Seekers and New Soldiers Seal ‘Opening Fire’ Weekend on Solomon Islands
The formal ‘Opening Fire’ weekend of The Salvation Army’s work on the Solomon Islands was a truly international affair. Leaders from the Army’s Papua New Guinea (Commissioner Andrew Kalai), Australia Eastern (Commissioner James Condon) and Australia Southern (Commissioners Raymond and Aylene Finger) Territories participated in the celebrations, which took place in November 2011, nine months after the work was officially opened on the islands. The fledgling ministry is overseen by the Papua New Guinea Territory.
A Friday evening prayer meeting led by Major Earle Ivers – the commanding officer of Brisbane City Temple Corps, Australia Eastern Territory – set the tone for the weekend. The major travelled with 21 musicians from his corps who formed a brass ensemble to support the activities. The prayer meeting comprised members of the band and the Salvation Army congregation from Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. The meeting concluded with everyone kneeling together at an impromptu mercy seat.
Earlier in the day the band and visiting commissioners had been welcomed at the airport in a traditional manner, which featured men in tribal costume ‘threatening’ the visitors with bows and arrows.
Saturday began with an open-air meeting in a busy thoroughfare which drew a crowd of around 200 people. The music of the band was a clear attraction, but people stayed to hear testimony, and the gospel message preached by Commissioner Kalai.
Following a short lunch break the band played outside the church which was to be used for the Saturday afternoon dedication service.
The meeting began with the entry of the Salvation Army flag, carried by Major Soddy Maraga, who has taken care of the Army’s work on the Solomon Islands since 2009. Greetings were received from Deputy Prime Minister the Hon Manasseh Maelanga, Roman Catholic Archbishop Adrian Smith (representing the Solomon Islands Churches Association) and the commanders of Australia Eastern and Southern Territories, both of which provide financial backing for the work on the Solomon Islands.
Commissioner Andrew Kalai spoke about how the Army came to the Solomon Islands – initial feasibility studies began in 2005 – and then dedicated the work of The Salvation Army in Honiara to God. In a spirit of worship and thankfulness, the band played ‘Fall Afresh’, an arrangement of the prayer chorus ‘Spirit of the Living God, Fall Afresh on Me’.
Commissioner James Condon preached from 2 Chronicles 2 and concluded by inviting the ‘soon to be’ soldiers of Honiara to go forward for prayer. The congregation greeted them as the founding members of Honiara Corps.
Saturday evening allowed time for food and fellowship. Feasting is a strong element of Melanesian life – the Melanesian ethnic group make up 90 percent of the population of the islands – so it was important that a feast was shared by all who were participating in the weekend as a symbol of mutual appreciation and unity. Brisbane City Temple Band played several up-beat pieces and the Honiara congregation – to the delight of everyone present – sang ‘We are the Soldiers of the Army of Salvation’.
The Sunday morning holiness meeting included the enrolment of the Solomon Islands’ first 21 soldiers and the commissioning of the first three local officers – a corps sergeant-major, corps treasurer and colour sergeant.
Two of the new soldiers testified to the work of God in their lives. Prior to the band playing, members representing the leadership of Brisbane City Temple corps presented the Honiara Salvationists with the band’s drum kit as a parting gift, together with sufficient money to purchase extra percussion items.
Commissioner Raymond Finger preached a gospel message from Mark 1, following which a number of people knelt at the mercy seat, including two who had been contacted at the Saturday open-air meeting and were attending the Army for the first time. The meeting concluded with the song ‘O Boundless Salvation’ and a glory march led by the new colour sergeant and his corps officer.
Report by Lieut-Colonel Neil Webb