During the week of July 11-15, I (Mark) traveled to Rurutu, a small island about 350 miles southeast of Tahiti. There are 2,400 residents living on its 12 square miles. It was a valuable trip from many perspectives. My purpose was to go and meet as many people as possible, listen to their thoughts on public and theological education, and discuss some avenues of mutual service for significant local benefit. In other words, how can we be a blessing to this island? While I was asking that question, I met the mayor, stayed in a family home, toured the island, hiked the highest point, enjoyed the Heiva festivities and Bastille Day horse races, helped with Operation Christmas Child’s first event away from Tahiti and Moorea, taught a Bible study on the Queen of Sheba, and discussed the Bible translation project with a woman who has a degree in Tahitian and is fluent in Rurutan. Exciting stuff!
Perhaps the biggest blessing of the trip was sharing a home with the twins Tepoe and Tepo-otu, young women who are public middle school teachers. Tepo-otu recently spent a year on Rurutu as an English teacher. She had many deep insights on the difficult situation in these islands, the fruit of which I will share in my first Island Assessment, a series of short papers on public education, churches, and religion – observations, assessments, and recommendations. To put it in a nutshell, the vast majority of children on small islands drop out of school by age 12. For some time, I did not understand this, but thanks to Tepo-otu I now at least have a grasp of it. It is not pretty.
Rurutu is in the Austral Archipelago, a group of several widely scattered islands south of Tahiti. It has a middle school, but the other four islands, Rimatara, Tubuai, Raivavae, and far-flung Rapa have none. When a child finishes primary school on those islands, they must leave their families, or have their families travel with them at prohibitive cost to go to Rurutu just for middle school. THEN, for high school, Tahiti is the only option in the ENTIRE nation! Imagine, a nation of 290,000 people, scattered across an area the size of Europe, with only a few high schools on a single island! There you have it.
As we consider training pastors to rightly divide the Word of truth, we must take into account that the vast majority are under-educated. Before taking a college level course in biblical exposition that may require them to read and write, they have to evaluate their own skills. We are here to help.
Another broken element of the public education system is teacher assignments. Imagine yourself as a teacher in Paris looking at the travel brochures for French Polynesia one wintry February day. You think to yourself, why, I could be a teacher in this glorious paradise! I’m going apply right away!. Well, your application goes through the process, and because of various complicated reasons, it may be accepted over that of a Tahitian, even a Tahitian who is a native to the island post. Then, the teacher from France arrives on tiny Rurutu, and is enchanted… for a few weeks. Then the isolation and drudgery of small island life sets in, and along with it, serious depression. Surely that affects teacher performance. You get the picture.
These are just two challenges of many. Even though there are a good many French and Tahitian teachers who care very much about their students, the currents are strong and the waves high. I will be asking many of you who work in education, along with our team of innovators at Vyrsity and Colorado Biblical University to consider these challenges and offer ideas. I know we will find significant ways to change the status quo for some.
Back on Tahiti and Moorea, after a week of vacation, Rene’ and I have returned to the groove of ministry, helping out at church, child evangelism, and Bible study. There is a couple who want to learn Greek, and so we will be starting with them in August. We continue to discuss a beginning Bible school with one Bible study group up in Papeete, and meanwhile our small group on Moorea wants to recommence meeting, praying and studying. Please pray for all.
Meanwhile in Fiji…Recently we met a regional director for Operation Christmas Child, Mr. Anand Singh, who is from Fiji. During our conversation we discovered that he is a professor in a small Bible College there, and that we have mutual acquaintances going back decades. Since then I have had a Zoom conversation with Premend Choy, the president of the college. They have graciously invited me to attend their graduation ceremony in November, and have asked me to consider teaching two week modules in their Master of Arts in Biblical Studies program. That program has courses during the month of August each year. Pray for wisdom going forward as we consider options for collaboration.
Great Reports from the Marquesas
Just this past week, an Operation Christmas Child team went up to the Marquesas Archipelago. There they have met with a great reception and shared the Gospel with hundreds of children on two of the main islands. Pray that we can go with a follow up team in the near future to discuss theological education with church leaders there. The child evangelism effort seems to be stirring up some revival.