Micronesia, thousands of tiny islands sprinkled across the western Pacific Ocean, is a contrast: the wealth of tropical beauty amidst the stark limitations of opportunity.
Every year, scores of Seventh-day Adventist student missionaries (SMs) from colleges and universities across North America head to a year of service in these islands and atolls. There they find eager children ready to learn in far-flung places like Majuro, Pohnpei and Palau. Walla Walla University (WWU) has sent out many of those student missionaries — some of whom are spread across the Northwest as WWU alumni with treasured memories of their iconic SM year.
Now an opportunity has come to match those past memories with current and future possibilities. The North American Division (NAD) territory has extended in recent years to include the Guam-Micronesia Mission (GMM), which embraces the islands so often served by our student missionaries. To help with this expanded challenge, the NAD has given each of the nine union conferences in North America a specific area of responsibility within the GMM. The unique “assignment” for the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) is to develop a growing partnership with Palau that may add resources and new opportunities for Palawan youth.
Assessing the Need
In February, a small NPUC delegation returned from a short visit to the island country of Palau to meet church leaders and assess ways for Northwest members to support this new mission opportunity. The group included John Freedman, NPUC president; Dan Linrud, Oregon Conference president; and Doug Bing, Washington Conference president.
They returned with a list of ideas gained from observation and candid dialogue with GMM and Palauan church/school leaders, pastors, church members and student missionaries. These ideas address several critical areas of need throughout Palau:
- Upgrading Adventist educational facilities/resources: The local elementary school and academy no longer offer the finest facilities in the islands of Palau. Desks, chairs, whiteboards, computers, audio-visual equipment and even textbooks are in great need of replacement. If Adventist education is to remain a desirable mission outreach in Palau, these updates are necessary.
- Creating better bridges to higher education: Palauan youth have difficulty connecting to opportunities beyond what’s available on the island. Increased touches and options from mainland Adventist universities may help create better bridges between Palawan schools and future goals for Palauan young people.
- Big picture strategy: GMM and Palau educational leadership can benefit from additional guidance in establishing a long-term plan for their schools. Northwest educators can help provide professional experience in that process.
- Student missionary mentoring: Every student missionary could benefit from having a mainland mentor — a professional Adventist teacher who can join them regularly on FaceTime or Skype to be a sounding board.
- Youth ministry connections: Palauan Pathfinders will gain from sponsorships to mainland camporees. Selected youth might benefit from sponsorships to a week or two at a Northwest summer camp.
During the 2017–18 school year, among the student missionaries on Palau, two were from Walla Walla University: Zayne Browning and Bri Johnson. Browning, who was focused on physical education efforts at the academy, acknowleged that many Palauan students could benefit from real opportunities beyond their current vision. Johnson, teaching in the elementary school, reiterated what many other SMs confirmed — new desks and chairs are desperately needed.
Leonard Quaile, GMM education director, says SMs are the lifeblood of the Adventist educational system in Micronesia, and more are needed. "We need approximately 140 SMs a year to fill all our needed positions," he says. "This past year, though, we were only able to fill about 70 of those slots. In the U.S. you're trying to find students for the teachers. Here, we're trying to find teachers for the students."
Reflections From the Delegation
Doug Bing, Washington Conference president, has a personal connection to Palau through his wife, Wilma, who, with her brother, spent earlier years in the area. Bing says, "It’s gratifying to see young people, our student missionaries, doing such integral work for the Adventist mission in Palau. We're anxious to come alongside with encouragement and support in ways that make sense for Northwest members and our church in Palau."
Dan Linrud, Oregon Conference president, agrees. "I'm eager," he says, "to encourage and empower this collaborative mission whenever and wherever possible."
John Freedman, NPUC president, points out, however, that it’s not money that will make this partnership work. "The Holy Spirit is what will make the difference, building a passion within us to do what needs to be done in His way," he says. "We need a collaborative spirit among us that brings us all together on a common goal.”
How Northwest Members Can Help
These church leaders are not oblivious to their local challenges. Certainly, the Northwest has its own great needs. This highly unchurched, post-Christian culture is perhaps the most challenging mission field of all. Our Alaska Conference struggles to reach its vast territory. Every other conference — Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Upper Columbia and Washington — faces its own unique issues. So this new opportunity to help the Adventist mission in Palau is not a call to neglect Northwest priorities in favor of a new shiny project over the horizon.
It is, however, a chance for churches, schools and individual members to engage with a unique mission project all our own. Other entities around North America are mobilizing to help the remaining islands of Micronesia. Palau is our focus, our responsibility, our opportunity. Can this be the target of future short-term mission trips by Northwest members and students? Is this a chance for Northwest Sabbath School classes to adopt a unique portion of the needs? Will elementary classrooms embrace a sister relationship with corresponding grade in Palau? Northwest Adventists have historically been mission-minded. In recent decades they have given sacrificially for Operation Bearhug meetings in Russia and sponsored students on countless short-term mission trips around the world. This is the latest opportunity to extend our mission focus beyond our own shores.
A Partners for Palau web presence has been created at http://palau.npuc.org. We encourage interested churches, schools, Sabbath School classes and individual members to visit this online site to find tangible opportunities to help and a process to follow if they wish to collaborate on a particular project. Updated project information will be shared through the Gleaner and local conference communication channels in the weeks and months ahead.