The Presbyterian Church in Canada, in solidarity with the entire populace of Vanuatu, is responding through PWS&D to the devastation caused by Cyclone Pam. PWS&D has made an initial $10,000 contribution and is accepting donations to help with this response. This immediate response is for the provision of hygiene kits for clean water as this is one of the most critical needs.

PWS&D is asking Canadian Presbyterians to join in prayer for the nation and people of Vanuatu, a country first reached with the Christian message by Nova Scotian, the Rev John Geddie, in 1845. The Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, then the Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America, and finally The Presbyterian Church in Canada, supported this mission field until 1925.

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Vanuatu Disaster 2Background

Between March 13 and March 14, category five severe tropical cyclone Pam hit the Pacific Island Nation of Vanuatu. The cyclone was one of the strongest ever recorded in the Pacific Islands with sustained winds of 270 km/hr gusting to 360 km/hr. The United Nations has stated that Pam could be one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the Pacific. Vanuatu’s President, Baldwin Lonsdale, has appealed to the global community for help. Thousands of people are in temporary shelters. Entire communities were severely damaged in some areas. Islands in the north and south of Vanuatu were hit most directly. While eight people have been confirmed dead it is expected that the final death toll will be much higher. Communications are down, many areas are inaccessible and information about civilian safety outside of the capital of Port Vila is not known. Hospital services in the capital of Port Vila are inadequate, clean water is unavailable, electricity services are down, the one international airport was damaged and is closed to commercial operations. It is expected that the total population of around 220,000 people are affected.

Vanuatu ranks number one on the list of disaster vulnerable countries. The scale of this disaster is well beyond the means of local agencies and the government of Vanuatu to cope with. While strong efforts in disaster preparedness have been implemented for several years, communities outside the capital of Port Vila are particularly vulnerable due to lack of government services and reliance on subsistence farming for survival. Act for Peace, along with other NGOs and the government of Vanuatu, have been supporting local communities with disaster preparedness for several years. However, disaster response infrastructure is poor, the majority of the population live in unstable dwellings with variable access to clean water and health facilities. A large response is needed to provide lifesaving services including medical, food, WASH and shelter. A longer term response will be required for rebuilding and re-establishing basic infrastructure, homes, schools and livelihoods. There is also unprecedented damage to the country’s subsistence agricultural sector. While initial emergency relief activities are essential for saving lives, rebuilding basic infrastructure and restoration of farmlands and livelihoods is essential for the long term.

—With information compiled by the ACT Alliance

National and international response

Vanuatu Disaster 3An informal state of emergency has been announced. Current resources are not sufficient for immediate response or ongoing recovery. PWS&D is collaborating with ADRA Canada in the provision of hygiene kits that will be flown over promptly by Global Medics.

PWS&D has contributed $10,000 to an initial response in collaboration with ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) to provide emergency shelter kits, hygiene kits and food aid to 400 households. The response also includes latrines for evacuation centers as well as protection kits for those centers (generators for lights).

The following is a prayer shared by Uniting World, an agency of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia.

A Prayer for Vanuatu and countries affected by Cyclone Pam

Romans 8:35, 38–39
Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God of Creation,

We raise our voices in prayer and lament for and in solidarity with the people of Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji and other islands affected by the destructive path of Cyclone Pam.

We particularly think of the people of Vanuatu as they begin the long term process of assessing need and priority in rebuilding homes and country.

We think especially of the islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu who continue to struggle with flooding and rising sea levels, accentuated further by cyclones and changing weather patterns.

We are particularly mindful of those who have lost family and friends and for those who are still awaiting news of their loved ones.

We are thankful for the many aid and relief agencies that have begun assessments and plans for rebuilding Vanuatu and affected countries.

God of Creation, through your renewing Spirit, inspire resilience in the nations and peoples of Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Fiji as they continue to hope, plan and build a sustainable future.

God of hope, hear our prayer. Amen.

—The Rev. Seforosa Carroll


[accordion_section title=”Presbyterians in Vanuatu—A Long Canadian Connection”]
Formerly known as the New Hebrides, Vanuatu is a group of 83 islands and home to just under 200,000 people. It is in the South Pacific Ocean between Fiji and Australia. The British and French who settled the New Hebrides in the 19th century agreed in 1906 to an Anglo-French Condominium (known to locals as “pandemonium”) which administered the islands until independence in 1980.

On September 24, 1845, the Foreign Mission Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia appointed their first missionary, Rev. John Geddie. The Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, then the Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces of British North America, and finally the Presbyterian Church in Canada supported this mission field. In 1925, this Mission was turned over to the Presbyterian Church of Victoria (Australia).

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu is the largest Christian denomination in Vanuatu, representing more than 30% of the population of Vanuatu. It has approximately 78,000 members and 400 congregations, as well as 450 house fellowships in six presbyteries. The church became autonomous in 1948 as the Presbyterian Church in the New Hebrides. After independence in 1980, most of the members of the new government were Presbyterians because the Presbyterian Church is the only denomination that established a theological seminary and concentrated on education the Ni-Vanuatu people. It employed indigenous pastors and teachers.

The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu is headed by a moderator with offices in Port Vila and is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

To mark the 160th anniversary of Dr. and Mrs. Geddie’s arrival in New Hebrides, Pastor George Aki, Moderator, and Pastor Kalsakau Urtalo, Assembly Clerk, were invited to attend and address the Presbyterian Church in Canada’s 138th General Assembly in Ottawa in 2008. Prior to the General Assembly they visited Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.


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*Photo credits: ADRA Canada