Moving God’s Word Forward

By Rachel Greco

Welcome to Vanuatu

Imagine being at your church, surrounded by children who need to know about the God who created them and loves them, but not possessing the materials to disciple them—not even a Bible in their language.

Such is the case for many people in Vanuatu, a country in the Pacific made up of about 80 islands—not all of which are inhabited. Over 100 language groups are spread across these islands, many of which don’t have God’s Word in their language.

The Ellis family (Casey, Valerie, Beckett, Julian, Micaiah)

Casey and Valerie Ellis and their three boys have lived and served among the North Ambrym people of Vanuatu as Scripture engagement workers for seven years. “We want to see people not just have access to the Scripture, but that people are able to interact with it, are able to understand it, and are able to be fed from it,” Casey said.

This can happen through print material, audio, video, Bible studies, drama, or basically in any culturally appropriate way. Once the translation team finishes translating and checking a book of the Bible, the Scripture engagement team comes up with ways to help the community connect with God’s Word.

A local man and church elder, Calisto, became interested in the Scripture in his language. Some Sunday mornings, he preaches passionately from the small booklets that the translation and Scripture engagement teams have stapled together and duct-taped to expose people to God’s Word in their language. “To see him carrying it around with him, as if it were a complete Bible, and to preach from it, those are times where we find satisfaction in our work and trust that the Lord is going to continue that,” Casey recalled.

Calisto helps run a Bible Sunday event which introduces local churches to the vernacular alphabet, Bible translation history and promotes Scripture and Scripture materials.

Calisto has come alongside Casey to help the community engage with Scripture. One way is through taking the curriculum that the translation team developed and translated and training Sunday school teachers how to use it.

Prior to moving to Vanuatu, Casey worked in local church ministry in the U.S. and saw all kinds of study materials and curricula. But the North Ambrym people in Vanuatu didn’t have anything. “It has been a blessing for us to be able to be a part of producing some materials to help encourage the discipleship of children in our community.”

Overcoming Barriers in the Ministry

Now that the translation of the New Testament is progressing and the Scripture Engagement team is developing more material, there is a greater need to get into the more remote communities to deliver that material.

However, barriers have made that difficult. There are no paved roads on the island of Ambrym and when it rains, roads can become treacherous. There are only a handful of trucks on the island, and some are not always available or reliable.

During the Ellises’ first years on Ambrym, they depended on local transportation, which worked out fine. They spent most of their time in a small area as they forged relationships and learned the language and the nuances of the culture.

The Ellises tried to rely on public transportation for their Scripture engagement activities, but after being left for hours as the driver tended to family obligations, they decided that it would be more beneficial to have a vehicle dedicated to the ministry.

JAARS partnered with the Ellises to finish acquiring a 4WD vehicle, which they should have soon, God willing.

Besides getting a vehicle, they faced another obstacle before they could use one for ministry: how to drive it. “Once we decided that we would be getting a 4WD vehicle, I realized that I’ve never driven one,” Casey explained. When they heard that JAARS offers a 4WD course here in Waxhaw, and that they would be only a few hours away while on furlough, they came to acquire skills so they would be more prepared when they return to Vanuatu.

“The 4WD course here has been really helpful,” Casey said. “We got to learn a pretty broad scope of information in a short period of time. So we’re really grateful for that.”

Starting from the basics, they learned about the components and functions of 4WD-equipped vehicles and how to recover a rolled or stuck vehicle using recovery equipment. And then they were able to put what they learned into practice on the course in the woods at JAARS.

Because Casey and Valerie have already served overseas, Casey was able to think about the course in the context of driving in Vanuatu. “I had these specific places in mind as I went through the course.”

Both Casey and Valerie now feel confident and comfortable enough to drive on Ambrym. The course has empowered them. “Before you understand some of the components and you’ve sat behind the wheel and have overtaken a hill successfully and gone through a mud bog, it’s intimidating. And so to have gone through and experienced those things, you feel empowered to continue to learn, and to move forward,” Casey explained.

Moving Forward

The Ellises are excited to use the vehicle to do just that—move God’s Word forward into the community of this remote people who matter greatly to God. When the Ellises return to Vanuatu, they hope to use the vehicle to distribute the comic book version of Genesis that they recently printed. “To haul those books into the remote communities is really difficult by hand,” Casey explained. “You can shove some in a backpack and walk, but we’re looking forward to using the vehicle to make this process more efficient and to extend our reach into more communities.”

Walking is great for conversations, but not so great for transporting loads of Bible material to remote areas!

They’re also looking forward to spending more time in the villages that are farther away and take much longer to walk to than would be practical to visit in a day.

They’ll also use the vehicle to do more training for Sunday school teachers and take them materials, and to transport supplies to build an antenna for the first Christian radio station on the island.

God is working on Ambrym Island, and how humbling it is that we get to play a small part in helping his Word spread!

Please pray with us that the North Ambrym people would have a hunger to read and listen to God’s Word and that it would transform their lives.