Joel Toa ducked his head and pushed tree limbs and vines out of his way. He slogged across hidden streams and through thick foliage that grew wild on the hillside. He had been hiking more than an hour, looking for a home he had been told was somewhere in a clearing in the thick undergrowth.
Joel had helped run a series of evangelistic meetings about a half hour outside the capital city of Vanuatu. He and his colleagues were following up on the interested people who had attended the meetings. They noted that several of those who had attended the meetings were Adventists who didn’t live near an organized company or church. During one such visit, the people had told him about a family who worshipped alone in a small village through the jungle.
Joel followed the man’s directions and finally found a small cluster of traditional houses spread along a rutted dirt road that didn’t appear on any maps. Eventually he located the Adventist family who worshipped alone. Joel invited the family to study the Bible with him, and they gladly agreed.
The little group met together to read the Bible by the light of a kerosene lamp. Slowly it dawned on Joel that this couple could not read or write.
Joel invited a couple to come and teach this couple to read. They agreed, and they quickly realized that a lot of others in the settlement couldn’t read or write either. In fact, none of the children who had come to listen to the singing and the Bible lessons had ever held a pencil before. Joel learned that there was no government school in the area. “We need to start a school,” he told his new friends.
A school! The children were excited to learn that they might have a school in their village. A few days later a man stopped Joel to talk to him. “This is my land,” he said gesturing around him. “If you build a school, you can have this land.”
The young man’s father heard of the plan and came to see for himself. He measured off a 13-foot [four-meter] square for a classroom. Joel explained that many students would want to study at the school—more than would fit into such a small classroom. Joel stepped off a much larger area, one that would hold about 60 children. The older man smiled and nodded. Joel asked the villagers to cut trees and gather materials for building the school.
Joel enlisted volunteers to help build the two-room school. Every weekend and holiday the men walked 90 minutes to reach the village from the nearest accessible road. They carried in their own food and water.
A few months later the school building was completed, and a volunteer teacher arrived to teach literacy to 56 adults and children. In four months the students had learned how to read the Bible. Their confidence grew as they realized that they could learn to read and expand their horizons.
The school continues to grow, and today has 180 students. More children come every week, children like Mary.
Mary had watched as children climbed the newly graveled road toward the new school. She wanted to attend school too, but her aunt, with whom she lives, wasn’t sure. One day when Mary saw the children walking to school, she slipped out of her aunt’s house and followed them. When they arrived at school, Mary stood near the forest, unsure what to do next.
She watched the children enter their classrooms. She listened as they sang songs about Jesus. A teacher saw the little girl watching and motioned to her to come. Mary walked shyly to the smiling teacher. “Do you want to go to school?” she asked. Mary nodded.
Just then a young woman carrying a baby approached. It was Mary’s aunt. “May she come and study here?” the teacher asked. Mary’s aunt thought for a moment, and then nodded soberly. Yes, she could study. Today Mary is studying at the Adventist school in the village, learning to read and write and worship Jesus.
Bible studies continue, and the class has outgrown the home they have met in. Maranatha International has erected a simple church on the school grounds to serve the congregation, which has grown from four members to 34 in four years. The church, which has been extended with a tarp to seat 100, is full on Sabbaths.
Thanks to faithful lay workers and generous mission offerings, life in Mamau village will never be the same.