in Fiji who helped facilitate all of our efforts this year. These two will be continuing to coordinate our work on an ongoing basis over the next few years. We were able to move all of our bees, but could not complete the relocation of all our equipment. I just learned via email yesterday evening that arrangements to move the remaining items to the new location are going forward with the help of John Samisoni, another friend and coworker in Fiji.

I am currently completing one last course of antibiotics and steroids my doctor prescribed last Thursday. Chest x-rays showed my lungs are clear, but I still had inflammation that needed to be dealt with.

God accomplished so very much during this trip. This despite my illness. You were a part of everything He did through your prayers. I cannot thank you enough for standing beside us through these efforts and accomplishments.

Blessings!