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24 April 2006

the Sermon in Hot Ashes

Machi and Kevin Rietveld

As Honiara's small Chinatown was burning to the ground, a man who should have had the good sense to stay indoors was driving his car through the ethnic riot. Kevin Rietveld has been a Christian missionary in the Solomons since 1998 (and elsewhere before that), and it is common for such persons to find reasons not to stay indoors during life-threatening emergencies.

But while he was serving the people caught up in violent crisis on Guadalcanal, he fell prey to a temptation somewhat distinct from his missionary work. He pointed his digital camera out the passenger window of his car, and as soon as he reached a computer that could still access the Web, the scene he photographed of Honiara ablaze became a startling image in Australia's national daily newspaper, The Age.

Rev. Kevin Rietveld (Dutch for Reed Field) was The Age's Man On The Ground.

And in the editorial opinion of Agence-Vleeptron Presse, snapped the year's Best Spot News Photograph from Planet Earth. If a picture is worth a thousand words, Rietveld's photo is a coupon redeemable for 1,000,000 words. If you found yourself staring at it longer than you stare at most news photos, it was because anyone who sees that photo instantly realizes what the photographer risked to pause and snap it.

I've been in a race riot, with gunfire and the smell of city blocks burning. Vleeptron's advice: Stay indoors, don't go out.

This is a very interesting photojournalist who, this week, is probably praying that he never has to be a very interesting photojournalist again.

Or at least praying that the next Page One photo he snaps will be of a blessedly innocent and natural erupting volcano.

Such Man (often a Woman) On The Ground photos historically play critical roles in crises and disasters. While the politicians in Canberra and Wellington were pondering and contemplating and debating what actions they might want to get around to considering, Rietveld sent The Age a photo of such shrieking horror that readers -- voters -- in Australia and New Zealand grabbed phone and e-mail to pressure their pondering politicians to send troops to quell the violence and restore order to Guadalcanal. Such snapshots have the power to save lives.

The mission Rietveld leads is called SWIM -- Short Workshops in Missions, a mission of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. Vleeptron is Sherlock Holmesing bigtime from the Antipodes here, but I suspect CRCA is a historical and geographical flowering of the Dutch Reform Church. From the CRCA site:

The Christian Reformed Church of Australia subscribes to the following confessions:

The Heidelberg Catechism
The Belgic Confession
The Canons of Dordt
The Westminster Confession

Beliefs: Ecumenical Creeds
The Christian Reformed Church of Australia subscribes to the following three creeds:

The Apostles' Creed
The Athanasia Creed
The Nicene Creed

The remarkable photo dispatched to Australia, here is more of Rev. Rietveld's activities in the Solomons this miserably unhappy week. The Fotog On The Ground is pretty good with the Text, too -- a real double-threat journalist.

He wrote this when the parliamentary election had not yet chosen (by secret ballot) the next leader who must put out the flames and heal the bitter ethnic and racial wounds that linger in the ashes of Honiara's Chinatown.

A very interesting photojournalist indeed.


The Solomons Star
Solomon Islands Leading Daily Newspaper
Tuesday 18 April 2006

Open Letter to
the new Prime Minister
of the Solomon Islands

DEAR Prime Minister,

As I write, I do not know who you are. I have no idea how the voting will go, but by the end of this day, the nation should know who you are. But what I am writing to you will apply, no matter who you are. In fact, I want to tell you a little story.

There was once a very wise king, who ruled a long time, and ruled wisely. The nation prospered under him, and even today the people still remember the time he ruled with fondness and a longing that it could be like that again. This king also had many wise and godly advisors to help him, and he used them often.

But eventually, the king died. Then his son became king in his place. So all the people of the land went to the new king, and asked him how he would rule them. The king replied: "Wait a few days, while I think about how to answer."

So then the young king went to see his father's wise advisors, and he asked them what he should do. They gave him wise and godly counsel. This is the answer they gave him: "If you will be a servant to these people, and serve them and give them a favourable answer, they will always be your servants."

But then the young king went to his own friends, to those who had grown up with him, and he asked them too how he should answer the people. They also talked together, and this is the answer they gave: "Tell the people that if your father put a heavy burden on them, you will give them an even heavier burden. If your father beat them with whips, you will beat them with scorpions."

So the new king received two lots of advice -- one from the wise advisors that his father used, and the other from his own friends. Which one would he choose? I am sure, Mr Prime Minister, that you and all of us can easily say which one he should have chosen.

Unfortunately, the new king was more interested in pleasing his friends and exploiting the people rather than being a true servant to them, so he chose the advice of his cronies. They probably put some pressure on him too, and he gave in to it.

In any case, it ended up with disastrous results. It wasn't too long and most of the people rebelled. They chose a new king and the nation was split. The king lost over 80 per cent of his kingdom, and he destroyed the unity of the nation.

Now this is a true story. You can read it in the Bible, in 1 Kings 12. It is also a timely lesson for today. The people of Solomon Islands have elected a new government, and today the members of parliament will have elected a new Prime Minister.

But the question of long ago still stands today? How will you lead us, Mr Prime Minister? You too will have choices to make, and they will already begin when you choose your ministers. But the whole of your time as Prime Minister, you will need to make choices.

I am sure, Mr Prime Minister, that the good people of Solomon Islands will be praying that you will not be like Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, but rather that you will become a true and genuine servant of Solomon Islands. Rehoboam lost his kingdom and ruined the nation of Israel because of his foolishness and cronyism.

We are looking for prosperity for our nation. We are looking for wise and godly leadership. We pray that you will surround yourself with wise and godly advisors, and use them often to help you in the challenging task to which you have been appointed. We pray that like Rehoboam's father, Solomon, that you too will seek the face of God Almighty, and ask only for a heart of wisdom to rule well. We pray that you will model your life and work on Jesus, the greatest servant leader.

If you follow this path, Mr Prime Minister, I am sure that we the people of Solomon Islands will be your servants, and encourage you in your work and support and help you in whatever way we can. And most certainly, we will uphold you in our prayers to this end.

Director SWIM


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