Fr. Mark Mwera is a happy, playful, and somewhat flirtatious guy, tiny in stature and huge in smiles. But if you want to say that to his face you're gonna have to shout. Quatamele's retired priest, at age 81, no longer hears very well, sees very well, or can go too far without his walking stick, but his heart is still that of a child's. He loves to read picture books, sing children's choruses, and tease the little kids. But although everyone in the village calls him Grandpa Mark and nothing lights up his face like playing with one of his many "grandkids", he has no children of his own. Anglican priests are allowed to marry but Fr. Mark never got around to it. When you tease him and ask him why he never found a good woman he gives you a different response every time. "You women are trouble and I wanted a peaceful life" he might say, or "I found one once but she loved someone else," or my personal favorite "Well I never found a woman that's as good looking as me!" But although he has no wife to cook for him, daughters to sew for him, or sons to cut firewood for him, our area is filled with his family members who try their best to look out for him. However, helping Fr. Mark is not an easy task and often his well-intentioned relatives become exasperated with the stubborn old man. And here's why: any little gift intended to make Fr. Mark's life easier will fly out his door before he ever uses it. New shoes will be found on his nephew's feet, a rain coat will turn up keeping a child dry, and food finds it's way into the kitchens of all his friends. "Stop giving stuff away - that's meant for you!" his frustrated relatives will exclaim, but that's Fr. Mark's style and he's not likely to change it soon.
Although at first glance Fr. Mark is just a goofy little grandfatherly figure, truly he is as wise as his years and has had some amazing experiences. He remembers well when the U.S. troops came during WWII (he can sings the whole Marine theme songs and sometimes when I walk by he salutes me) as well as when Vanuatu gained it's independence, and he worked for over 10 years for The Republic of Vanuatu's first (and some would say only successful) government. He has written a fascinating story about his life so people won't forget him, and I'm going to copy it and put it in a nice book for him as a surprise.
Yes you strain your vocal chords when you story with Fr. Mark, but hearing his corny jokes, his interesting experiences, his beautiful and heartfelt sermons, and his expert kastom story telling is well worth it. Fr. Mark easily takes down your defenses and makes you laugh, but look out - he might not be as harmless as you think. He keeps threatening to steal my passport so I'll be stuck forever in Quatamele, unable to leave him :)