The ongoing effects of Cyclone Pam saw Gunnedah residents Neville and Bev Mammen travel across the Coral Sea to Vanuatu to lend a helping hand.
The pair from TurningPoint Gunnedah Christian Outreach Centre left Australia’s shores for 10 days to assist in the rebuild of a church on the island of Tanna.
The church is one of eight on Tanna, which need to be rebuilt as a result of the cyclone. Both TurningPoint and the Tanna churches are part of the International Network of Churches.
The Mammens were among a team of eight working with Global Care, a Christian missions, aid and development organisation. The party was led by a qualified builder who oversaw the construction.
The local couple said the trip got off to a rough start, with their transport becoming bogged on the way to the village.
Mr Mammen said the group had to get out and walk an extra 45 minutes, however, the warm welcome they received once they arrived more than made up for the initial difficulties.
“They played guitar and sang songs to lead us into their village and ceremonially welcomed us in a traditional cultural style,” he said.
Mrs Mammen said they were “very humbled”.
“They were so pleased to see us finally come,” she said.
“They loved us and honoured us as very special people.”
The Mammens said the villagers gave up their own huts so the visitors had somewhere to sleep, and they also made new toilets and bathhouses out of bambo and palm leaves. They also bought a new lawn mower to mow the grass.
“They treated us like royalty,” Mr Mammen said.
“The locals told us that we were the first white people to come and actually stay and live with them in the village.
“That really meant a lot to them.”
The Mammens ate like locals, with fresh fish from the sea a staple.
“We in Australia seem to have so much and we give so little,” Mrs Mammen said.
“They have so little, yet they gave everything they had for us to be comfortable.
“We were in tears many times.”
During her time on Tanna, Mrs Mammen “adopted” a female dog who had young puppies, and gifts were given to the youth and children.
The group spent seven days in the village and completed the building project to much celebration. A special church service was held in the new structure.
“It was more than a building project,” Mr Mammen said.
“This was bringing the love of Jesus to their lives in a tangible way.
“For Bev and I, and all the team, it was a life-changing experience.”