Paddling around the world

New global church leader from Vanuatu has ties in Michigan

August 20, 2010

A group of three people standing together behind a green, yellow, black and red colored canoe with paddles.

Left to right: David Walter, the Rev. Allen Nafuki and the Rev. Linda Knieriemen with “Vatimol” in front of First Presbyterian Church, Holland, Mich. —Photo courtesy of First Presbyterian Church, Holland, Mich.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.

Among the new leaders elected at the recent Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) here was the Rev. Allen Nafuki, a Presbyterian from the tiny South Pacific island of Vanuatu 

Nearly 35 percent of the 220,000 Vanuatuans who inhabit the 83 islands off the coast of Australia that comprise the nation are Presbyterians — probably the highest per capita concentration of Presbyterians in the world.

But traditionally, leaders from the region serving on global ecumenical bodies such as WCRC's executive committee come from Australia.

Score one for the little guys! "The Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu (PCV) is thrilled to say the least," says Nafuki. "Now, after 62 years of independence as a church it will have a say on a world-wide basis."

Nafuki is the PCV's secretary of mission. At the WCRC gathering he served as acting Assembly Clerk, applying skills he learned as a former member of Vanuatu’s parliament. 

But Nafuki is veteran world traveler. He took part in the Mission to the USA program sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Synod of the Covenant in 2008, spending two months in Escanaba on the upper peninsula of Michigan.  There the affable pastor was affectionately known by the children as "Pastor Fuki."

While in Michigan, Nafuki and another Vanuatuan guest, Elder Jonah Mael William, fashioned an outrigger canoe from a big maple log.  Upon completion, William named it "Vatimol" — which in the language of Vanuatu’s Ambrym Island means "all one family."

It has a place of pride in front of First Presbyterian Church of Holland, Mich.

"In Vanuatu canoes are a principal means of transportation from island to island.  Historically these canoes were used to discover and then populate all of the Pacific islands in what was one of the most amazing voyages of discovery in the history of the world," Walter says.

"Now Pastor Allen is using this canoe to illustrate the world as community and how that community embraces all of us whether we come from large, powerful countries or smaller ones that few have ever heard of."

Editor's note: in addition to David Walter, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu was most recently served by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers Bruce and Lora Whearty and their daughters, Kinsey and Emily. — Jerry L. Van Marter

  1. Rev Allen Nafuki is a brother and a close friend of mine. I am from the tiny of the Marshall Islands but Rev Nafuki met at our training college in Papua New Guinea some 30 years ago. I appreciate if you could connect me to Rev Nafuki through internet. Thanks.

    by Russell Edwards

    August 12, 2012

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