Adventists Respond to Crisis in Honiara, Solomon Islands; Staff Evacuated

Honiara, Solomon Islands
Ray Coombe / ANN
Adventists Respond to Crisis in Honiara, Solomon Islands; Staff Evacuated

Twelve of the Seventh-day Adventist Church's expatriate staff based in Honiara in the Solomon Islands, were evacuated on Thursday afternoon, June 8

Twelve Seventh﷓day Adventist Church expatriate staff based in Honiara in the Solomon Islands were evacuated on Thursday afternoon, June 8, on the Australian naval vessel HMAS Tobruk. The group was comprised of seven women, four children and one man, all from the church’s compound of the Western Pacific Union Mission (WPUM) and Betikama High School located seven kilometers east of the town, near the airport where gun﷓fighting broke out last Wednesday midday.

The husbands and other male expatriates have decided to remain, although the president of the Adventist Church’s South Pacific Division, Pastor Laurie Evans, has urged them to leave as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Pastor Lawrence Tanabose, Secretary for the WPUM, has been asked by the Australian High Commission and the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, Mr Batholomew Ulufa’alu, to act as a mediator between the two warring factions. Pastor Tanabose crossed the front lines of the rival militia groups on Thursday afternoon and secured an agreement from the Isatabu Freedom Movement (IFM) to a ceasefire and talked with representatives of the Malaita Eagle Force (MEF) on Thursday evening. It is believed that an agreement has been reached which will ensure that a visit by the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, and other Commonwealth leaders will go ahead this weekend.

Throughout the crisis, triggered by the armed seizure of the Prime Minister and key facilities around Honiara by the MEF, WPUM President, Pastor Neil Watts, has been in contact with church head offices in Sydney and has spoken to the media on several occasions.

Watts told the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday that while the church did not approve of the “forcing of a democratically﷓elected government from office,” the Solomon Islands government had been “tardy and ineffective” at resolving the tension between the people of Guadalcanal and the immigrants from Malaita.

Last week, the church released a statement to the media in the Solomon Islands which called for a cessation of conflict and respect for the government, and it affirmed its neutrality in the crisis.

The public statement concerning ethnic tensions reads:

“As an organization, the Seventh﷓day Adventist Church wishes to state clearly that it remains neutral in the current tensions and wishes to see peace restored.

“We call upon all parties to cease fighting, respect democratic processes and allow the peace process to go ahead.

“We believe that the use of force to extend one’s views is unacceptable. When Solomon Island people turn their guns upon each other with the view of annihilation instead of resorting to discussion and conflict resolution, it is a national disgrace.

“We strongly oppose the use of armed force for political or any other purpose and condemn the current fighting taking place near Honiara.

“We therefore appeal to Solomon Islanders to lay down their guns and come to discussion and conflict resolution strategies immediately. Ethnic tensions are disruptive to society whenever they occur and lead to distrust and the destruction of truth and integrity as well as to senseless killing and maiming of a nation’s young men.

“We would call on all people of the Solomon Islands to be united in the spirit of Christ who told us to love even our enemies and pray for those who do wrong to us. In an increasingly divided world, a unified church will exhibit a spirit of love, tolerance, understanding and forgiveness, which is the only lasting answer for a society torn apart by tension and self﷓interest.

“The Adventist Church urges all its members not to be involved in either side of the conflict.  We remind them that following the teachings and example of Christ means that we do not take up weapons and become involved in armed conflict.  We call on all local Adventist churches to consider applying church disciplinary action if any members become involved in such activities.

“We are praying that all those involved in negotiations be given special wisdom and guidance to find fair and acceptable solutions to the current problems and to restore peace quickly to our nation.

“As a result of the crisis, employment of nationals in the capital of Honiara has been disrupted, and incomes and livelihood are threatened. Schools have all been closed and attendance at church services is down. Consequently the income of tithes and offerings are affected and the ongoing activities of the church will be disrupted.

“We ask our members throughout the Division and the world to uphold the safety of our church members in the Solomon Islands and pray that a peaceful resolution will be found quickly.”

Seventh﷓day Adventist membership in the three Solomon Island Missions totals 29,477, with 165 churches, a large education system of 74 schools and one hospital.

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