From the Worldwide Faith News archives

ACNS3555 Our seven departed Melanesian Brothers: A message from

From "Anglican Communion News Service" <>
Date Wed, 20 Aug 2003 12:33:37 +0100

ACNS 3555     |     MELANESIA	  |	20 AUGUST 2003 

Our seven departed Melanesian Brothers: A message from Brother Richard

[ACNS source: Melanesian Brotherhood] I wanted to write to you to thank
you all for the literally hundreds of messages of condolence, support,
encouragement and prayer we have received from around the world since
the news that our brothers had been killed. 

All of us feel the very real support of that love, and beneath the grief
there is a very real sense in which it is that company of prayer which
is upholding us all. I wish I could write to you all individually but
there are too many letters. Many of those letters come from friends of
our community or those who have come into contact with the ministry and
life of our brothers, but there are also many letters from those who do
not know the Melanesian Brotherhood but whose hearts have been touched
by the deaths of these seven brothers and who have found in their lives
and their deaths not only a tragedy but a story which can inspire both
hope and faith. For the three months when we waited for our brothers to
return it felt like a very long and painful Calvary in which all of us
longed and prayed for the life which our faith promises. The news of
their deaths seemed to deny that promise forever and yet strangely, when
we are least expecting it, and as we least expected it there is a sense
in which resurrection is taking place: the knowledge of life and
goodness, deeper and wider than the boundaries of our lives.
Resurrection not confined to our demands upon God but his life in us and
in our brothers who have gone before us. How strange that in the
finality of these young deaths we glimpse something eternal and life
giving. As one of those who wrote to us said, "I think it is your
testimony that six, good, humble and faithful men died because they were
so devoted to one another and to Christ that, simultaneously causes me
so much pain but also affords such hope."

Four days after the confirmation that our brothers had been killed by
Harold Keke and his men, Keke surrendered to the Australian led
intervention force and is now in police custody with two of his
commanders. On the same day his men laid down 40 guns and declared that
the fighting was over. Please God may it be so. There is of course the
"if only" that haunts us: if only there could have been this surrender
without the deaths of our brothers. They were apparently murdered
immediately after their arrival in April. And yet I do believe that the
deaths of these seven brothers has not been in vain but an event among
others which precipitated the intervention and which led to a surrender
without further violence. I also like to think that our two brothers and
five novices, held captive for five weeks, who prayed with and preached
to Keke and his men and allowed Keke an act of magnanimity in their
release to counter his former brutality, were also instrumental in his
change of heart and surrender. Nor do I believe the three months of
night vigils and prayer supported by your prayers around the world, went
unheeded. For all the novices were released and have bounced back after
the trauma with greater faith than ever and there is a very real sense
in which the surrender of Keke has indeed answered many of the prayers
of this nation. As a friend of the brothers from USA wrote, "I have been
praying for the conversion of Keke and his followers. And I can't help
but trust that God, whose ways are not our ways, is now pouring out his
grace through the deaths of his seven servants." 

While for these three months the whole of me has rebelled against the
whole notion of martyrdom which seems such a terrible price to pay for
such youthful and vibrant life, there is a real sense in which these
brothers will live forever in the hearts and minds of our community and
the hope that their tragic deaths will not be the end but the beginning
of a new peace.

Of course there has been plenty of recriminations and blame in the press
largely generated by Keke's followers trying to justify their
indefensible atrocity. Why did the brothers go? Who sent them? But last
Sunday God seemed to answer loud and clear. We held a Memorial and
Thanksgiving service at St Barnabas Cathedral in Honiara. It was packed
and overflowing with thousands of people. The brothers and novices were
there in force; rows and rows of them in their white uniforms and the
roaring beautiful harmony of their combined voices was the sound of
faith, faith in the midst of all adversity, somehow stronger, yet
humbler, more moving than ever before. And then one after the other
there were testimonies and messages witnessing to the life of these
seven brothers; the Archbishop, the Companions, the families of the
seven, the Governor General, the Peace Council, the other Churches, the
Police Commissioner, and your messages read from around the world. 

We have had letters from UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA,
Vanuatu, Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, South Africa, India and even
Iraq. And each message of sympathy was also one of thanksgiving for the
courage of these men who had gone without weapons or defence in search
of their lost brother: greater love has no one than that they should
have given their lives for this. Seven candles were lit as different
brothers interceded for each of the seven, giving thanks for their lives
and then there were wreaths laid as the brothers sang and finally a
Eucharist in which the lines of communicants went on and on for so long
that it seemed it would last forever. There were so many hundreds of
people of all ages, especially young people coming to show their
solidarity and loyalty. The service lasted for almost four hours but we
were not aware of time passing. It was timeless and healing. The service
in its entirety was broadcast to the nation.

Among the many tributes was one written by a writer Charles Montgomery
from Canada who had spent time with our community last year writing a
book which explores his own journey to discover the meaning of the myths
and faith he encountered in Melanesia. His words moved me for he has
caught the spirit of my brothers:

Only yesterday I was writing about Brother Francis Tofi. I remember our
trip to CDC1, how he was the one who huddled in the back of the truck,
he was the one who whispered and chuckled and remained very small, so
small that I decided he was not central to the days events, until the
moment came, during a tense negotiation for the release of a kidnapped
boy, when Francis stepped forward and brought the two enemy groups
together in a prayer. He radiated something so good and true and bigger
than the moment, and the tension was washed from the afternoon, and the
men with anger and guns were made humble. And of course a boy's life was
saved and a gun was retrieved. I hope you do not think I am throwing
platitudes at you when I say I am certain the brothers will become
larger in their deaths, and their cause must certainly ripple outwards.
I know this cannot ease the pain of losing such friends and brothers in
your journey. But even as a man with little faith, I am certain of it.
It is happening for me already. And now we return to our lives. There is
a long way to go and somehow the community seems older and wiser, hushed
by the events which have overtaken us but not without hope or joy. It is
as if the paschal mystery has been lived out amongst us, not a
recreation but the reality of our faith and though I pray that I never
have to go through an event like this ever again, it as though we have
been given a glimpse through the mystery of things. We have seen the
brutal face of evil and known the fear and darkness it brings but we
have also witnessed goodness and love and glimpsed the promise of that
which is eternal. And all of us know which side we want to belong to.
The seven brothers are a constant aching reminder of the integrity,
values, and love which alone can bring hope to our lives.

With my thanks and prayers

Brother Richard Carter
Chaplain of the Melanesian Brotherhood

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