From Brother Richard Carter, Saturday 9 August 2003
To all my family and friends, companions and supporters of the Melanesian Brotherhood,
[ACNS source: Church of Melanesia] I am writing to let you know that yesterday it was confirmed by the Australian intervention force in Solomon Islands that the six brothers who were taken hostage in April of this year by the militant leader Harold Keke have been killed. For the last week rumours had been circulating. Yesterday the leaders of the intervention force met with Harold Keke on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal and they were informed that these hostages have been dead for some time. The six brothers set off from Honiara on the 23rd of April in order to find out what had happened to Brother Nathaniel Sado who had reportedly been murdered by Keke and his men. They wanted to find out if this was true, the reason for his death and if he was indeed dead to bring his body back to Tabalia for burial. The six brothers did not return. For weeks the community day and night have been waiting, hoping and praying for their safety. Making contact with Keke was difficult but all the reports and news we received was that the brothers were being kept hostage but were alive and well.
In June the situation became even worse when five novices and two brothers in the neighbouring district of Babanakira were also taken hostage. Four weeks later first four of the novices and then two weeks after that the final novice and two brothers were released. Keke seemed reconciliatory. He even asked these novices to pray with his group and preach to him. He sent them back with pigs and shell money. We were so thankful to get the novices back safely but were worrying from their stories that none of them during their captivity had seen any sign of the original six brothers taken. When the novices were released Keke said he wanted a ceasefire and yet we did not understand why he had not released the original 6.
Yesterday our worst fears were confirmed. The Melanesian Brotherhood was officially informed by the Police Commissioner William Morrell that they had been informed by Keke that all six were dead.
It is hard for such news to sink in. These were six young innocent brothers who went out in faith and in love in search of their Brother. It seems too much to bear that they should have been murdered in cold blood. I would like to tell you a little about each one of them for each one will be so missed:
Brother Robin Lindsay is our Assistant Headbrother and has been in the community for many years. He was four years Assistant Head Brother in Solomon Islands and four years Headbrother in PNG. This year because we needed someone of his experience so much he put his studies at Bishop Patteson Theological College on hold and came back to help as Assistant Head Brother. He has great leadership skills. I call him "the encourager" because he has time for everyone and helps build on their strengths. He is known and popular where ever he goes in PNG and Solomon Islands and even Norfolk in the UK. With his strong handshake and absolute dedication to his work the community feels in safe and caring hands whenever he is around. He is brilliant at resolving conflicts and helping everyone feel valued and a part of the community. He is so greatly loved, how much he will be missed.
Brother Francis Tofi from the time he was a novice was so bright and attentive in all his studies. When you meet him you know straight away that here is someone with a deep spiritual life and gentle wisdom. He asked constant questions and understood intuitively what it meant to be a brother. First in Malaita and then on the Weather Coast of Guadalcanal at the time of tension and its aftermath he showed incredible courage. Here was a brother who was prepared to speak out, to condemn violence and the use of weapons and protect lives of others even at great personal danger. There are stories of how he was able to resolve conflicts and rescue those who were being beaten or in danger from the rebels. Early this year the World council of Churches offered him a place at the Bossey Institute in Geneva to study and contribute to a course on Conflict Resolution. He was so excited about the prospect. He had become a good friend of mine. I was aware of the possible danger he was in working for disarmament and particularly because he had not been afraid to speak out against Keke. But his courage was very great. He told me he was not frightened of dying in God's service and in his work for peace. I reminded him that God wants LIVING sacrifices and he had his whole life ahead of him. He laughed for death never really seems a possibility in one so brave and full of life. Today we packed his only possessions in a small grubby black rucksack. A few shirts, a couple of pairs of shorts, his uniform and some books to return to his family. I cannot believe he is dead.
Brother Alfred Hilly. He is a young and humble brother, for two years he has been looking after Chester resthouse in Honiara. Sometimes the guests find him a bit quiet and vague but he has great kindness: always giving up his bed and mattress to provide extra room for guests. He takes particular care of the kids who love coming to the house. He makes sure they get fed at lunch time and has been helping young Selwyn whose parents have deserted him, learn to read. This year he trained in Malaria research and qualified to read blood slides at the local clinic. This has been so helpful to all the religious communities who bring their blood slides to him for the fast diagnosis of malaria. And now dead.
Brother Ini Ini Partabatu, naughty and outspoken brave and full of energy. He is a brilliant actor and became a key member of my dramas and joined me on the Brothers mission and tour to New Zealand in 2000. Before joining the community he worked in the drama group of Solomon Islands Development Trust performing dramas about development and health issues. Ini as a Brother has been brave to speak out against all injustice. He even confronted the SI Police Force when he believed their methods were unjust, brutal or failing to respect the rights of the people.
Brother Patteson Gatu. He is full of joy and so motivated as a new Brother. He was only admitted last October and always smiles from ear to ear when you meet him. The last time I saw him just before Easter he was telling me about when he was fired at while trying to land on the beach as well as enthusing about a sermon I had just preached. I was never quite sure whether he was not teasing! He had such youth and warmth of faith. Not some narrow religiousity but natural and real and strong.
And Brother Tony, who had no close parental care when he was young and found in the Brotherhood a real family and home. He developed from a shy, thin and humble novice into a stocky and bold brother. But he never lost his simplicity. I remember taking a retreat with him on a desert island in Lord Howe in which we fended off clouds of mosquitoes all night. He was easy company and a natural and unassuming friend to many of the brothers. He showed his courage throughout the tension and continued to help the disarmament process.
Of one thing I am certain these six men will live on in the hearts and minds of our community. Their sacrifice seems too great, hard to believe. The community sat up all last night telling the stories of these brothers through the night and trying to come to terms with the enormity of their loss. And yet beneath the trauma there is a peace too. The knowledge that each of these young men believed in peace and in goodness. They knew that there was a better way. They were prepared to oppose violence and to risk much. At the end of the day they stand against all acts of brutality which are at present disfiguring our world and bravely, boldly, and with love, lived what most of us proclaim only from the safety of a Church. Oh how much the World wide Anglican Church at the moment could learn from their witness.
And when such real life issues are so much at stake in our world is not this what the Gospel should be?
There is hope. The Intervention Force say Keke is willing to surrender his guns and even face trial. Perhaps our six brothers will become like seeds which fell upon the ground and died but will yield the harvest of peace these islands and our world so longs for.
With love and prayers
Chaplain to the Melanesian Brotherhood
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