Dunster discovers “string of pearls”

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Hundreds of delegates gather at family camps; soldiers enrolled

by Rhonda Harmon, Captain –

Commissioner Robin Dunster is surrounded by Marshallese junior soldiers as Captain Joel Harmon, Commissioners Pat and Philip Swyers and Major Edward Hill (top) look on. [Photo courtesy of International Headquarters0

As the plane carrying Salvation Army leaders approached the airport terminal on Majuro Atoll—north of the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean—excitement spread through the waiting group of about 40 uniformed soldiers and officers. Enroute to the Republic of the Marshall Islands were the Chief of the Staff, Commissioner Robin Dunster, Western territorial leaders Commissioners Philip and Pat Swyers, and Hawaii and Pacific Island divisional leaders Majors Edward and Shelley Hill.

After the planed landed on a piece of land only as wide as the runway itself—with Salvation Army and Marshall Islands flags unfurled—the guests accepted the traditional crown of flowers and greeted each person present.

Hundreds attend family camp
Approximately 300 delegates from three corps on Kwajalein Atoll and Jaluit Atoll attended the Marshall Islands Family Camp, after traveling for two days by boat, across the ocean and through the rains. They joined 500 delegates from the two Majuro Atoll corps. The weekend officially began with a welcome meeting on Friday evening at the Rita Corps, where the chapel overflowed with more than 800 people. The congregation officially welcomed Dunster, the Swyers and the Hills to family camp with crowns of flowers and leis.

In her remarks, the Chief likened the Marshall Islands to a string of pearls. The atolls are, at places, only as wide as a two-lane road and no wider than half a mile, with no major land mass or mountains. Many Marshallese people have not traveled outside their country so the “string of pearls” comment helped some to understand the beauty of their country, with its unique atolls.

The Saturday evening praise service featured the Marshallese custom of singing songs that recall island history. The beauty of their singing was evident in the natural harmonies of the congregation as they sang songs of praise to God. The Chief, in her “Window to the World” presentation, showed how The Salvation Army is growing around the world. It helped the Marshallese Salvationists realize how large an Army they are part of—and that they are not alone in the battle.

Swyers enrolls soldiers
Sunday’s holiness meeting was a time of praise as Commissioner Philip Swyers enrolled 15 junior soldiers and 40 senior soldiers. Representing each atoll and corps, every soldier was in uniform. Following a testimony and solo from Major Shelley Hill, Dunster gave the Bible message. Twenty-five people responded to God’s call.

In the evening celebration, men from the Laura Corps performed a traditional Marshallese stick dance in which 12 men in native attire dance a story from history with giant sticks. Each member of the stick dance tribe presented a neck ornament to the special guests—signifying their respect of the leadership. Afterwards a traditional Salvation Army timbrel routing by Rita Corps continued to enliven the congregation.

At the weekend’s conclusion, each corps pronounced its “farewell” through song and dance. After two hours of musical praise and celebration, the guests received a traditional Marshallese “farewell of gifts.” Every delegate lined up in single file to shake hands and give gifts—Marshallese shells, hand-woven flowers, purses and fans—given as a thank you and farewell so each recipient would remember their time in the Marshall Islands.

Last stop
Before leaving on the short flight to Hawaii, the leaders traveled the 30 miles to the other end of the atoll, to Laura Corps—the rural cousin to the “city corps,” Rita. The drive took about 90 minutes over the paved yet sometimes bumpy road. Again, each guest was greeted with a crown of flowers, cool drinks and a short performance of song, with the ocean as a backdrop. This was just a quick visit with no formal meeting, but lives were touched.

At the airport, each corps officer of the Marshall Islands bade farewell to the Chief of the Staff, the Swyers and the Hills. The people of the islands hope Commissioner Dunster will not forget her “string of pearls” in the Pacific.

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