Cover image of Friends In Action, Intl., June 2020 publication of

Cyclone In Vanuatu

Jun 1, 2020

A NiVan Girl’s Story of Survival

The NiVan people of Vanuatu were devastated by the effects of Category-5 Cyclone Harold in early April.

We are so grateful to each of you who prayed and gave to FIA’s Where Needed Most fund to ensure we received the $10,000 match offered by local Christian businesses.

Although there is much work left to be done, the first installment of food and recovery bundles were distributed.

We are grateful to Lydia Meade and her husband Matthew for being FIA’s hands and feet on the ground. They shared the story on the next few pages with us, which graphically depicts the impact that the storm and your giving had on one NiVan girl’s life.

Please continue to pray over these precious people who continue to experience dire circumstances.

APRIL 5, 2020

It’s been a steady grey drizzle all day. The missionary says there is a cyclone coming. But I know the old witchdoctor in Vemele village will stop the storm. In all my 16 years I’ve never seen him fail. He’s very powerful and controls all the cyclones that come to the island of Santo.

At first, it seems like any other cyclone. Trees dancing in the wind. Sheets of relentless rain. My uncle goes down to check on the missionaries. I watch him as he fights to walk against the frenzy of the storm, his red loincloth flapping in the wind as he dodges falling branches. We are not afraid of storms.

It’s late morning when things start to change. The fury of the storm grows into a ruthless beast thrashing everything in its path. Entire trees are crashing down now. Patches of the roof are being ripped open. Branches strike the house with alarming force. When the kitchen starts to collapse, we run to another house. Nearly 30 people are taking refuge in the small dark room. Despite being wall to wall with people, I’m still shivering from the cold, wet wind. The rain continues to pour in unhindered by the bamboo walls.

One of the matriarchs arrives crying hysterically. She’s incredibly old. Her white hair contrasting with her dark skin and deep wrinkles. Her house just fell down around her. She’s weeping because she’s lost everything. The old woman can’t stop shaking from both cold and fear. She keeps saying she is going to die. She says in all her life, she’s never seen a storm like this.

She is the oldest person I know. I’m scared now.

While we women and children hide inside, the men stand outside holding down the roof and dodging flying debris. Pieces of corrugated iron and branches the size of grown men sail through the air with deadly speed. My father and uncles keep adding branches, stones, and anything else they can find to the roof to try and weigh it down. A couple of the men climb up and lie on the roof desperately trying to hold it together.

Suddenly, the storm stops. It’s oddly abrupt but the clouds have parted, and a patch of sun is shining. My cousin comes running up the hill. The missionary sent him with a message. He says the storm isn’t over yet. We hastily grab a few bundles of belongings and head for a nearby cave.

It’s hard for me to imagine the storm could get any worse. Surely, it’s over.

But then it hits. Without any warning or build up the cyclone slams back into us with inconsolable wrath. I shudder. We only just made it to the caves in time. Its dark, muddy, and smells like bat dung, but at least we are safe.

My father doesn’t believe in God, but even he is praying.

APRIL 6, 2020

Hours pass as we huddle in the darkness. Waiting. Finally, in the late afternoon, the wind gradually lessens in severity. I step out of the cave into a different world. I don’t recognize anything. The devastation is breathtaking. The few surviving trees look strange with barren branches stretching up at the sky like angry claws.

A sickly green light fills the sky as we climb over the fallen trees and try to find our way back to the village. When we reach our home, I feel numb. Most of the village has been flattened. Only a few houses are left standing and their thatched roofs are in disarray.

My feet carry me to the spot where my house once stood. A broken pile of bamboo and debris remains. I recognize my blanket, schoolbooks, and Bible lying half-buried. Everything is soaked and ruined. Some of my clothes are strewn across the ground halfway to my uncle’s house. My foam mattress sits like a floating sponge in a pool of murky water.

I look around for anything that might make sleeping in the cave more comfortable. Everything is too wet. So much destruction. It feels like everything is lost. I dig out some plantain from the wreckage
of the kitchen and look for a pan. I don’t know how we will start a fire tonight. The matches are all wet and the smoke will make the cave life impossible.

My cousin is complaining that her cloth diapers all blew away and the baby has already soiled the only dry blanket. We patched up my uncle’s house so we could all sleep in it. It’s crowded but it smells better than the caves.

APRIL 8, 2020

I saw one of my friends returning from their garden today. We haven’t had the chance to check on ours yet. She was carrying a stalk of bananas that were half smashed. “How are the gardens?” I asked.

She snorted, “What gardens? There’s nothing left. Even the taro got uprooted.”

Our food is limited, and it will run out soon. The fallen fruit trees and citrus rotting on the ground will be gone soon. I don’t know what we are going to do.

The water in the rain tanks smells like rotting leaves. We can cook with it, but we can’t drink it anymore.

APRIL 22, 2020

Another long week of hard work and uncomfortably cramped sleeping quarters. Rebuilding all the houses is going to take a while. So much of the bamboo and thatch leaves have been ruined.

The missionary came back today with a truckload of rice and other food. We had a big plate of rice and tuna for dinner tonight to celebrate. The food won’t last long but it’s enough for now.

Despite the food, my father and uncles are angry. There is a lot of arguing tonight. They are upset about the location of the food drop. That village is always causing trouble. They don’t deserve rice.

My uncle thinks the church should only give help to people who attend the church. The missionary disagreed and said it was for everyone. I’m glad because my family doesn’t go to church.

I’m sick of all the jealousy and fighting. Everyone is tired.

MAY 10, 2020

It’s been 5 weeks since the cyclone. As I sit in church listening to the missionary teach, I can hear a helicopter flying nearby. We haven’t received any supplies from the government yet, but the missionary continues to bring food, blankets, building materials, etc. He says Christians from around the world have sent money to buy the things for us. I don’t know who these people are but I’m grateful.

The skyline is completely changed since the storm, but the jungle is once again turning green as fresh buds form on the branches and new sprouts are pushing up. We won’t have any produce from the garden for at least another two months, but still, it gives me hope. I don’t know how we are going to get food until then, but we haven’t gone hungry yet. Every week God sends food.

Life is hard, but we are alive. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know God is real. I want to know more about Him. Maybe one day my parents will come and listen too.

I pull my wandering thoughts back in to hear what the missionary is saying. He says God is faithful and He loves us. Even though Satan tries to destroy us, God wants to save us. God is good.

I look back at the green regrowth and I know it’s true.

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