Chief Isaac Wan admires the boat motor that Bibles For The Poor Society is about to purchase for his village.
Dave and Abby had arrived a few days earlier, keen on organizing all the details involved in arranging for the delivery of the bibles the following Sunday. Ken and Mendy Nehrbass, Wycliffe SIL workers on Tanna, had requested the bibles to help in their discipling work. We were excited to assist them in their ministry and to establish a good working relationship with the Wycliffe organization. But first it was decided we would take care of another ministry opportunity. We would meet with Chief Isaac Wan, head of the John Frum Cargo Cult, who just happened to be visiting at a village compound in Port Vila, not more than a mile from the Wycliffe guesthouse where we were staying.
Dave and Abby had found Chief Isaac a few days before my arrival to Port Vila and had arranged a meeting with him on Friday, November 3rd. Over the years they had met several times and had developed a good friendship. So much so that on this trip Chief Isaac requested a box of 16 Bislama bibles; we saw this as representing a major breakthrough for the gospel and in hindsight a significant sign of what God was doing in the Chief’s heart.
In addition to the Bislama bibles we were also delivering a 30 hp outboard motor which the Chief had requested of a writer who was doing an article on the John Frum Cargo Cult for the Smithsonian Magazine in Febuary 2006. The writer asked Chief Isaac a very direct question: “If you could have anything you wanted from America, what would that be?” Chief Isaac responded without hesitation, “An outboard motor to help my people be more productive in fishing and build a better life for themselves.” When this request was shared with a number of concerned donors back in Canada it only took a few months and the required funds were raised for the motor.
So on Friday morning, 10:00 am, after a good nights rest, we arrived at Chief Isaac Wan’s Port Vila compound, Bislama bibles and outboard motor in hand. The Chief was waiting with a number of his immediate family. Quickly the large box with the motor inside and the smaller box of bibles were unloaded from the pick-up truck and laid on the ground. The top of the box was turned into a table and hospitality items of food and drink were placed on it. After formal introductions led by Jack Reuben, Vanuatu’s regional director for The Bible Society of the South Pacific, Dave was given a few moments to speak. Dave, speaking in Bislama, mentioned that both the motor and the Bislama bibles were gifts from many people, young and old, back in North America who cared for and loved Chief Isaac and His people. The gifts were given with the intent to not only improve their lives here on earth but more importantly, especially in the case of the bibles, give them knowledge of how to attain Eternal Life in the hereafter. Towards the end of his speech Dave drew attention to the reality that unfortunately there are many pretenders in the Church with the implication that this fact should not prevent one from sincerely following Jesus Christ.
In Vanuatu, protocol in these types of gift-giving ceremonies calls for a formal response from the recipient. Even though an elaborate ceremony was reserved for the next day, when we actually were to deliver the motor and the Bislama bibles to the entire village on Tanna, Chief Isaac felt compelled to respond with a few words. With great anticipation we waited to hear from the leader of the John Frum Cargo Cult. As the old chief rose to speak, we were all struck with surprise by the simplicity, sincerity and power of his first words. He said, “Me no pretender. Me have Jesus in my heart.” The words had the trademark of a primitive ‘confession of faith’, similar to the early church’s confession, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ However one interprets them, the words went deep into the hearts of all who heard them giving rise to the conviction that Chief Isaac Wan, leader of the John Frum Cargo Cult, has placed personal faith in Jesus. Scripture attests, ‘…with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.’