The old one was totally worn out and belonged to a past century. It took five to eight hours to pull up a boat, requiring six strong men to heave their hearts out.
The friends decided to look for a good second-hand winch capable of a line pull of 30 tonnes. They offered a prayer for direction and leading. To their surprise, they could find nothing that could be easily rebuilt or modified to do the job. The search continued to no avail, so it became a question of what to do.
Prices were obtained for a new one, complete and ready to go for $A100,000. A winch with no power or controls was $A50,000--no mission budget could cope with that!
During one discussion, Arnold suggested designing a winch suitable to the situation and building it himself. Working from his shed in the backyard, bits of paper began to appear with workings scribbled on them. Eventually, the project began to look like a reality and parts were sourced from as far away as Melbourne.
With the noise of the work beginning, neighbours curious about the venture popped in to watch and make suggestions. John Dose, a retired missionary, regularly came to help, as did Peter Betwell, a neighbour who proved to be a good sounding board. Eight months of long hours saw the project complete. With Bill Rosendahl donating the use of his truck, the winch was transported to the wharf in Sydney.
After a number of weeks, the shipping company told us the winch had arrived at the wharf in Honiara and had been received by customs. We travelled to the Solomons, planning to stay for six weeks to set up and commission the winch at Merusu. Receiving assurances that the winch was where it was supposed to be, we flew out to Kukudu with big smiles on our faces. But when we arrived, nobody had seen the winch. We called the shipping company, who again told us where it should be. Still, no-one could find it. How could a winch three metres long, weighing three tonnes, be lost? After much searching, the winch could still not be found. We heard a well-known tobacco company had claimed it as theirs.
The next we heard of it, the winch had been loaded onto a barge to be delivered straight to our site. There was more prayer--but the winch still failed to arrive. We heard it had been transferred to another ship--and perhaps another one after that. By now, there seemed to be several parties who might be interested in using the winch for their own purposes.
We had allocated six weeks to set up the winch, and do other repairs at the workshop and Kukudu Adventist College. We were able to do some of this work--but our time was fast running out.
One morning during my Bible-study time, I was surprised to hear a voice in my head. It said firmly and clearly, "Camera." I paused in my meditating and thought, Camera?--then dropped the thought from my mind. A couple of moments later the same voice was clearly heard again.
This time, I thought more about it. Camera? Why am I thinking "camera"? What has that to do with anything? I silently questioned.
Then it hit me. We could settle the question of legitimate ownership! There was a series of photos of the winch leaving our house on the digital camera. I raced over to the mission office and the photos were soon emailed to the shipping company's office in Honiara.
The response was, "Why did you wait so long before you sent the photos across?"
"Sorry," I replied, "but God just reminded me there were photos on the camera."
We realised the men who went to the wharf had no idea what they were supposed to find, having never seen a machine of this size and nature before. One of the men later told us he had actually leant on the winch while wondering what they were looking for.
One day, one of the volunteers returned from shopping in Gizo, thinking they had seen the winch. It was sitting high and dry on a badly rusted barge on a slipway owned by the same shipping company. Arnold and the workshop boys could not get across to Gizo fast enough the next day. There it was but the shipping manager said it would be some weeks before the barge would be back in service.
Then came another surprise. We were sitting on the spacious veranda of the Gizo Hotel, waiting for the trip back across the sea to Kukudu, when a Solomon Islands Police vehicle pulled up in front of us. Everyone in that car was staring at us.
A tall Australian police officer climbed out of the vehicle and walked toward us. "Are you who I think you are?" he asked. Our hearts beat faster. Why was he interested in us?
"Are you the nice couple who looked after us so well while I was stationed at Atoifi Hospital?" he persisted. "I was in charge of the new police station."
He had noticed me walking across the road to reconfirm our tickets for the flight home the next day. He recalled how we had tried to make him and his fellow officers feel at home, while stationed at the hospital as part of the RAMSI peacekeeping force. He expressed his gratitude for our hospitality and again thanked Arnold for the welding job he had done on their boat trailer.
With happy hearts, we light-heartedly reminded him that he "owed us one." Then we told him our story in relation to the winch. He promised to look into it and within a few days of our departure, the winch was delivered to the tsunami-damaged wharf at Merusu.
Arnold flew back two weeks later to install the winch and set it up for operations.
Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later. Divide your gifts among many, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. Ecclesiastes 11:1, 2.
Isobel Paget lives in Tanilba Bay, New South Wales. She and her husband are retired missionaries, who continue to work on projects in the Pacific islands.