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Vanuatu - voted the "happiest place on earth" and promoted as "paradise on earth" by the tourism industry! Yes it is a great place for tourists, and the people are friendly, but as for "paradise on earth"...?

Even though more than 80 percent of the people follow Christianity to various degrees, belief in sorcery, black magic and animist traditions are deeply rooted. Most people maintain firm belief in the power and presence of ancestral spirits. For many, Christianity is little more than a veneer over deep rooted cultural and religious practices.

On Tanna Island every man, woman and child is aware of and may even associate with spirits. Everyone, regardless of education or church affiliation, knows about the reality of the spirit world. Although some people no longer give allegiance to the spirits of the world like they did in the past, most people are still fearful of the spirits and a lot of energy is taken up with keeping the spirits happy. In times of troubles, people may seek the 'Kleva' (sorcerer) who can consult the spirits.

Many who make a decision to believe in Jesus as their saviour simply add him to their list of "gods" or "spirits". Consequently, syncretism is a major problem in many churches. Sometimes pastors mix anti-Christian traditional cultural teachings with Bible passages when preaching from the pulpit or giving children's talks in church.

Black magic is also a problem and can take the form of a poison put into someone's food, or a spell motivated by a grievance against a tribe or a person. In early 2006 inter-tribal tensions erupted into small scale riots when one tribe used black magic against another resulting in the death of a woman.

Although there are numerous evangelistic meetings or crusades taking place regularly, they are concentrated in the major towns of Port Vila (Efate island), Luganville (Santo island) and Lenakel (Tanna island). Many people in remote bush areas and on other islands miss out on hearing the full Gospel message. This means there are still small groups who are basically unreached.

The increase in activities of well resourced cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are also a real threat to the spiritual wellbeing of the people.

GRN in Vanuatu

In Vanuatu there is a real need for Christian teaching materials, especially to help Christians grow in their faith so that they don't go back to traditional ways that are contrary to what the Bible teaches.

GRN materials can be effectively used for both evangelism and teaching. During Chris Mason's time in Vanuatu, he was able to record the Good News program in several languages, along with Scripture (in partnership with SIL Bible translators) and several short scripts dealing with God's power over the forces of darkness. The Look, Listen & Live teaching series was also recorded in Bislama.

These recordings and picture books are being used in various areas of Vanuatu. Sponsorship from a Church in Australia has helped to substantially reduce the costs of our hand wind Saber players and "Good News" picture books. As a result of this sponsorship, more than 20 Saber players and picture books are being used throughout Vanuatu.

An exciting prospect for more widespread distribution of the recordings and pictures is through the medium of mobile phones. Mobile phones have had a huge impact on the lives of people in Vanuatu, and people use them in even the remotest places. Whilst the majority of the country does not have mains power electricity to charge up phone batteries, most villages or communities will have at least someone who owns a generator or solar panel that can do the job. People can now download or copy the Christian message onto their phones, in their own language or in Bislama

Vanuatu is a Y-shaped archipelago of over eighty tropical islands, sixty-five of which are inhabited. The name "Vanuatu", meaning "Our Land", came into being after independence was granted from joint English and French rule in 1980.

Vanuatu is culturally complex. Its quarter of a million people speak more than 100 different languages. Bislama, the nation's 'Pidgin English', is spoken by most of the population and unites the diverse language groups but there are strong links between local language, place, and identity.

Around 75% of Vanuatu's population live in small rural villages or communities. Most ni-Vanuatu (indigenous people) are subsistence farmers who do cash cropping on the side. The percentage of those who can read well is quite low so the ministry of GRN is strategic. Religion and spirituality are very important for most ni-Vanuatu. The national motto is Long God Yumi Stanap ("In (or with) God We Stand"). The largest Church denominations are Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Church of Christ.

An expatriate man, Michael, and a local man, Eldrine, are now continuing the work of GRN in Vanuatu. They are helping on a part time basis to distribute materials and fill orders for CDs, picture books and players. They promote the ministry of GRN. They have also put the "Good News" recording in Bislama and the accompanying pictures onto DVD.

GRN Australia staff Chris and Cheryl Mason and their three children spent nearly 4 years in Vanuatu, returning to Sydney at the end of 2010. Chris continues to take an interest in what is happening there and may return to do further recording at some stage.