Seaside Service


Somehow it is Sunday again. When we arrived over a week ago we figured we’d stay a few days, but here we are again, joining the community in worship at the local Presbyterian church. The clanging of the bell on shore tells us it is almost time for the service to start, so we eat a quick snack and then get into the dinghy. We’ve learned that these services can be a couple of hours long, and inevitably our rumbling stomachs interrupt the sermon.

Mariellen and I are dressed modestly in long skirts and sleeved shirts in accordance with their culture (well, I wouldn’t consider myself an immodest dresser in general, but here there are strict societal standards regarding clothing). Women are expected to cover shoulders and knees, with conservative necklines. Many of the women wear long, roomy dresses with puffed sleeves and ruffled fabric in layers for decoration. And the men wear pants, collared shirts - some even have ties on. I can’t help but think I look like the missionaries who used to come to my childhood church and speak about the faraway places they traveled. In fact, while we were on our hike the other day, a young man asked Mariellen if she felt like a missionary. I wonder if they view us as such, as well.


During the service, the wooden benches filled to capacity as people shuffled over to fit latecomers. I glanced out the window to see them setting up seating under the trees - it was a full house today. I found out that the three main villages on Aneityum were here, as were the women visiting from a nearby island, Futuna. They were here all week for a conference, easily recognizable in their matching white dresses.

Like last Sunday, the worship was passionate and lively, with many songs sung in English as they were taught by missionaries throughout the years, complete with hand motions and harmony. Mr. Ben, the schoolmaster, was also the preacher today. I’d seen him carrying around a copy of Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, and the message sounded very similar to one I’d read years ago when the book was popular in the U.S. (At least from the few sentences and phrases he would sprinkle in for our benefit amidst the local dialect) After church we were asked to stand with the elders outside and shake the hands of the congregation in the traditional procession. What an honor to look into the eyes of the young and old of the community, shake their hands, and exchange blessings.

In keeping with the typical generous hospitality, we were asked to stay and share the afternoon meal with them, but after a 2-hour service, we all needed a little break. I declined as politely as possible, saying we didn’t want to infringe on their time with the ladies from Futuna. Before we could leave, though, Christopher and Fina shuffled me to their home and used a banana leaf to wrap up some freshly baked “lap lap” (pronounced lop lop) from the underground steam oven behind their house. They explained to me that it was made from grated cassava root mixed into a dough with coconut milk. Then wrapped in leaves and buried into an oven of layered rock and wood then sealed with a layer of soil shoveled on top to steam it. No electric oven. No casserole dish. No trash left over. This is more organic and ‘green’ than any Whole Foods or Trader Joes junky could manage! I’m constantly humbled by how much I am learning on our Field Trip!

Sarah Cutting Lap Lap
Our 'host family' with fresh Lap Lap after church

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