Pilgrimage to Vanuatu

22-30 July 2011 - Waiapu Cathedral Parish of St John the Evangelist

21 March 2012

Report by Dean Helen Jacobi - 12 August 2011
Supported by the Tikanga Pakeha Missions Council Grant » 


In 2008 the Waiapu Cathedral welcomed a group of seasonal workers from Vanuatu who came to work in Hawke’s Bay picking fruit. The first year they were lodged at a Napier Backpackers and so were close to the Cathedral. In the following years they were lodged in Hastings but continued to worship at the Cathedral.

A leader of their group emerged: Philip Welin who is a licensed lay leader in the Diocese of Vanuatu. Under Philip’s leadership the group (changing each year) continued to worship with us and links were made.

In 2010 we began to plan to make a visit to Vanuatu to worship with the church there and to understand better their culture and context so we could be better hosts.

The trip took place from 22-30 July 2011. 12 parishioners participated.

Each person paid for their own airfare, accommodation and expenses.



Grants were received from the Anglican Missions Board and the Waiapu Foster Trust and were spent on gifts and supplies.



In the months before leaving we held several meetings and learning sessions: the history of the church in Melanesia; Vanuatu politics and history; language and customs. We prepared gifts and worship material and collected books.

Rev Dorothy Brooker travelled ahead of the group and spent 2 days confirming the programme.



Sunday 24 July

  • 8am Mass at Tagabe Church of the Resurrection
    • Father Dunstan Butu is the Vicar. Dean Helen preached and Rev Dorothy Brooker also robed and assisted with communion.
    • We had a formal welcome after church.
    • Children’s singing in hall (for children’s day)
    • Custom Dance welcome
    • Meeting with Mothers’ Union

Monday 25 July
Public Holiday for Children’s Day

  • Children’s programme
    • 30 or so children of all ages attended. Dorothy had prepared 3 activities and we took all the necessary materials
    • The children loved the activities and participated well
  • Mass at Fres Wota Parish; a newly established parish.
    • The Church had a tin roof and open sides.
    • Dean Helen preached (St James’ Day)
    • Refreshments served afterwards

Tuesday 26 July

  • Working bee at Tagabe
    • Cleaned the church; picked up rubbish
  • Visit to NZ High Commission
    • Meeting with High Commissioner Bill Dobbie and Deputy Suzannah Jessop
      Very interesting meeting: discussed the seasonal workers scheme and Van politics and economy; they were keen to hear of our experiences and keen to make more church connections. We had learnt a little of the history and heard more about how important their independence was. We saw evidence of this all week as celebrations began leading up to 30 July Independence Day.
  • Mass at Seaside Parish where Dean Helen preached for St Anne’s Day.

Wednesday 27 July

  • Visit to the Melanesian Brothers at the Paterson Household, Teouma; 30 mins drive from Vila
    • Welcome; discussion and presentation on the Brothers; Mass in chapel; Dorothy presided; Helen preached

Thursday 28 July

  • Visit to “Low Security” Prison; Father Dunstan and Philip Welin accompanied us.
    • We had a tour of the prison: wood work area; artists’ area; cells; literacy work.
    • All prisoners gathered (85) for welcome and we led prayers and spoke and sang. They sang two very moving songs.
    • Prison is run as “faith based” unit; all expected to participate in worship.

Friday 29 July

  • Visit to Kawenu Training College
    • http://www.ifev.edu.vu/council/vite.html
    • Students on holiday but met Principal Jacques Gedeon and Deputy John Atkins
    • 100 students on 3 year programme
    • Looked at library and left books there; library is well supplied but serves the needs of schools across Vanuatu
  • Mission to Seafarers
    Father Michael Tavoa. Brief meeting in their office
  • Farewell at Tagabe Parish
    All parishes invited; speeches; kava; gift of mat and walking stick to seal “parish partnership”; singing.


The trip fulfilled our expectations of being able to make connections with the Vanuatu Church and understand better their culture and context.

Group members were struck by the “high” liturgy, the devotion of people to the church and liturgy. We were very aware of the poverty and lack of what we would consider basics such as electricity and water, yet were also aware of the contentedness of the people and their lack of desire for “more”. At the HC meeting the comments was made that after 3 or 4 years of work in NZ the workers have “enough” and don’t see the need to continue working for any more years. We were humbled by the generosity of the welcome and the hospitality shown to us.

We could see the importance and centrality of the church in people’s lives. There was no secular/religious division like in NZ. We could see also the importance of the Vanuatu workers continuing to attend church and not getting caught up in NZ’s “secular” cultures and attitudes. We need to find more ways to reach out more to the Anglican workers we do not know yet.

Having Rev Dorothy Brooker in the group was very beneficial. Dorothy and her late husband Arthur were missionaries in Ambae in the late 1960s. He tragically died there in Sept 1970 and is buried there. Dorothy was greeted by many who knew her and remembered her as a majority of Anglicans with secondary education went to the Vureas School on Ambae and others had heard of the Brookers and had visited the grave. They are remembered with great affection and so gave our group mana and credibility.

There is a definite future in this partnership. We have the personal links to make this partnership strong. How it will play out in the future is unknown but could include:

  • continued and more intentional support of the seasonal workers
  • regular communication and sharing of info: newsletters etc
  • prayer – we need to add the parishes of Tagabe, Fres Wota, Seaside and the Brothers to our regular prayer cycle
  • visits – a visit from the Vanuatu side outside the seasonal workers would be beneficial but would raise the issue of airfares and cost
  • a return visit from us in 2013 – should include a visit, maybe by a smaller group to Santo to visit the Bishop and to travel to Ambae to see where the NZ missionaries were based.