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The cost of Mission in the Church of Melanesia

The Church of Melanesia has once again recorded in its history books the names of the seven Melanesian Brothers who were martyred between March and April 2003.

In 1871 the Church recorded the first martyrdom of its first missionary bishop.  In the past there were lay evangelists, priests, even Brothers who were martyred in the process of bringing the Gospel of peace to the people.  It was the seed of these martyrs which has helped to Christianise the whole of the Solomon Islands, the only Anglican dominated nation in the whole of the small nations in the Pacific Ocean.  Sometimes we describe ourselves as ‘the liquid Continent’.  Perhaps nowhere else will you find that the leaders of the nation are Anglicans.  Currently our Governor General is an Anglican priest, the Prime Minister is an Anglican, as are many in the Parliament.

The Solomon Islands continued to enjoy peace until the last two or three years when ethnic tensions broke out.  The Government was not able to bring the warring parties together.  It was the work of all the churches, and especially the Anglican Church, which took the lead through the work of the four Religious Communities: ( the Melanesian Brotherhood of 300; the 150 Sisters of Melanesia; the Franciscans of about 100; and the Sisters of the Church, numbering 120).  Together with the Mothers’ Union, the clergy and Christian people who helped to negotiate for peace between the two warring parties.

At the height of the tension, the Melanesian Brothers and the other Religious Orders stood together between the two warring parties, trying to bring peace between the two sides.  What was outstanding was that the Religious Communities remained faithful to their vows and did not side with either of the warring parties.  Finally a peace agreement was signed in Townsville, Australia.  However, one of the war lords who was not a signatory to the Townsville Peace Agreement, continued to harass people.  He burned villages and killed more than fifty innocent people, including a Catholic priest who was also the Member of /Parliament for Harold Keke’s constituency.  A Seventh Day Adventist pastor was also killed, together with innocent people, including women and children who were living in fear, hunger and hopeless.

The Government then decided to once again send the Police Force to hunt and capture Keke, but he was more powerful than they were.  The situation could not be controlled.  Keke was more indignant than ever, treating everyone as spies and the Government was powerless to control him.

The other ex-militants saw the situation as advantageous, to get what they wanted, and from time to time they entered the Treasury Department and threatened the workers with guns.  Corruption in the Government, within the Ministries and the Police Force could not be controlled.  The economy was at the verge of collapse.  Schools closed clinics and hospitals were without medicines so that doctors, teachers and others sought job opportunities elsewhere.  Economically, no industries had opened since the tensions, apart from fishing and logging, leaving many people jobless.  The country was in a desperate situation.

It was in the midst of this chaos that Br Nathaniel Sado met his death.  Br Sado was a frequent visitor to Harold Keke both during and after the tension.  He was the chief Island’s negotiator between Harold Keke, the Church and the Government.  It was on one of these missions, when he went alone to visit Keke to tell him that the killing of innocent people should be stopped, that Keke branded him a spy for the Government and Police, and brutally murdered him in March this year.

News about Br Nathaniel Sado’s death was a shock to the nation, and especially to the Melanesian Brotherhood.  His death prompted six of the Brothers to go to see Harold Keke on 23 April.  They wanted to find out if the news was true, the reason for his death and if he was indeed dead, bring his body back to Tabalia, their headquarters, for proper burial. 

The six Brothers did not return.  They were thought to be spies also.  Three were killed on 23 April, while the other three were killed three days later.  When the six Brothers did not return there was already mixed feelings by the Church members, who continued to pray for their release in vain.

Harold Keke and his supporters continued to tell lies, saying that the Brothers were still alive and being well looked after.  The Church continued to pray for them.  But it was too long for the Government and the people to find out what had happened to them so the Prime Minister, being an Anglican himself, sought foreign assistance to bring an end to the hopeless situation that we had in the Solomon Islands.

In response the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands sent forces from Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Cook Island, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu to put an end to these criminal and corrupt activities and restore order, peace and justice to our nation and especially in the areas where the criminals ruled.
It was as a result of the work of the Foreign Intervention Force who interviewed Keke, that the Police Commission released the news on 9 August that the six Brothers were confirmed dead.  As well as the six Brothers, Harold Keke also took hostages of four Novices and two other Brothers from a nearby household, but after four weeks they were released.

In June 2003 an Anglican village was burnt down and two youths who opposed Keke were tortured in front of their families.  Fr Lionel Longarate, an Anglican priest from the area, was taken hostage, tied hand and foot and left on a sand beach for three days, but was later released.

The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) came in with full force, collected guns and arrested the criminals.  Harold Keke and his men were arrested and put into custody, awaiting the decision of the courts.  All former militant commanders of the two sides have now been arrested and one by one the senior police officers who were involved in criminal activities have been put in prison.  The RAMSI police officers have now taken control of policing the city, with the local police.

The RAMSI also dug up the remains of the seven Brothers and on 26 October, during the great conference of the Melanesian Brothers, the remains of the six Brothers were taken to Tabalia by RAMSI.  About 10,000 people attended the burial service.  The nation once again shed tears with the families and friends of the late Brothers.  People who attended included the Governor General, Ministers of the Crown, the Police Commission, the Australian High Commissioner, the British Commissioner, members of RAMSI, nine Bishops, 30 Priests, and representatives of the other three Communities.  Together they paid their last respects to the Brothers.

A Brother from Papua New Guinea who was the assistant Head Brother and the leader of the Mission was buried a week later as his relatives had to be flown to the Solomon Islands.  His burial again was attended by the Governor General, The Prime Minister, Papua New Guinea’s High Commissioner, members of Parliament and about three thousand people, including eight Bishops, 29 Priests and representatives from other Religious Communities.

Brothers and sisters, the Church of Melanesia has gone through a very painful time this year.  The result of the death of the Brothers has been peace for the nation of the Solomon Islands.  There is much acknowledgement and appreciation for the work of RAMSI.  On behalf of the Church of Melanesia I would like to thank the whole of the Anglican Communion for your prayerful support throughout this year.  Condolence messages were more than 300, including those from Archbishop Rowan, many of the Primates, Canon John Petersen, and others.

Communion in Mission 2006
The Rt Revd Richard Naramana
December 2003