Joel Willie was born in the village of Sanesup on the island of Ambrym, Vanuatu, in 1915. He completed Grade 2 and Grade 3 on Ambrym and then at Aore. In 1942, he commenced service with the church as a teacher on the island of Ambrym. He taught on Tanna (1943–47), Malekula (1948) and again on Ambrym (1949). He then served as a minister until his retirement: Malekula (1950–52); Pentecost (1953–57); Aoba
(1958–61); Ambrym, at Linbul (1962), Bethel and Maranatha (1963–65), Port Vato (1966); Winn, Malekula (1967–69); Lesasa, Pentecost (1970); Efate mission headquarters (1971); Pentecost (1972); Malo (1973); Tevali, on Paama (1974); and the Banks Islands (1975–76).
In 1958, he married Lalu and they had eight children: Matty, Jack, Elaen, Meriam, Julien, Enet, Ferres and Ena, and died in June 2001. He is remembered by many as a willing and loyal worker.
Life Sketches: Joel Willie. (2004). Journal of Pacific Adventist History. 4(2). 9.
Vanuatu and their missionaries
Seventh-day Adventists first came to Vanuatu on the fifth voyage of the Pitcairn in 1896, although it was merely a passing visit, with a formal decision to begin work in Vanuatu made in 1911. Calvin and Myrtle Parker, with Harold and Clara Carr, using the medical work as an entering wedge. Parker made numerous boat trips among the northern islands, noting that Malakula was a most difficult island to evangelize. In
1913, Parker and Carr decided to purchase a property in Atchin and the missionaries threw themselves into renovating buildings on the property, learning the local language as they went. Tragedy struck when 8-month-old Harold Carr caught bronchitis and died. Clara, too, became dangerously ill, but her life was saved. However, it was imperative for the Carrs to return to the homeland. Four months later, Arthur Wright arrived.
In 1914, seven Presbyterian islanders teaching on Malakula were shot and eaten, leaving the Parkers alone with the local people. Having the respect of the people, Parker was able to act as peacemaker and a truce was made.
Also in 1914, the mission’s launch arrived. Parker named it the Eran, meaning “The Light.” In 1915, Norman and Alma (Butz) Wiles arrived at Atchin. Alma was the daughter of an early missionary to Tonga, Pastor E S Butz. Parker and Wiles next established a mission station at Matanavat on the north-west coast of Malakula. When the Wright family transferred to Norfolk Island, the Parkers remained at the Atchin
station while the Wiles pioneered at Matanavat. The Wiles adopted a little girl whose mother had died soon after childbirth. Her name was Naomi. Wiles also published a hymnal consisting of 12 songs in in the Matanavat dialect. Matanavat provided the gateway to the inland mountain people known as the Big Nambus, and when Parker walked into the heart of the Big Nambus country, he the found the area ready for missionary activity. The Wileses remained at Matanavat, making excursions into the Big Nambus territory dispensing medicines and telling Bible stories from the picture rolls.
In 1916, Alexander and Jean Stewart arrived. At the end of 1917, the Wiles returned to Australia to recuperate. In 1918 Ross and Mabel James arrived at Matanavat, and Jope and Torika Laweloa from Fiji went to Atchin. Meanwhile, the Wiles returned to Vanuatu in better health. The work of translation continued.
In the latter half of 1919, Stewart began a mission near the head of Big Bay on Santo, a site with access to the islanders on Sakau Peninsula. At Big Bay, Stewart, James and Jope erected spartan accommodation, which the James occupied while developing the station. They were joined by Jope and his family in 1920 and established a small church/school. When a request came from a local chief, Wiles resumed the work
among the Big Nambus, holding Sabbath services.
He contracted blackwater fever and soon died, at the age of 27. Alma buried her husband in a shallow grave close to their home, then leaving everything behind, headed for the home of the Stewarts, a journey of some days. She left a local youth to protect the grave, as the bushmen were threatening to take the corpse for a cannibal feast. Stewart later built a picket fence around the grave and set up a headstone.
But Norman Wile’s death cut short the advances being made among the Big Nambus. Stewart continued with occasional visits to Matanavat and inland to Chief Nikambat’s people, but mission efforts were not renewed until some years later. Stewart concentrated on developing the Atchin station and was eventually joined by Don and Lilian Nicholson who cared for the Big Bay station. It was the start of a lengthy stay
for the Nicholsons, working at various stations.
Then in 1923, more than a decade after the Adventists arrived in Vanuatu, the first baptisms were held. These converts were then employed to care for the out-stations. Nicholson made a number of trips to Ambrym in the Eran, returning with 24 young men to train at the school.
Then Parker returned for a second stint in Vanuatu, replacing Stewart. The domino effect in out-station development was nowhere more evident than on Ambrym. During the 1920s, mission work on Malakula fluctuated. Will and Louisa Smith went to the Tonmiel station and the Smiths transferred from Tonmiel to a danger zone at Malua Bay in order to foster peace and encourage the company to remain loyal to the
Parker, Nicholson and James agreed to set up a training school on Aore, which began operations in 1927. The Aore Training School has remained, but its early history was one of the most frustrating sagas of Adventist mission in the Pacific. By 1940, Adventism had spread to the islands of Malo, Aoba, Pauma, Tongoa and Tanna, but during the war, many people apostatised resulting in difficulties in rebuilding the mission post war. In addition, a time of inter-tribal fights and murders on Malakula inhibited progress.
By 1950, Vanuatu overall had regained its pre-war membership total of approximately 500 and membership continued to grow. Conversions in Vanuatu were all the more amazing because of the culture from which they emerged. Murder, cannibalism, polygamy, a pay-back system, sorcery and witchcraft were common, and the devil contested every advance. Both missionary and convert were often in perilous situations. Nevertheless, the numerous victories in changed hearts demonstrated the
power of God.
Extracts from: Hook, M. A Mission among Murders: Early Adventism in Vanuatu. Booklet 28: Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series. Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division Department of Education.
Andrew Stewart’s parents became Seventh-day Adventists in 1887 when Ellen White invited Andrew’s father, a farmer, to check the proposed site for a new school in Cooranbong, in New South Wales, Australia. He gave a positive report regarding the site and the soil. In 1903, Andrew left the family farm in Wychitella, Victoria, for the Avondale School for Christian Workers, where he completed a four-year missionary training course. While at college, his favourite teacher was John E Fulton, who
inspired Andrew to missionary service.
In 1907, Stewart married Emily Jean Stephen, a teacher and accepted an appointment as teacher and principal of the Buresala Training School in Ovalau, Fiji, for three years. Stewart was to replace the Carrs, who had accepted a call to Papua. In his second year, the school enrolled its first female student. Andrew Steward became superintendent of the Fijian field for 11 years.
Stewart was called to the New Hebrides, which had a reputation as treacherous and forbidding. Arriving in Vila, the Superintendent of Police scoffed when the Stewarts said they were going to Atchin. “The worst people in all the group. They give the government more trouble than all the others put together,” he reportedly informed them. The Stewarts continued to their newly acquired mission station, which had been purchased from a French trader who had been robbed and his wife killed.
They received encouragement from Norman and Alma Wiles, who had spent time at Atchin before moving into the highlands of Malekula among the Big Nambus tribes. The Wiles had previously cared for a baby whose mother had died. The father had returned and taken the child. The Stewarts were keen to find this “lost child” to see her progress and after weeks of searching, found the tiny, emaciated baby. With permission from the chief, Emily cared for the child, who was named Naomi. By the time Naomi was five, she could speak four languages and would share Bible stories with her people. She was treated as Stewart’s own daughter, eventually going to Fiji for training. Naomi’s biological father rejected heathenism and accepted Jesus as his Saviour. In 1936, as an adult, Naomi announced to her adopted family that she wished to marry a Fijian named Moses Magese. A child born two years later was named
Andrew Graham Stewart. But just two years later, Naomi died. Her son became a teacher eventually being appointed Education Secretary in the New Hebrides.
The work in Atchin was difficult and slow, but acting as mediator between warring tribes, he was able to implement changes. As a sign that a fight between tribes was over, they planted a tree. As the “peace tree” grew, so did the number of Atchin Christians. Gradually heathen habits and violence faded under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The gospel changed a culture of distrust and suspicion to one of reason
and conciliation. Culturally, men and women could not enter and leave a building by the same door, so Stewart designed a church building with two doors. The church was full each Sabbath and the men came and went through one door and women the other. Other changes started to take place. Some families moved their homes nearer to the church, leaving their animals in another shelter. People wanted to belong to the “clean mission.” The church thrived and expanded under the capable leadership of Andrew
Norman and Alma Wiles
In 1915, Norman and Alma Wiles began their mission work in New Hebrides. Alma Wiles was the daughter of an early missionaries to Tonga, E S Butz. Even though the new missionaries faced constant threats from hostile locals, Wiles ascended the inland mountains each Sabbath to conduct worship services for a group of the Big Nambus people. But Norman experienced fevers, until on one Sabbath, he returned home and slumped on the floor. His health degenerated to an acute phase of blackwater fever,
which despite nursing he succumbed to, dying on May 5, 1920, he died at the age of 27.
Shocked and emotionally drained, Alma buried her husband in a shallow grave. Alma persuaded the captain of a recruiter’s vessel to speak and pray in his own language as Norman was laid in his grave. Alma then went on the recruiter’s boat to Atchin. Instead of taking the perilous journey around the tip of Malakula, Alma went ashore and for two days walked through the jungle to a point on the coast opposite Atchin, where she took refuge with a villager in a grass hut. From there she was taken across the water to the Stewart’s house. Back at Wiles home, a young man kept watch at the mission station because the bushman threatened to come and take Norman Wiles’ corpse for a cannibals’ feast. Wiles’ death cut short any further advances among the Big Nambus.
Even though Alma had lost her husband, she continued his missionary vision by moving to Papua being a missionary in her own right.
Google search (2017): Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vanuatu.
From a humble beginning in June 12, 1912, the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Vanuatu has grown to some 87 Churches with more than 23,000 church members.
Vanuatu Timeline of the advancement of the Seventh-day Adventist Church
|1930s||Handful of Tuvalu islanders attend the Vailoa Training School and are baptised. The plan was that these men would spearhead the Adventist mission in their home islands, but due to the war, plans changed|
|1944||When the hostilities abated. Samuelu left Samoa and returned to Tuvalu to begin mission educational work. He and his wife, Sieni settled on the Nui atoll. His efforts were frustrated by hostilities of the local council.|
|1946||Tavita Niu, of Vailoa sent as a paid missionary from Samoa as land trustee his father’s land on the islands of Nukulailai, Funafuit and Nukufetau. This family started a little Sabbath School on Funafuti Island.|
|1947||John Howse with his new boat, a deep-sea vessel explored the islands and set up his base on Abemama|
|1947||Howse established a school and Sabbath services. Samuelu transferred from Nui to teach at Abemama|
|1949||The first baptism. The second baptism was two months later including seven former London Missionary Society members, many relatives of Niu. One of these candidates, Kusi, son Luteru and Leitu became the first Tuvaluan to be ordained as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor. A third baptism in 1950 included Binabina and his wife Tekaua, who later translated the Voice of Prophecy bible lessons and became an ordained minister. As an ex-government translator, he was able to gain permission for Howse to preach on five separate islands |
Due to persecution from local council, Tavita Niu was transferred to Abemama as a teacher
|1951||Ken and Mildred Wright replaced the Howse family, with an emphasis on expanding the school|
|1953||Frank and Jean Gifford replaced the Wright for a short while. Then Wally and Mary Dawson came and were supported by Alec and Shirley Thompson|
|1954||The first church was formed to complement the School at Kauma on Abemama on land provided by Binabina, a candidate in the third baptism in the district|
|1955||Siaosi and Kesila Neru, from Samoa worked at Funafuti. Tragedy struck and Kesila was taken to New Zealand in an effort to save her eyesight but despite treatment was left totally blind. Neru stayed along in Tuvalu for another year, nurturing a thirst for more Bible studies. His contact also requested a permanent teacher.|
Alma Wiles poignant suffering is revealed in her diary: these extracts tell the story of that terrible time of suffering and death. (2004). Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 4(2), 31-34.
Easthope. D. (2003). Volunteer service in the Solomon, Vanuatu and Kiribati Islands, 1975-2000: the prevention and treatment of oral disease. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 3(2), pp. 1418.
Hook, M. A Mission among Murders: Early Adventism in Vanuatu. Booklet 28: Seventh-day Adventist Heritage Series. Wahroonga, NSW: South Pacific Division Department of Education.
James, J. R. (2014). A vision of change: personal accounts of the impact on people of Adventist pioneers in Vanuatu. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 10(1), 4-8, 14.
Mailalong, N. (2003). The beginning: a dream: the fulfilment: a new church in Vanuatu. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 3(2), pp. 3-5.
Parkinson, L. (2002). Establishing the first permanent base of operations in Vanuatu: Part 2: Progress on the island of Atchin. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 2(1), pp. 27-33.
Parkinson, L. (2002). Establishing the first permanent base of operations in Vanuatu: Part 3: Further progress on the island of Atchin, 1916-1921. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 2(1), pp. 27-28.
Parkinson, L. (2003). Establishing the first permanent base of operations in Vanuatu: Part 4: The bush tribes of Malekula: Rel and Lalip villages. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 3(2), pp. 36-38.
Parkinson, L. (2004). Establishing the first permanent base of operations in Vanuatu: Part 5: North-east Malekula-Matanavat, Tanmiel & Emilawap villages. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 3(2), pp. 32-34.
Parkinson, L. (2004). Establishing the first permanent base of operations in Vanuatu: Part 6: Tanmaru in NW Malekula: Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 4(1), 29-34.
Parkinson, L. (2004). Establishing the first permanent base of operations in Vanuatu: Part 7: Death of a Missionary, 1920: Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 4(2), 29-30.
Parkinson, L. (2005). Establishing the first permanent base of operations in Vanuatu: Part 8: Big Bay Santo Island and Ambrym Island. Journal of Pacific Adventist History. 5 (1). 31-34.
Pietz, A. (2004). Northern Vanuatu: Keeping the programme going despite disruptions of World War 11. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 4(2), 35-37.
Thomson, S. (2005). A letter to mother: God’s care during the 1951 Christmas Cyclone Malekula Island, Vanuatu. Journal of Pacific Adventist History, 5(1). Pp. 35-37.