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franciscan - September 1999

© The Society of Saint Francis, 1999

Minister's Letter

Brother Daniel SSF, Minister General of the First Order Brothers
of the Society of Saint Francis, writes:

It is now almost thirty years since I first came to the Solomon Islands. I can remember after my first week here writing to Brother Reginald and saying, ‘This is my idea of a South Pacific Paradise. Beautiful golden beaches, waving palms, blue lagoons, coral reefs and happy friendly smiling people.’ Sad to say, in a changing world much of this has gone. In particular, in this almost forgotten and hidden part of our beautiful planet, the people are living through what is called Ethnic Tension.

Very few people in this cluster of islands speak only one language per island. If a couple from two different islands marry, people call it a mixed marriage. Cultures, languages and lines of inheritance differ. A nation was formed and came to independence twenty-one years ago. Since then, economic development has been slow. Government and administration have been mainly centred on Honiara, the capital, which is situated on the island of Guadalcanal. The Churches have also played a large part in the development of the modern Solomons.

Towards the end of last year, the people of Guadalcanal started to ask – and then force – the Malaitan people to move out of their land and return to Malaita. Many of the Malaitans had settled with their families in the rural areas of Guadalcanal around Honiara. Others form a large part of the labour force of both Honiara and the companies which operate the various development projects around it. This assertion that they have the right to be the only people living and working on Guadalcanal has led to much fear and tension in the people of this Pacific nation.

I do not want to talk about the efforts of the Government, Commonwealth and UN to bring an end to this problem, or those of the police who have exercised a firm but restrained hand in the matter, but rather tell you about one of the many quiet prayerful efforts to bring freedom from fear and reconciliation in this troubled land.

We have four Anglican Religious Communities working within the Church of Melanesia: the Melanesian Brotherhood, the Society of Saint Francis, the Sisters of the Church, and the Melanesian Sisterhood. A new ministry has developed for our brothers and sisters: they call it ‘rescue’. It is very simple: with the unrest, and people being threatened and driven from their homes, many are fleeing as refugees to Honiara and then back to their own islands. Some are stuck without transport and help in the rural areas. I understand some, not many, have died or are missing.

Last week I took part with some brothers and sisters in a ‘rescue’. The Religious are some of the few people who seem to be able to move freely. The truck was loaded with stores to be taken to Hautambu; we then had to report to the central police station to get a pass in order to go through the police road block. After the road block, we went on for a little way and then came to the road block on the other side. People waved – not too many smiles as all was being taken very seriously, and a few arms were in evidence. Many were dressed in custom dress, kabilato, a small loincloth made from tree bark. They were armed with a couple of guns, bows and arrows and knives.

We passed on along a very quiet road, a big change from the usual traffic. After being stopped a number of times, we unloaded the stores and then headed inland to find the man who was missing, whose parents were afraid for his safety. After a number of false starts and difficult roads, we located the house. Many of the leaf houses in the area had been burnt; many of the possessions of the people who had fled were destroyed. We found out that he and his family had moved to the coast; so, loading some of their undamaged possessions and digging some cassava from the gardens, we retraced our steps to the coastal village. This was a happy ending: the parents of the man’s wife had brought them down for safety to his home. His family were very relieved; another call came later that evening to go out to the other side of Honiara.

A simple story, nothing to compare with other parts of our troubled world, but I was most impressed with the way the Religious Communities had won the confidence and acceptance of both sides. They were prepared to share their food, houses and time without any other thought than working for reconciliation and showing the love and peace of Christ in their daily lives.
We remember such things while the bombs are dropping, or the homes are burning, but the long job of reconciliation and learning once again to accept each other in love takes so much more time. So I commend to your prayers the many displaced people of the world, and those living in fear.

May our God, the God of peace and justice, bless you all. §

 

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