On 24 April we commemorate the Seven Martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood, who died in 2003 on the remote Weathercoast of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. They lost their lives while on a mission of peace towards the end of the civil war in the Solomon Islands, known as the Ethnic Tension, that lasted from 1998 to 2003. The Melanesian Brotherhood is an Anglican Religious Order, founded in 1925 by Ini Kopuria, whose members take temporary vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, usually for seven to ten years. After that Brothers are honourably released from their promises, and usually return home to leadership positions in the church and their local community.
The Dean of the Cathedral, Fr Keith Joseph, first arrived in the Solomon Islands in 2004 as a member of the international peace keeping force (the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands, or RAMSI). He worked part-time with the Melanesian Brotherhood, was admitted as a Companion of the Brotherhood in February 2005, and was ordained as a Deacon later that year. After completing his work with RAMSI he was ordained as a Priest and worked at the Bishop Patteson Theological College, which is next door to the Headquarters of the Brotherhood at Tabalia, on the north-west coast of Guadalcanal. The photograph of the Brother's graves was taken by Keith in 2004.
During the Ethnic Tension the Brothers worked in various ways, with the other religious orders and Christian churches, towards peace. They rescued hostages, confiscated weapons with the power of prayer, and even camped in no-man's land between the warring factions. A very moving account of this work and the martyrdom is given by Fr Richard Carter, who was then Chaplain to the Brotherhood, in his book In Search of the Lost
(Canterbury Press, 2006).
The first Brother to die was Br Nathanial Sado, who went missing while on a mission to deliver a letter from the Archbishop of Melanesia (the late Sir Ellison Pogo) to the warlord Harold Keke. The letter was an offer by the Archbishop to mediate and bring the Tension to an end. After Br Nathanial went missing, various rumours about his fate circulated around the island of Guadalcanal, and six Brothers, led by the Assistant Head Brother, went in a small dinghy to the Weathercoast to find out what happened, and if necessary to bring his body back to Tabalia for burial. The six Brothers who went in search of the lost were Brothers Robin Lindsay, Francis Tofi, Alfred Hilly, Ini Paratabatu, Patteson Gatu and Tony Sirihi. Three of the Brothers were shot as they landed on 24th April 2003, and the other three were captured and tortured to death that night.
But was their death in vain? The entire country was shocked by the murders, and it was an essential factor in the Government calling for outside assistance to end the civil disorder. It is a reminder to us that martyrdom is not just in the past, but it close to us in time and space - the island of Guadalcanal is far closer to Brisbane than we here in Darwin. Even more importantly, it shows to us a deep and abiding faith that went into darkness and evil, no matter the cost, and in the end triumphed. At Easter we celebrate the triumph of Christ over the darkness and evil of Good Friday, and as we remember and observe the martyrdom of the Seven Brothers we remember that death is not the end.
At this time I remember all my friends in the Solomon Islands, as they recover from the ongoing effects of the Tension, and the more recent flooding. May God bless us all with resurrection hope and joy.