Where is Vanuatu?

Pronounced Vah-noo-AH-too
• 83 islands
• 230,000 inhabitants
• 109 languages
• 75 languages need the Bible

Vanuatu is a nation made up of 83-plus islands scattered over 700 miles of the South Pacific Ocean. Australia is the closest continent, 1200 miles to the west. The Solomon Islands are to the northwest, Fiji is to the east, and New Caledonia is to the southwest. The two primary towns are the nation’s capital, Port Vila (approx. 35,000), on the southern island of Efate; and Luganville (approx. 10,000), located on the large northern island of Santo.

What’s Vanuatu Like?

The Y-shaped chain of islands covers more than 500,000 square miles, but only about 7,000 square miles of it are land! It has varied landscape, from rugged mountains to dense jungle to sandy beaches with vast coral reefs. The islands are, in fact, summits of mountain ranges rising from the deep ocean floor. Because of its position over shifting tectonic plates in the earth’s crust, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common.

Most of the islands are inhabited, but the outlying areas are often isolated by the terrain and lack of telephone communication, transportation and educational opportunities. The economy is predominantly subsistence agriculture, but there are developing industries in coconut oil, fishing, cattle, and tourism.

Formerly the New Hebrides, the islands were ruled by an Anglo-French condominium government that was created in 1906. During WWII, 500,000 Allied troops were stationed throughout the islands in the war against Japan, and the American presence left a positive impression. Independence was gained in 1980, after some years of struggle, and the nation became Vanuatu. It continues the hard work of development amidst seasons of instability.

Who lives in Vanuatu?

Approximately 200,000 people live in the island chain. Over 80% of the population is ni-Vanuatu, the local term for their indigenous peoples. Those from other backgrounds, such as: Australian, Chinese, Japanese, European, American, New Zealander, and other Pacific islanders comprise the minority in citizenship or residency.

Vanuatu claims the highest proportion of languages to populace in the world. 109 indigenous languages have been documented as being spoken in Vanuatu. The three languages recognized as “national” are Bislama, English and French. The lingua franca Bislama, often heard in the two town areas, is becoming more widely used by rural ni-Vanuatu. As a trade language, Bislama functions well in allowing diverse linguistic groups to communicate on a basic level. However, there are limitations (such as a small vocabulary in which one word could have several different meanings and a lack of words for many abstract or complex concepts) that make dialogue difficult on a spiritual level.

The education system teaches in either English or French, not Bislama (resulting in an inconsistent written standard for Bislama). Most teaching is by rote, as materials are limited, and classrooms are frequently overcrowded. Some children, especially in rural areas, cannot continue schooling because of financial or geographic constraints. Children who do succeed in finishing the primary level face an extended absence from their home environment, in order to attend secondary boarding school (often on another island). Literacy estimates vary.

What’s the Need in Vanuatu?

On the islands, 109 language groups coexist, many living simple lives in rural areas. Approximately 75 of these people groups speak unwritten languages. The government wants these ni-Vanuatu tribes to have their languages put into writing and then be taught how to read and write their languages. Currently, there is minimal Christian training in the context of local language and culture. Linguistic and literacy specialists, as they use the Bible to fulfill educational goals of translation and literacy, also engage remote peoples with the powerful truth of God’s Word. This is a monumental task-but we’re excited about the role we’re playing in facilitating the logistics of establishing and sustaining such a process.

What is Up & Up Ministries’ Approach?

The nation views itself as Christian, and statistics show around 90% of the population identifies with various denominations. Identification with a church is often based on social, geographical, or political factors, and traditional religious beliefs and customs still have a pervasive influence. Others reject Christianity along with other “white man” associations of education and healthcare. Foreigners are viewed with a mixture of politeness, curiosity, skepticism, and mistrust. The Vanuatu government is cautious about approving religious agendas, but it does give out visas and work permits (renewable annually) to skilled, caring foreigners who will educate their people.

Therefore, our approach has evolved to include more ni-Vanuatu involvement in both the planning and implementing of ministry facets. Rather than imposing our American-styled programs on the people of Vanuatu and risking cultural offense, irrelevancy, or dependency on “white man” we aim to encourage and enable the efforts of godly ni-Vanuatu in reaching their own people.

Resource Services

We frequently function as a vital support link for linguistic and literacy specialists who work in “the bush.” Their physical needs are valued, as well as their emotional and spiritual health. We help when needed with:

  • Building projects (consultation, design, finding materials and workers, etc.)
  • Transportation
  • Supply buying and delivery
  • Storage of items in town
  • Computer questions and internet use
  • Lending Library ( loaning resource materials such as books, magazines and DVDs)
  • Childcare (while parents shop for supplies or enjoy a date!)
  • Hospitality (meals and laughter!)

Team members are taking advantage of opportunities to mentor and encourage several ni-Vanuatu individuals on an on-going basis in areas of:

  • Bible study
  • Christian relationships
  • Church leadership
  • Personal finance and budgeting
  • Carpentry, masonry, and more.

Advice, dialogue, or hands-on assistance is frequently sought out by others in the Luganville and rural communities.

What is our Ministry Plan?

Our strategy for reaching the needy people in the remote parts of Vanuatu is grounded in a base of operations in Luganville, the largest town (pop. less than 10,000) in the northern islands. Bill and Christina Widup spent their first two terms focused on learning the trade language and culture while laying the critical relational and logistical groundwork, in addition to beginning several avenues of ministry. Up & Up Ministries was begun, a national organization with a vision for making available practical training, integrated with Biblical truth, to ni-Vanuatu in the northern islands. Tony Liliord, a ni-Vanuatu started volunteering with the Widups in 2005; his wife Maxine, from New Zealand, joined Up & Up in 2007; and another ni-Van volunteer named David came on the team in 2008.

Looking ahead, the Up & Up field team desires to “keep on keeping on” with the original goals. We’ll continue to develop our Resource Services in order to 1) facilitate personal growth and leadership development in committed nationals, as well as 2) undergird the efforts of linguistic and literacy specialists. We will continue to pursue a greater level of input and partnership from godly ni-Vanuatu. As opportunities unfold, our team will also continue to support the complex process of preserving the yet-unwritten languages and promoting literacy in the heart language of remote peoples, through Bible translation projects. As logistical help is given to the linguist/translator missionaries, opportunities surface for ni-Vanuatu to learn about a variety of subjects. These concepts are taught one-on-one or in small groups both in-town and rural settings. We desire to impart valuable knowledge and skills, while also sowing seeds for spiritual impact.

Nabanga Kristin Skul is an exciting facet of ministry that reflects Christ while reaching toward the educational needs of northern Vanuatu. The side-by-side teacher training program and 4-6 year old kindergarten class first opened its doors in February 2011. The long-term vision embraces opportunities to advance literacy in languages being translated, while promoting the work of Bible translators, through expanding the existing school and starting sister schools in villages where translation is underway.

Nabanga Kristin Skul

June 2020– Here is an update from Maxine, director of the program:

2020 has proven to be a year like no other so far. One of our teachers, Rachel Tafau, has taken a year of leave this year. So Noeline Kimson is working alongside Losselinie Enock to teach the children. Our enrolment numbers have dropped this year, starting term 1 with 14 children. We only got through 7 weeks (half) of the first term before schools in Vanuatu were required to close indefinitely due to COVID-19. Then two weeks later, a category 5 (highest intensity) cyclone hit the island of Santo and other nearby islands, causing significant damage to Luganville and destroying some rural areas. Nabanga Skul suffered some damage to its roof, the shade over the sandpit, part of the fence, the outside noticeboard, and some resources. Praise the Lord the damage was only minimal compared to the majority of the kindergartens and other schools around Luganville. Only about half a dozen of the kindergartens were still standing.

We are now in recovery mode. The yard and inside the classroom have been cleaned up and some repairs have been made, but there are still more repairs to complete. While we do not know when schools in Vanuatu will be allowed to operate normally (following COVID-19), we are thankful that our kindy is in a position to begin operation again when permitted.

Get Involved

You can be part of our home team!

We deeply appreciate each group and individual who has committed to strengthening our efforts on the “front-lines” with diligent intercession and sacrificial investment.

Please consider the many ways in which you could join with us in serving the people of Vanuatu: