Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

A late drink (or snack or something) tonight with my neighbour Tim Moore led him to recount a miracle he’d once witnessed.

I wanted to repeat it here, so Tim Downstairs has kindly written it up in his own words. It's a fascinating 10-minute read, but if you're in a hurry, I've highlighted what I think is the most interesting bit in blue. Take it away Tim...

Back in April 1997, I was travelling to the Honiara, Solomon Islands, with a team of 12 people from my church in Auckland, Howick Community Church, for a short term mission lasting a few weeks.

The whole trip for us had many unknowns, like what we would be going to be doing the next day, or even where we were going to spend our first night in Honiara.

We arrived in Honiara about 8:45pm, on a flight from Auckland via Port Vila, Vanuatu. It was about 28° even then, and the humidity was something that most of us weren't quite expecting, and a 737 load of people crammed into what felt like a small wooden building with two immigration counters, with no airconditioning was a bit of a shock to the system.

Their terminal building was cramped, with only louvres high on all four walls for air flow, the roof, made from wood framing with a bare corrugated iron roofing visible from the inside. It must have taken over half an hour for us to get through immigration, and then their primitive customs service, searched by hand every piece of baggage, and then charged us a heavy import tax on some items that we brought over for the missionary family (Murray, Robyn and family) who were based in Honiara that we were spending some time with.

This process probably took a further half an hour or so.

From there, we were allowed out of the customs area into the arrivals area, where we met Murray and Robyn, and got ourselves together, from here we went out into the carpark, which, typical of Honiara, was mud, with a few puddles. We were split into two groups, and we piled ourselves and our gear into two vans, and we were driven about 10km into the city, to the place that had been organised for us for the next few nights.

That night, we were aware of all the sounds around us, everything from vehicles going up and down the main road, which was a block or so away, to the lizards in the trees and the outside of the building, dogs barking (there's plenty of dogs), the odd mozzie buzzing around, and then at 6am, the bells at the church on the corner of the main road.

Sunrise was about 6:30 am, and by about 7am, we were all up and moving around, and having a brief look around the hostel grounds, not venturing very far at that time.

Breakfast over, Murray dropped by, and took us into the centre of Honiara in his red van, where we spent most of the day looking around places like the markets, shopping areas and the city centre, and getting NZ dollars exchanged for SI dollars.

Most of us did do some shopping for lighter, more local clothes and things. We were by far the odd ones out, as the local people are the very dark, much shorter Melanesian people, and in our group there was a couple of 1.9m plus white guys! Talk about standout! The locals were all wearing old shirts and lavalava or scruffy shorts, which to us looked as if they had not seen a wash for maybe a month or more...

You need light clothing there, with sunny days getting up around 34°, and maybe 95% humidity.

We had lunch around the many stalls in and around the market area, lots of traditional Solomon food, as well as some Chinese and Thai stalls as well, we had a good lunch, and it was (for us) very cheap.

That night, we went around to Murray and Robyn's place up on the hill behind Honiara for dinner. It was a good night, sitting outside with the gentle trade wind breeze blowing. They put on a fairly traditional Solomon Island meal for us, the rest of the evening was spent talking about what was going to happen the next day, and for the coming week. We were going to a few of the local schools in Honiara to talk, something that we were dreading, as we are not experienced public performers or speakers.

We got back, must have been around 10pm, we all slept very well that night, as the heat and humidity during the day was very draining.

The next day, we were doing the trips around to some schools, first to a primary school. I have memories of bubbly, lively kids who were eager to see us and get their photos taken with us! From there it was on to a high school in Honiara, where we spoke and did a couple of acted out "plays" all with a message, and we spoke about where we are from, and our paths and christian experiences. All of this was under a huge tree in one of the school fields. The students were dressed in very local style uniforms, and were very well behaved, although many of us did spot the odd bored looking face amongst the many. Typical teenagers!.

After this, we had to do some more organising for the coming weekend, our group was to split into two teams, one team was going with Murray on his yatch to a group of islands north of Honiara, and our group was to fly to the other side of Guadalcanal Island, to a place called Avu Avu. There was some doubt as to the availability of seats on a plane, or even if there were any flights to Avu Avu, and even then, we had not heard back from the people over there, so we didn't know if they were ready for us.

The flights organised, and then out of the blue, we met somebody from the Avu Avu area who had heard that we were coming, at the airline ticket office.

With that bit sorted, less than a day from the time when we were supposed to go, we were relieved.

Here we are, literally in a foreign country, and not knowing what we were doing from one day to the next, or where we would be, we just had to trust God that he was very much in the driving seat and in control.

We had one more "gig" to do, this time at a high school/tertiary college, in front of around 400 people, this time we got into it and enjoyed it, we got them involved a bit more, and later had a chance to talk in more detail to some of the students.

That night, after dinner we were back at the same place, talking to the tertiary students, that was a good evening. When we were not talking or performing something, we watched foot-long lizards chasing big moths across the ceiling.

In the tropics, the bugs, lizards, spiders cockroaches etc are upsized, and everywhere!

Last night in Honiara was full on, and bed was very welcome, and once again, despite the heat and mozzies, we slept quite well.

The morning was spent packing and getting organised for the team separation, we all went to Murray's place, and when the time had come for our group of six to go to the airport, we said our goodbyes and piled into Murray's red van. We checked in, and waited for our plane to arrive. Things in the Islands happen in 'Island time!'

The plane arrived, and stopped out in the middle of the runway, we had to carry all our gear out to the plane and load it in, before climbing in, before saying a short, but to the point prayer for a safe trip. We looked back to see all sorts of things being loaded in the back, from sacks of rice to containers of kerosine and other fuels for lanterns etc, that sort of stuff would never be allowed to fly in NZ!

We took off and flew in towards the hills, and after about half an hour, the Weather coast could be seen stretching out below us, we flew down and landed at a grass airstrip about 50m from the beach, and just as the plane stopped, maybe 100 or more people just appeared out from the bush, and came over towards the plane.

All of the stuff that had been loaded on board was unloaded, and taken back towards a small building off to one side. We assembled along with the man we met at the Honiara ticket office, who took us to a waiting tractor with a trailer behind. The tractor lurched forward, and we were taken off into the bush (no idea at that stage where we were being taken) to a village about 15 minutes along this track, where we were given a lunch made up of boiled rice, some root vegetable and a fish soup like dish, complete with fish. While we were having lunch, we heard the plane take off and fly out to sea before turning inland again.

After lunch and a short break, we were taken down to the beach, and loaded into a small boat, for a half hour (Solomon time) trip back up the coast, to the village where we were staying. Picture a small boat, designed for 5 or 6 people, but with 10 on board, plus all our gear, not a lot of boat above the waterline, but we got there.

We were met at the village by the village pastor and a dozen or more kids, and then led to the hut where were would stay for the next 4 days or so, the pastor had let us use his house, and had moved in with somebody else in the village!

After dinner that night, a thunder storm moved in from out off the coast, just going past us, we missed the torrential rainfall, giving us a good hour long lightning show.

In the darkness that night, the air had a heavy feel to it, maybe because we were over 50km from mains power and electric lights, it was pitch dark, and our hut was on the edge of the village, behind us was thick bush where the hills rose steeply.

We had a difficult sleep, as the floor was not flat, and we were sleeping on coconut fronds woven into a mat right on the floor, and the unfamiliar sounds of the night were all around us.

We got up early the next day, the villagers have a church service twice a day, every day, at 7am and 7pm, and then breakfast of fresh pineapples and other fruits was brought over.

The day was spent getting to know the villagers, and swimming in the sea and the local stream, a dozen or so kids in tow, but as the sun set, and we had dinner that night, I had this sense of unease, unsure about a lot of things, what we were doing, why, for whom.....

Much later, I don't know what time it was, I went and sat down on the beach with one of the others from our group and looked out to sea, the moon was peeking past a cloud as it rose out of the ocean, and we sat looking up at the stars and talked for a few minutes, the moonlight was now starting to become bright enough to see where you were going and what was around you.

After a while, the other person went back to the hut, and I stayed on the beach and prayed, I just had a chat to God about how I was feeling about a few things, and how I was feeling uneasy about not knowing what we were doing then next day, or what we were doing.

I gazed out into the night sky, and this sense of "Well, I can move mountains through faith if you have faith, you need to have faith that I have everything under control and you need not worry about tomorrow" (reminds me of a verse that someone once told me, Matthew 6:34, goes something like "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself").

I sat staring out over the water, when I saw what appeared to be two stars move slowly in the sky from one point to another and stop, but all the time maintain their position relative to the other. I'm sitting there, at this stage, not quite sure if I was "seeing" something, my imagination or what, and then it was as if somebody said to me "Are you doubting me, are you doubting your own faith?" "I have control over everything, the universe, the earth, the sea".

After a few minutes, the sea swell died down and the sea went flat, dead calm like a mirror, OK, it had the odd ripple, but you could see the stars reflecting off the water, and then, just as quickly as the swell disappeared, it came back as it was before.

After a minute or so more, I returned back to the hut, the moonlight bright enough to light my way, everyone was preparing to go to bed for the night, and the fireflies were just coming out and flying around the nearby trees.

The next day was spent pretty much as the first, except that we were working with the local school kids, teaching them about our journeys and where we are from, and we had chances to perform our bits and pieces for them. We went down to the local stream for a swim, then it was back up for dinner etc., and the evenings' activities.

That night after we went to bed, I went off to sleep once I had got comfortable on the uneven wooden floor, I woke up early, around dawn, after dreaming about some sort of fight going on all around us, all sorts of strange creatures were all out, and we were in the middle of it all. I can't describe it accurately, but it was very weird. I often can't remember any details of dreams, other than the strange factor of the dream.

When the others got up, I heard that one of the people in our group woke in the middle of the night, got up and went outside and sat down on a seat under the thatched veranda at the back of the place, only to find his wife (yes, they were both in our team) sitting out there, and she too had woken at the same time. They sat together and talked for a while, watching the fireflies blinking around them in the darkness, when, without warning, the moon disappeared behind a cloud, not even the stars were visible, and then the fireflies stopped blinking. They said it went totally black, and the air around them started to feel like it was crushing them, becoming extremely heavy all around them.

They said that they became very afraid, and began to pray aloud to God. After several minutes of the crushing darkness, the fireflies began to blink in the darkness, and the air began to feel like it lifted, by now stars were starting to become visible, and the moon reappeared, along with the sounds of the nightlife. Even the toads that are everywhere at night seemed to disappear, but had now returned.

That morning, the sunlight definitely felt nicer, and brighter, it was almost as if the colours present in our surroundings were brighter than before. The clouds rolled in during the early afternoon, and the heavens opened mid afternoon, that evening there were several decent thunder storms that went through, seemingly right through the night, the rain was torrential.

Our last day at that village was fine and sunny, but the humidity was sky high, making the 3 hour trek to the next village a very draining experience in mid 30 deg temperatures.

The next village we were at was more spaced out, and the school was right behind, the atmosphere here was lighter, and the air seemed to flow more around the place, and the hut where we were staying was more in the middle of the village. We spent a few days here, working with the kids, and learning more about how they lived, they gave us plenty of things, made sure we were comfortable, they gave us handpainted lavalavas, our bedding was similar to the previous hut, but the coconut fronds mats had some other leaves underneath to make it a bit softer to sleep on, which made sleeping easier.

The only strange thing we noticed at night here was the rats that scurried around the hut, through the rafters of the hut and even around us as we slept. If you stepped outside at night, it looked as if the ground moved away from you, but it was just the toads, hundreds of them. The toads were fist sized, and a green-brown colour.

There was a bigger stream nearby, and the beach at this village did not drop away as steeply as the last village's beach did, but here the waves were good enough to try and body surf, and big enough to get dumped by, as I found out.

We spent the next few days helping out the village people with a number of things, before our time there came to a close, and we had to walk another hour to the area high school, where we spent our last night before flying back to Honiara.

The trek to the area high school was difficult, again very hot and humid, but a lot of it was up a dry river bed, which I found quite challenging with a big pack on my back.

I had the extra difficulty of having caught some sort of cold like virus in one of the villages, as most of the kids had runny noses and sniffed a bit, obviously something going around that they were used to.

I was having trouble with blocked ears, and as a result, I had trouble balancing in the river bed, and it was worse when we crossed the part that wasn't dry, having to wade through flowing water in a stony river bed was very hard.

Thankfully, once we'd crossed the river, we only had a few hundred metres to go before we got to the school and could sit down and relax.

That evening, the school generator came on for a few hours, so we had some lighting for a presentation to the students there. We really got into it, and they enjoyed it, we had plenty of time to tell our individual stories of our christian walk, and answer questions before the generator stopped for the night.

That night we slept in a spare room, on a concrete floor with nothing under us, and I'm sure it was one of the best nights' sleep I've ever had, even the mozzies didn't bother me. The mozzies here are known to be carriers of malaria, and if you don't take antimalarial drugs, your chances of being infected are very high.

The next morning, we got packed up, so we could get to the airstrip for the flight back to Honiara plenty early, because flights here operate on Island time, it will come when it comes, it might be early, it might be late. We spent a few hours around the airstrip before the plane arrived, but when it did we loaded everything up, and prepared to leave.

We took off, flying along the coast for a few km, giving us a view of many of the places that we had visited during our time on the Weather coast, before turning inland and climbing over the hills, which rise very steeply from the sea on the Weather coast of Guadalcanal.

After about 40 minutes in the air, we started to descend back into Honiara, that was when my blocked ears started to cause trouble.

We were met at the airport by Murray, and from there we headed back to Murray's place for lunch, which after all the rice and taiyo for meals, was really appreciated, a bit of time to catch up with the other half of the group and compare stories etc.

From there, we travelled about 40km (about 2 hours on Island roads) to Tambea resort for the last couple of days in the Solomon Islands, a bit of time to relax, swim, sleep, and enjoy each other's company.

On the morning of our departure, we had to be at the airport at 6:30am, which meant we had to be up at about 4am, and leave no later than 4:30am.

Our flight left Honiara at 8:30am, we flew out over Iron Bottom Sound (It's not called iron bottom sound for nothing, there are a large number of WW2 ships sunk there, and they are visible from the air still), before turning back over land, and heading towards Port Vila to refuel, the first part of the flight taking 2 hours. We spent probably 45 minutes on the ground at Port Vila, before taking off and heading direct to Auckland, a further 3 1/4 hours on.

We arrived back into Auckland and were welcomed by a group from our church, they had arranged transport for us to get back home from the airport, where it was pretty much head to bed and a long sleep for everybody.

Tim Moore.


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